Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rockefellers Want Change!

First, a bit of history:

Standard Oil, the company John D. Rockefeller founded and turned into an economic superpower, was forced to break up into roughly 34 different companies around 1911. Two of these pieces eventually became Exxon and Mobile respectively. As you all know, these two companies are now combined, which has created the worlds largest integrated oil company. Since this new economic superpower was born from the Standard Oil breakup, the Rockefeller family still has significant power within ExxonMobile - through stock ownership, trusts, and personal clout.

This is a very good thing. They are on the offensive.

A statement issued yesterday by the Rockefeller family was a warning shot, saying that Exxon's leadership is "failing to address the future of energy and related industry hurdles," and that "a majority of the family is now so concerned about the direction of ExxonMobil Corporation that it is urging a major change."

The Rockefeller family has previously taken many pro-environment steps, but, of late, the steps are becoming bolder. Multiple family members are now pushing for major change at Exxon due to concerns over the company's direction under Chief Executive Rex Tillerson (a runner-up for Fossil Fool of the Year). They want to see his job split, with an independent chairman appointed to the board.

An excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

"They are concerned Exxon's senior management has tunnel vision and is too absorbed with the challenges of daily management of multibillion dollar oil and natural-gas projects to ask hard questions about the future of fossil fuels. Mr. Tillerson and other Exxon executives have said they believe oil and gas will represent the vast majority of energy consumption for decades."

Keep your eyes and ears open as several family members are scheduled to have a news conference this Wednesday on the issue.

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Buckeye State Goes Green: Ohio Passes Renewable Energy Standard

The Ohio state Senate unanimously passed legislation setting strong new renewable energy and energy efficiency standards last week, sending the bill on to Governor Ted Strickland for signature. Sub. Senate Bill 221 establishes a 12.5% by 2025 renewable energy standard (RES), making the Buckeye State the 26th state in the nation to adopt a renewable energy requirement for electric utilities (see this previous post on numbers 24 and 25). The legislation also includes a strong energy efficiency standard that is expected to result in a 22% cumulative reduction in energy usage by 2025.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the Ohio RES is expected to result in 5,000-7,000 MW of new wind power capacity by 2025 and early-year targets will drive 650-750 MW of new wind power installation over the next 4 years. The bill also includes a small solar "set-aside" to help boost solar power in the Buckeye State.

To ensure significant in-state renewable energy development, at least half of all new renewable energy generation must occur in Ohio, and the other half can occur in neighboring states. The legislation is expected to help jump start interest in wind and solar manufacturing in Ohio's world-class manufacturing centers and could spark a "green collar jobs" boom in a state that has been hurt by the steady loss of manufacturing sector jobs.

The renewable energy legislation has national significance. As Ohio becomes the 26th state to adopt an RES, the majority of US states now have renewable energy standards on the books. In addition, Ohio is the fourth largest electricity consuming state in the nation (behind only Texas, California and Florida), ensuring that this state policy will move the needle nationally for renewable energy.

[Solar Ohio image credit:]

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Global Warming Deniers...Denied.

Remember that number global warming deniers throw around -- those 500 scientists that have supposedly signed onto a letter denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change? 500. It's a number you hear on the nightly news near the end of many stories on climate change, and it's also a number invented by the Heartland Institute, one of Washington's most conservative thinktanks.

As it turns out, that the number is a fabrication. Our friends over at DeSmogBlog sent questionnaires to each signer, and received back some interesting quotes. Here's a sampling of the responses they got:

I am very shocked to see my name in the list of "500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares". Because none of my research publications has ever indicated that the global warming is not as a consequence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, I view that the inclusion of my name in such list without my permission or consensus has damaged my professional reputation as an atmospheric scientist."

Dr. Ming Cai, Associate Professor, Department of Meteorology, Florida State University.
They have taken our ice core research in Wyoming and twisted it to meet their own agenda. This is not science."

Dr. Paul F. Schuster, Hydrologist, US Geological Survey

I am horrified to find my name on such a list. I have spent the last 20 years arguing the opposite."

Dr. David Sugden. Professor of Geography, University of Edinburgh

I have NO doubts ..the recent changes in global climate ARE man-induced. I insist that you immediately remove my name from this list since I did not give you permission to put it there."

Dr. Gregory Cutter, Professor, Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University

The list of rejections goes on and on, exposing deniers for who they really are -- pawns of the fossil fuel industry, and fabricators. Next time somebody asks you about the "500 scientists who do not believe global warming is real," tell them the real story: That youth are leading the way to a safe climate -- that we are building an unstoppable movement more powerful than the special interests.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

WSJ Says: Don't Bet on LNG to Reduce US Natural Gas Prices

Econ 101 taught us increased supply = lower prices. That's the main argument for new liquefied natural gas import terminals. Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal warns things are a bit more complicated than that and we shouldn't bet on LNG to reduce North American natural gas prices. This is Econ 202 stuff at least...

Amidst concerns about a potential North American natural gas supply crunch, several energy developers are betting big on new terminals to import liquefied natural gas into the United States market. Three terminals are proposed in Oregon, and they have generated considerably controversy and strong opposition from local communities.

There are many reasons to be concerned about imported liquefied natural gas, or LNG, natural gas that has been supercooled to -260 degrees F in order to turn it into a liquid ready to transport on specially-designed tankers from LNG exporting countries like Indonesia, Russia, Iran and Qatar. From increased dependence on foreign fossil fuels to increased greenhouse gas emissions, seized farmland for new pipelines and health and safety concerns, citizens of potentially impacted communities have found plenty of reasons to rally against LNG terminals and pipelines.

The principle argument to forge ahead with new LNG terminals despite these concerns is the assumption that increasing North American natural gas supplies with LNG imports will reduce prices. It's a simple "laws" of supply and demand that increased supply will reduce prices, right? That's what we all learned in economics 101, right?

Unfortunately, a recent front page article in the Wall Street Journal (April 18) warns us that the economics of LNG is a bit more complicated than that. This is economics 202 stuff at least (the online copy is here, sub$cr. required).

The gist of the story is that we shouldn't be betting on increased LNG imports to help lower natural gas prices in the US. Read on to find out why...

Unlike oil, which is easily shipped globally and has been a globally traded commodity for some time, natural gas has developed more regional markets separated by delivery constraints, each with different gas prices. LNG changes the game, and increased global LNG capacity is making natural gas a global commodity with a global price. That's bad news for the United States, where natural gas prices are about half what Japan is willing to pay for a shipment of LNG, for example.

According to the WSJ article: "Today, a tanker of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, pulling into port in Japan can command close to $20 per million BTUs, roughly double the price of the U.S. benchmark."

As with any globally traded commodity, the marginal price sets the price for everyone. If Japan is willing to pay $20 per million BTUs (mmBTU) for LNG, prices globally will float up towards this price, and that's about what we should expect to pay here in the Northwest if an LNG terminal is built. We'll essentially be linking our mostly regional market to an intensely competitive global market for LNG, where the price is set by the highest bidder.

It'd be foolish then to bet on LNG, for which international competition can drive prices up to around $20/mmBTU, to help lower Northwest (or North American) natural gas prices, which are now in the vicinity of $6-8/mmBTU. In fact, the very opposite could occur. If LNG prices set the marginal supply cost for LNG in the Northwest, domestic natural gas prices may even rise to this new marginal cost. That's how commodity markets work, isn't it (told you this was Econ 202 kind of stuff)?

In short, the main argument for new LNG terminals in North America (and here in the Northwest) is that they will help reduce natural gas prices regionally by increasing supply. Problem is, that's not how this competitive global market works. Instead, we'll merely be hooking ourselves up to another global market for a foreign fossil fuel and put ourselves in a competitive bidding war with Japan, Korea, India, China, Spain, and others to see who lands that next shipment of LNG. Not exactly a competition I'd like to get into.

Oh, and did I mention that there's talk of forming a new cartel of LNG exporting countries, just like OPEC, to manipulate the markets to exporters' advantage. The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration cautions:

"One risk that cannot be ignored is the likely formation of an LNG cartel, given that so few countries control such a large portion of the world’s stranded natural gas reserves, and its power to affect LNG prices."
This was new stuff for me - I thought the old Econ 101 argument seemed pretty sound - and I didn't expect this kind of warning to come from the Wall Street Journal of all places. Seems like we've got yet another reason to be cautious about proposed LNG terminals in Oregon and elsewhere.

[Graphic credits: LNG terminal map from MSNBC; LNG tanker and terminal from]

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Carbon Cap-and-Trade Moves Forward

Cross-posted from

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), made up of 10 eastern states, announced that the first auction of carbon dioxide emissions allowances will take place on September 10, 2008, with a second auction on December 17, 2008. Currently, the RGGI initiative applies only to power plants. Member states have agreed to implement an emissions allowances program to stabilize emissions by 2014 and then reduce emissions by 2.5% each of the next four years.

Concurrently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an economic analysis of the Lieberman-Warmer Climate Security Act of 2008, which if passed would implement a national carbon cap-and-trade system. EPA concluded that the bill would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 11% below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 56% below 1990 levels by 2050, while only reducing GDP growth during the same period by about 1%. The EPA also concluded that the bill would cause electricity prices to rise by 44% by 2030, but it notably did not evaluate the economic benefits of greenhouse gas reductions that would result in savings to consumers significantly offsetting the increased price of electricity.

Both these developments are promising steps toward meaningful control of carbon emissions. The practical progress being made by RGGI shows that a cooperative spirit can result in a workable carbon emissions reduction program, and the EPA study shows that the economic sky will not fall by doing so.

[Photo credit:]

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This Earth Day, Act Blue for an Energy Smart Congress

On Earth Day, we celebrate our unique blue planet and look for ways to advance a sustainable future. So this Earth Day, let's Act Blue and do something that can have a lasting and significant impact: support Energy Smart and Earth Friendly candidates for Congress!

One of the highlights of the 2006 elections was the defeat of former Congressman Richard Pombo (CA-11), a man who seemed to make it his singular mission in Congress to rape and pillage the environment, including leading the charge on repeated attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act and open up ANWR for oil drilling.

Pombo competed with Senator James Inhofe (R-Exxon) for the honor of the most environmentally irresponsible member of Congress. The rabid anti-environmentalist was ousted by now Congressman Jerry McNerney, a renewable energy businessmen who says he was motivated to run for Congress to fight for energy independence by his son, who joined the military after 9/11.

In the 2008 elections, we face an unprecedented opportunity to shift from Energy Dumb to Energy Smart, Earth Friendly candidates. Clearly, shifting from Energy Dumb - heck, just plain dumb! - President Bush to a President Obama or Clinton would be a great shift to Energy Smart government, but there are many Congressional races that are critical as well.

Energy Smart blogger, A. Siegel has cataloged an initial list of Energy Smart candidates running to depose the worst Energy Dumb, environmentally irresponsible members of Congress out there. He's also set up an Act Blue website where you can easily make donations to support these Energy Smart candidates.

To make it onto this list of Energy Smart vs Energy Dumb candidates, races must meet the following criteria:

  • A challenger to an incumbent.
  • The challenger understands energy / environmental issues and will bring a radically different perspective to the Hill compared to the incumbent.
  • The race looks competitive, open for the potential for support and attention moving it toward the win column. (Especially campaigns that are not currently on top-list opportunity lists at this time.)

  • If you live in one of these Energy Smart candidates districts, you can find their websites on A. Siegel's post here and look for other opportunities to support these excellent candidates.

    So this Earth Day, Act Blue for an Energy Smart Congress!

    (We've even got a shot at knocking of James Inhofe! I couldn't think of a better present to deliver to Mother Earth for Earth Day than that...)

    Read more!

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    The Alphabet Game

    Cross-posted from

    How many acronyms does it take to trick politicians and the media into thinking coal is really a clean energy choice? Well, let's just go through them, shall we?

    ABEC stands for Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a coal industry campaign that has spent more than $40 million to promote "clean coal" technologies on the campaign trail. Their members include your friendly neighborhood coal companies like Peabody Coal, Arch Coal, Duke Energy as well as rail companies like Burlington Northern Santa Fe. ABEC ran an "astroturf" campaign in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania extolling the virtues of coal to presidential campaign staff, volunteers, supporters, and even the candidates themselves. ABEC has sponsored nearly every televised presidential debate and is now...gone forever, partly due to the work of grassroots climate campaigners, big enviros and a group called ABECC.

    ABECC is an NRDC-sponsored parody, focused on exposing the coal industry's disinformation campaign. The tag line, Coal Power: Warming America, Warming the Planet, and the design parodying ABEC's own website,, make the Alliance for Burning Every Chunk of Coal a pointed voice in an increasingly volatile debate. With more than 65 victories against proposed coal plants around the country, ABECC, climate and community activists are a serious roadblock in the way of the coal industry.

    In fact, organizers have done such a good job tarnishing the image of "clean coal" and ABEC, that the coal industry, and front group CEED (who funded the ABEC campaign) have invented yet another acronym, ACCCE. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is expected to use many of the same tactics as ABEC, attack green collar jobs, invade the blogosphere and the airwaves and spend much more money touting the technology of the day after tomorrow, "clean coal." Expect to see ACCCE representatives in a community near you, spreading misinformation and trying to buy votes and candidates.

    Maybe it's time to say WTF to these guys and send them on their way.

    Read more!

    Thursday, April 17, 2008

    Kilo-who's-its and Mega-what's-its: A Primer on Energy, Power and Capacity

    Cross-posted from

    Gentle reader,

    In the course of your readings in the blogosphere, your academic research, or your energy-related activism, you will likely see a number of similar and often confusing terms bandied about to describe how much power a power plant can produce (MW vs MWa), how much it generates (KWh vs MWh), how much an appliance consumes (watts vs amps), etc., etc. etc. Furthermore, these units and terms apply to two related but very different concepts - energy and power - which while often used interchangeably in common parlance, have very different technical meanings.

    The end result is that all this can all be very confusing as you can often find yourself accidentally comparing apples and oranges, kilowatt-hours and horse power or nameplate capacity and average capacity, etc. Confusing these terms is easy and common and mix-ups can have major consequences for your conclusions (this post was prompted by this one, for example, which confuses energy and capacity, leading to very different conclusions...)

    The following is an primer on some of the different units of power and energy and descriptions of power plant generation you may encounter and what they mean. There is a lot here and you may not encounter a need for all of it immediately. However, if you don't have a strong physics background (and that means most of us!), or you (like me) get your kilo-whats-its and mega-whos-its confused sometimes, you may find what follows a useful summary of many of the concepts and units you need to know (and some you probably don't). Use this as reference if you want, for times when you get confused later (and you probably will):

    Power vs. Energy - What's the Big Diff?

    When trying to explain electricity, power and energy, I invariable fall back on analogies to water flows. You see, electricity flows a lot like water, following a path of least resistance, from source to sink, spring to sea. So to understand the difference between power and energy, let's start by taking a bath. Ok, you don't really need to get into the tub (although you can if you want... just keep that laptop dry!), but I think we can all visualize one...

    Power, is a measure of the rate at which work can be done, or in our bathtub analogy, the rate at which water can flow out of your faucet. To visualize what power means, think about the size of your faucet. How high can you turn up the water? Bigger faucet = more water flow is possible = more power.

    Energy is a measure of the amount of work actually done. In our bathtub analogy, energy is a measure of the water actually in the tub. How many gallons are in their after five minutes?

    Power and energy are clearly related. Power x time = energy in fact. Or to put it another way, if your faucet can put out one gallon per minute, and you leave it on for ten minutes, you'll have ten gallons in your tub.

    But notice that a quantity of energy doesn't necessarily translate to a certain quantity of power. You could have left your faucet on at a rate of half a gallon per minute for 20 minutes, or a rate of 5 gallons a minute for 2 minutes, and still ended up with the same quantity of water (or energy in our analogy), ten gallons. To convert from energy to power, you'd need to know the length of time over which you sustain that amount of power output. Energy / time = power.

    OK, time to get out of the bath and turn on a light (you can dry off first if you want). To understand how power and energy relate to the light bulb, take a look at the top of the light bulb if it's an old incandescent one (before you turn it on or you'll blind yourself silly! And what are you doing with an incan in your house anyway!) or on the base of a compact fluorescent. It probably says something like 100 W for an incan, or 15 W for a fluorescent. W stands for "watt," the basic unit of power (for electricity anyway). The wattage of the light bulb is the rate at which energy needs to be applied to light the bulb to keep it lit, or the rate of energy consumption when the bulb is on.

    Now leave your bulb on for an hour. How much energy has it consumed? Well, if it's a 100 watt incandescent, it uses 100 watts x 1 hour = 100 watt-hours. The watt-hour, or Wh is the basic unit of energy (at least when talking about electricity... there are other units to confuse you for other kinds of energy, but we'll get to those later).

    Note that energy is actually something tangible - in the case of the bath tub example, its the water in the tub; in the case of the light bulb example, it's the room being lit for an amount of time (it's work that's been done). Power is something instantaneous - how much output is it giving right now, how much electricity is it using at this moment - and sometimes a unit of potential (or capacity as we'll get to later) - i.e. what's the maximum rate of flow your faucet will allow, or the maximum amount of power your microwave can use to zap your lunch.

    Kilo-who's-its and Mega-what's-its: Units of Power and Energy

    Like most units, you can use your latin prefixes to denote different quantities of the unit. For example: 1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt (or 1 kW). 1,000,000 W = 1,000 kW = 1 megawatt (1 MW). 1,000 MW = 1 gigawatt (GW) and so on...

    Here's some things units of power are used to describe: what's needed to turn on a lightbulb, a microwave, a stereo or any other electric appliance (usually in watts, or W); the instantaneous output or maximum output of a power plant (i.e. one of the various capacities used to describe a power plant, see below, usually in MW); the power of a car's engine (in the US, usually in horsepower, another unit of power, or in the UK, in familiar kilowatts or KW)...

    Same prefix thing applies for energy units: 1,000 watt-hours (Wh) = 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh). 1,000,000 Wh = 1,000 kWh = 1 megawatt-hour (MWh). 1,000 MWh = 1 gigawatt-hour (GWh) and so on...

    Here's some things units of energy are used to describe: the amount of energy you consumed in your last month (i.e. on your energy bill, usually in kWh); the yearly output of a power plant (usually in MWh or GWh); the stored energy in a battery or a quantity of fuel like gasoline or hydrogen (usually in kWh or MWh for batteries or in the case of fuel, in another unit of energy like BTUs or jules); the potential energy stored in an object (i.e. the amount of energy that could be released by dropping a brick from the top of a building or the energy that could be released by letting a reservoir of water fall through a dam's turbines); the energy of a moving object over time (i.e. the amount of energy that could be captured by a wind turbine from the moving wind or from crashing waves) ...

    Yes, But How Big is That Power Plant?

    Good question. By now, I hope you see that that depends on what you mean by "how big?" How much power can it produce? How much power does it produce on average? Each question has a different answer, and each answer uses different units (Head heart yet? Mine does!). Let's take one at a time...

    Capacity - or how much power can it produce? When you ask about how much power a power plant can produce, you are asking about capacity. If you are talking about the maximum amount of power it can produce, that's a term called "nameplate" capacity (or the maximum engineering rated capacity, so named because it's usually printed on a nameplate plaque at the facility).

    Average output or average capacity - how much power does that plant normally produce? You often also see reference to a plant's average capacity, or the average power output of the facility over a given period of time (i.e. over a year or month). While it's not a strict rule, to clarify between nameplate capacity and average capacity, you sometimes see people use the units aMW to refer to average MW. If you see aMW (or sometimes MWa just to be confusing!), that usually denotes average capacity and not nameplate capacity. If you don't see that, you've usually got to rely on context to figure out if someone is talking about nameplate or average capacity (which are often mistakenly interchanged!).

    At any given time, the power output of a plant can very between zero and the maximum nameplate capacity of the plant, just like the flow from your bath tub's faucet can vary depending on how far you turn the nob to open the flow. The instantaneous output of a plant is described in units of power, usually as MW.

    Nameplate vs average capacity, "capacity factors," and energy, or How much energy does that power plant actually produce?

    The ratio between the average capacity of a plant and its nameplate capacity is referred to as the plant's capacity factor. For example, a wind farm usually has a capacity factor of around 30-35%, which means over a given year, it runs on average at 30-35% of it's maximum nameplate capacity. That doesn't mean that the wind only blows 1/3rd of the time, or that the plant always operates at 1/3rd of it's maximum capacity, just that on average, the plant puts out 30-35% of it's maximum capacity. So a wind farm with a maximum, or nameplate capacity of 100 MW would usually operate at 30-35 average MW or aMW over a given year. A "baseload" coal or nuclear plant, that runs full-out most of the year (except for outages for repairs) could have a capacity factor of 80-90%. So a 1,000 MW coal plant would operate at an average capacity of 800-900 aMW.

    Average capacity / nameplate capacity = capacity factor. Or, using simply algebra: nameplate capacity * capacity factor = average capacity.

    Average output relates more closely to energy than nameplate capacity, and either knowing a plant's average capacity or it's capacity factor is critical to determining the real energy generation - and therefor real fuel use, environmental impact, etc - of a power plant. Average capacity * time = the energy consumed in that period of time. In contrast, nameplate capacity * time = the maximum amount of energy a plant could have theoretically produced over that time, had it run full-out the whole time. Since no plant ever runs at full capacity 100% of the time, that later figure is pretty much useless.

    For example, a common mistake is to assume that a 1,000 MW wind farm is equivalent to a 1,000 MW coal plant. But as I hope is now clear, if the capacity factor of a coal plant is 80%, it will have an average capacity of 800 aMW and over a year, for example, produce 7,008,000 MWh in a year (800 aMW*8760 hrs in a year). In contrast, a 1,000 MW wind farm with a 33% capacity factor (which is typical) will have an average capacity of
    333 aMW and produce only 2,917,000 MWh in a year. (For quick math, you can simply assume it takes 3 times as much wind power capacity to equate to a coal plant's capacity, so 3,000 MW of wind = 1,000 MW of coal).

    I'll try to get into more practical applications of all this stuff in a subsequent post (as I try to explain the fatal - and very common - error in this recent post).

    Read more!

    Wednesday, April 09, 2008

    David vs. Goliath: The Emerging Climate Fault Line

    A new fault line has emerged in the climate movement amidst a firestorm of debate over the past week. On one side is a group of old-guard and well-known environmentalists, and on the other is a newly forming alliance of climate and energy scientists who are challenging traditional beliefs held at the highest levels of the environmental establishment. What is happening should invigorate young activists to continue challenging conventional wisdom – and serve as an alarm to the entire movement.

    It all began last week when a commentary by three scientists called “Dangerous Assumptions” was published in Nature, one of the most prominent scientific journals in the world. The article challenged the IPCC for being too timid in its call to climate action and for holding a set of rosy-eyed assumptions about the climate challenge. These respected scientists – Roger Pielke Jr, Tom Wigley and Christopher Green – demonstrated that the IPCC has assumed up to 96% of total world emissions reductions (to achieve 500 ppm CO2 stabilization, a level which we now know is too high) will be achieved regardless of policy change through “spontaneous” decarbonization and technological advancements.

    IPCC: Dangerous Assumptions? (blue represents "spontaneous" decrease)

    Dangerous Assumptions

    The danger, they argue, is that the IPCC has seriously underestimated the scale of policy efforts needed to transform our global energy systems – and that it may inadvertently be offering comfort to those who believe we possess all the solutions and do not need to invest in technological development.

    How could this be? The heart of the issue rests in an assumption about global energy and carbon intensity. For the past hundred years, the carbon intensity (measured by carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP) of the global economy has been slowly but steadily declining. The IPCC assumes this trend will continue and has incorporated this into its scenarios for emissions stabilization.

    But all indicators suggest this trend has reversed. Rapidly developing countries like China and India, in an effort to lift their populations out of poverty, have set the world on a new energy development path in which hundreds of coal plants are being constructed and global emissions are dramatically increasing. According to the analysis, these trends stand “in stark contrast to the optimism of the near-future IPCC projections."

    The IPCC scenarios for 2000-2010 drastically underestimated observed emissions growth.

    Here’s what the commentary concludes:

    Enormous advances in energy technology will be needed to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at acceptable levels… The IPCC plays a risky game in assuming that spontaneous advances in technological innovation will carry most of the burden of achieving future emissions reductions, rather than focusing on creating the conditions for such innovations to occur.

    One might expect the environmental establishment to applaud these scientists for their efforts to challenge a set of beliefs that could inhibit new policies to develop clean energy technology. But believe it or not, several prominent environmentalists have sharply attacked their work – some going to the extent of comparing these scientists to President Bush and labeling them climate “delayers,” “deniers,” and “destroyers.”

    Take Joe Romm, for instance – a well-known climate writer and former Clinton political appointee who is now at the Center for American Progress, runs, and is harbored by Grist – who has launched a set of hysterical attacks against Pielke et al. He calls their analysis “a pointless and misleading if not outright dangerous commentary” and paints the scientists as “standard delayers” – or even more outrageously, “climate destroyers.” The absurdity of his attacks is illustrated by an erroneous and malicious comparison of these scientists to the skeptics at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank:

    For years, people like Pielke (I call them delayers, you can call them climate destroyers, or, if you like, "people who are very wrong") have been arguing that the IPCC's emissions models were too pessimistic. That's right, the climate deniers/delayers/destroyers have been saying that the IPCC was scaring people into unnecessary action by assuming emissions growth was higher than in fact it was. Yes, I know, if you actually read the Pielke et al piece, that seems hard to believe. They never bother pointing this out. But after a mere 10 seconds on Google, I found a classic example, an essay from the conservative (read denier/delayer/destroyer) American Enterprise Institute titled ... wait for it ... "New Doubts about the Dominant Climate Change Models."

    But neither Pielke, Wigley, or Green have ever had a relationship with the American Enterprise Institute or had any involvement with this essay. Pielke has published for the past fifteen years in support of action on climate change. And in this case, their conclusion is precisely the opposite of the “standard delayers,” as they conclude the IPCC is being too timid.

    Can this truly be happening? Are leaders of the environmental establishment really trying to discredit, quash, and destroy evidence and debate that calls for bolder climate action? Take a look at Romm’s attacks and judge for yourself:

    Read Joe Romm's attacks against Pielke et al.

    The truth is that major public investment in clean energy technology development isn’t controversial. It is supported by a large and ever-growing number of energy and climate experts. Romm and other old-guard environmentalists are simply reacting to evidence that challenges the conventional policy approaches they have clung to for years.

    But as young activists we cannot afford to tolerate such behavior. Time and again, whether in climate debates or the 2008 elections, we’ve seen how such ruthless and divisive tactics harm the political landscape. We have to ensure that substantive and constructive debate about our course of action is welcomed. And we need to be intentional about what kind of movement we’re creating and what kind of behavior we want to allow.

    The overarching issue here is much larger than unacceptable tactics, though. What is at stake is the future of the environmental establishment as we know it. If we, the next generation of climate and environmental leaders, care about the future of our movement and wish to see it not be reduced to irrelevance, we have to continually challenge traditional thinking and demand that today’s environmental leaders take these challenges seriously. We can afford nothing less.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, April 08, 2008

    The Breath of a Nation: High-res Maps, Animations Show US CO2 Footprint

    Researchers at Purdue University have found new ways to precisely track concentrations of carbon dioxide across the United States over both space and time. The result: a set of animated images and high-res maps that show what Andy Revkin dubs, "the breath of a nation."

    Dubbed the Vulcan Project, the NASA and DOE funded project analyzes and presents maps of CO2 emissions at more than 100 times more detail than was available before, and on shorter time scales that allows high-resolution maps and animations of CO2 emissions and atmospheric transport over time, revealing both daily (or diurnal) and seasonal patters in emissions and areas of high CO2 emissions concentration.

    The Vulcan team produced this excellent youTube video that includes the animations of CO2 emissions, "the breath of a nation":

    Here's a high-res map of CO2 concentrations across the United States as well, the "carbon footprint" of various regions:

    Check out the Vulcan Project's site for more images and info.

    [A hat tip to Wired and Andy Revkin at NYTimes' Dot Earth blog]

    Read more!

    Monday, April 07, 2008

    Bold Undertakings - Social Entrepreneurship in the Climate Movement

    New and better ways of doing things should be a key element of the climate movement. We’re trying to find better ways to generate energy and conserve energy. We’re also trying to find new and better ways to engage people in creating those solutions. Even if you think we need to use a lot less technology, we still need to figure out how to engage people in the solutions at a society-wide scale.

    Social entrepreneurship “combines the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation, and determination.” (Dees 2001) An entrepreneur is someone who undertakes something innovative, usually a business, but that could also be a non-profit program. Social entrepreneurship blurs the lines between not-for-profit, for-profit and sometimes government, and it is a frame many of us should adopt.

    If we are global warming solutions, then many of us are also social entrepreneurs. Anyone who has started an ambitious, new climate action group is one. The Campus Climate Challenge is a social-entrepruneurial venture. Its important to remember that just starting something doesn’t necessarily qualify. A new, mom-and-pop coffee shop isn’t a new or innovative undertaking, just as holding a day of action isn’t innovative. But innovation takes many forms and there is potential for it in anything.

    Joseph Schumpeter says that entrepreneurs drive capitalism by revolutionizing production and services. That willingness drives leaders to constantly break down and rebuild infrastructure and perceptions of what’s possible. Whether you like it or not, capitalism has built some pretty amazing stuff in the last centuries.

    However, social entrepreneurs aren’t just focused on the business, and markets do not necessarily measure our success. Without clear markers to compete in, social entrepreneurs, those activists seeking to build a better society, have more difficulty in assessing where they are really being effective. And without clear markers for what works and what doesn’t, we have more difficulty scaling up.

    I want to share a few examples of social entrepreneurial ventures in recent history that have scaled up quickly, and see what we can learn about our fight for a just and sustainable society.

    Donorschoose is a new way of donating money to education. Instead of giving to big organizations, the website guides donors to specific classrooms in need of money for specific projects. This venture went from start-up in 2000, to $21 million in total donations from 64,000 donors.

    Terra-cycle is a company that makes products entirely out of waste. Based in Trenton, NJ, this 6 year-old, hugely successful company employs 100 workers, many of whom were previously ‘unemployable’ and is heading towards eliminating the idea of waste.

    Being climate positive means working for as high a price on carbon as possible, as big of an investment in solutions as we can get, and as large of a mobilization of people as possible. Luckily, the last two go hand-in-hand. Both Donors Choose and Terra-Cycle are new, innovative, scaling up very quickly, and boldly re-shaping how people think of donations and waste respectively. Both are led by visionary individuals who broke away from a more traditional career path to follow big ideas. They value their employees ingenuity very highly, and they both bridge the line between non-profit and for-profit.

    As I near graduation, and the big question of exactly how I fit into the climate movement from here on becomes more pressing, my eyes are starting to see more and more opportunities. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and I have a sense that the ventures we are bold enough to undertake are going to be key to building a climate positive world.

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