Monday, June 30, 2008

Energy Delayers, Get Out Of The Way: A New American Energy Future Awaits

By Helen Aki and Jesse Jenkins, cross-posted from the Breakthrough Blog

Just as the time becomes ripe for a major push towards clean, cheap sources of electricity, the Bureau of Land Management threw a two-year stumbling block in the path of solar power development last Friday. As solar power ramps up--the Bureau has received 130 proposals solar plants since 2005--the Bureau decided to put a hold on further development, claiming that that an exhaustive environmental impact report must be completed before solar plants can be installed on federally owned lands. Meanwhile, the push continues for oil drilling in protected offshore areas and the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (an endeavor that really merits an environmental impact assessment!).

Using environmental justifications to suppress the growth of new, clean, American energy sources doesn't fly with environmentalists (who must feel like their political tool (the EIS) has been perversely co-opted by the "dark side"). But the Mojave ground squirrel aside (a species allegedly threatened by the solar development), it strikes me that anything that actively blocks much needed new clean, renewable energy is not only perverse or ironic, but actually dangerous.

Timed as it is to coincide with the expiration of critical renewable energy incentives, this new road block is bad news for the solar industry-- and actively blocking the advancement of new sources of clean, American energy is bad news for the economy as a whole. Now more than ever, as the price of oil continues to rise, buoying inflation and economic insecurity along with it, the transition to new clean sources of American energy is critical to secure continued economic prosperity.

As the New York Times reports:

"It doesn't make any sense," said Holly Gordon, vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs for Ausra, a solar thermal energy company in Palo Alto, Calif. "The Bureau of Land Management land has some of the best solar resources in the world. This could completely stunt the growth of the industry." (emph. added)

Even if the moratorium on solar plants in public lands does not entirely smother the solar industry--after all, privately owned lands are still fair game--it is symbolic of a structural failure to fully acknowledge and understand the problems we face, or embrace progressive and effective policies to solve them.

The price of gas has exceeded $4 a gallon in most of the country (it was well over $4.50 in northern California this weekend), the economy is in a downturn, and Americans are crying out for new energy solutions. Cheap, abundant supplies of oil may have powered the United States of the past, but our continued reliance on this depleting and increasingly expensive fossil fuel is now imperiling our economy and our way of life. The obvious answer - to everyone but the federal government apparently - is to tap our vast reserves of abundant renewable energy and develop the new clean, cheap American energy sources that will power the 21st Century.

Instead, all we hear from our Bush Administration throws up roadblocks to the clean energy sources at our fingertips and calls to Drill! Drill! Drill! for more oil (i.e. more of the same). Meanwhile critical renewable energy incentives gasp their final, rattling breath in Congress.

Why? Though the answer may lie with oil interests, there is a deeper trend. In his most recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman laments the current state of the union and insists that we need to rebuild a dysfunctional nation. He writes that, "It's the state of America now that is the most gripping source of anxiety for Americans," adding that "our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities" -- a myopia which is only too evident in a policy such as the BLM's, and in the absurd energy solutions proposed by the current administration.

Friedman goes on to say:

"I continue to be appalled at the gap between what is clearly going to be the next great global industry -- renewable energy and clean power -- and the inability of Congress and the administration to put in place the bold policies we need to ensure that America leads that industry."

We are living in a dangerous time, a time of energy crisis. Out of this danger comes opportunity, and a choice between futures.

We can choose to continue towards a future of oil dependency that spells disaster for both our economy and our climate, putting up impediments to essential new American energy industries and providing "life support" in the form of continued subsidies to the mature ones in decline. Or we can choose to recharge America with the power sources of a truly novel era, letting go of that which is no longer politically or economically strategic and cultivating that which will lead us into an age of clean energy and prosperity.

It seems that, so far, we have only chosen the former. Which future do you choose?

Image source: NY Times

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Do We Want? Cheap, Abundant Solar! When Do We Want It? Now!

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Blog

The solar industry is booming, ramping up production capacity and driving costs down steadily towards the mythical "Grid Parity" point - the price point when solar on your roof beats paying your utility bill. That's a game changer and the solar industry is steadily heading that direction.

But as Andrew Leonard (writing at Salon) recognizes, we could hit that magic grid parity point faster with leadership -- and major investment -- from the federal government. With energy prices rising, our economy faltering, and Americans crying out for something to be done, it's time for the clean energy investment that will unlock the potential of solar and other renewables and re-energize America for a new era of sustained prosperity.

Booming demand for solar power will drive worldwide investments in photovoltaic (PV) cells to the same level as the semiconducter industry by 2010, according to a new report from market intelligence firm iSuppli Corp.

PV cell production plants are expected to crank out as much as 12 Gigawatts (GW) of solar cells globally by 2010, up from 3.5GW in 2007, iSuppli predicts. The PV market is expected to grow by 40% annually until 2010 and sustain 20% annual growth rates after that, according to iSuppli chief PV analyst Dr. Henning Wicht.

As solar manufacturing ramps up, the price of solar falls as it speeds down a relatively predictable price curve. For crystalline silicon-based solar cells (the most mature type of PV cell), costs have historically fallen roughly 20% for every doubling in manufacturing capacity. Major PV cell manufacturers Q-Cells AG and REC Group predict price drops to continue as manufacturing ramps up. The two PV giants expect solar system costs to fall by 40 percent from 2006 to 2010.

So we're on the path to solar grid parity. But as prices at the pump and on our electricity bills continue to rise and Dr. James Hansen warns us again about the urgency of our climate situation, there's no time to lose. As Leonard writes, "What do we want? Grid parity. When do we want it? Now."

So what can we do to speed solar along it's merry way towards grid parity - and hasten the day when cheap and abundant solar can slash both our energy costs and our greenhouse gas emissions?

How about a healthy dose of federal government leadership?!


Let's start by cutting through the political demagoguery and posturing in Congress and pass the much-needed extensions of critical renewable energy incentives -- including an eight -year extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit.

As Thomas Friedman wrote this weekend, it's time to "broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year," the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act (H.R. 6049), a bill that "could actually impact America's energy profile right now -- unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow -- and create good tech jobs to boot."

Passing a long-term extension of the solar incentives will create a stable investment environment for solar in the United States, encourage the expansion of US solar manufacturing, and drive solar towards grid parity -- all while strengthening our economy.

If instead, Congress fails to act, preferring to politicize votes over clean energy and offshore oil drilling instead, these incentives -- as well as the critical Production Tax Credit driving record growth in the wind power industry -- will expire at the end of the year. If they do, more than 100,000 good American jobs and tens of billions of dollars in investment will wind up on the chopping block, not exactly smart policy at a time of economic downturn and soaring energy costs.

"Already clean energy projects in the U.S. are being put on hold," Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association told Friedman, as solar and other renewable energy companies try to limit risk in the face of a very uncertain and highly politicized investment environment.

So just as solar is ramping up and prices are coming down, Congress is playing political games, putting the breaks on a booming economic sector and delaying the day when solar energy is cheap and abundant.

If we want the new American energy sources that will cleanly power a new era of economic prosperity, we need to put our money on the table. We need to government leadership and federal investments that can ignite a clean energy future and unlock the potential of 21st Century energy sources like solar.

So let's start with with a long-term extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit and other critical renewable energy incentives. But let's not stop there! America's economy can't wait for the day when clean renewable energy sources can provide abundant, affordable and secure energy, and we can hasten it's arrival by:


  • Ramping up investment in research, development and demonstration of cutting-edge clean energy technologies -- including next-generation solar technologies like thin-film photovoltaics and concentrating solar-electric plants.Economist Jeffrey Sachs recently called on the United States to "increase our annual energy-research budget to $30 billion." In December 2007, a group of over 30 energy scientists called on Congress (pdf) to invest a minimum of $30 billion/year on new clean energy sources and ways to use energy more efficiently. Let's put at least that much money on the table for clean energy innovation and deployment and secure a clean energy future.

  • Major new public works projects could lay the enabling infrastructure necessary to truly unlock the potential of America's abundant renewable energy reserves.A new American supergrid - the interstate highway system of the electrical system -- would unlock the vast solar energy potential of the Desert Southwest and the wind energy reserves of the Great Plains, the "Saudi Arabia of Wind" (see this report for an example - pdf). Just as federal public works projects -- like the federal dams and the interstate highways system -- laid the foundations for the economic booms of the 20th Century, it's time to invest in the infrastructure that will underly a new century of sustained American prosperity.

  • The federal government has enormous purchasing power. The government can accelerate the road to clean, cheap renewable energy by committing to purchase solar panels for government facilities. Just as government purchasing helped buy-down the cost of microchips and laid the foundation for the communications revolution, a solar procurement program can help secure the clean, cheap energy that will power the 21st Century.


Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. Oil powered the economic growth of the 20th Century. But these fuels are the fuels of the past -- their supplies are dwindling, their costs are rising and our dependence on them is imperiling our economy and our climate. It is time to unlock the energy sources -- including affordable solar -- that will power the 21st Century.

If we want our energy to be cheap, we want it to be clean, and we want it fast, we need to invest in the energy sources of the future, not the past. It's time for new American energy!

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Bug Juice :: Oil 2.0

Cross-posted from The Breakthrough Blog

Scientists in Silicon Valley are spending their time and energy on teeny, tiny bugs, planning for big results. The organisms may be microscopic in size but they do something extraordinary: they excrete "renewable petrol" as they feed on agricultural waste.

While the scientists and entrepreneurs behind developing "Oil 2.0" are in California, this is not fodder for Hollywood. The companies experimenting with genetically altered bacteria and oil production have notable investors on board (like Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems), the attention of many oil industry veterans, millions of dollars, and what they are doing may have real implications for our energy future.

The bugs they are tinkering with are actually single-cell organisms, each a fraction of a billionth the size of an ant. They begin as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli then scientists modify their DNA. It is worth noting here that crude oil is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids derived from E. coli or industrial yeast during fermentation. The excrement, therefore, can be altered relatively easily to produce Oil 2.0 as it is fermented. The implication of this is that the bugs can excrete liquid nearly ready to pump into your gas tank.

The researchers exploring the viability of Oil 2.0 claim that the technology will be carbon negative, as the organisms will spew out less carbon dioxide emissions than the emissions absorbed by the raw materials during their lifetimes. The microscopic organisms can also consume what is found in their backyard and are not reliant on a single food source.

Companies experimenting with Oil 2.0 do not know if the technology is scalable, or if so, when. "Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel, we'll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011," says Greg Pal, senior director of LS9, one company looking into Oil 2.0. Mr. Pal added that if LS9 used Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock, its fuel would probably cost about $50 a barrel... a significant drop from the record prices of today.

This is just another example of the kind of human ingenuity that will help us meet the energy needs of the 21st Century. Regardless of whether these teeny bugs will yield a scalable solution - or if I agree with a straight-up substitution of Oil 2.0 for today's oil - experimental technology solutions like this remind me of the power and value of thinking big, and being open to new ideas when it comes to energy solutions.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sticker Shock - Fuel Prices Now American's #2 Concern

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Blog

Gas station marquees have apparently displaced body count headlines in the minds of Americans. As gas prices skyrocketed over the past few months, concerns with fuel and oil prices have quickly risen to eclipse the Iraq War and secure the second highest ranking on Gallup's monthly "Most Important Problem" poll, released yesterday.

According to Gallup, the 25% of those polled citing fuel and energy prices in June as the nation's top problem is up dramatically from 17% in May and 6% in January.

Despite the rise of fuel price anxieties (or perhaps because of it), the economy and jobs retain the first position in the Gallup list of most pressing concerns. According to Gallup, concern with the economy is about as high today as it has been at
any time since the start of George W. Bush's presidency in January 2001.

The message from Americans is clear: economic concerns and energy prices trump all. That's a message that cannot be ignored by proponents of climate solutions and a clean energy revolution.



This Gallup poll is yet another clear sign that advocates of clean energy and climate solutions need a powerful politics and compelling narrative that tackle cost concerns head-on and blasts apart the age old (false) dichotomy between climate action and economic prosperity.

It's time to put energy innovation and investment at the center of our political and policy agenda, focus on driving down the real costs of the clean energy sources that can displace increasingly expensive fossil fuels, and develop a clear narrative that directly counters the arguments that climate action will cripple the economy.

In short, we must send a message to Americans just as loud as the one their practically shouting at us in this Gallup poll: the REAL solution to soaring energy costs and even our economic woes is to ignite a clean
energy economy powerful enough to end our addiction to fossil fuels,
re-ignite America's economy, solve the climate crisis and build a more
sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Congress Politicizes Energy Incentives, 116,000 Jobs in Jeopardy

By Alisha Fowler and Jesse Jenkins. Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Blog.

On Tuesday the Senate failed to pass the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 (50-44). The bill contained, among other things, critical production tax incentives for the rapidly growing renewable energy industry. The Senate may get another chance to vote on the incentives this month, but their bickering, politicization of the issue and ultimate stalling is looking more and more like a de facto decision: No to clean energy.

If the renewable energy industry is unable to count on the incentives for next year they will count them out as they shape their workforce plans and pace of development. In other words, they'll cut thousands of jobs and scale back investments as they prepare to weather yet another expiration of the critical renewable energy incentives.

Yesterday's front page headline of the Sacramento Bee was hard to miss, "Gas Prices Soar, Congress Bickers." A comparable headline comes to mind for the renewable energy tax incentives: "Congress Politicizes Energy Incentives, 116,000 Jobs In Jeopardy."

Continued growth of the rapidly expanding renewable energy industry would be a win-win for America's economy and our environment. Several foreign wind energy companies were just starting to open U.S. manufacturing plants, but they will not continue let alone expand while Congress remains on the fence. (We should also note that these companies are FOREIGN precisely because of this kind of pervading political uncertainty in the United States surrounding clean energy investment.)

This kind of politicized debate and partisan gridlock on renewable energy incentives was not as big of a deal for the industry, or our national economy a few years ago. In 1999, for example, the wind industry was a fifth of its current size and pretty insignificant in our overall economic picture. Now, however, due to several years of rapid and robust growth in the wind and solar industries in particular, more than 100,000 jobs, tens of billions of dollars, and the ability of the U.S. to be a world leader in clean energy technology are at stake.


Source: AWEA

Trade organizations representing renewable-energy companies on Capitol Hill are already reporting less growth and increasing anxiety over whether the incentives will be available. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that more than 116,000 U.S. jobs and nearly $19 billion in investment could be lost in just one year if the incentives are not renewed. Monique Hanis, spokesperson for the Solar Energy Industries Association, reports that job losses are already happening as the outlook becomes increasingly uncertain. Hanis pointed out that, "In the long term what [this delay] means is that the U.S. is going to give up its leadership position in the technology."

So what happened? Why is Congress fiddling while more than a hundred thousand good jobs and an entire year's worth of clean energy deployment are at stake? The popular story is that Republican obstructionists are standing in the way of a progressive clean energy agenda. From the recent demise of the Climate Security Act, to efforts to re-invest oil and gas subsidies, to the renewable energy incentives, it's all the fault of Republican obstructionists protecting fossil fuel industry turf. While there's definite truth to that, and Republicans have overwhelmingly come down on the wrong side of most smart energy issues, if we're really committed to seeing a solid investment in a clean energy future it behooves us to look a little closer than that.

Truth be told, demagogue's on both sides of the isle are responsible for the current imperiled fate of our nation's renewable energy industries. The bill itself is not that controversial (who doesn't want 100,000 good jobs to stick around?!) but it has been complicated over the offsets included in the legislation. Both the Senate and the House have passed different versions of a renewable energy incentives bill several times since convening in 2006, so that's not the source of conflict. Disagreement begins when they debate how to pay for it; or whether or not to just swipe the national credit card again and tack on the relatively minor cost to the ballooning national deficit.

Ironically, it's Republican lawmakers who argue there is no need to find "offsets" of "pay for" provisions to cover the cost of extending the incentives (so much for the former party of fiscal conservatism, eh!?). Otherwise, they see the bill as a just another tax increase and have vowed to block it. House Democrats, on the other hand, currently refuse to pass the bill without the offsets to cover the cost. They have repeatedly linked the bill to repealing subsidies or instituting windfall taxes on oil companies - something they know will instantly jeopardize bipartisan support (not to mention lose at least one "Oil Patch" Democrat). While this time around, Senate Dems found another "pay for" provision (taking a bite out of rich hedge fund managers' profits - perhaps slightly more palatable to the GOP than oil profits), the vote on the renewable energy incentives bill was brought to the floor directly after another vote on repealing tax breaks for Big Oil. Not surprisingly, both votes failed. Again.

Of course, "Drill! Drill! Drill!" Republicans who want to drill for oil in ANWR (and everywhere else!) as opposed to developing fossil fuel alternatives deserve to be singled out. And perhaps Democrats scored some political points. But the long term effects of stunting the renewable energy sector will be far greater than any short term gains in an election year.

So forget "pay-go" for now, and give renewables the green light they need. It's not that costly when you compare it to the war in Iraq. Right now, this is not about squabbling Republicans or Democrats. It is about supporting an industry that will seriously stumble without government assistance. It is time to stop messing around with a bill that has immediate and hard-hitting effects on our economy, our ability to be an international clean energy leader, and ultimately our energy prosperity.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Polar Bears or a Clean Energy Economy: What can make us Great?

The time for the environmental movement to become great has arrived, and we must grab this opportunity by its horns before it passes us by.

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Generation Blog. By Adam Zemel.

Wind TurbineDespite what my you may have derived from my previous posts, I think that the environmental movement is a good movement. It has done good work cleaning up smog, fixing the ozone, and cleaning up lakes and rivers. The results, like the movement, have been pretty good. But the time for good is over. The time for the environmental movement to become great has arrived, and we must grab this opportunity by its horns before it passes us by.

I spent a good chunk of my Sunday afternoon reading sections of Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The book studies businesses that made a lasting, sustained transition from a “good” company to a “great” company. Collins wrote about corporations, but what he said can be applied to any organization of people, including environmental NGO's or the movement itself. Collins dug up articles and conducted interviews with executives from these companies, including businesses like Walgreens and Circuit City, to learn what these companies had done in common during the point of their transition from good to great. He identified a few different practices and factors, including the presence of adversity, honesty about the brutal facts, and identifying what each company had the capacity and potential to become the best at. It's critical that we similarly apply these to our movement in order for us to be great:



Adversity

Adversity, according to Collins, helps facilitate the transition from good to great. This is not due to adversity in itself, but the opportunity it presents to reconstitute an organization’s mode of operations and frame of thought on all levels. Adversity also acts as a great motivator, leading to increased dedication to the fundamental mission of the organization. Adversity can come in the form of a new opponent, a new paradigm to operate in or a struggle from the organization internally.

The challenge of climate change marks something qualitatively and quantitatively different than anything the environmental movement has taken on before. Carbon dioxide emissions are not chlorofluorocarbons—dangerous, ozone hole causing chemicals which were emitted by relatively few companies that had a viable alternative within cost-effective reach. They are a result of almost every activity that we engage in, linked to our infrastructure and our economy. This is not about stopping a single pollutant in a single industry. In fact, its not about stopping anything at all. It is building entirely new: a clean energy economy, a clean energy infrastructure, and a clean energy society.

If we recognize the adversity we face, and acknowledge it, we will be ready. Overcoming climate change could be the challenge that transitions the environmental movement from good to great.

Confronting the Brutal Truth

In order to transition from a good movement to a great movement, environmentalists must face the facts. We need to be more honest about the state of things:

  • The scale of the technology challenge is huge, simply staggering. We must tackle this head-on and aggressively invest in clean energy solutions across the board—this could mean making compromises from our current energy policy preferences. For example, maybe we do need carbon capture and storage as part of our investment portfolio. Maybe the mitigation challenge is too great for cap-and-trade alone to regulate away.
  • Time is short and the challenge is urgent. We are quickly approaching 450 ppm of carbon - often considered the climate 'redline' beyond which we do NOT want to cross. Given the urgency of the challenge, we must begin working with the technology we have now in addition to investing heavily in the technology breakthroughs we know can come.
  • China. It exists and continues to grow at an explosive rate. We'd better deal with that fact and willful ignorance of the international context of climate change will get us nowhere. We need solutions that will spur the deployment of clean energy technology across the globe, fueling a new era of clean economic development that can lift billions of out of poverty without cooking the climate.
  • Traditional environmentalism has failed to galvanize the country (and the world) because its messages and tactics don't run parallel to (and often run against) most people's values. The environmental movement has also demonstrated an astounding ability to cling to old ways of thinking, even when faced with new and different problems. Let's be clear: just because Al Gore won an Oscar doesn’t mean we are reaching and convincing people in droves.

We need to recognize these truths, and others. It is not until we have recognized these truths that we will be able to move forward with firm footing.

I am not saying that we must give up due to insurmountable facts; I am simply saying the time has come to stop sugar-coating the pills that we must swallow. Collins identifies something he calls the Stockdale Paradox: maintaining faith that we will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, while at the same time confronting the most brutal facts of our current reality.

At what are we The Best?

Collins points out that to become a great organization, you must recognize what it is you have the potential to be the best in the world at. It might not be what you are engaged in right now, and it might not be what you have done before. But to be great, to achieve great results, you have to identify what it is you will be the best at.

Perhaps the old guard is best at conservation, clean up and preservation. But we are a new generation of advocates and activists, and what we can be best at is ours to own. We, the youth arm of the environmental movement, need to recognize what we can be the best at. It might not be what movements of the past have done.

At this moment in time, the youth engaged in climate action have met the preconditions to be best in the world at advocating for and achieving global, sustainable, just and prosperous energy equity. We are a movement that cares about energy use, we are a movement that considers global consequence, we are a movement that wants to reduce our carbon emissions. These concerns are the preconditions for our greatness; we can take these concerns, couple them with a care for lifting billions out of poverty, couple them with a dream of making the earth one that can sustainably and prosperously accommodate nine billion human beings, and couple them with a knowledge that a clean energy civilization is the best avenue to achieve our ends. We can take all this, and know it, and own it, and work towards it, and then we could be great.


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Friday, June 06, 2008

Now Here's a Breakthrough! Sheep Fart Vaccine Developed in NZ

No. Seriously.

According to the UK Telegraph, New Zealand scientists have developed a "flatulence inoculation" aimed at cutting down on the massive amount of methane produced by its sheep and cows.

Why should we care (other than the fact that this is the most hilarious headline I've ever written in a blog post!)? Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 21-times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and emissions from the world's several billion livestock animals are a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, a fact we can't ignore as we work to build a climate friendly, prosperous future.

According to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, livestock are responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.

Of those emissions, a considerable portion comes from methane emissions from enteric fermentation - aka farts and belches! In fact, livestock flatulence and manure is responsible for a full 1/3rd of global emissions of methane due to human activities. A single adult cow can produce 175-240 pounds (80-110 kgs) of methane annually, according to this handy US EPA FAQ on Cow Farts. That's more than my body weight in farts! (Quite a bit more, thank you very much...).

In New Zealand, cows and sheep are believed to be responsible for more than half of the country's greenhouse gases. The 45 million sheep and 10 million cattle roaming those Middle Earthian lands burped and farted about 90 percent of the country's methane emissions, according to government figures.

In comparison, livestock are responsible for about two per cent of the United States's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, a smaller, but still noticeable portion of the national emissions footprint.

On a global scale though, and for major pastoral grazing nations and regions, innovations in managing the emissions from agriculture are critical. As New Zealand's case illustrates, in nations with dominant agricultural industries, technological breakthroughs like this fart vaccine may be the most significant innovations on their path to a climate friendly, prosperous future.

That's a fact that hasn't been lost on scientists in New Zealand, who have apparently been working around-the-clock to reduce emissions from agriculture, such as changing the way fertilisers are used on pasture land.

Phil Goff, New Zealand's trade minister, told an Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) in Paris yesterday that a solution - at least to the pesky flatulance problem was in sight.

"Our agricultural research organisation just last week was able to map the genome ... that causes methane in ruminant animals and we believe we can vaccinate against" flatulent emissions, Mr Goff said.

Now THAT's a breakthrough!

This post is cross-posted from the Breakthrough Generation blog.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Igniting a Clean Energy Economy and Winning the Frame Game: Tackling Costs Head-on

Green hard hatCross-posted from the Breakthrough Blog...

As the Senate opens up debate on the Climate Security Act today, one thing is clear: proponents of climate solutions face a simple, compelling and potentially powerful populist message from the opposition. It goes a little like this…

Capping greenhouse gas emissions will hurt Americans, American families, the American economy, America, etc.

As supporters of the Climate Security Act call on Congress to “Act Now!” to tackle climate change, the corporatist, fossil fuel-lovin’ right-wing of the Republican party has a ready response: doing something will do far more harm than good. Regulating emissions will raise energy prices at a time of economic uncertainty, hurt American families (especially the poor), and export jobs overseas. In short, it will cripple the American economy.

In response, proponents of climate action hold up cost containment provisions in the bill (which only concede the economy-threatening potential of the climate bill!), make half-hearted appeals to break our dependence on “foreign oil” (as if that was the bill’s primary motivation) and use the still vague language and imagery of “green jobs” to point at the economic development potential of a clean energy revolution. However, as David Roberts of Grist points out, “the positive case for climate action has no powerful elevator speech.” And it certainly doesn’t have one powerful enough to counter the opposition’s appeal to economic fears centered on the issue of costs.

As Roberts writes, advocates of climate solutions need a powerful counter-message. WE need a message as simple and effective as the opposition’s, one that tackles the cost issue head-on.

Roberts offers this message as our elevator pitch: “cutting emissions will rescue American families.
Right now our economy is lashed to a sinking ship, the USS Fossil. The price of fossil fuels is rising (yes, that includes coal). For reasons that are structural and unlikely to change, gasoline, heating oil, and coal electricity are going to get more and more expensive for the foreseeable future. Worse, prices are going to be volatile and unpredictable.

Unless we want to go down with the ship, we need to start building an ark. By freeing us from fossil fuels, climate legislation is designed to avoid a future of high and volatile prices. …That's the simple message: fossil fuels and their patrons are a threat to American families. … It's the fossil lobby vs. American families. A future of rising prices and sordid geopolitical entanglements vs. a future of stable energy sources, vibrant domestic industries, and healthy American people. ... Fear vs. courage.

Roberts is right. We desperately need a powerful counter-message, an inspiring rationale for climate action that tackles the issue of energy costs head-on. Until we get one, we’ll lose the frame game to Do Nothing Delayers and Drill and Kill Republicans.

He’s almost right in the message too. Almost, I say, because rather than try to put capping carbon, or even “cutting emissions” at the center of our message, we should go straight to the solutions. We should have a simple and powerful message that puts igniting a clean energy revolution at its heart.

Cutting emissions is part of the message, but it’s just a part. It’s critical, but it doesn’t have to be at the center of our frame. In fact, as long as we put emissions reductions at the center, any message that addresses costs and economic concerns will be secondary, an outgrowth or add-on, a corollary (if powerful) co-benefit.

Igniting a new clean energy economy freed from our addiction to fossil fuels and recharged by investments in energy efficient technologies and renewable energy is a much better counter to the opposition’s focus on costs and economic risks than a continued focus on emissions reductions. The emissions reductions are a corollary (if powerful) co-benefit here, not the center of the frame. (This shift goes beyond just messaging too, of course, and affects the content of the policy proposals in subtle but critical ways as well…)

In short, right-wingers and fossil fuel barons say climate action will cripple the American economy. Our response so far has been, “maybe, but it’ll be worth it.”

Instead we need to say:
No! YOU would have us cripple the American economy, keeping it shackled by an ever more costly and increasingly devastating addiction to fossil fuels.

WE will ignite a clean energy revolution that frees America from expensive and volatile energy costs, shatters our dependence on fossil fuels, and builds a more prosperous and sustainable future.

For example, when James Inhofe says, “Any [climate] action has to provide real protections for the American economy and jobs, and we must protect the American families,” (as he did today in the New York Times) we can say:
Igniting a clean energy economy and breaking our dependence on fossil fuels IS how we provide real protections for the American economy and jobs. It IS how we protect American families.

The Drill and Kill energy “solutions” proposed by Republicans like James Inhofe and Newt Gingrich, in contrast, condemns Americans and America to a cycle of ever increasing fossil fuel costs and the deepening consequences of our addiction to oil, coal and natural gas. That is the great threat to the American economy.

The REAL solution to soaring energy costs is to ignite a clean energy economy powerful enough to end our addiction to fossil fuels, re-ignite America’s economy, solve the climate crisis and build a more sustainable, just, and prosperous future.

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