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Climate Change

Gore's Updated Slides (Again)

More new slides, once again from TED

Geoengineering gains more traction

All options are on the table to control climate change effects, according to Obama's science adviser, John Holdren, including technologies formerly (or still?) derided by mainstream scientists. Examples include injecting pollutants high into the atmosphere to block sun rays, using mirrors to reflect sun rays, or a huge umbrella to filter sun rays (see my previous post for another link).

Twice in a half-hour interview, Holdren compared global warming to being "in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog."

Last week, Princeton scientist Robert Socolow told the National Academy that geoengineering should be an available option in case climate worsens dramatically.

But Holdren noted that shooting particles into the air—making an artificial volcano as one Nobel laureate has suggested—could have grave side effects and would not completely solve all the problems from soaring greenhouse gas emissions. So such actions could not be taken lightly, he said.

Still, "we might get desperate enough to want to use it," he added.

Obama looks at climate engineering

Official who proposed MN’s cap-and-trade system now criticizes Obama’s approach

From Keith:

Story on the St Paul Legal Ledger describing Ed Garvey's comments about Obama's cap & trade plan - he does not support the current position, saying that there needs to be a "workable" solution, that "does not penalize petroleum manufacturers," for whom he currently lobbies.

Official who proposed MN’s cap-and-trade system now criticizes Obama’s approach
President Obama's Unfortunate Cap & Trade Proposal

Mega Energy Bill?

Democrats may put Obama's carbon regulation bill together with renewable energy measures into one large bill. Could be good, in that it would be all in one, so it wouldn't take as long to pass as two bills. Could also be bad, in that it could align all efforts against either measure into a stronger movement. The vote could be as early as this summer, according to Sen. Harry Reid's spokesman.

For more info, see Democrats May Combine Carbon-Trading, Renewable Energy Measures

New Clean Coal Ad

Thank you Coen Brothers

Climate Change Today

The November issue of Mother Jones introduced me to 350.org - the important new organization spearheaded by Bill McKibben. "The Most Important Number on Earth" talks about the tipping point of climate.

McKibben has been doing great work to update people who know that climate change is a problem but still aren't sure what to do about it. He recently showed up in a Q & A feature in Foreign Policy to answer key questions about climate change in 2009.

Those of us who have followed this for awhile have been arguing that we need to get beyond arguing that this is scientific fact. We won't convince everyone - and enough people are convinced that we need to do something about it rather than wait for purposely dense people to "get it."

Those who will lose out in the clean economy have moved on as well. They used to pour their resources into groups that denied global warming but they are a late-night joke now. So these companies have adjusted and are instead pouring money into studies that show insanely high costs if we put a price on carbon. NPR's On the Media recently covered some of the subterfuge they use in these reports.

Sometimes it seems that one cannot listen to a program on climate change without hearing someone foolishly talking about how nuclear power is the big solution, if only big-government liberals who hate the market would let the market build more nuke plants. This remains a confusing claim to anyone knows anything about nuclear power as it is totally at odds with a free market approach - heavy government intervention into markets is required for nuclear power to work - from insurance to loans to waste disposal. I thought David Leonhardt from the NY Times dealt well with this issue on a good episode of the Diane Rehm Show that recently dealt with Green Collar Jobs. Also, Foreign Policy magazine offered some sobering reminders as to how hard it will be for nuclear power to make a dent in the climate change problem.

I'll end this by embedding a video from 350.org - which is totally social media enabled (facebook, youtube, twitter, etc).

Is Pawlenty changing his mind about energy?

In an apparent policy reversal, Minnesota state agencies told legislators that further climate change action may be unnecessary. Data have shown a drop in emissions from 2005 to 2006, and the assistant commissioner for air quality at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, David Thornton, and the new head of the Office for Energy Security, Bill Glahn, suggest that if that trend continues, Minnesota will meet its emission reduction goals in 2015 with no new policy actions.

This seems highly unlikely to me, and I find the suggestion disturbing.

Furthermore, they are suggesting that Big Stone II will reduce carbon emissions because it could replace two older coal plants (which won't happen), and that the only new policy suggestions from the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG) they support are eliminating the ban on new nuclear plants (which the MCCAG suggested should be studied) and implementing appliance efficiency standards.

Read more at MinnPost.com

Thanks to Keith for the heads-up.

But that climate legislation is needed now!

In a sobering release, climate researchers from the US, Switzerland & France have announced that we will experience negative climate change impacts despite future emission reductions. Carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere faster than previously thought, making any emission reduction goals all the more urgent.

This study suggests that if carbon levels reach 600 ppm, many areas of the world will see severe drought, similar to or worse than the 1930s Dust Bowl. Sea levels will also rise by 3 feet by the year 3000, though the prediction did not take into account glacier and sea ice melts, which would increase the level.

Another study released yesterday states that emperor penguins will likely be extinct by 2100, due to loss of habitat, warming temperatures, and decreases in food population. Because the birds are long-lived and breed later in life, they are less adaptable to changes in climate. Now the poles each have a threatened mascot...

For more information, see:

Long Droughts, Rising Seas Predicted Despite Future CO2 Curbs
Emperor penguins face extinction

States look differently at Obama global warming plan

Obama is beginning the process of getting his climate change legislation moving forward and has chosen two liberal Democrats, Sen Barbara Boxer & Rep Henry Waxman, to lead this process. Both legislators hail from California, which is significantly further along in the carbon footprint reduction process than many other states. California gets about 20% of its electricity from coal; in contrast, Ohio generates 86% from coal. Minnesota is somewhere around 60% (and hopefully falling from the work we've done lately, but I haven't seen recent numbers).

Because of this stark difference in electricity generation sources, support for this legislation depends on geographical location. Legislators from the Northeast and California are strongly in support of it. Those in the Midwest and Plains states are not.

This has long been predicted as a problem for any national carbon regulation. California is obviously ready for national legislation -- it has many policies in place that will smooth its transition or even may be more stringent than any national policy. However, coal-rich states, from the Rockies to the Midwest to the Southeast, have been less eager to enact policies to promote alternative energy sources and therefore will require more investment and time to meet national standards. It will be interesting to see how the legislation is crafted to balance the differences in states' ability to meet carbon reduction goals.

Another challenge is determining how this legislation will affect economic development within the US. With our current struggling economy, will carbon regulation be too expensive? Will it boost jobs through the promotion of alternative sources, or will it stifle development as companies are further regulated? Opinions differ... but I think the regulation is overdue, necessary, and will hopefully not be too painful.

For more information, see:

Geography Is Dividing Democrats Over Energy
Will carbon regulation boost or stifle the economy?

Study evaluates clean energy technologies and declares winners

And the winner is wind! According to a study done by Mark Z. Jacobsen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, wind the cleanest of the "clean energy" technologies. Other winners, in order, are concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave, and hydroelectric. The losers include biofuels, nuclear, and "clean coal," which Jacobsen says are not nearly as clean as currently touted.

Not a huge surprise, but he used an apparently new method:

Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability.

For more information, see:

Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security
Wind, Water, and Sun Beat Biofuels, Nuclear, and Coal for Clean Energy
Stanford University Professor - Mark Z Jacobsen

Full carbon accounting for nuclear power

In an interesting report, a team of Australian academics created a life-cycle accounting of carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear plants and found them to be higher than previously thought. The main source of the difference is the mining of uranium, which is predicted to become more energy intensive as the high-grade sources diminish. This report is apparently the first to consider the environmental costs throughout the process of creating nuclear power.  It is helpful to have a greater accounting of the impacts of nuclear energy, and this report could be used to further illuminate decisions about new electricity plants. However, I would still imagine that the greenhouse gas emissions of these sources are much lower than any fossil fuel source, even including the transportation and sourcing of the uranium.

Just the Tree of Us

Newsweek ran a cover story on the Enviro and Leadership that had some details I wanted to note. It focuses on Hillary, Obama, and McCain (or, if you have followed his blatant abandoning of energy issues by skipping every 2007 vote on energy issues, you might call him McShame).

I am not convinced McCain will be the global climate change legislation champion we would hope him to be. His recent actions have me wondering if his past work with Lieberman on climate change was merely him trying to get center-cred by championing an issue he knew would go nowhere.

I don't know - because I do not follow national politics closely enough. I know he has taken a lot of heat from the right on this and his work has helped us by showing that Republicans are divided on this (kinda) so maybe I am too harsh. The story considers this:

A plausible explanation is that McCain sought to avoid taking a position that would offend either conservative primary voters or the moderate ones he will need in November. A more relevant statistic might be his lifetime LCV rating, which is 26 percent, compared with an average of 16 percent for all Republicans. As recently as 2004, when his rating for the 108th Congress reached 56 percent, the league endorsed him for re-election to the Senate.

I do feel more comfortable criticizing the media because I pay much more attention to their coverage and listen to a number of shows that look at media coverage. Perhaps because the media regards this as being a boring issues among 3 candidates who all acknowledge the massive challenge to deal with climate change, they have refused to ask questions about climate change.

The League of Conservation Voters tracks how often candidates are asked about environmental issues in televised debates and interviews, and the current tally shows that of 3,231 questions by the leading political reporters from five networks, exactly eight concerned global warming.

Newsweek also looks at 10 fixes for global warming - all of them fairly small in the tradition of recognizing it will take a massive patchwork to change our carbon habit. One is massive kites to help pull containers ships across the ocean (so China can keep making all our consumer goods and shipping them to us).

Any idea how far the largest container ships can go on a gallon of fuel? Try 37 feet. That adds up to 2 billion barrels of petroleum a year. "If the shipping industry were a country, it would be No. 7 in carbon emissions," says Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist for Oceana.

Sure, those ships are over 300m long and carry billions of dollars worth of stuff (with the value of the dollar, probably many tens of billions at this point) but 37 feet?? I'm not sure whether to be impressed or not.

Finally, the article alerted me to ClimateCounts.org which offers a scorecard measuring big companies on global warming stuff. I see that Canon is rated highly (Nikon - my camera company of choice, is not ranked) whereas Apple is nearly at the bottom (which made me smile because I hate my MacBook and love my PCs).

Gore's New Slides

Al's updated his slideshow and presented it at TED. Toward the end, he talks about the upcoming election though he hedges quite a bit.

theWatt Podcast

Despite my lack of posts over the past year or so, Ben Kenney invited me to participate in his weekly discussion podcast last week. I enjoyed the show - in which we talked a lot about biofuels and hot topics like Al Gore's $300 million campaign. It is especially interesting to talk with folks outside the U.S. - Canada and England in this case.

"In case of global warming, break glass"

Marketplace did a thought-provoking story on "geo-engineering," ways to prevent the Earth from warming too much even if we can't reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time. The ideas sound like they're from science fiction novels, such as a huge space umbrella to filter the sun's rays. However, they are gaining credibility with some scientists, since the cost of addressing GHG is currently astronomical. Were we to go this route, where countries are able to "place their hand on the global thermostat," I think we would need to have a stronger international community/regulating structure to monitor the process and adjudicate among nations who want different things. Check it out.

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