Saturday, August 29, 2009

Man-made volcanoes may cool Earth Times Online

Illuminating the Future of Energy New York Times

Report: Global warming to put heat on Midwest USA Today

Senators Spend Recess Fine-Tuning Messages on Cap and Trade New York Times

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

The lessons of Katrina: Global warming "adaptation" is a cruel euphemism — and prevention is far, far cheaper

Posted: 29 Aug 2009 05:58 AM PDT

I'm updating this post from August 29, 2007, along with pieces of the adaptation trap — Part 1 and Part 2 from March 2008.

The L.A. Times has brought to prominence (and fallen for) what I call the "adaptation trap":

The adaptation trap is the belief that 1) "it would be easier and cheaper to adapt than fight climate change" [as the Times puts it in the sub-head] and/or 2) "adaptation" to climate change is possible in any meaningful sense of the word absent an intense mitigation effort starting now to keep carbon dioxide concentrations below 450 ppm.

G. Gordon Liddy's daughter repeated that standard denier/delayer line in our debate: Humans are very adaptable — we've adapted to climate changes in the past and will do so in the future.

We know that fighting climate change — stabilizing below 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide — has a low cost, according to IEA, IPCC, McKinsey and every major independent economic analysis (see "Intro to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar").

What is the cost of "adaptation"?  It is almost incalculable.  The word is a virtually meaningless euphemism in the context of catastrophic global warming.  That is what the deniers and delayers simply don't understand. On our current emissions path, the country and the world faces faces multiple catastrophes, including:

  • Staggeringly high temperature rise, especially over land — some 10°F over much of the United States
  • Sea level rise of 5 feet, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter
  • Permanent Dust Bowls over the U.S. SW and many other heavily populated regions around the globe
  • Massive species loss on land and sea — 50% or more of all life
  • Unexpected impacts — the fearsome "unknown unknowns"
  • More severe hurricanes — especially in the Gulf

I think Hurricane Katrina gives the lie to the adaptation myth. No, I'm not saying humans are not adaptable. Nor am I saying global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, although warming probably did make it a more intense. But on the four-year anniversary of Katrina — and the three year anniversary of Climate Progress's initial launch — I'm saying Katrina showed the limitations of adaptation as a response to climate change, for several reasons.

First, the citizens of New Orleans "adapted" to Hurricane Katrina, but I'm certain that every last one of them wishes we had prevented the disaster with stronger levees. The multiple catastrophes — extreme drought, extreme flooding, extreme weather, extreme temperatures — that global warming will bring can be suffered through, but I wouldn't call it adaptation.

Second, a classic adaptation strategy to deal with rising sea levels is levees. Yet even though we knew that New Orleans would be flooded if the levees were overtopped and breached, even though New Orleans has been sinking for decades, we refused to spend the money to "adapt" New Orleans to the threat. We didn't make the levees able to withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane (Katrina was weaker at landfall than that, but the storm surge was that of a category 4).

Third, even now, after witnessing the devastation of the city, we still refuse to spend the money needed to strengthen the levees to withstand a category 5 hurricane. We refuse to spend money on adaptation to preserve one of our greatest cities, ensuring its destruction, probably sometime this century.

If we won't adapt to the realities of having one city below sea level in hurricane alley, what are the chances we are going to adapt to the realities of having all our great Gulf and Atlantic Coast cities at risk for the same fate as New Orleans — since sea level from climate change will ultimately put many cities, like Miami, below sea level? And just how do you adapt to sea levels rising 6 to 12 inches a decade for centuries, which is the fate we risk by 2100 if we don't reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends soon. Climate change driven by humans GHGs is already happening much faster than past climate change from natural causes — and it is accelerating.

The fact is, the deniers don't believe climate change is happening, and the the delayers don't take the climate change impacts above seriously, so they don't believe in spending serious money on adaptation. The Center for American Progress has written an important paper on hurricane preparedness, which is a good starting point for those who are serious about adaptation.

But don't be taken in by heartfelt expressions of faith in human adaptability. If Katrina shows us anything, it is that preventing disaster would be considerably less expensive — and more humane — than forcing future generations to "adapt to" an unending stream of disasters.

Finally, a major new study finds the cost of adaptation — and the costs of inaction — are far, far higher than anyone thought.  Duh!  Since it provides strong economic and analytical support for my analysis here, I will blog on it soon.

The Storm of the Century (so far)

Posted: 28 Aug 2009 12:37 PM PDT

katrina-aftermath.jpgOn August 23, 2005, a tropical depression formed 175 miles southeast of Nassau. By the next day, it had grown into tropical storm Katrina and was intensifying rapidly. Early in the evening on August 25, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near North Miami Beach. Even though it was only a Category 1 storm, with sustained wind speeds of about 80 miles per hour, it caused significant damage and flooding, and took 14 lives.

The hurricane's quick nighttime trip across Florida barely fazed the storm. Entering the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters quickly kicked Katrina into overdrive, like a supercharged engine on high-octane fuel. Hurricanes fuel themselves by continually sucking in and spinning up warm, moist air.

On August 28, Katrina reached Category 5 status, with sustained wind speeds of 160 mph and a pressure of 908 millibars. A few hours later, wind speeds hit 175 mph, which they maintained until the afternoon.

At 4:00 pm, the National Hurricane Center warned that local storm surges could hit 28 feet, and "Some levees in the Greater New Orleans Area could be overtopped," a warning that was tragically ignored by federal, state, and local emergency officials. Over the next 14 hours, Katrina's strength dropped steadily. When the hurricane's center made landfall Monday morning, it was a strong Category 3, battering coastal Louisiana with wind speeds of about 127 mph. The central pressure of 920 millibars was the third lowest pressure every recorded for a storm hitting the U.S. mainland.

The devastation to the Gulf region was biblical. The death toll exceeded 1300. The damage exceeded $100 billion. [Combined with the effects of Hurricane Rita] two million people were forced to leave their homes, more than were displaced during the 1930's Dust Bowl. One of the nation's great cities was devastated.

About 20 miles to the west of the second Gulf landfall was the small town named Pass Christian, Mississippi, where my brother lived with his wife and son.

Tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere rotate counterclockwise, and so the most intense storm surge is just to the east of the eye, because the surge represents the intense winds pushing the sea against the shore. A 30-foot wall of water with waves up to 55 feet crashed over the town. Although my brother and his family lived one mile inland, their house was ravaged with water up to 22 feet high, leaving the contents of the house looking like they had been churned "inside of a washing machine," in my brother's words. While they lost virtually all their possessions, they were safe in a Biloxi shelter.

Thanks to the generosity of many people, my brother's family was able to find a temporary home in Atlanta. But like many families whose lives were ripped apart by the storm, they had difficult choices in the ensuing months. Perhaps the toughest decision was whether to rebuild their home or to uproot themselves and try to create a new life somewhere else.

I very much wanted to give my brother an expert opinion on what was likely to come in the future. After all, climate change was my field, and while my focus has been on climate solutions, I had done my Ph.D. thesis on physical oceanography.

As I listened and talked to many of the top climate experts, it quickly became clear that the climate situation was far more dire than most people-and even many scientists, myself included-realized. Almost every major climate impact was occurring faster than the computer models had suggested. Arctic sea ice was shrinking far faster than every single model had projected. And the great ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica were shedding ice decades earlier than the models said. Soils appear to be losing their ability to take up carbon dioxide faster than expected. At the same time, global carbon dioxide emissions and concentrations were rising faster than most had expected.

As for hurricanes, global warming had been widely projected to make them more intense and destructive, but again the recent increase in intensity was coming sooner than the computer models had suggested. Why is that a concern? Since 1970, the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean's hurricane-forming region has risen 0.5°C (0.9°F). Over the path of a typical hurricane, this recent ocean warming added the energy equivalent of a few hundred thousand Hiroshima nuclear bombs. On our current emissions path, the Atlantic will warm twice as much, another 1°C, by mid-century, and perhaps another 2°C beyond that by century's end. Who can even imagine the hurricane seasons such warming might bring?


This is what I ultimately told my brother, the same advice I would give anyone contemplating living near the Gulf Coast:

Only a quarter of Atlantic hurricanes make U.S. landfall, and while there is no question that the frequency of intense Atlantic hurricanes is rising, it is somewhat random as to where they will actually go any given year.

That said, the Gulf of Mexico is going to get warmer and warmer, as is the Atlantic Ocean, and so hurricanes that enter the Gulf are likely to start out and end up far more destructive than usual. I would not bet that the Mississippi Gulf Coast will get hit by a super-hurricane in any particular year, but I would certainly plan on it being hit again some time over the next ten years; I wouldn't be surprised if it were hit by more than one.

Coastal dwellers from Houston to Miami are now playing Russian roulette with maybe two bullets in the gun chamber each year. In a couple of decades, it may be three bullets.

[This is excerpted from my book, Hell and High Water. The description of Katrina is from two terrific sources: Grauman et al., Hurricane Katrina: A Climatological Perspective, Technical Report 2005-01, NCDC, October 2005, update Jan 06, and Richard D. Knabb, Jamie R. Rhome, and Daniel P. Brown, Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Katrina, 23-30 August 2005, National Hurricane Center 20 December 2005.]

Subsequently, the scientific literature has supported the view that human-caused global warming is "more likely than not" partly responsible for the fact that "In the period 1971–2005, since the beginning of a trend towards increased intense cyclone activity, [economic] losses excluding socio-economic effects show an annual increase of 4% per annum" (see here).

I have further elaborated on the growing threat to the Gulf from warming-driven superstorms:

And the literature also supports that analysis:

Needless to say, sea level rise will turn many other coastal cities into sitting ducks pre-Katrina New-Orleans:

Energy and Global Warming News for August 28: Climate change causing severe food shortages in Nepal

Posted: 28 Aug 2009 11:32 AM PDT

Millions in Nepal Facing Hunger as Climate Changes

Millions of people in Nepal face severe food shortages because global climate change has disrupted weather patterns and slashed crop yields in the Himalayan nation, an international aid agency warned Friday.

Changing weather patterns have dramatically affected crop production in Nepal, leaving farmers unable to properly feed themselves and pushing them into debt, Oxfam International said in a report released in Katmandu.

The British aid agency described the situation as "deeply worrying."

"Communities told us crop production is roughly half that of previous years … Last year many could only grow enough (food) for one month's consumption," said Oxfam's Wayne Gum, adding that less precipitation has been forecast this winter, which will make the situation worse.

More extreme temperatures, drier winters and delays in summer monsoons have all compounded the situation, the report said.

More than 3.4 million people in Nepal are estimated to require food assistance, and food stocks in farming communities will last only a few months, it warned.

Oxfam said Nepal will likely suffer more frequent droughts because of climate change. River levels will decline due to the reduced rainfall and glacial retreat, making it harder to irrigate crops and provide water for livestock.

Here is the report, Even the Himalayas Have Stopped Smiling:  Climate Change, Poverty and Adaptation in Nepal.

NAM Targeting Senators on Cap-and-Trade With Multimillion Dollar Ad Buy

The National Association of Manufacturers has begun targeting Senators in seven states on cap-and-trade legislation that awaits the Senate when it returns in less than two weeks.

The trade group on Thursday announced a multimillion dollar television, radio and Internet advertising buy in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia. Each of those states is represented by one, or in some cases two, Senators who are viewed as swing votes on the climate change bill.

One of the likely targets, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), has acknowledged she has some reservations about the legislation.

Specter targeted by energy group on cap-and-trade legislation

The American Energy Alliance has been in Pennsylvania, targeting consumers about cap-and-trade legislation it says will cost Pennsylvania families $125 a month.

The ads target Sen. Arlen Specter, the new Democrat.

At a town hall meeting on Aug. 11, Specter did not say he opposes cap-and-trade legislation, but told an audience that the House version of the bill has problems and that in the Senate, there will be attention paid to legislation that effectively ships jobs overseas as a result of tighter regulations on emissions and energy.

Clean Energy Patents Hit Record High in the US

According to intellectual property law firm Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C., who publishes the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) every quarter, 274 clean energy patents were granted last quarter. This is 31 more than the previous quarter and 57 more than in the same quarter last year.

This is a good sign that clean technology will continue to provide the US with a greater and greater share of its energy. Additionally, clean technology in the transportation sector is advancing at great speed and with momentum and maybe we will find our way out of gas and oil related crises soon. Fuel cell* technology is leading the way. Victor Cardona, co-chair of the firm's Cleantech Group, states: "Fuel cells continued to dominate the other technologies while wind and solar patents continued an upswing. Honda earned more patents than the other patentees to again claim the Clean Energy Patent Crown."

UN chief urges world to 'seize day' on climate

The U.N. chief is urging the world to "seize the day" on climate change ahead of a major conference on global warming set for December in Copenhagen.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions underscores how the world's nations must all take action. Ban says the outcome of the Copenhagen conference "will impact the planet for generations to come."

Ban says he also plans to visit the North Pole soon – and he hopes that will send an important message to the international community about the need to tighten pollution controls.

He says "the future of humanity and planet Earth are at stake."

Air pollution lawsuit: Federal and state lawyers sue Midwest Generation over Illinois power plant emissions

From the outside, the power plant that towers above Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood looks like a sooty relic from the early part of the last century. The Fisk plant has been burning coal to generate electricity on the Near West Side since 1903.

The Fisk plant has been burning coal to generate electricity on the Near West Side since 1903. But federal and state lawyers alleged Thursday that its internal parts — the massive boiler, steam chest and turbine — have been repeatedly upgraded without the modern pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act.

By steadily replacing worn out equipment, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges, owner Midwest Generation kept Fisk and five other power plants operating well past the time when they otherwise would have been closed. The noxious smoke churning out of the plants makes them some of the biggest contributors to dirty air in the Chicago area, according to federal records.

The 75-page lawsuit marks a renewed effort by the Obama administration to crack down on emissions from coal-fired power plants, an undertaking that languished under former President George W. Bush. Coal plants are major sources of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, toxic mercury and other pollutants that create lung-damaging soot and smog.

Salazar: Let's take renewable energy lead

The United States can fall behind the rest of the world in addressing renewable energy and climate change, or it can take the lead, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a large group of students and area residents at Fossil Ridge High School on Thursday.

At the two-hour regional forum on President Barack Obama's "Clean Energy Economy" agenda, Salazar, Gov. Bill Ritter, Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey and representatives of the White House and the states of Washington and California stumped for future congressional climate legislation focusing on renewable energy and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.Ritter said his vision for such a clean energy economy in Colorado means creating an "ecosystem" in Colorado supporting research and development of renewable energy technology, something that is already quite robust here.

Is China Ready to Play Ball on Global Warming?

China is finally tackling climate change head on. Sort of.

The Chinese parliament passed a resolution today calling for the country to "control" greenhouse-gas emissions and promote energy efficiency, lower energy consumption, and more renewable energy, Reuters reports. That's the culmination of a spate of Chinese reports from government and academia warning about the environmental impacts of the country's current growth path.

Now, that's not quite the same as accepting a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions, as many Western countries (and especially, many Republican legislators) want as a condition for even more aggressive action from rich countries. It's really a continuation of the two-pronged approach China's been following for years: use energy more efficiently and ramp-up clean energy.

Still, Chinese observers at least figure the non-binding political statement will give China more leverage at the big climate summit in Copenhagen in December. And Chinese legislators hope the new statement will derail U.S. talk of slapping Chinese exports with "carbon tariffs."

Indonesia agency seeks sweeping CO2 emissions cuts

An Indonesian environment agency has set out a roadmap for the government to adopt forestry, energy, transport, industrial and agriculture policies that would slash carbon emissions by the world's No. 3 emitter.Indonesia's government-backed National Climate Change Council, or NCCC, said significant cuts in emissions could be made through efforts to conserve forests and peatlands, among its top recommendations in a report published this week ahead of the key climate change talks in Copenhagen in December.

Study says shines light on sun spot-climate link

The sun is presently in a calm period after reaching a solar minimum at the end of last year, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.

The next solar peak is expected in May 2013. (For more details, see:

"This paper represents a useful step forward in understanding how solar activity may lead to modest but detectable climatic effects," said Brad Carter, senior lecturer in physics at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.

"It is a good reminder that solar activity is not an explanation of global warming over recent decades."

Midwestern states to see harshest warming — if their Senators filibuster a climate bill

Posted: 28 Aug 2009 10:10 AM PDT


I'm reposting this piece by Ryan Grim, which was on the front page of Huffington Post yesterday.  This is a new analysis from The Nature Conservancy of the temperature and precipitation impact on the country of staying on our current emissions path.  The darkest red on the map is where average annual warming greater than 10°F.  The results are very similar to "Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year."  I changed the HuffPost headline since this is really just a map of where warming will be the greatest.  Where "climate change" (including all the impacts) will hit the hardest is a tougher to say, but Florida and Louisiana probably top that list.  To bad three of the four senators from those states are also likely to vote for inaction and hence inundation.

Note:  If you want to see how the deniers mock one more warning of what's to come, read "Exclusive Weekly Standard Climate Change Projection."

The politics of climate change are difficult in the Senate, it's often said, because it's a regional issue: coal state senators are afraid their economies will be driven under if the price of dirty energy rises too quickly.

Climate change is, in fact, a regional issue, but not in the short-term way that the coal senators think, according to new analysis from The Nature Conservancy. The environmental group finds that rural Midwestern states will face the greatest consequences of climate change. The three that will face the steepest rise in temperature — Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa — are farm states whose soil will be significantly less productive as temperatures rise more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit there by 2100.

The rise by by 2050 — only 41 years from now — is also projected to be substantial. (Click here for an interactive map of the analysis.)

The two Republican senators from Kansas, which will be most ravaged by climate change, are unlikely to support legislation addressing it.

Sen. Sam Brownback, who is retiring from the Senate but continues to have statewide ambitions, has said that humanity has a religious imperative to reduce climate emissions, but he has also signed on to the "No Climate Tax Pledge" being pushed by Americans for Prosperity, which opposes climate change legislation. The pledge says that Brownback will "oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue" — which means any of the plans currently being considered.

Sen. Pat Roberts will also be a difficult vote for advocates to score.

In Nebraska, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson often works to pull legislation in a more conservative direction and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) isn't clamoring to support taking action to address climate change. Nelson signed a letter in June, along with nine other Democrats concentrated in the Midwest, saying he couldn't support the current version of the bill and outlining principles that would need to be met to get his vote.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the state that will face the third worst catastrophe, will be a key player on the Finance Committee, which hopes to claim jurisdiction over the distribution of the revenue that will be raised through a cap and trade system. His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Tom Harkin, is a much more likely yes vote.

The consequences to these farm states will be far reaching. As droughts become more common, their soil and climate will begin to look more like their neighbors' to the south in Texas and Mexico.

The ten-degree rise in temperature in the three states assumes that carbon emissions will continue their rate of increase. If the world's population somehow manages to reverse greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature is still expected to rise more than three degrees, which would still devastate those states' economies. A study released Thursday by Columbia University adds further concern about the viability of soybeans, corn and cotton — the expected temperature rise over the next century from even a slow warming scenario could decrease crop yields by 30 to 46 percent.

"To many, climate change doesn't seem real until it affects them, in their backyards," said Jonathan Hoekstra, director of climate change for The Nature Conservancy. "In many states across the country, the weather and landscapes could be nearly unrecognizable in 100 years."

Here is the map from the 13-agency NOAA-led impacts report.

Senators Spend Recess Fine-Tuning Messages on Cap and Trade New York Times

Washington Faces More Than 7-Degree Temperature Rise in Next Century The Nature Conservancy

Business groups target climate bill The Hill

Offshore wind farm in Atlantic at least a year away Los Angeles Times

Friday, August 28, 2009

China endorses resolution on climate change USA Today

Climate change poses threat of war, USF forum will hear Tampa Tribune

The Cost of Adapting to Climate Change New York Times

Persistence Stops A Train - and Global Warming Slowed Huffington Post

ABC News-Washington Post Poll: 57 Percent Support Energy Reform ABC News

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Yet another major poll finds "broad support" for clean energy and climate bill: "Support for the plan among independents has increased slightly."

Posted: 28 Aug 2009 08:20 AM PDT

My key takeaway from the new ABC-WashPost pollA lot of people understand energy prices are going up if we do nothing. In fact, 36% of 1001 voters polled believe "the proposed changes to U.S. energy policy" won't make much of a difference on energy costs and 16% it will decrease them.  And this in spite of relentless negative messaging to the contrary from the disinformers.

Washington Post-ABC News Poll

Many Americans understand the "do nothing" energy tax, since they saw that annual energy costs under President Bush jumped over $1000 (see here).  Americans understand that our rising dependence on oil and our inaction on climate change are untenable.  And they really, really believe in clean energy and understand that oil companies and Republicans have been blocking action for a long time.

The Post piece on the poll, "On Energy, Obama Finds Broad Support" has a great quote:

"Something definitely has to be done," said Marian Eldridge, a former legal secretary from East Windsor, N.J., who participated in the survey. "Anything's worth a try at this point." She said she tries to "ignore the politics; you get discouraged." But she said that higher energy costs were "inevitable" and that "we're too dependent on other countries."

The fact that American — especially likely voters — support climate and clean energy action should not be a surprise:

Here's more on what the new poll finds:

Most Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling energy issues and support efforts by him and Democrats in Congress to overhaul energy policy — including the controversial cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Even as public support has slipped for Obama's health-care proposals, support for ambitious changes in energy policy has been steady. Although the issue of health care arouses more intense feelings than energy policy does, those who do feel strongly about energy and climate policy tend to tilt toward the administration's position and a broad majority of people echo Democratic lawmakers' views on the benefits of proposed changes.

Nearly six in 10 of those polled support the proposed changes to U.S. energy policy being developed by Congress and the administration. Fifty-five percent of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the issue, compared with 30 percent who do not. A narrower majority, 52 to 43 percent, back a cap-and-trade system; that margin is unchanged since June. A cap-and-trade system would set a ceiling for the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, and it would allow firms to buy and sell emissions permits.

But what about all that disinformation from fossil fuel companies and conservatives about how the climate bill will ruin the economy?

GOP criticism of the House energy and climate bill appears to have primarily influenced Republicans themselves. Among Republicans, support for cap-and-trade legislation has dipped from 45 percent to 37 percent since a poll taken in June….

Support for the plan among independents has increased slightly, with a narrow majority now in favor. Overall, a slight majority of those polled say changes to energy policy would help address global warming, while a third say they will not. A slim 5 percent volunteered that global warming is not an issue.

And Americans do love policies that promote clean energy:

Obama's goal of putting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015 strikes a chord. More than eight in 10 people say they support the development of electric car technology….

Solar and wind power enjoy near-universal support; nine in 10 people support further development. More than eight in 10 favor requirements for greater fuel efficiency. Broad majorities also favor requiring increased energy conservation from businesses and consumers.

Fifty-two percent favor building more nuclear power plants, but that support drops to 35 percent if the new plants were within 50 miles of the respondent's home. Support for building nuclear plants is up about six percentage points since 2001.

People love nukes in someone else's backyard.  Here's an interesting stat:

Some people see the government's Cash for Clunkers program as a symbol of energy policy, even though it is separate from the comprehensive House legislation. Nearly seven in 10 backed using cash rebates to encourage people to buy more fuel-efficient cars .

It may be that the well-advertised success of this program hasincreased confidence in the government's ability to enact intelligent energy policy.  If so, that is an even bigger benefit than its economic and energy impacts (see "Cash for Clunkers is a double economic stimulus that pays for itself in oil savings so CO2 savings are free").

I'll discuss the messaging implications of this and other polls in September.

Climate Progress at three years: Why I blog

Posted: 27 Aug 2009 05:16 PM PDT

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books….

I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts….

No, I'm not operating under the misimpression that my writing can be compared with George Orwell's.  I know of no essayists today who come close to matching his skill in writing.  On top of that, bloggers simply lack the time necessary for consistently first-rate efforts.  I've written some two million words since launching this blog three years ago this week.  Perfection isn't an option.

But operating under the dictum, "if you want to be a better writer, read better writers," I took on vacation Facing Unpleasant Facts, a collection of Orwell's brilliant narrative essays.  My life has been almost the exact opposite of Orwell's.  Indeed, if you think you had a rough childhood, trying reading, "Such, such were the joys."  Compared to Orwell, we've all been raised by Mary Poppins.

Orwell does have the soul of a blogger, as we'll see.  He is solipsistic almost to a fault, but with a brutal honesty that puts even the best modern memoirist to shame.

Read about how his headmaster cured his bedwetting with a beating, a double caning with a riding crop in fact, after he foolishly announced that the first one "didn't hurt."  Or read "Shooting an Elephant," with its gut-punching first line, "In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me."

Second, he has "a power of facing unpleasant facts," which I think is perhaps the primary quality I aspire for here.

I joined the new media because the old media have failed us. They have utterly failed to force us to face unpleasant facts — see "What if the MSM simply can't cover humanity's self-destruction?" and "The media's decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress" and dozens more examples here.

Unlike Orwell, I knew from a very early age, certainly by the age of five or six, that I would be a physicist, like my uncle, and I announced that proudly to all who asked.

I knew I didn't want to be a professional writer since I saw how hopeless it was to make a living that way.  My father was the editor of a small newspaper (circulation 20,000) that he turned into a medium-sized newspaper (70,000) but was paid dirt, even though he managed the equivalent of a large manufacturing enterprise — while simultaneously writing three editorials a day — that in any other industry would pay ten times as much.  My mother pursued freelance writing for many, many years, an even more difficult way to earn a living (see also "This could not possibly be more off topic").

Why share this?  Orwell, who shares far, far more in his master class of essay writing, argues in "Why I write":

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer's motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.

Interestingly, I think there are more than four great motives to blog, at least for me.  But let's start with Orwell's:

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one….  Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

No argument here.  On the bright side, I make no pretensions to be a serious writer.  I'm not certain that bloggers are journalists.  I think we are, however, journal-ists.  What is a log if not a journal?

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.

Again, inarguable.  I'm an auditory person, for those who know NLP, and I dictate all of my blog posts.  If you want to be a better writer, I suggest you read aloud everything you write.  For me the sound of a good phrase, the pleasure of a headline that works, is immense.  I wouldn't blog just for that reason, and I'd rather have a widely-read substantive blog than a scarcely-read work of art, if such a thing even exists on the blogosphere.   Sometimes everything comes together, as in perhaps my best headline, the one Time magazine singled out in naming me a favorite environmental website:  "Debate over. Further delay fatal. Action not costly. This headline pretty much sums up Joe Romm's message. Romm is a one-man anti-disinformation clearinghouse."

I will take a clearinghouse over an arthouse any day.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

Even more so with a blog.  In the increasingly likely event we don't avert catastrophic global warming, I do hope that the reporting and analysis in this blog, which evolves over time, will be of use to those trying to understand just how it is that, as Elizabeth Kolbert put it, "a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself."  It will be a great source of bafflement to future generations, and I suspect that as they suffer through the misery and grief caused by our myopia and greed, there will be a growing literature aimed at trying to understand what went wrong, how we did this to ourselves.  Perhaps this web log will help.  That's one more motivation for me to use as many links as possible to original sources.

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word 'political' in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature — taking your 'nature' to be the state you have attained when you are first adult — I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer.

Pretty amazing that Orwell uses that last word.  The Wikipedia entry on "pamphleteer" asserts, "Today a pamphleteer might communicate his missives by way of weblog…."

Orwell explains the source of his evoluton:

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, 'I am going to produce a work of art'. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

I couldn't dream of saying it better than that if I worked on this post for a month.

Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

I also blog for at least two other reasons.

Piece of mind:  I would be unimaginably frustrated and depressed if I didn't have a way of contributing to the task of saving a livable climate, a way of responding in real time to the general humbug and sentences without meaning and purple passages of those who wittingly or unwittingly spreading disinformation aimed at delaying action on climate change.  I hope the comments section on the blog serves in some small way as a similar outlet for readers.

Personal growth:  The act of trying to explain the science and the solutions and the politics to a broader audience forces me think hard about what I'm really saying, about what I really know and don't know.  It makes me much smarter, if no one else.  The rapid feedback and global nature of the blogosphere mean that I get to test my ideas against people who are exceedingly knowledgeable and equally articulate.  Through this blog I have interacted with people from every walk of life, with widely different worldviews, from many continents, whom I never would have otherwise known.  And all from the basement of my home, occasionally with my daughter by my side.

Like Orwell, I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know I wouldn't be blogging this much if you all weren't tuning in and writing your comments.  The readership of this blog has exploded — for those who follow my feedburner stats, they have gone through the roof since the website redesign, for reasons I don't fully understand.  And I am in discussions to further syndicate the content, so it will reach many more people than who read it here or on Grist or Worldchanging or elsewhere.

Most of all, it boggles the mind that I have a profession that did not exist even a decade ago, but that is, in many respects, precisely what my father did, precisely what I never expected to do.

After my brother lost his home in Katrina, and I started interviewing climate experts for what turned into my book, Hell and High Water, I made a decision I would not pull any punches and would get "political" as Orwell defined the term.

If I have learned anything from the blog, it is that there is in fact a great hunger out there for the bluntest possible talk about the dire nature of our energy and climate situation, about the grave threat to our children and the next 50 generations, about the vast but still achieveable scale of the solutions, about the forces in politics and media that impede action  — a hunger to face unpleasant facts head on.   And that is possibly the most reassuring thing I have learned in the past three years.  Thank you all for that!

Cash for Clunkers is a double economic stimulus that pays for itself in oil savings so CO2 savings are free

Posted: 27 Aug 2009 01:34 PM PDT

Given the silly sniping at this small, wildly successful program, I feel obliged to update my last post.

BusinessWeek's Auto Beat whines, "They say the program was effective in selling cars, but the boost won't last long enough to really help the car industry for very long."  Ya think?  It's a friggin' stimulus, and a tiny one at that — $3 billion.

A person passes a car in a dumpster placed in front of an auto ...And then we have the academics — UC Davis's Christopher R. Knittel actually did a study on "The Implied Cost of Carbon Dioxide under the Cash for Clunkers Program," which got lots of media attention like "Cash for Clunkers Pays Ten Times Market Rate for Greenhouse Gas Reduction."  I could have saved them a lot of trouble had they bothered to read my May post, which noted "As a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this "cash for clunkers" deal is probably among the least cost-effective uses of federal dollars one could imagine."

Memo to media:  It ain't "Cash for carbon."

I was not a big fan of the final version of "Cash for Clunkers" because its mileage improvement requirements were so inadequate, as Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) explained here.

But in the real world, the public has mostly turned in gas-guzzlers in exchange for fuel-efficient cars — which perhaps should not have been a total surprise since oil prices are rising, gas guzzlers remain a tough resell in the used car market, and most fuel-efficient cars are much cheaper than SUVs.  So as a stimulus that saves oil while cutting CO2 for free — it has turned out to be a slam dunk, far better than I had expected.

You can read the government's final report on Cash for Clunkers aka Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) here.  The economic bottom line, "According to a preliminary analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the CARS program" will:

  • Boost economic growth in the third quarter of 2009 by 0.3-0.4 percentage points at an annual rate thanks to increased auto sales in July and August.
  • Will sustain the increase in GDP in the fourth quarter because of increased auto production to replace depleted inventories.
  • Will create or save 42,000 jobs in the second half of 2009. Those jobs are expected to remain well after the program's close.

I should note that Detroit sold 39% of new vehicles in the program.  Further, as AP reported yesterday, "The Toyota Corolla was the most popular new vehicle purchased under the program. The Honda Civic, Toyota Camry and Ford Focus held the next three top spots. All four are built in the United States."

I don't think the CEA factored in the economic benefit of lowering people's gasoline bill, which puts more money in their pocket to save or spend in their community.

Even Seth Borenstein, the AP science writer I admire greatly, who has a long piece explaining that CARS is a very cost-ineffective way to save CO2, noted that "America will be using nearly 72 million fewer gallons of gasoline a year because of the program, based on the first quarter-million vehicles replaced."

Well, the basic stats for the second phase, which brings the total cars sold to 700,000 are about the same:

84 percent of consumers traded in trucks and 59 percent purchased passenger cars. The average fuel economy of the vehicles traded in was 15.8 miles per gallon and the average fuel economy of vehicles purchased is 24.9 mpg. – a 58 percent improvement.

Yes, it costs energy to manufacture new cars, but most of that is in the steel and other metal in the car, so you get a lot of that energy back when you scrap it.

Yes, people drive newer cars further, but vehicle miles traveled declined 3.6% in 2008 compared to 2007, in large part because of gasoline prices, though Brookings believes more fundamental trends are at play.  I expect gasoline prices to rise relatively steadily over the next decade, to more than $5 a gallon, so exactly how VMT play out is far from clear.

Let's assume the new cars are driven nearly 20% more over the next 5 years, and that the average price of gasoline over the next five years is $3.50.  Then we're "only" saving 140 million gallons a year or roughly $500 million a year.  The $3 billion program "pays for itself" in oil savings in 6 years.  And most of that oil savings is money that would have left the country, so it is a (small) secondary stimulus.

Using a rough estimate of 25 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gas (full lifecycle emissions), then we're saving over 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year — and all of the ancillary urban air pollutants from those clunkers — for free.

The bottom line is that the program seems to be a shot in the arm for the auto industry and economy, while achieving better energy and environmental gains than expected.  Let the sniping begin!

On Energy, Obama Finds Broad Support Washington Post

Technology Can Fight Global Warming Wall Street Journal

On Energy, Obama Finds Broad Support Washington Post

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A crucial climate vote lost with Ted Kennedy's death Grist Magazine

New Analysis Shows America's Heartland Hardest Hit by Climate Change The Nature Conservancy

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Energy and Climate News for August 27: Solar panels drop sharply in price

Posted: 27 Aug 2009 09:28 AM PDT

More Sun for Less: Solar Panels Drop in Price

For solar shoppers these days, the price is right. Panel prices have fallen about 40 percent since the middle of last year, driven down partly by an increase in the supply of a crucial ingredient for panels, according to analysts at the investment bank Piper Jaffray.

The price drops — coupled with recently expanded federal incentives — could shrink the time it takes solar panels to pay for themselves to 16 years, from 22 years, in places with high electricity costs….

American consumers have the rest of the world to thank for the big solar price break.

Until recently, panel makers had been constrained by limited production of polysilicon, which goes into most types of panels. But more factories making the material have opened, as have more plants churning out the panels themselves — especially in China.

"A ton of production, mostly Chinese, has come online," said Chris Whitman, the president of U.S. Solar Finance, which helps arrange bank financing for solar projects.

Talk about your mixed feelings — it's WalMart all over again, but with clean energy, not toys and households products (see "Solar PV market doubled to 6 Gigawatts in 2008 — U.S. left in dust, having invented the technology").

Many experts expect panel prices to fall further, though not by another 40 percent….

John Berger, chief executive of Standard Renewable Energy, the company in Houston that put panels on Mr. Hare's home, said that his second-quarter sales rose by more than 225 percent from the first quarter.

"Was that as a product of declining panel prices? Almost certainly yes," Mr. Berger said.

Expanded federal incentives have also helped spur the market. Until this year, homeowners could get a 30 percent tax credit for solar electric installations, but it was capped at $2,000. That cap was lifted on Jan. 1.

Mr. Hare in Texas cited the larger tax credit, which sliced about $23,000 from his $77,000 bill, as a major factor in his decision to go solar, in addition to the falling panel prices.  Sensing a good deal, he even got a larg er system than he had originally planned — going from 42 panels to 64. The electric bill on his 7,000-square-foot house and garage has typically run $600 to $700 a month, but he expects a reduction of 40 to 80 percent.

Ah, the 7,000 square foot house.  Enjoy it while you can!

As Oil Explodes, Why Natural Gas Prices Stay Low

If Best Buy had a big sale on Blu-ray discs, would you go out and buy a Blu-ray player? The energy markets are kind of like that — natural gas is really cheap, for now, but does that does mean we should build infrastructure for a natural gas-fueled economy?

Bargains only last so long, even in this recession. Sorry, T. Boone Pickens.

To delve deeper, let's examine why gas prices have deflated so much: Natural gas prices and oil prices are no longer bedfellows in our present economy. As crude oil has skyrocketed from about $30 per barrel in December 2008 to over $70, natural gas has plummeted from nearly $6 per million BTU to under $3, recently setting a seven-year low. To put these numbers in perspective, this makes oil over four times as expensive as natural gas to produce the same amount of energy, according to the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Long story short, this year we are going to have more natural gas than we need — or potentially even store.

That's no reason to party. Here's why: Unlike the global crude oil market, the natural gas market is incredibly localized. The United States produces nearly 90% of what it consumes, and the rest is imported from Canada or from overseas — the latterd amounting to only about 2.5% of U.S. consumption. Thus, a glut of domestic gas doesn't really affect imports.

U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty

The biofuels revolution that promised to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil is fizzling out.  Two-thirds of U.S. biodiesel production capacity now sits unused, reports the National Biodiesel Board. Biodiesel, a crucial part of government efforts to develop alternative fuels for trucks and factories, has been hit hard by the recession and falling oil prices.

The House Bill Will Start Clearing the Air for Everyone

David Schoenbrod and Richard Stewart are right that a cap-and-trade policy will be good for our environment and our economy ("The Cap-and-Trade Bait and Switch," Aug. 24). But we think history will show they are way off the mark in their criticism of the American Clean Energy and Security Act that recently passed the House.

Boxer and Colleagues Feel the Heat on Cap and Trade

There will be plenty of time next month for the Senate to debate a cap-and-trade policy, but some groups have already decided that the bill currently on the table is not an adequate solution to national energy and environmental concerns─and they're making sure to speak up early.

Later today, more than 320 environmental and energy groups plan to deliver a letter to Calif. Sen. Barbara Boxer and her colleagues on the Senate Environment Committee that she chairs, arguing that the climate bill that the House narrowly passed in June is too diluted to reasonably curb carbon emissions and spur growth in renewable energy.

Letters of support or opposition constantly fly through the halls of Capitol Hill, but this one is bound to turn some heads for the sheer number of names on it. The broad collection of signatories─form the Center for Biological Diversity to the Southern Energy Network and a whole host of municipalities, faith groups and social justice organizations─lays out in short form exactly what a better bill should look like.

"A top priority must be to eliminate or greatly limit and restrict offsets," which would allow carbon pollution to continue or even increase in some regions, the letter says. It also urges that the framework of the cap-and-trade program be more transparent, to limit how much big energy companies can manipulate the value of credits. And when it comes to setting limits and emission standards, the groups suggest overshooting current scientific projections, rather than falling short.

Worth a shot, but they are mostly lobbying the wrong people.  It is the swing Senators, not Boxer and the Senate environment committee, who will determine how weak or strong the final bill is.

Grist: Barack Obama is not Bagger Vance

Posted: 27 Aug 2009 08:09 AM PDT

My colleague David Roberts at Grist has a provocative post I am reprinting below.  I think it is an important message for progressives to hear (see "Memo to enviros, progressives: The deniers and dirty energy bunch are "full of passionate intensity" — and eating our lunch on the climate bill!") although I only half agree with him.  I think that if team Obama's messaging and outreach had been superlative (as it was for most of the campaign), rather than dreadful as it has been for over two months now, that both the health care and climate bills would be in far better shape.  But that would still not be any guarantee of success nor would it necessarily have resulted in a climate bill on his desk substantially stronger than the one the House passed, for many reasons some of which Roberts spells out.  Even Obama can't single-handedly beat the well-funded disinformers when progressives in genral are lousy at messaging and big media is impotent? I'll blog more on messaging in September.  Comments on Roberts' piece are welcome. are pretty grim among progressives these days, what with health care bogging down and climate legislation on indefinite delay; right wing crazies everywhere and Blue Dogs intransigent; the organized coalition that brought Obama to office fractured and ineffective. Disillusionment is in the air.

In response, on listservs and private conversations, I'm hearing more and more people express some version of the following sentiment:  Barack Obama should save us. According to this line of thinking, if Obama really got serious, got his messaging right, did a really good speech, exercised his extraordinary popularity with the American people, he could right the ship for his two main domestic initiatives, both of which are drifting perilously close to the shoals.

It's understandable. Everyone still remembers the extraordinary high of the campaign, the rare and almost forgotten feeling of being genuinely moved by a civic-minded politician. Everyone wants that high back, as an escape from the lies, bottlenecks, and general unpleasantness that now beset us.

But let me be blunt: Barack Obama is not our magic negro. He's not Bagger Vance.

He hasn't come along to teach the ornery white folk the error of their ways. He's just the president, a centrist Democrat embedded in a power structure replete with roadblocks and constraints. The president, even an extraordinarily popular president, can only do so much. Making one more speech won't have any effect on Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) or Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). It won't reduce the money pouring from dirty energy companies into congressional coffers. It won't change anybody's mind at a teabagging rally or a dirty energy astroturfing event. This notion that Obama trying harder is the key to progressive success is just a siren song; it delays getting serious.

Along these lines, read Mike Tomasky. It's about health care, but it applies just as well to the climate/energy fight:

So now, liberals have to fight hard for something they're not terribly excited about. A health bill will likely have a very weak public option or it won't have one at all. But liberals will have to battle for that bill as if it's life and death (which in fact it will be for thousands of Americans), because its defeat would constitute a historic victory for the birthers and the gun-toters and the Hitler analogists. In the coming weeks, building toward a possible congressional vote in November, progressives will have to get out in force to show middle America that there's support for reform as well as opposition, even though they may find the final bill disappointing.

This is what movements do—they do the hard, slow work of winning political battles and changing public opinion over time. It isn't fun. It isn't something is going to make a clever and moving video about, and it offers precious few moments for YouTube. It takes years, which is a bummer, in a political culture that measures success and failure by the hour. The end of euphoria should lead not to disillusionment, but to seriousness of purpose.

Obama can't save progressives. They'll save their agenda, if at all, with persistence and organizing. As it always was.

– Dave Roberts

Videos of Chu, (Bill) Clinton, Gore, Pickens, Reid, Van Jones, Villaraigosa, Wirth, and Zoi at the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0

Posted: 27 Aug 2009 07:21 AM PDT

Videos are now available (here) for the "National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 on Jobs and the New Economy" at UNLV in Nevada August 10.

Participants at the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 in Las Vegas, NV, discussed ways smart federal and state-level policies can work to upscale existing markets for energy-efficiency retrofits, renewable energy, and energy infrastructure in a way that creates jobs, saves consumers money, and generates private investment. In conjunction with the summit, John Podesta and former Senator Timothy E. Wirth (D-CO) authored a short memo about the promise of natural gas as a bridge fuel for the 21st century, and CAP released a report with the Energy Future Coalition.

The videos represent an excellent six-hour workshop on the clean energy challenge and opportunity from some of the leading experts in the country  (see also "An introduction to the core climate solutions").  Here is the agenda with the full list of Summit Speakers you can listen to:

Roundtable: Building the Clean-Energy Economy

Welcome and opening remarks by:United Nations Foundation President, Former Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO), Moderator
Dr. Neal Smatresk, acting president, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
Former Vice President Al Gore
John D. Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress Action Fund

Moderated Discussions:

The macro economic case for clean-energy investment

Bringing energy-efficiency retrofits to scale

Promoting the market for renewable energy and energy infrastructure
Participants include:
Denise Bode – CEO, American Wind Energy Association
Lucien BronickiFounder and Chairman, Ormat Technologies
Dr. Stephanie Burns – CEO, Dow Corning
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Secretary Steven Chu – U.S. Department of Energy
General Wesley Clark – Chairman, Growth Energy
Former Vice President Al Gore
Nevada State Senator Steven Horsford
Van Jones – White House Council on Environmental Quality
Rose McKinney James – Energy Foundation Boards
Terry O'Sullivan – General President, Laborers' International Union of North America
T. Boone Pickens – Boone Pickens Capital Management
John D. Podesta – President and CEO, Center for American Progress Action Fund
Marc Porat – Serious Materials and Pegasus Investments
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
Steve Roell – Chairman and CEO, Johnson Controls
Dr. Keith Schwer – Director, UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research
Secretary Hilda L. Solis – U.S. Department of Labor
Danny Thompson – Executive Secretary Treasurer, Nevada State AFL-CIO
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – Los Angeles, California
John Woolard – President and CEO, Bright Source Energy
Michael Yackira – CEO, Nevada Energy
Former Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO) – United Nations Foundation, Moderator

Special Remarks by President Bill Clinton

Clean-Energy Policy Community Town Hall

Vice President Al Gore
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
T. Boone Pickens
Cathy Zoi, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy
John D. Podesta, Moderator

Again, the videos are all here.

On the 150th anniversary of first commerical U.S. well, the oil industry is headed toward oblivion — and trying to take civilization down with it

Posted: 26 Aug 2009 06:38 PM PDT"I claim that I did invent the driving Pipe and drive it and without that they could not bore on bottom land when the earth is full of water.  And I claim to have bored the first well that ever was bored for Petroleum in America and can show the well."

So wrote Edwin Draka aka Colonel Drake, who is "popularly credited with being the first to drill for oil in the United States" on August 27, 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania.  His methods were quickly copied by others and "By 1871, the entire area was producing 5.8 million barrels a year."

As Daniel Yergin wrote in his still must-read Pulitzer Prize-winning history, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power (where I found Drake's quote):

Drake's discovery would, in due course, bequeath mobility and power to the world's population, play a central role in the rise and fall of nations and empires, and become a major element in the transformation of human society.

Combined with Henry Ford's mass production and moving assembly line, the oil boom ushered in the American Century.  For two world wars, America was not just the arsenal of democracy, we were the engine fuel of democracy.  As late as the mid-1950s, we still produced roughly half of all the world's oil — twice as much oil as the Middle Eastern and North African states combined.

But our drain-America-first policy — coupled with the gross inefficiency of our oil consumption and successful conservative efforts to block an energy policy built around efficiency and alternatives — caused U.S. production to peak decades ago.  And now world oil consumption is peaking, even as the nation's and the world's fossil fuel consumption are driving us toward catastrophic climate impacts, Hell and High Water, which would outlast the oil age by a thousand years.

The U.S. oil industry, going back to John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, has long been guilty of the most anti-competitive tactics.  Originally, those harsh tactics focused on competitors, with the worst impact for most Americans being higher prices than they might otherwise have experienced.  "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1911 that antitrust law required Standard Oil to be broken into smaller, independent companies," but "ExxonMobil, however, does represent a substantial part of the original company."

ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute are still guilty of harsh, anti-competitive tactics, but the worst impacts of their massively funded disinformation campaign will be to ruin a livable climate for the next 100 billion people to walk the planet.  If we don't overcome that campaign and reverse emissions trends quickly, then long after an oil-driven economy is a distant memory, future generations will curse the industry for engaging in the most despicable act in human history — persuading just enough Americans, opinion makers, and politicians to delay or weaken efforts to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

It bears repeating on this anniversary that Big Oil is manufacturing 'Energy Citizen' rallies to oppose clean energy reform and funding economic disinformation (see "Even fantasy-filled American Petroleum Institute study finds no significant impact of climate bill on US refining").

It bears repeating that the country's biggest oil company has funneled millions of dollars to fund the disinformation campaigns of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which continue to advance unfactual anti-scientific attacks as I have detailed recently (see posts on Heritage and CEI and AEI). Chris Mooney wrote an excellent piece on ExxonMobil's two-decade anti-scientific campaign. A 2007 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report looked at ExxonMobil's tobacco industry-like tactics in pushing global warming denial (see "Today We Have a Planet That's Smoking!").

The oil giant said it would stop, but that was just another lie (see "Another ExxonMobil deceit: They are still funding climate science deniers despite public pledge").

Let me end with an excellent commentary from Tuesday by award-winning journalist, Eric Pooley, "Exxon Works Up New Recipe for Frying the Planet":

Exxon Mobil Corp. is trying to put one over on you.

The world's biggest publicly traded oil company wants you to believe that it actually supports the fight against global warming. But its tactics, which have been unfolding on opposite sides of the globe, are just another recipe for cooking the planet in three easy steps.

Exxon's old formula wasn't working anymore. The oil giant used to bankroll scientists who claimed all that stuff about starving polar bears and melting ice caps was just mumbo jumbo. In a 1998 memo, the American Petroleum Institute — the industry group in which Exxon has long been dominant — said it would achieve "victory" when doubts about climate science become "part of the 'conventional wisdom.'" That helped create a noisy minority of skeptics, but it won't block climate legislation forever.

So now Exxon is playing a more subtle game. It runs plenty of ads featuring people in lab coats talking about clean energy. It spent $15 million on Washington lobbyists in the first half of this year — more than all the solar and wind companies combined. And it has created its new three-step program, which is based on bad economics instead of shady science.

Step One: Gin up some frightening numbers, and use scare tactics and lobbying muscle to kill the Obama administration's proposed mandatory cap on carbon emissions.


As the U.S. Senate begins work on the climate-change bill, which squeaked through the House of Representatives in June, Exxon is among those denouncing the plan to cap emissions as a stealth tax that would destroy jobs and drive up energy costs. How does the oil producer know this? Because think tanks funded by Exxon and others say so.

The company announced last year that it had stopped giving money to global-warming skeptics who "divert attention" from the need for clean energy.

Instead, it supports groups such as the American Council for Capital Formation and the National Center for Policy Analysis, which issue industry-friendly research. One study released in May by the Heritage Foundation, which received at least $50,000 from Exxon last year, claims that by putting a price on carbon, the measure will kill millions of jobs and send gasoline soaring.

The study has been criticized for making wildly pessimistic economic assumptions — no energy efficiency gains, no increased use of renewables — and for ignoring the bill's many cost containment provisions. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that middle-class households would pay only $175 a year more in 2020 because of the legislation.

Doomsday Study

But let's look closer. This doomsday study claims the measure would drive gasoline prices to $4 a gallon — in 2035! If we don't develop alternative energy, which is the whole point of climate legislation, a gallon of gas will cost a lot more than that in 25 years. The price of inaction is far higher than the cost of acting now, though that's not a discussion Exxon wants to have.

Step Two: Organize demonstrations. On Aug. 18, about 3,500 people rallied in Houston against the bill — the first of some 20 such "Energy Citizen" events sponsored by API and other industry groups. The participants were energy industry workers, many of whom wore T-shirts saying, "I'll Pass on $4 Gas."

How did they come to be there? A leaked memo from API president Jack Gerard asked the group's member companies to send employees to the rallies to "focus our message" against "Waxman-Markey-like legislation, tax increases, and (energy) access limitations." He also asked them to keep it quiet.

Legislative Caricature

Royal Dutch Shell and BP refused to participate in the events because they support cap and trade, but Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum are involved, along with more than 60 other businesses and associations. Exxon advised its workers that attendance was "at their own discretion and not required," spokesman Rob Young told me, while saying that Exxon "opposes this deeply flawed legislation" and agrees with the rally's job-killer message. How could it not? It helped pay for studies that "prove" the point.

Step 3: Offer a seemingly sensible alternative policy. Having caricatured the legislation, Exxon then offers a compromise. That's what it did in Australia earlier this month, after the legislature shot down Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's climate proposal. Last week the chairman of Exxon's Australian unit, John Dashwood, called for replacing cap and trade with a carbon tax. Echoing a January 2009 speech against cap and trade by Chief Executive Rex Tillerson. Dashwood said the carbon tax "is more transparent to consumers, will achieve greater environmental benefits and is more difficult to manipulate than a cap-and-trade program."

Tax Without Change

Let's get this straight. Exxon is demonstrating against a climate bill in the U.S. because it is supposedly a hidden tax, and on the other side of the globe it is lobbying for a tax. This may seem contradictory, but it's not. I believe the company simply recognizes what so many others have missed in the debate over the tax versus the cap: The cap requires economy-wide emissions reductions, and the tax doesn't.

Exxon doesn't want to do business in a world where cuts in carbon dioxide are mandatory. It would prefer to pay a modest tax and keep on polluting.

A tax wouldn't guarantee any carbon reductions, let alone bring about the steep cuts needed to stave off the worst climate changes. By calling for a small tax instead of a mandatory cap, that's exactly the kind of solution Exxon is proposing.

(Eric Pooley, a former managing editor of Fortune magazine who is writing a book about the politics of global warming, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Come 2059, oil consumption will be far smaller than today and on a sharp downslope.  The only question is whether we were smart enough to voluntarily abandon fossil fuels starting now, staving off the worst climate impacts or we stupidly listened to the Siren song of the big oil Delayers.

The industry is inexorably headed toward oblivion.  Are we?

'China will sign' global treaty if U.S. passes climate bill, E.U. leader says

Posted: 26 Aug 2009 04:38 PM PDT

Much of the fate of the U.N. climate treaty talks now rests in the U.S. Senate, according to a leading E.U. official, who says China would "lose its last reason" not to support an international pact if the United States passes a cap-and-trade bill.

"I know for the American Senate it's absolutely crucial to know that China will sign the treaty," said Sweden's environment minister, Andreas Carlgren, whose country currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency. "I understand that. We fully support that. We have the same expectations."

"The difference is that we [Europeans] have done so many things already, and the Senate is still deciding on cap and trade," Carlgren said yesterday in an interview at the Swedish embassy. "If the Senate would pass it, there would be no reason for China not to sign up."

The pressure is building on those swing Senators, as E&E News PM (subs. req'd) makes clear in its reporting tonight.  It is increasingly clear that a handful of senators — maybe 3 to 5 (see "Epic Battle 3: Who are the swing Senators?") — hold in their hand not just the fate of domestic climate action, but the fate of an international climate deal.

China is pushing hard to become the clean energy leader and is strongly considering major emissions commitments (see "Peaking Duck: Beijing's Growing Appetite for Climate Action").  Europe is obviously prepared to make a stronger climate commitment than the United States.  We are the linchpin.

Interestingly, Carlgren makes clear that the Waxman-Markey bill contains elements that make up for its relatively weak 2020 target — so it will be crucial for the Senate to keep those pieces:

Carlgren was recently in China, and said "it seems the Chinese are very serious" about climate change and, while "it is not very easy to turn a tanker around, the first step is that the captain has to understand that he has to make a move." China understands that, he said, and the efficiency goals it has already set in its five-year plan will reduce emissions.

E.U. and U.S. officials want a firmer commitment, signed into international treaty, that will expand and possibly raise China's efficiency and renewable commitments until 2020. They are unlikely to ask for hard caps, officials have indicated.

In the ongoing climate treaty talks, the European Union expects more from the United States than its current proposals on midterm emissions targets and adaptation funds for developing nations, Carlgren said.

"We expect much from the United States, certainly more than we saw in President Obama's first bid for the midterm perspective," Carlgren said. Establishing a "sufficiently ambitious" target remains a key issue between Europe and the United States, he added.

European negotiators have insisted that comparable steps to reduce climate change be taken on both sides of the Atlantic. (E.U. states are set to trim emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.) However, given that the U.S. 2020 target is unlikely to exceed the limits proposed in the House's climate bill — which, under rosy projections, would drop emissions by no more than 13 percent below 1990 levels — the bloc is open to broadening its view on what is considered comparable, Carlgren said.

It's good to see some flexibility by the EU.  The 10% in additional emissions reductions the climate bill gets from a massive investment in new national-accounting based efforts to stop deforestation are certainly one of the best features of Waxman-Markey.

Among other areas, "efforts on financing could also be taken into account," he said. Also, "if America could really go for a steeper pathway after 2020, that could also be taken into account."

And indeed the climate bill does in fact make steeper emissions reductions post-2020, hitting a 42% reduction in 2030 and then 83% in 2050.  Again, these our crucial features of the bill that the Senate needs to retain.

The Swedish minister has been flummoxed by some of the debate he has heard over the climate bill as it is set to be discussed next month in the Senate.

"There are some crazy calculations going around here in America" and largely distributed by lobbyists, he said. "But we can show that there is no alternative [to cap and trade] that would lower emissions at a lower cost."

If he's been flummoxed by the House debate, he is really going to be baffled by the Senate debate.

Are there 60 Senators who understand the stakes, understand that cap-and-trade lowers emissions at the lowest cost, understand that this is the most important vote of their career?  Let's all keep working as hard as possible to make sure there are.

Enhancing our national security by reducing oil dependence and environmental damage

Posted: 26 Aug 2009 01:59 PM PDT

The United States has an historic opportunity to enhance its national security by reducing its dependence on oil. Policies to accomplish this goal, including more efficient fuel economy standards, investments in hybrid and electric vehicles, development of natural gas-fueled heavy duty vehicles, and production of advanced biofuels would also create jobs and reduce global warming pollution.  This piece, by CAP's Christopher Beddor, Winny Chen, Rudy deLeon, Shiyong Park, and Daniel J. Weiss, was first posted here.  It summarizes the findings of their 21-page report (pdf).

On June 26 the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACESA. The bill would cap greenhouse gas emissions, boost investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy such as wind and solar, and jumpstart the transition to a clean-energy economy. These new investments in clean-energy technologies would slash global warming pollution and reduce foreign oil use while creating jobs and increasing our economic competitiveness with China and other nations.

But in the lead up to the ACESA vote and in the weeks since House passage, conservative opponents of clean, domestic energy have wildly misrepresented the bill's content and cost, while resorting to scare tactics and half-truths in service of the status quo. On the contrary, America's reliance on imported fossil fuels instead of clean, domestic sources of energy has long been costly to our economy, our environment, and our national security— and will become even more so if we fail to act now.

America's dependence on foreign oil transfers U.S. dollars to a number of unfriendly regimes, while robbing the United States of the economic resources it desperately needs for domestic development and American innovation. American petrodollars fund regimes and economic investments that do not serve U.S. interests. And our enormous appetite for oil—America burns a full quarter of the world's oil—feeds the global demand that finances and sustains corrupt and undemocratic regimes around the globe. The perilous implications of this arrangement—increasing power and influence of oil exporters, many of whom comprise the world's worst regimes—will become more explicit if global demand increases as some current forecasts predict.

What's more, the United States will increasingly turn to exporting countries that have opposing interests as oil production in friendly nations becomes depleted or less viable. Ultimately, the United States will become more invested in the volatile Middle East, more dependent on corrupt and unsavory regimes, and more involved with politically unstable countries. In fact, it may be forced to choose between maintaining an effective foreign policy or a consistent energy supply as U.S. consumers face higher energy prices.

The good news is that the United States has an historic opportunity to enhance its national security by reducing its dependence on oil. Policies to accomplish this goal, including more efficient fuel economy standards, investments in hybrid and electric vehicles, development of natural gas-fueled heavy duty vehicles, and production of advanced biofuels would also create jobs and reduce global warming pollution. A transformation from oil to no- and low-carbon energy sources will catalyze innovation that creates new technologies that the United States can market to other nations, leading to long-term economic growth and prosperity as well as enhanced security.

This fall the Senate has a historic opportunity to reduce U.S. oil consumption as part of its debate on comprehensive clean-energy jobs and global warming pollution reduction legislation.

Download the full report (pdf)

Related Posts: