Thursday, October 30, 2008

Forget Joe the (Unlisenced) Plumber: Here's Troy the Wind Turbine Builder

Here's the voice of just one of millions of new, clean energy jobs we can create if we spark a new energy economy. Barack Obama has said it's his top priority if elected, so we should expect more people like Troy the wind turbine builder to find well-paying, dignified work that helps put America back on track.

Hat tip to Clean Tech and Green Businesses for Obama.

Read more!

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski Unveils Clean Energy Agenda for 2009

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski unveiled the ambitious clean energy agenda he hopes to see implemented by the 2009 Oregon Legislature on Monday. Following up on a landmark 2007 legislative session that saw the Beaver State enact an ambitious renewable energy standard, expand tax credits for clean energy, and enact new standards for energy efficiency, Governor Kulongoski isn't resting on his laurels.

"Climate change is the most important environmental and economic issue of our time," Kulongoski said as he laid out his proposal for new clean energy tax incentives and ambitious goals he wants the 2009 Legislature to adopt.

On Monday, Governor Kulongoski said it's time to redouble the state's commitment to a clean energy future. "In 2009, we must be bolder, more comprehensive and even more visionary," Kulongoski said. Right on!

According to the Oregonian, Kulongoski's proposals include:

• Greenhouse gas reduction: Authorizes regional cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions; sets limits on emissions from the state's largest sources; sets low-carbon standards for all new electricity generation

• Energy efficiency: Establishes energy performance certificates for new homes or commercial buildings, similar to MPG ratings for new cars; sets goal of zero-emission new buildings by 2030; allows 50 percent tax credit for large-scale energy efficiency projects, up to $20 million

• Renewable energy: Sets up pilot program to pay for energy produced from solar projects; establishes tax credit for residents who donate to a renewable energy incentive fund

• Transportation: Offers $5,000 credit for purchase of new plug-in hybrid or all-electric car; authorizes new low-carbon fuel standard similar to those in Washington and California
His plans to implement a cap and trade program, joining with other states in the Western Climate Initiative, will likely draw the most opposition. Groups representing industrial energy consumers are already lining up in opposition. But it's clear that Governor Kulongoski, who faces his last legislative session as Oregon's governor, has decided to pin his legacy on efforts to make Oregon a clean energy leader and tackle global warming.

More on Kulongoski's clean energy plans at the Oregonian

Read more!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

China's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Could Double in Coming Decade

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

China's greenhouse gas emissions could more than double by 2020, according to a new report released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Beijing has been reluctant to release official data on greenhouse gas from the nation's fast-growing use of coal, oil and gas. This new study from the state-run institute breaks that reticence and sends another clear reminder that China is where our quest for climate stability will be won or lost.

"To a significant degree, our planet's energy and environmental future is now being written in China," says the study's authors. And the only way that story has a happy ending is if China has access to clean and cheap energy sources to power its sustainable development.

According to Reuters:

By 2020, China's burning of fossil fuels could annually emit carbon dioxide equal in mass to 2.5 billion metric tonnes of pure carbon and up to 2.9 billion tonnes, depending on varying scenarios for development and technology, the new report states. By 2030, those annual emissions may reach 3.1 billion tonnes a year and up to 4.0 billion tonnes.

That compares to current total global emissions of about 8.5 billion metric tonnes of carbon per year. The United States emitted roughly 1.6 billion metric tonnes in 2007, according to Oak Ridge National Lab.

The net total of natural sinks for carbon is estimated at around 2 billion metric tons of carbon per year. That means if we hope to reach climate stability at any level of atmospheric concentration of CO2, net global human-caused emissions must fall below that level. Returning to lower concentrations of CO2, as US climate scientist James Hansen and others have called for, would require global emissions to fall far below the level of natural sinks, calling for at least an 80% cut in global emissions from today's levels by mid-century.

Needless to say, if a single nation alone emits far more than that amount in the coming decades, climate stability of any kind will be impossible.

The only solution is to develop clean and cheap energy sources that can power sustainable development in China and elsewhere.

China has routinely stated that it will not sacrifice economic development to pursue greenhouse gas emissions reductions. "[R]elative to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, economic development is even more important," the study says, re-iterating that sentiment.

China is not alone in seeing potential trade-offs between climate goals and economic development -- or in having a clear and consistent position about which is the priority in case of conflict. India, Brazil and other rapidly developing nations frequently express this sentiment, arguing that developed nations enjoyed over a century of unbridled carbon emissions and therefore bear the responsibility for cutting emissions. And with developed nations gripped by economic recession, we're seeing priorities in the EU, Canada and the US shift towards the economy side of the economy-environment axis.

So long as this trade-off exists - in reality, or as a strongly-held belief in the hearts or minds of decision makers across the planet - we have little hope of stabilizing our warming climate.

The only way out of this predicament is to up-end the trade-off itself by focusing on the development of clean and cheap energy sources. China, India, Brazil, and even the developed nations of the world need access to energy sources to secure their economic future, and the global community must do whatever we can to ensure they have access to affordable energy sources that do not imperil our ecological future. That challenge is primarily a technological innovation challenge, one that has, to date, been given short shrift by the assembled nations of the Kyoto Protocol and it's successor treaty, currently under development.

As Reuters points out:

The [new] study may add to contention over China's response to global warming at a time of accelerating international negotiations. Beijing will be at the heart of efforts to forge a treaty next year to succeed the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.

If the international climate negotiations hinge on efforts to badger China into agreeing to limit their emissions with little focus on the need to develop clean and cheap energy sources, we should expect to "win," at best, hollow promises from the Chinese government. If instead, the international community comes together to pool resources, spur innovation, and foster the development and deployment of affordable clean energy sources across the world, we may yet have reason for hope.

Read more!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Don't Let Anyone Stop You from Voting

This video is powerful, well produced, and well worth watching. While not directly related to energy, with so much hanging on the outcome of this election, this is topical enough for me:

A more uplifting video below the fold (you can't help grin watching this one!)...

Read more!

Mr President-Elect: What's Your Plan to Invest In Us?

We're Ready for Green Jobs Now!

A message to the next president from the Green For All team and over 50,000 Americans:

Both candidates have talked about the need for new investments in clean energy. Although I obviously find one candidate more credible than the other, either way, on November 5th, we'll be ready for action, not words. We're ready for a plan that invests in Main Street, not Wall Street, a plan that sparks a new clean energy economy powerful enough to pull our nation out of recession and pull millions of Americans out of poverty.

So, what's the plan?

Read more!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama's Top Priority: Spark a New Energy Economy

Barack Obama's top priority if elected president is to launch an Apollo-style national project to build a new, clean energy economy. That's what he told Time magazine reporter Joe Klein last week.

With America's economy rocked by a one-two-punch of spiking energy prices this summer and the credit crisis this fall, our nation needs a president with a clear sense of how to free our nation from dependency on oil and a plan to get America back to work. And with climate change continuing unchecked, we need a president that will take the lead in building a post-carbon energy system. A national project to build a new, clean energy economy is the right answer to these interlinking challenges, and Obama knows it.

From Time:

[Obama] has a clearer handle on the big picture, on how various policy components fit together, and a strong sense of what his top priority would be. He wants to launch an "Apollo project" to build a new alternative-energy economy. His rationale for doing so includes some hard truths about the current economic mess: "The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit." But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, "because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt." A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and "there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy ... That's going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office."
As Klein points out, this is a big step for Obama, who has been reluctant to state his top priorities in the past. And Obama couldn't have made a smarter pick.

Alongside efforts to heal our sick, train and educate a new generation of highly-skilled workers, and create whole new technologies and industries that can put America back to work, we need to develop the clean, affordable and abundant new energy sources that will power our nation's economy for the century ahead.

It is time to launch a series of strategic investments that support our nation's innovators and entrepreneurs as they create and deploy new clean energy technologies; build a smarter and more efficient new electrical grid; help retool Detroit to produce the most advanced, efficient cars on the road; and spark new industries that put Americans to work installing solar panels and wind turbines, building new high speed rail lines and efficient public transit systems, and retrofitting our homes and businesses to save both energy and money.

In so doing, we will free our nation from the volatility of oil shocks and our dependency on depleting and dangerous fossil fuels. We will transform our nation from the leading global polluter to the leader in solutions to our global climate crisis. And we will spark an engine of economic growth powerful enough to launch America into prosperous times and create new pathways into the middle class for millions more Americans.

On November 5th, it will be time for Barack Obama take up the task he has set for himself and inspire our nation to launch a new national project to build the clean energy economy we need. I for one cannot wait for that day.

Read more!

Friday, October 24, 2008

McNoShow McCain Not the Clean Energy Supporter He Says He Is

As my readers may remember, I've been pretty critical of John McCain's attempts to paint himself as an environmental champion. After all, for someone with a League of Conservation Voters score of ZERO, that's quite a stretch. Sure, he's broken from the Bush Administration and at least talked about climate change, but that only gets you so far. And when he's failed to show up for every single critical clean energy vote in 110th Congress, it's pretty hard for me to stomach when Mr. McNoShow says he's a big supporter of alternative energy. How can you be a big supporter if you won't even stand up and be counted when roll is called in the Senate?!

LCV put out this ad today to finally give some straight talk about the not-so-Straight Talk Express...

Read more!

Video: The Need for a National Energy Education Act

Earlier this summer, my colleague, Teryn Norris, was interviewed by a new green social networking site called Greenwala about the proposal we developed for a National Energy Education Act. The video was recently online:

More on a National Energy Education Act and what it would entail here.

Read more!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quote of the Day, October 23rd, 2008

Mr. McCain’s $300 million “is small change in this business,” Mr. Cole added. “It’s not insignificant, but it’s the cost of a paint shop in an auto factory.”

-David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan, on Senator John McCain's proposed $300 million prize for advanced batteries for electric and plug-in hybrid cars, the cornerstone of the Republican presidential candidate's "plan" to accelerate the development of a new generation of advanced, efficient America-made cars.

There's more on the two candidates proposals to help spur the next generation of the American automobile at the New York Times.

Read more!

Help Elect Energy Smart Jeff Merkley and Give Obama the Team He Needs

Help elect Jeff Merkley to the United States Senate

As a native Oregonian (now in exile in California), I strongly endorse Jeff Merkely in his bid for the United States Senate. Merkley is a truly Energy Smart candidate, and would be a far stronger champion of the new energy future Oregon and the nation needs than Senator Gordon Smith.

Merkley learned his Energy Smarts while Speaker of the Oregon House, where he presided over the biggest clean energy session in Oregon history in 2007, when the Oregon legislature passed the Oregon Renewable Energy Act (25% by 2025 RPS) and a Renewable Fuels Standard encouraging the production of next generation biofuels, expanded critical renewable energy tax credits for businesses and homes, set aggressive new energy efficiency standards, protected the state's smart growth planning system and more. As Merkley himself says, the 2007 Oregon Legislature he led was probably the most Energy Smart legislature in the nation, and a prelude to the Energy Smart US Congress we need in 2009.

Jeff Merkley currently holds a small lead over Gordon Smith, but with just 12 days to go until election day, this is a tight race. That means it's one that you can make a big difference in, helping an Energy Smart Candidate win, and making a huge energy smart pickup in the Senate.

In short: do what you can to support Merkley's bid for the Senate. He's well worth it.

But don't take it from me. Listen to Jeff himself. Here's a clip of Energy Smart Jeff speaking about the energy challenge and the opportunities of a new energy economy at Netroots Nation earlier this year:

Read more!

Coal is NOT the Answer

It's time for the truth. The truth about coal. The coal industry has spent over $40 million on misleading advertising that touts coal as the next great thing to solve the energy crisis. It’s time for a reality check. Check out the video below and the websites and to learn more about the deception of the coal industry and how it stands in the way of real solutions such as wind and solar.

Ever wonder if all these "clean coal" ads really means we're winning? Mighty King Coal is playing defense. Keep up the great work...

Read more!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Generation WE: 95 Million Strong, Taking over the World, Calling for Clean Energy

Millennials are the largest generation in American history. Born between 1978 and 2000, they are 95 million strong, compared to 78 million Baby Boomers. They are independent—politically, socially, and philosophically—and they are spearheading a period of sweeping change in America and around the world.

This is old news for the readers of ItsGettingHotInHere and the participants in Power Vote, but today, a new site called Generation We ( launched to help give voice to our powerful generation.

The site is still in its infancy, but launches with a powerful video you all should watch.

The first plan Gen We is pushing: an ambitious proposal to free America from oil, stabilize the climate, and spawn a new era of economic prosperity called Project FREE. Borrowing elements from the Apollo Alliance, Breakthrough Institute and the We Campaign's Repower America plan (no affiliation with Gen We), the proposal calls for a new national project, like the Apollo Space Program or Manhattan Project, to innovate the next generation of carbon-emission-free energy that will power our future.

Their policy recommendations are a little zany - hydrogen, fusion and 100% distributed generation may not be the most likely components of a new energy economy - but their intentions, and their message is right on. So check out the video here, and read on below the fold for Gen We founder, Eric Greenberg's call for a new national energy project...

The Next Manhattan Project Both Candidates Should Embrace

By Eric Greenberg and Karl Weber

Since the oil crunch of the 1970s, America's unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels has hovered at the fringes of national consciousness. But not until this year has it taken center stage in a presidential race. Today, with gas over four dollars a gallon, a sputtering economy, oil-linked wars threatening the Middle East, and climate change heating up, voters are finally demanding action.

Unfortunately, both presidential campaigns are allowing energy issues to get sucked into the black hole of simplistic gimmicks and short-term thinking that makes most Americans disgusted with politics-as-usual. Are media-hyped spitting matches over tire gauges, a summer gas-tax holiday, and Paris Hilton's "energy plan" really the best we can expect?

We need to invent our way out of the energy mess, and soon. But it's not the first time we've faced a seemingly impossible technological challenge. In 1962, John F. Kennedy set the daunting goal of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to Earth within a decade.

Kennedy was taking a page from the playbook of World War Two. Like the Apollo moon landing project, the Manhattan Project was an audacious technological challenge that an earlier generation of Americans had met, keeping us free by developing atomic weapons just months ahead of our Nazi enemies. The next administration should implement Project FREE, a massive national program, like the Apollo Space Program or Manhattan Project, to innovate the next generation of carbon-emission-free energy based on hydrogen, fusion, or other technologies.

The ultimate goal is to take Americans "off the grid" in the next 15 years; to end our dependence on centralized energy in favor of power sources generated at the point of consumption-the car, home, business, or factory-thereby liberating us from the limiting factors introduced by long-distance transmission and its regulatory roadblocks.

Project FREE must be a national program driven by the president, created with cabinet-level authority, endowed with $30 to $40 billion in funding per year, and, like the Federal Reserve, independent of partisan machinations. It should be established with powers akin to those granted high-priority wartime programs, so as to remove all clearance and cooperation impediments that might otherwise slow its progress. But it should be temporary, as permanent bureaucracies tend to become special interests, intent on prolonging their own existence rather than on getting the job completed. The legislation creating the project must mandate its dismantling either upon fulfillment of its commission or after fifteen years have passed, whichever comes first.

Forty billion dollars may sound expensive. But it barely equals the 2007 after-tax profits posted by Exxon Mobil ($40.61 billion), and it's dwarfed by the hundreds of billions being spent on the war in Iraq and the $700 billion we are currently paying foreign oil suppliers, many of which are enemies.

Project FREE is not about incremental technology, like improving the 100-plus-year-old coal, gas, and oil platforms we use today. It's about innovations that can free us of foreign oil dependence and conflict, restore the environment by eliminating carbon emissions, make energy cheap and plentiful, and provide an incredible growth and job engine for the American economy. The United States has an intrinsic innovation advantage over the rest of the world, and we must not squander the opportunity to lead and own the most important inventions in energy.

Perhaps the most exciting possibility is energy based on hydrogen or on fusion reactions, the source of the sun's own energy. Science-fiction fantasy? Not really. Fusion power is one of 14 "Grand Challenges for Engineering" selected by the National Academy of Engineering in February 2008, as top priorities for the 21st century.

For politicians, who are always looking over their shoulders at the next election, Project FREE would also be a winning political move. It could capture the long-term allegiance of the future's most potent political force- the largest generation in American history, the 95 million youth often called the Millennials. According to a massive research study that I sponsored and was conducted by the respected Gerstein | Agne research organization, the Millennial generation is primed to rally around Project FREE.

Ninety-four percent of the Millennials we surveyed agreed that, "Our country must take extreme measures now, before it is too late, to protect the environment and begin to reverse the damage we have done." Seventy-four percent agreed that, "We must make major investments now to innovate the next generation of non-fossil fuel based energy solutions." And seventy percent endorsed the idea that America should, "Launch a concerted national effort, similar to the Apollo Program that put a man on the moon, with the goal of moving America beyond fossil fuels and inventing the next generation of energy, based on new technologies such as hydrogen or fusion."

Project FREE is ambitious, and except for the opposition it will attract from entrenched interest groups, it is not controversial. Plus, as our study showed, it will be eagerly supported by the greatest generational power bloc of the next several decades.

Project FREE has the potential to be the cornerstone of a powerful bipartisan agenda, embodying goals both liberals and conservatives can embrace: energy independence, enhanced national security, economic revitalization, and environmental protection, all produced by American ingenuity.

Maybe it takes a life-or-death threat to mobilize a great national effort. We are at that point today. Whichever party promotes and implements Project FREE will seize the moral and political high ground from which to command the allegiance of the Millennial generation for decades to come. It's a winning gambit available for the asking. Any takers?
Eric Greenberg and Karl Weber are authors of the forthcoming book Generation We: How Millennial Youth Are Taking Over America and Changing the World.

[I've got to admit, I really don't know who these guys are. They showed up in my IN campaign office one day to film some B-roll of our team during a meeting (they pan across our team right about the turning point, as they talk about how progressive Gen We is), and film my co-worker Rachel Barge for some of this segment. The end product is pretty darned good, and their messaging is pretty great too. Well, I'm off to go figure out who the people who put me in their video are... ]

Read more!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Sick Parting Gift: Bush Administration Gutting Protections Against Mountain Top Removal

In a particularly sick parting gift to the people of Appalachia, the Bush Administration is attempting to gut a critical protection against the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining that is decimating mountains, watersheds and communities across the region. An editorial in today's New York Times calls attention to this dastardly move, and has a great backgrounder and opportunity to take action here.

The provision under attack, known as the Stream Buffer Rule, prohibits coal mining activities from disturbing areas within a 100-foot "buffer" of an intermittent or perennial stream. The buffer zone rule states that coal mining activities cannot disturb these sensitive areas unless water quality and quantity will not be adversely impacted - a tall order for mountain top removal mines which routinely dump the remains of entire mountains on top of streambeds in a practice known as "valley fill."

The Bush Administration proposal essentially repeals this important regulation and would allow coal companies to permanently bury Appalachian streams beneath hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste. This proposal takes the "buffer" right out of the "buffer zone" rule and allows coal companies to dump waste directly into streams.

As ILoveMountains explains it:

The Bush administration has already relaxed Clean Water Act safeguards that protected Appalachian mountain streams from mountaintop removal mines. Now, the administration is targeting a Reagan-era rule known as the "buffer zone rule" ... Already, nearly 2,000 miles of mountain streams in Appalachia have been buried by mountaintop removal waste, wiping out these streams and causing flooding and destruction in the surrounding communities. The Bush administration's failure to enforce the buffer zone law led to an additional 535 miles of stream impacts nationwide during between 2001 and 2005. Thus, the repeal of the buffer zone rule allows more than 1,000 miles of streams to be destroyed each decade into the future. Permanently destroying thousands of miles of mountain streams is more than irresponsible; it is insane

The NY Times editorial board offers a potential explanation for Bush's urgent rush to gut the buffer zone rule:

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have said in the last month [thanks to urging from organizers like you!] that they oppose mountaintop removal, which may explain the administration’s mad dash to rewrite the rule before a more conservation-minded administration arrives in town. Their opposition also inspires slim hopes among environmentalists that Stephen Johnson, the E.P.A.’s administrator, would withhold his approval. That would be an enormous surprise, but also enormously welcome.

Head here to tell the EPA to strengthen the buffer zone rule, not undermine it and then send a letter to your member of Congress to urge them to put back in place Clean Water Act protections that would curtail the environmental and human devastation caused by mountaintop removal. Whichever presidential candidate is elected, we face perhaps the best opportunity yet to end mountaintop removal once and for all. Make sure that president has a Congress that's with them.

Read more!

Monday, October 20, 2008

If Elected... The Candidates on the Climate

What would Barack Obama and John McCain do to tackle the climate crisis if elected president? Andy Revkin has a great article in last Friday's New York Times that takes tries to answer that question, taking a close - and fair - look at both presidential candidates positions. While both candidates agree on the need for action, the devil, as usual, is in the details, and Revkin has the best expose I've seen in the mainstream press to date.

Here's an excerpt:

Mr. McCain, of Arizona, has repeatedly pointed to his longtime focus on global warming, including a fact-finding trip with other lawmakers to the thawing Arctic and his co-authorship, in 2003, of the first comprehensive legislation seeking mandatory limits on heat-trapping gases.

But in recent weeks he has taken heat from some environmental activists for statements on the stump implying that he might not seek mandatory emission cuts. His campaign has not said how the ailing economy would affect his climate agenda.

A high priority is helping revive the nuclear-power industry because nuclear plants produce no greenhouse gases, once built. Mr. McCain claims a byproduct of his nuclear push would be the creation of thousands of new jobs.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, insists that his energy plan, which is largely framed around measures that could have climate benefits, would remain a top priority even in the face of economic troubles.

Rather than increasing joblessness, he says, his proposals to create federal programs to cut energy waste and to help Detroit retool and retrain to make fuel-sipping hybrids would create jobs.

A top environmental goal of both candidates is enactment of climate-change legislation centered on a “cap and trade” mechanism that sets a ceiling on emissions that declines over time. Businesses and institutions that cannot hit the targets must buy permits from those that achieve bigger cuts than required.

But the devil on such bills is in the many details. (A fight over such details also contributed to the death of a climate bill that the Senate debated earlier this year.)
Read the full story here...

Read more!

The Green Collar Economy Boosted Into Best Sellers List by Netroots Buzz

Unknown, first-time author propelled onto best-seller lists by grassroots, online upswell. Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy, becomes the first black environmental leader to achieve top seller status

From GreenForAll:

(OAKLAND, California) - First-time author Van Jones – who wrote this season's surprise best-seller, The Green Collar Economy – admits that he is an unlikely writer of an unlikely book.

After all, he apparently is the first African-American writer to pen an environmental best-seller.

But perhaps what is most remarkable is the unlikely way that his first book wound up at the #12 slot on the New York Times best-seller list – during its very first week in print.

"Well, we didn't have a big budget to promote the book, or anything," Jones said. "So my co-workers and I just started sending out emails to all of our friends, to people we have worked with for years, to bloggers, to other activists. And something happened out there. The whole thing just kind of exploded virally online."

Thousands of people got the email, and ordered the book right there and then. And many of those recipients forwarded the email on to their lists, and so on.

"People said they were getting our email from three or four different people, from totally different parts of their lives," said Alli Starr, a Jones co-worker at Green For All. "It was crazy. Promoting this book became a cause for so many, diverse people. We all wanted to break the emerald ceiling and get a fresh, new environmental voice out there."

The book sold about 5,000 copies in its first week of publication – about half of that in one day, Friday (October 10), in response to an online push.

Jones says that he is proud that the book attracted a major publisher and some heavy-hitting endorsers, including Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi. But he is most proud that so many grassroots activists and bloggers worked so hard to put the book over the top.

Shifting the new environmental discussion from green consumers to green workers, Jones' book shows how the transition from an oil-dependent, pollution-based economy can create a powerful engine for renewal - creating jobs for millions. Warning against the dangers of "eco-elitism" and "eco-apartheid," The Green Collar Economy calls for a "Green New Deal" to help people of all classes and colors enjoy the work, wealth and health benefits of a green economy.

A long-time civil rights activist, Jones founded Green For All earlier this year, to get green-collar jobs to disadvantaged people. Jones is sharing his proceeds from the book with Green For All.


Read more!

Cap and Trade Isn't the Only Game In Town - Continued Dialog with Eric Pooley

Our sometimes blinding focus on emissions caps and carbon prices can obscure the critical technology innovation challenge that lies at the heart of our quest for climate stability (and continued and expanded global prosperity). In the face of a rapidly shifting political climate, it would be a tragedy to hold any one solution to this core challenge hostage to any other.

Eric Pooley's recent piece in Slate, "Save the Economy, Save the Planet," sparked a lot of thought here. Pooley is right that climate advocates would be best served finding a "Trojan horse" to advance climate solutions within an economic recovery framework. But his recommendations that the next president advance a cap and trade program sparked my response, "Can Cap and Dividend Really Save the Economy or the Planet?"

I invited Pooley to respond to my post, which was highly critical of the political chances of a Cap and Dividend scheme in today's political and economic climate. Below the fold you'll find our continued dialog on the political challenges and opportunities facing climate advocates in the coming year.

Eric Pooley, a longtime financial editor and columnist and a current Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, responded to my post with this comment:

Jesse, you and I have a basic disagreement. I think a mandatory declining cap on GHG emissions is essential, and you don't. That's fine, but then you go on to disagree with me on some points I never make. I don't advocate "a Cap and Dividend proposal designed to enact the highest carbon price possible and rebate nearly all of the revenue to consumers, leaving very little to spend on clean technology development and deployment." As a matter of fact, I don't think the carbon price needs to be sky-high to drive clean tech.(But unlike you, I do think a carbon price is a crucial accelerator.) Apparently, since I refer to Peter Barnes in my column, you assume I advocate for all of his policies; that's reading way too much into one name-check. I do agree with Barnes' basic argument that consumers must be cushioned from energy price increases that result from cap-and-trade -- and so do a good many Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, so we'll see how the politics play out. You argue that creating such a cushion wouldn't leave enough money for cleantech RD&D. I think you are wrong, and I think you create a false choice -- either a cap or a huge investment in clean technology. I'm in favor of both, and in favor of using the former to finance the latter. Having looked hard at the numbers, I'm convinced that a cap-and-trade bill can raise enough money for both RD&D and consumer relief, without resorting to a sky-high carbon price. By the way, how do you propose we raise the necessary cleantech RD&D money? What's your magical funding mechanism?

Here's my response. It's long, but this is perhaps the only place I've put all this down in writing. It's helped me collect and clarify my thoughts tremendously, so I hope its worthwhile to read...

Questions and Clarifications

Eric, thank you for responding to my post. I hope that, in fact, we do disagree about less than I had initially thought, and I apologize if I misrepresented or mistook your position. I hope our continued dialog can clear up where each of us stand and what we recommend and zero in on some critical questions about policy and politics in today's new political and economic climate.

I think we both agree that advocates of climate solutions (ourselves included) must re-assess our political strategy amidst today's era of heightened economic insecurity. We face an urgent moment, with both opportunities and challenges ahead. Only by developing the right strategy can we hope to advance policies that will drive key climate solutions in the coming year. Your column is a key part of that process and I want to re-iterate that I think your political analysis is dead-on: our biggest (if not only) opportunity lies in advancing solutions that simultaneously rejuvenate our ailing economy and drive us towards climate stability. So let's get into the details...

First, I'd like to apologize if I implied that you support the exact same Cap and Dividend proposal advocated by Peter Barnes (i.e. a mandatory declining cap with 100% of revenues sent out as dividends to consumers). In your column, you clearly recognize the critical role of investments in clean energy technology development and deployment and support funding those investments with revenues from the auction of emissions allowances. Barnes, by contrast, has consistently argued that any federal investment in clean energy and energy efficiency should come from other funding sources, if they are necessary at all (which he seems to question). That puts Barnes and his fellow "Sky Trust" advocates solidly in the camp of those who believe carbon pricing will be the predominant (if not only) driver of emissions reductions. Given your recognition of the critical role of investments in clean energy technology as well, I shouldn't assume that you share Barnes' view.

However, when I read your column, you referred to a cap and trade program raising between $100-600 billion per year. You wrote, "Some of that money would be spent on energy R&D," referencing $15 billion per year here, and then continued, "but the next president will have to give most of [the auction revenues] back to the people if he wants to pass a climate bill during a recession." I assumed, based on that passage, that you would advocate $15 billion per year for clean energy RD&D with the rest of the auction revenues sent back to consumers as dividends or rebates. From your response, it sounds like I may be mistaken in that assumption, and I'd welcome clarification on where you stand. What portion of the auction revenues from the cap do you believe we should invest in clean energy technology development and deployment (including energy efficiency) and what portion should be returned directly to consumers? What other uses of auction revenues would you advocate?

To clarify, I definitely agree that it's critical to shield low-income folks from any increased energy costs due to a cap and trade program. A certain amount of direct cash rebates may be a critical part of those efforts, but according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, only 14 percent of auction revenues from a cap and trade bill would be necessary to fully offset the impacts of higher energy costs on the bottom fifth of US household by income.

Furthermore, cash rebates are not the only (or even the best) way to shield consumers from energy price increases. Other options include constraining the price increase in the first place, either through explicit cost containment provisions or (much preferred) through investments to help drive down the ultimate cost of compliance (i.e. efforts to make clean energy technologies cheaper or reduce energy consumption). Perhaps the option with the greatest direct benefit for low income families, and the one supported by Green For All in their Vision for National Climate Policy communications document, is to provide low-income energy assistance that includes "not only economic assistance to offset impacts from energy rate increases, but direct energy-efficiency investments to drive down energy bills overall." Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute similarly argues at Worldchanging that efforts to "Cap-and-Caulk" - i.e. use auction revenues to fund weatherization assistance, consumer energy efficiency rebates, and other energy efficiency measures for low-income energy users - is a critical component of protecting low-income families from the impacts of carbon pricing.

So while I do agree that rebates or dividends and investment are not a zero sum game, I would argue that rebates or dividends should be a relatively minor use of auction revenue, and warrant significantly less than investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.

Equity issues aside, you also seemed to argue that the dividends would be a political winner as well, helping secure passage of a cap and trade bill. You wrote, "receiving an annual check from the climate bill's allowance auctions might persuade some to support it." This is the assumption that drew most of my criticism. As I wrote in my post, there's very little evidence that adding more dividends to the mix (i.e. more than is necessary to satisfy important equity concerns) will do much to boost either public support or win over members of the Senate's "Technology Sixteen." It will however mean there would be less revenue for the direct investments that will help drive clean tech deployment and increased efficiency.

Where I Stand on Caps and Carbon Prices

So, with all that said, let me state as clearly as I can where I stand on emissions caps and carbon prices in general: I in fact do agree that a carbon price would be an effective and desirable accelerator of clean technology development and deployment. The Breakthrough Institute supports the highest politically sustainable price on carbon possible, both to set a new price signal that will accelerate innovation, and (perhaps more importantly) to raise revenues for critical public investments in clean energy research, development and deployment.

However, given today's political climate, we are increasingly concerned that the highest politically sustainable price on carbon is getting pretty close to $0 per ton, at least for the foreseeable future. I hope that I'm wrong, but news this week from Canada and the EU doesn't offer much inspiration. And whatever that price is, it is highly unlikely that it will be high enough for price signals alone to drive the necessary emissions reductions.

Perhaps this gets at what you characterize as our "basic disagreement" about the need for a mandatory cap on emissions. A mandatory cap would imply that emissions reductions would be required, no matter what the price of compliance is. That's the whole idea of a mandatory cap: in theory, emissions reductions are guaranteed and the price of carbon will rise to whatever level is necessary to drive those reductions.

But let's be clear: this theoretically mandatory cap and the guaranteed emissions reductions it will achieve are just that - theoretical. In reality, every single cap and trade policy proposed in the United States and elsewhere has included various forms of cost containment, from safety valves and off-ramps to borrowing from future allowances, and from "carbon allocation boards" that can issue extra allowances if necessary to international offset programs that simply outsource emissions reductions overseas to offset projects of a dubious quality. This is critical to note, because any provision that constrains the price of carbon without directly lowering the cost of actually reducing emissions under the cap (as investments in clean energy or energy efficiency would) will mean the cap is not in fact mandatory, nor does it guarantee emissions reductions targets are achieved.

Finally, even if a cap and trade policy includes no explicit cost containment provisions, in any Democratic society, the electorate's sensitivity to energy price increases will act as a default cost containment provision. In the face of a public backlash, elected officials can simply be forced to cut back the emissions reduction program or be ousted from office. Since a cap and trade program is ostensibly designed to ensure emissions reductions over a many decades-long time period, there will be plenty of election cycles to act as a check on the ultimate price of compliance with any "mandatory" cap and trade program.

So, if we recognize that any real-world cap and trade policy will have either explicit or implicit factors constraining the price on carbon, we see that all the focus on the supposed certainty of mandatory caps really obscures a very uncertain technology innovation challenge: the only way a cap will really deliver it's promised emissions reductions is if technology solutions exist that can deliver those reductions at a cost that's lower than either the explicit cost containment provisions of the legislation or the public's ultimate tolerance for increased energy prices.

This technology innovation challenge - a challenge McKinsey Global Insitute describes as of the same scale as the industrial revolution but in one third the time! - is the real heart of our quest for climate stability (not to mention continued and expanded global prosperity). We are therefore ill-served by obscuring this critical innovation challenge behind the frequently blinding focus on emissions caps and carbon prices.

We must recognize that there are ultimately several tools at our disposal to focus the human and financial capital necessary to overcome this critical innovation challenge -- including carbon pricing/cap and trade, direct regulations, and strategic public investments (all of which are ultimately designed to drive significant quantities of private capital to tackle the challenge).

In an ideal world, we should be advancing all options simultaneously and using each where most appropriate. One could certainly design an omnibus climate action bill that includes a declining cap, auctioned allowances raising revenue for direct investments, and complementary direct regulations (new efficiency and building standards, for example). But when the rubber meets the road in the US Senate or at the ballot box, there sadly seems to be far too little elite or public support for that kind of proposal today.

Given the urgency of the situation, I think it would therefore be a tragedy to hold any one strategy hostage to any other. That is, if today's political climate offers an opportunity to advance new strategic public investments in clean energy technology, infrastructure and efficiency under the framework of economic recovery, we cannot afford to hold those investments hostage to a cap and trade policy that faces a very uphill battle in Congress in the foreseeable future (to say the least).

If we can advance critical clean energy investments now and a full-on cap and auction bill is politically impossible, then we should move investments now and pay for them with something else: a more modest carbon price, general budget funds, a subsidy shift, oil royalty funds, deficit spending, whatever. We're pretty agnostic from a climate perspective about where the funds come from, as long as the critical investments can move forward as soon as possible.

From a political standpoint, though, some funding sources are obviously better than others. And if we want to make the most credible argument about economic stimulus, Keynes would argue that deficit spending is in fact the best way to fund these investments. Taxing one sector to pay for another isn't a very effective way to spur any net economic stimulus, or so I'm told (I'm no economist, I'll readily admit).

However, it seems like we could make a powerful political case for strategic deficit spending that has multiple economic benefits. These investments would lay the groundwork for a major new growth sector (clean tech), a dramatic improvement in the energy efficiency (and therefore productivity) of our economy, and reign in our out-of-control trade deficit while shielding us from increasingly volatile commodity prices (by reducing oil dependency).

That is why, while I think cap and trade, or carbon pricing in general, could be a very powerful and effective tool to overcome this innovation challenge, I do not think it is the only game in town, nor do I think it is sufficient to overcome the technology innovation challenge alone.

I hope this elucidates what you characterized as our "basic disagreement" about the necessity of a cap and trade program. I'd definitely welcome and look forward to your response. Thanks for wading through all of this. I wanted to be as clear as possible about my reasoning and assumptions so we can avoid any misunderstanding and drill right down to the substance of this discussion. Few other discussions are more critical given the state of our economy and our climate, and the political opportunities marked by what will no doubt be an historic election in just a few weeks.


Jesse Jenkins
The Breakthrough Institute
WattHead - Energy News and Commentary

[Originally posted at the Breakthrough Blog]

Read more!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Can Cap and Dividend Really Save the Economy or the Planet?

A clean energy economic stimulus plan could truly be climate advocates' "Trojan horse," as columnist Eric Pooley writes. But NOT if they follow Pooley's advice about how to formulate that plan and advance a full-on, economy-wide Cap and Dividend program next year.

The economy is all that matters now, and climate advocates - and the next President - would be wise to develop a strategic "Trojan horse" to advance their ecological goals within the framework of economic recovery. That's the thesis of "Save the Economy, Save the Planet," an article appearing in Slate last week by Eric Pooley.

Pooley gets the political analysis right, accurately diagnosing the potentially incurable political malady that dooms the chances of expansive carbon regulation in today's economic climate. But when it comes time to prescribe the remedy, Pooley is off-the-mark, arguing that a Cap and Dividend proposal is just what the doctor ordered.

Sorry, but that's the wrong answer. Unfortunately, Pooley is not alone in his prescribed solution, and it's time we took a close look at the obstacles to climate action and see just how far Cap and Dividend gets us (hint: it's not very far...)

Pooley, a longtime financial editor and columnist and a current Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, starts his column with an accurate analysis of the political situation:

"[A]t this moment of deep economic distress, warnings about future climate impacts aren't going to [be politically popular]. That much has been clear since June, when $4-a-gallon gasoline helped snuff the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act and the nation's hopes and dreams began shifting from save the planet to "drill, baby, drill." Opponents of Lieberman-Warner claimed it would jack up energy costs, throw people out of work, and kill the U.S. economy; supporters responded that its impact wouldn't be that bad. Not that bad is not that good a strategy, and green leaders realized then that if they were ever going to break the political logjam, they had to drive home a more optimistic economic message."

With the economy dominating the political arena, arguing within an economic revitalization framework is a huge opportunity - perhaps the only opportunity - to advance policies that will drive the key solutions to the climate crisis: the massive deployment of clean energy technologies and a dramatic increase in end-use energy efficiency. A clean energy economic stimulus plan could truly be climate and clean energy advocates' "Trojan horse," as Pooley puts it.

But not if they follow Pooley's advice about how to formulate that plan: continue to advance a full-on, economy-wide cap and trade program raising "$100-600 billion annually" (which translates into a CO2 price of $15-100 per metric ton at today's emissions levels). Pooley recommends that $15 billion or so per year would go to clean energy R&D, but he argues that the vast bulk of the funds should be sent right back to energy consumers in the form of dividend checks "to make sure the fix doesn't cost too much."

These dividend payments, designed to cover the increased costs of energy under the carbon pricing scheme, will some how make this bill magically possible, Pooley claims. Sorry, but this strategy, known as Cap and Dividend, is the wrong answer.

In order to succeed, any strategy to advance climate policy must overcome several very real obstacles. Unfortunately, adding dividends to the mix while advancing the same old cap and trade scheme doesn't help overcome any of them. Let's look at the facts...

Obstacle One: Public Opinion

Support for action on climate change is considered wide but notoriously shallow, and that's where Cap and Dividend is supposed to excel.

As Pooley writes:
"Yes, putting a price on carbon, whether through a tax or cap-and-trade, will drive up household energy costs in the short and medium term before reducing them in the long term, as alternative energy comes on line. Still, receiving an annual check from the climate bill's allowance auctions might persuade some to support it."

So how many people need persuading?

Sadly, only eighteen percent of the American public expressed strong belief that global warming is real, that it is caused by humans, and that it is harmful, according to a poll released last week and commissioned by the Alliance for Climate Protection (Al Gore's folks) and a coalition of environmental groups. Eighteen percent!

The poll found a stark partisan divide among respondents as well, with just 54% of Republicans polled even confirming that global warming is happening, let alone that it is human-caused and requires action.

That's a long way from the strong public support needed to make high carbon prices politically sustainable, and that means there's a lot of heavy lifting for those dividend checks to do.

Surprisingly, Cap and Dividend advocates are hard-pressed to find any concrete evidence - beyond anecdotes about Alaska's popular oil royalty-funded annual rebate checks - to support the assertion that the proposal is popular with the public. If anyone has hard numbers on Cap and Dividend's public appeal, I'd love to see them, especially since this is the crux of the argument for a dividend scheme.

Unfortunately, the only public opinion numbers I've seen don't look good for Cap and Dividend.

Those numbers come from a 2007 study [PDF] the Breakthrough Institute commissioned with the Nathan Cummings Foundation to test the public appeal of several approaches to the climate crisis, including a Cap and Dividend proposal. Barely 51 percent of respondents supported Cap and Dividend when it was tested. Furthermore, that support dropped to just 31 percent after respondents heard likely arguments against Cap and Dividend (respondents were told that the proposal would likely raise energy prices and result in a new government entitlement program).

So is Cap and Dividend the heavy lifter with the public we need? It doesn't look like it.

In contrast, polls have found consistent and deep support for actions to address economic insecurity, foreign energy dependency and increasing energy prices. The same 2007 study found that 85% of those polled supported a $300 billion, ten year investment to develop low-cost clean energy technologies and industries. Support stayed at 54% even after arguments were made against the Apollo-project style clean energy investment plan (respondents were told that there was no plan to pay for the proposal, increasing either taxes or deficit spending, and that despite spending hundreds of billions, the proposal wouldn't require polluting industries to reduce emissions).

At a time of economic recession, wouldn't public investment programs designed to directly stimulate the economy with investments in clean energy technology draw significantly greater public support than an effort to sugar-coat a carbon pricing program with dividend checks?

Obstacle Two: Elite Opinion (aka the "Technology Sixteen")

As we reported last week, sixteen Democratic senators we've dubbed the "Technology Sixteen" are aligning themselves to take control of the climate debate. These sixteen Democrats have all voiced substantive concerns with the cap and trade approach advanced by climate advocates this summer and indicated that they would have voted No on the failed Lieberman-Warner bill. Given the fact that this new gang of senators represents almost one third of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, the concerns of the Tech Sixteen must be addressed if climate policy has any hope in the United States Senate.

That presents a big problem for Cap and Dividend advocates.

To start with, the Tech Sixteen are far more concerned about the impacts of carbon pricing on their business, industry, labor and ag constituencies than they are with the cost to end-use energy consumers. That's why the Tech Sixteen are primarily concerned with cost-containment, technology development and deployment, and perks for the special interests in their districts (i.e. eligibility for ag sector offsets, incentives for utilities and manufacturing, etc.) - not on securing dividends for consumers.

The "Tech Sixteen" want to see a low carbon price and more spending on efforts to make clean energy cheap. So tell me how we get this critical block of senators to support a Cap and Dividend proposal designed to enact the highest carbon price possible and rebate nearly all of the revenue to consumers, leaving very little to spend on clean technology development and deployment (let alone their special interest constituencies)?

In short: it's hard to see how Cap and Dividend will sweeten the pot at all with the critical Tech Sixteen.

Obstacle Three: Effectiveness (aka the Market Fundamentalist Myth)

Finally, all this talk about Cap and Dividend is premised on the argument that we simply need a high price on carbon to correct market failures, driving the deployment of clean energy technologies and increased end-use efficiency that is the end goal.

Unfortunately, this is simply a market fundamentalist myth.

The "carbon pricing will save us" myth ignores the critical role government frequently plays in deploying enabling infrastructure (just consider for a moment the effects of rural electrification and the interstate highway system on the economy we take for granted today); driving technology innovation (while the Apple I may have been soldered together in Steve Wozniak's garage, the technologies that enabled the personal computer and the internet revolution were all developed in government labs); and supporting strategic emerging industries (e.g. incentives for emerging biomed and nanotechnology industries).

And just how high a price would you need to drive major increases in end-use efficiency or conservation?

Well, you'd need to have a CO2 price of $113 per ton to increase gasoline prices by just $1 per gallon. In the past two years, we've seen prices skyrocket by $2 dollars per gallon and yet have seen just a tiny dent in gasoline consumption (and emissions). So you have to ask yourself, what price will be sufficient to drive deep emissions reductions in the transportation sector?

Again, wouldn't it be smarter to focus directly on incentives to electrify transportation and get Americans and their stuff out of cars, planes and long-haul trucks? We could make investments to help Detroit retool to produce the most advanced vehicles in the world, support the mass development and deployment of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and build new high-speed electric rail and functional mass transit systems, and reinvest in efficient freight rail. And that's a strategy with direct economic benefits.

All this argues not for higher carbon prices but for more investment ... and again, that's a function not very well served by Cap and Dividend.


This economic crisis does present a key opportunity to advance critical investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. But a Cap and Dividend scheme is still a non-starter in the halls of the U.S. Senate - not to mention with the US public.

Today, we face an urgent moment: a new political climate is unfolding, a new president will soon be elected, and a ticking clock of climate feedback loops is winding down. We simply cannot afford another run through the U.S. Senate with a climate bill doomed to failure from the start.

For those who feel the urgency of our climate crisis as I do, we now face a critical time to (re)assess the current political climate and seize on any opportunities to advance real solutions it may present.

Our best hope would seem to be to advance a package of strategic investments framed explicitly and primarily about economic recovery and job creation.

If a clear economic imperative exists, we are apparently willing to put $700 billion (and counting) of taxpayer dollars on the line. There simply does not exist, nor will there exist any similarly strong political imperative motivated by climate concerns at any point in the near future. So we have to look elsewhere if we want to advance solutions to our climate crisis and find a real Trojan horse.

What we need is a new clean energy-focused economic recovery bill, not the next incarnation of a climate bill. In today's political climate, that seems to be our best, if not only, option.

[Originally posted at the Breakthrough Blog]

Read more!

Graph of the Day, October 19th, 2008

Something to consider as we figure out how to get our economy back on track...

From the Sightline Institute. There's another one below the fold...

[Originally posted at the Breakthrough Blog]

Read more!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Remember That Other Economic Crisis?

Back before Wall Street was burning, Main Street was already feeling the heat from another very real economic crisis: the soaring price of oil. The credit crisis and our slowing economy have driven oil prices down and the energy crisis out of our minds, for now. But that doesn't mean the threat - to our economy and our quality of life - is gone. If we ever want our economy to truly recover, we'd be wise not to forget the other economic crisis.

I know it's hard to remember, given the events of the past weeks, but back before Wall Street was burning, Main Street was already feeling the heat from another very real economic crisis: the soaring price of oil.

The credit crisis and our slowing economy have driven oil prices down from historic highs. As stocks plummeted in the past two weeks, so to did the price of crude, falling by more than half, down from it's July record of over $140 to under $70 this week. That's the lowest price in fourteen months, but it's still three times higher than it was just six years ago, and prices are still over $3.00 a gallon across the nation.

Still, as prices at the pump have receded and the focus on the banking bailout bumped "Drill Baby, Drill!" out of the presidential election spotlight, the energy crisis is now out of most of our minds. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the threat - to our economy and our quality of life - is gone. Oil prices will rise again - they are already inching up again amidst news of a likely OPEC cutback in production - and when they do, they'll continue to drag down our struggling economy. If we ever hope to see real economic recovery, we would be wise not to forget the other crisis that contributed to today's ailing economy.

I'll delve into this more next week, but for now, enjoy the new article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine (online here) by Roger Lowenstein, entitled "What's Really Wrong With the Price of Oil," which takes a close look at the temporarily forgotten but very real threat oil prices pose to our economic wellbeing. Excerpts below the fold...

Back before the mortgage meltdown turned into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the country's big economic problem was energy. The presidential campaign was on fire over what to "do" about the price of oil. Gas cost more than $4 a gallon, it was slowing down the economy, people were driving fewer miles and they were flying less. Believe it or not, this was an economic crisis that affected people who didn't happen to be pinstriped bankers, hedge-fund managers or cabinet officials. You didn't have to read the stock-market columns to know it was happening. Ordinary people started walking to town or skipping errands -- taking the compact and not the S.U.V. Actually, I did that. And then, the price of oil plummeted, first because of slowing demand and recently amid panic selling during the credit crisis. And as it plunged more than 40 percent from its record high of $147 a barrel, the issue has faded.

Well, gas still costs $3.50 a gallon, and the price of a barrel of oil, last week close to $80, still is four times what it was all of six years ago. If that doesn't sound like a big deal, consider that in the half-dozen years of the housing boom, residential home prices rose only 125 percent, whereas oil prices, even now, are 300 percent higher than they were six years ago. So the energy issue is still here. Remember the winter after Katrina, when home-heating-fuel prices caused an uproar? This winter they are likely to be much higher.

When the new president takes office, high energy costs will be -- as they are already -- a drag on the economy, one that is becoming conflated with the credit crisis. Last month, the U.S. auto industry sold fewer than one million cars -- its slowest sales rate in 15 years. Tight credit and high gas prices each contributed to that. There is no way to completely unravel the two, but here is one fact: In the early part of this decade, when oil was cheap, Americans spent only 2 percent of their income on gasoline. Recently they have been spending about 4.5 percent -- more than twice as much. And you can bet that the percentage is higher among families with lower incomes.

The full article is online here and on news stands Sunday...

[Originally posted at the Breakthrough Blog]

Read more!

Friday, October 10, 2008

"I call those people dirty greens" - Quote of Day: October 10th, 2008

"I call those people the dirty greens. They say drill, do tar sands and oil
shale, turn coal into liquid fuel-whatever! Burn kittens, as long as they're
American kittens. Toast the planet!"

-Van Jones, president of Green For All, on the "All of the Above" energy "solutions" embraced by folks like Newt Gingrich (in a great article by Eric Pooley about the shifting strategies to advance climate solutions).

Read more!

Repower America? ABC Says They'd Rather Take Dirty Oil Money

ABC refused to run a Repower America ad from the We Campaign because it apparently threatened their cozy relationship with oil and coal companies and the dirty money they are throwing at corporate media for slick greenwashing ads. Here's the scoop...

If you're like me, you've been obsessively watching each of the presidential debates over the past weeks. If so, you must have noticed the ever-present oil and coal company ads proclaiming their commitment to overcoming today's pressing energy and ecological problems with new innovative solutions: aka, their dirty old products repackaged and resold as "clean" and "green."

CNN's debate coverage has been sponsored by a coal industry front group, and CBS has ExxonMobil fronting the bill. Perhaps the slickest of the ad campaigns, Chevron's "Human Energy" ads are playing everywhere, trying to imply that the oil company is really on your side in the effort to conserve energy - aka buy less of their product! As if!

In short, it seems like this year's presidential election is essentially "brought to you by your friends at ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and Peabody Coal."

To counter this flood of dirty oil money taking over the network and cable news channels, the We Campaign has been running Repower America ads, calling on America's leaders to truly repower our nation with 100% clean energy. The Repower America ads are running on several networks, including CBS, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, and MSNBC... but not on ABC!

ABC, the only network to reject the ad, had no problem running any of the oil and coal industry spots during their debate coverage. But when the We Campaign wanted to buy an ad slot during ABC's news magazine, 20/20, the network flat out refused to air the ad!

Why would they turn down the We Campaign, which was offering to pay top dollar for prime airtime? Because the ad had this to say:

That's right, We's ad called the oil and coal companies out for spending gobs of cash - on ads, lobbyists and more - to block efforts to truly Repower America, and ABC apparently couldn't run an ad questioning their main cash cow! That'd just be bad business, I guess.

ABC had a bogus official excuse, of course (republished here courtesy of We via the Wonk Room):

Per our Guidelines, national buildings may be used in advertising provided the depictions are incidental to the advertiser’s promotion of the product or service. Given the messages and themes of this commercial, the image of the Capital building is not incidental to this advertising. Please replace the image with one that is not of another national building or monument. Thank you.
Here's the offending image, on screen for just about one second:

Right, the offensive part of this image was that it depicted the Capitol Building, not that it called out one of ABC's biggest sources of dirty dirty cash... sure... And an ad about oil companies spending gobs of cash on lobbyists to block federal legislation has nothing to do with the Capitol Building... Good excuse ABC!

The We Campaign quickly sent out a letter to it's 1.6 million members saying:
I sent a letter asking ABC to reconsider their decision and put our ad on the air, but still we haven’t heard back more than a week later. I think they need to hear from all of us. Can you help? Please send a message to ABC and tell them to air the Repower America ad this Friday on 20/20. Just click here:

We’re working to get 100,000 public comments to ABC before 20/20’s next airing.

Our Repower America ad has a clear and simple message — that massive spending by oil and coal companies on advertising is a key reason our nation hasn’t switched to clean and renewable sources for our energy.
The petition already has over 173,000 signatures and counting. So head on over to and tell ABC that if they're going to take dirty oil company money, they'd better take some dirty environmentalist money as well, and run the darned ad!

Kate Sheppard at Grist has more muckraking on ABC's indefensible decision to block the Repower America ads...

Read more!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Take a Spin in the Cars of the Future

I just came across three videos from short 60 Minute segments that take a close look at (and inside) four electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars that'll make you anxious for the day you can leave the gas station behind. From GM's Chevy Volt plug-in and it's competitor from California, the Fisker Karma to the electric Tesla Roadster and the airplane-like, ultra-efficient Aptera, each of these cars is competing to be the car of the future. So take a spin...

(two more below the fold...)

There's more photos of the production version of the Chevy Volt here as well. The muscle-car of the early concept models originally unveiled in February 2007 has been replaced by a sleeker, more aerodynamic vehicle that's a higher-tech-looking version of the Honda Civic or Toyota Prius and Camry hybrids it'll likely compete with (lower drag = higher fuel efficiency, so that's no surprise). The new production version, slated to hit showrooms in model year 2011 was displayed last week at the 2008 Paris Auto Show.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Invite the President Elect to the (Climate) Party in Poland!

No matter who wins the presidential election, they're going to have a tough job ahead of them. Digging out from eight years of President Bush's go-it-alone, damn-the-international-community, climate-delayer doctrine and restoring our standing as a member of the international community is a job you've got to a little bit crazy to sign up for. But either Barack Obama or John McCain are going to inherit that task on November 4th, and they don't have to wait until inauguration day to get started.

This December, the international community will come together again in Poland to work towards a plan to address the climate crisis. Both presidential candidates talk a big game on climate change, and they've got a big opportunity to walk the talk this December by attending the climate talks and re-engaging the United States in the quest to turn our climate crisis into an opportunity to ignite a new sustainable and prosperous global energy system. So let's make sure the next President-elect - whoever he may be - is invited to the climate party in Poland. just launched a new campaign to send Obama and McCain thousands of invitations to engage in the Poland climate talks in December. Take a second to send the next President-elect an invitation here.

Here's a video from explaining the invitation campaign:

So what are you waiting for: invite Obama and McCain to the party in Poland!

Read more!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Time for A Green Bailout? Van Jones Says Clean Energy Investment Can Solve Our Economic and Ecological Challenges

Van Jones is one timely man. With the economic crisis spurring a new search for ways to revitalize and rebuild our flagging economy, Van Jones, the founder and president of Green For All, is ready with answers: "a national commitment to green economic development as a way to address our environmental and economic crises at once."

That's the message of Van's new book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems (due out in bookstores October 7th), as well as the nationwide Green Jobs Now! day of action organized by Green For All last weekend. He couldn't have picked a better time for the book release and the day of action.

The $700 billion economic bailout plan passed last Friday by Congress may get Wall Street back to square one. But Americans on Main Street want more than a bailout. We want a real plan to move forward. We want a plan to create a more sustainable, prosperous and secure future for ourselves and our loved ones.

In a piece in Huffington Post last Friday (reprinted below), Van points out that investments in a 'green bailout plan' - a series of timely, strategic investments to ignite a new clean energy economy and restart our ailing economy - is our best hope, perhaps the only strategy that can move our troubled nation forward into a new era of shared prosperity. This quote from the intro to The Green Collar Economy sums it up well:

"[W]e cannot drill and burn our way out of our present economic and energy problems. We can, however, invent and invest our way out. Choosing to do so on a massive scale would have the practical benefit of cutting energy prices enough—and generating enough work—to pull the U.S. economy out of its present death spiral."
I look forward to cracking open Van's book this evening (I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy), and I encourage you to pick up a copy for yourselves (you can order a copy here). If there's one question that should be on everyone's mind right now, it's how do we get our economy back on track, kick our dirty energy addiction and ignite a new, clean energy economy. I'm sure Van has some answers.

I'll try to post a review of the book once I've read more of it. For now, here's Van's piece from HuffPost (reprinted with permission from Green for All):

"Now For A Green Bailout: Twice The Bang, Half The Bucks"
By Van Jones

Maybe the Wall Street bailout package is a good idea.

But the only thing I know for sure is this: even if we avert a total economic meltdown, we will still be in a recession. Millions of Americans still will be without jobs -- or in real fear of losing their job. Worse, we will still be dependent on dirty fuels like oil and coal, which are draining our monetary resources and cooking the planet.

The Earth and everyday people will still be suffering.

I wrote a new book to propose elegant solutions for our economic and environmental crises. The Green Collar Economy offers a green cure for the dilemmas we face and the financial messes we are in.

At this point, I am willing to concede that Wall Street and the big bankers need some propping up. But while we are at it, we should find a way to bail out the little people -- and the planet, too.

So how about a green bailout -- to help both? We already took an important step in that direction today. Perhaps the only thing in the whole bailout package that is inarguably good is the support for the U.S. clean energy sector.

After unconscionable delays, Congress finally gave a boost to our wind power industries and our solar power industries by extending the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the Production Tax Credit. The price tag was about $9 billion, but the cost was entirely offset, mostly by changes that were made to oil and gas tax rules.

What does America get for that no-net-cost shuffling of the tax code? Plenty. The 8-year extension of ITC alone will create 440,000 jobs. And $230 billion of private investment would be created in the solar and other industries, according to a recent report by Navigant Consulting.

Green Bailout: Half The Money, Twice The Impact

That's a good start. Let's keep going. An all-out "green bailout" could give America TWICE the bang ... for half the bucks.

We just found $700 billion. Let's find another $350 billion. That's half the price tag of the Wall Street rescue - which has no guarantee of success. But with $350 billion investment, we absolutely and positively could retrofit and repower America using clean, green energy - and create millions of new jobs, in the process.

A new report just released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors says that we can create over 4 million green jobs if we aggressively shift away from traditional fossil fuels toward alternative energy and a significant improvement in energy efficiency.

Another report just released by the Political Economy Research Institute and the Center for American Progress shows that the U.S. can create two million jobs over two years by investing $100 billion in a green economic recovery plan. The report also shows that this investment would create four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.

Green For All and its partners are proposing a Clean Energy Corps that includes a revolving loan fund to finance the ambitious retrofitting of the nation's building stock. An investment of less than $3 billion per year would provide financing and can be expected to create close to 120,000 green jobs a year and 600,000 over five years, while also lowering home heating and electricity bills for homeowners and small businesses.

Clean Energy Corps: Retrofitting & Repowering America

The United States should have a Clean Energy Corps, combining community service with green-collar job training. Such a program could get hundreds of thousands of people ready to go to work, greening the nation's infrastructure.

The New Apollo Program is a comprehensive economic investment strategy developed by the Apollo Alliance to build America 's 21st century clean energy economy and dramatically cut energy bills for families and businesses. It estimates that the investment of $500 billion over the next 3 years and create more than 5 million high quality green-collar jobs.

It will accelerate the development of the nation's vast clean energy resources and move us toward energy security, climate stability, and economic prosperity. And it will transform America into the global leader of the new green economy.

A massive green economic stimulus package like this could even pay for ITSELF in energy savings and in tax dollars generated by new jobs and businesses.

As Thomas Friedman says, "We don't just need a bailout. We need a buildup." In my new book, The Green-Collar Economy, I spell out other green remedies for our economy.

Friedman: Not Just a Bailout, A Buildup

The bottom line is: we can't base a national economy on credit cards. But we can base it on solar panels, wind turbines, smart bio-fuels and massive, a program to weatherize every building and home in America.

Rather than giving platinum parachutes to those who wrecked the economy, let's throw a green lifeline to the ordinary people who want to rebuild it. We can't drill and burn our way out of our present mess. But we can invent and invest our way out.

Our present economy is based on consumption, debt and environmental destruction. The next U.S. economy should be based on production, smart savings and environmental restoration. You can't have a stable economy based on unregulated greed at the top. But you can have one based on unleashing green, at the bottom.

Millions of green jobs would be a Main Street solution to the Wall Street meltdown.

America's number one resource is not oil or mortgages. Our number one resource is our people.

And it is time to put our people back to work - retrofitting and re-powering America.

That's what my book is all about.

Read more!