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Friday, August 28, 2009

Stepping Into the Water - 4 years after Katrina

Cross posted from by Morgan

As I carried the rooftop down the grassy slope and stepped into the reflecting pool, committing civil disobedience, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. ‘Today, right now, I’m doing everything I can to call for climate solutions.’

The days of planning, the nights of building collapsible roof structures and a giant banner all faded as I floated my roof into place, framing my message below the symbols of America’s greatness. “Help, the water is rising” Lincoln, sitting on your chair looking at the scene, what would you do? The George Washington Memorial, surveying the city looking down at us from above – what do you think of the coming storms?

I remember the turmoil of hurricane Katrina four years ago, watching from afar. I was aware of the size of the storm, but I had no idea how far the destruction would reach because no one expected the levees to break and the entire city to flood. That surprising level of destruction, both of human life and the property of an entire city, is the memory that we now have of Katrina.

I also remember how hurricane Katrina catapulted climate change into the public consciousness. (mandatory footnote: no one weather event can be attributed to climate change, but increased intensity and weaker coastlines are direct climate effects.)

Time is running out. The clock is tck-tck-tcking. There are only 100 days until Copenhagen. That is our chance, as global civic society, to agree on a plan for human safety and security in the face of crisis.

Just as the federal agencies assigned to protect residents of New Orleans failed in the aftermath of Katrina, our government is failing us now in addressing climate change. The bright, critical spotlight of public consciousness was turned on FEMA in the aftermath, pointing out the million areas of incompetence and shortsightedness. But imagine what we will look like, 10 or 20 years into the future. They’re going to call this the age of stupid if we don’t exercise our power as citizens to demand action.

The alarm needs to be raised, the church bells need to ring, the fire whistles need to sound and people like you and me should be taking to the streets. Al Gore calls on young people to engage in civil disobedience to stop coal plants, but won’t put himself on the line. Thomas Friedman accuses youth of sitting on Facebook instead of taking action. Well Mr Friedman, get out from behind your articles and books and take to the streets yourself.

Global warming has been the primary issue for me for four years, since about when Katrina slammed into New Orleans. There’s been a lot of frustration, but I feel that we are close to a big turning point, a point of global consciousness. Our common need for security brings us together in common cause, whether it is our homes at risk of storm, our children’s health in danger of pollution or our national security threatened by turmoil.

I don’t claim to speak for the residents of the Gulf Coast. But I recognize that hurricane Katrina is a point of reference for all Americans, giving us all a taste of the cost of climate inaction.

Today is a day of reflection, both on tragedy, but we must also remember the bravery of the heroes. Countless New Orleans residents made self-less sacrifices for their communities. Barack Obama has made quiet but significant progress on rebuilding New Orleans and restoring the Gulf Coast, although we have a lot of work left to go. I’ve also been thinking about the legacy of Ted Kennedy, who spent 40 years defending the ideals of liberals, defending the poor and the underprivileged.

On this day of reflection, this turning point, what are you doing to turn the tables for climate solutions? How are you pushing the boundaries? I’ll be making sure ALL my friends see this amazing photo and pass it on to their friends because I’m pretty psyched with how it turned out.

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Can U.S. Meet Africa’s Call for Annual $67 Bn in Adaptation Aid?

Recognizing the need for a united stance on climate change in preparation for international negotiations in Copenhagen in December, ten African nations issued a joint draft resolution calling for "rich countries" to commit $67 billion per year in compensation for the deleterious effects of unmitigated climate change, according to a report in Reuters.

Africa, which houses 15 of the 20 most climate-change vulnerable countries, will almost certainly endure the most severe negative consequences of climate change, yet it contributes relatively little to the problem.

This new proposal arrives on the heels of a flurry of Copenhagen related news. The Financial Times reported yesterday that both China and India blame developed nations, such as the U.S., for impeding the progress of a climate treaty. As developing nations, they are demanding financial and technological assistance from the major historic contributors to climate change in order to mitigate the effects of a problem they are not primarily responsible for causing.

Ironically, China and India may be responsible for the majority of future carbon contributions. Meanwhile, most African nations are in an even less culpable position, despite their heightened vulnerability to the threats of a changing climate.

Additionally, last week UN climate chief Yvo de Boer announced that the world's nations must spend $300 billion to mitigate climate change: $100 billion to help vulnerable communities adapt to the threats of climate change and $200 billion for clean energy. Upon hearing this news, Africa may have seen its window of opportunity to ensure that its needs will be seriously considered at the climate talks.

Like China and India, Africa and other developing nations are adamant that richer countries are to blame for lack of efficacious climate action. They further suggest that developed nations are remiss in neglecting to adequately compensate the developing countries that will bear the most arduous climate burden.

As one of the most significant contributors to global carbon emissions and the world's wealthiest nation, there is significant pressure on the U.S. to provide a proportionate share of the funding to aid African adaptation efforts. If the African joint resolution is accepted as the necessary level of aid, the U.S. may be responsible for tens of billions of dollars in annual contribution to global adaptation efforts. Yet, judging by recent congressional climate debates, the U.S. is not preparing to meet African and global expectations.

Although the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests roughly $60 billion annually in the domestic clean energy economy, these are short-term investments. Coupled with ACES, which would allocate approximately $1.6 billion for domestic adaptation and just $1.9 billion for international technology transfer, the U.S. will come up disappointingly short in its provision of adaptation aid for Africa and other developing nations.

As Copenhagen approaches, U.S. climate action (or lack thereof) will not only be scrutinized by China and India, but also by Africa and other vulnerable nations that will require far more than emission target commitments to manage the repercussions of climate change. They will be looking for real money on the table, both to directly mitigate U.S. emissions and to aid necessary international adaptation efforts.

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China's Solar Industry Poised to Leave U.S. in the Dust

To some, recent discussion of the "clean energy race" is just the latest iteration of flashy climate change rhetoric, refurbished and repackaged as a do-or-die clean technology race between the U.S. and Asia. Yet, as a New York Times piece entitled "China Racing Ahead of U.S. in the Drive to Go Solar," testifies, the clean energy challenge is more than just verbal tap dancing, it's a dynamic economic competition - and China is earning its racing stripes.

While the U.S. is still floundering with ad-hoc investments in clean energy, China has developed a straight-forward, no-nonsense approach to achieving its 2GW solar capacity target by 2011 and gaining leadership in the solar industry: build market share. With the help of serious government investment, China is on the path to achieving that goal. Chinese companies like, Suntech Power Holdings, have succeeded in driving solar panel price reductions over the last six months by selling panels on the U.S. market below the marginal cost. Furthermore, China is circumventing protectionist legislation by constructing assembly plants in the U.S.

According to Steven Chan, Suntech president for global sales and marketing, the first plant will be located in Phoenix, Arizona and will allow China to tap into the portion of the market that wants to "'buy American' and things like that." The catch, however, is that even though the panels will be constructed in America, by Americans, the components will, of course, be made in China.

Back in China, governments at all levels, as well as banks, are clamoring to offer solar companies the best in financial assistance: subsidies, free land, cash for R&D, and extremely low interest loans. With so many incentives, entrepreneurs are more than willing to enter the solar market and capitalize on the growing industry.

In contrast, the recent announcement of $2.3 billion in tax credits to American clean energy manufacturers has not inspired much hope among industry experts like Thomas M. Zarrella, the chief executive of GT Solar International:

I don't see Europe or the United States becoming major producers of solar products -- they'll be consumers...

China's quest to increase its solar market share has been further facilitated by the global economic crisis and fewer European solar subsidies. Meanwhile, those same factors have caused German solar giant, Q-Cells, to suffer serious losses. Last week, the company announced a round of massive lay-offs due to plummeting sales directly resulting from the decline in subsidies.

While China's strategy is less than wholesome, Suntech and other industry players have managed to cover their bases and behinds. Although selling solar panels below marginal cost could potentially warrant an antidumping suit from the U.S., there is no case as long as First Solar is posting profits and other U.S. solar manufacturers are benefitting from the ARRA tax credits. Just in case, however, Suntech's top executives in the U.S. have deliberately taken on leadership positions in American industry groups to prevent any united opposition to China's solar exports.

In light of Larry Summers' recent declaration, as reported by the Financial Times, that United States will no longer "be the world's consumer and importer of last resort" and that "China can no longer behave like China because the U.S intends to," it certainly seems as though China's strategy is not only working, it is enviable.

On the other hand, the U.S. appears eons behind its Chinese counterparts in clean energy planning and execution. Obama's energy education program RE-ENERGYSE. would have inspired and empowered tens of thousands of Americans to compete in the clean energy industry but it was dropped from the FY2010 budget. More strikingly, the U.S. seems poised to back away from the strong investments in clean energy industries begun in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. While ARRA invested over $30 billion annually in clean energy technologies, efficiency retrofits and critical modern energy infrastructure, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), the massive climate and energy bill now winding its way through Congress, would cut investments in the U.S. clean energy economy by 2/3 to just about $10 billion per year.

In the context of the solar industry, this lack of a coordinated clean energy strategy is made even more remarkable considering First Solar, a world leader in solar manufacturing, is an American company.

Whether the clean energy race is considered rhetoric or economics, the writing is on the wall of solar panels, although it may be written in Chinese if the United States doesn't take action to adopt a long-term, cohesive clean energy strategy.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Clean Energy Leadership in Oregon - An Interview with Oregon State Representative Jules Bailey

While it seems like all eyes are focused on Washington D.C. and the battles raging around Congressional climate and energy legislation, all has been far from quiet on the state front. In this exclusive Podcast, I speak with Oregon State Representative Jules Kopel-Bailey about the Pacific Northwest state's clean energy leadership.

With the 2009 Oregon Legislative session recently coming to a close, Oregon has cemented it's status as a pioneer in clean energy and energy efficiency policy. With Oregon's Governor Ted Kulognoski outlining an ambitious clean energy agenda well before the legislative session even began, there was plenty of action on the clean energy and climate front in Salem.

New legislation was established to extend innovative, low-cost financing to homes and businesses looking to invest in energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy. A renewable fuels standard modeled on California's successful initiative was enacted and a bill to create a greenhouse gas emissions performance standard for new coal-fired power plants was passed that will essentially keep new dirty coal out of Oregon's energy mix. On top of all of that, battles raged around controversial liquefied natural gas infrastructure, and a massive transportation package was passed that includings many innovative measures that make it "one of the greenest in the country," according to Representative Bailey.

He would know, since Jules was at the center of almost all of these fights, and in this podcast, we discuss the many clean energy victories, battles, and efforts yet in store in Oregon...

You can listen to the podcast and read a transcript of the extended interview at

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Clean Energy Race: Nationalism, Rhetoric or Realpolitik, Part 2

Originally posted at The Breakthrough Institute. Part 1 is here.

A second piece on nationalism in the context of the clean energy race was published on Mother Jones' blog MoJo, and is evidence that the growing body of discourse around this issue has struck a very resonant chord. In the post, entitled "Harnessing Nationalism," Kevin Drum offers poignant, if somewhat veiled, criticism of the rhetoric behind the "clean energy race" narrative.

Inspired by The New Republic's Bradford Plumer, the post starts with a lengthy quote whose primary point is this: the clean energy race is not a zero-sum competition because everyone stands to benefit if China makes a significant effort to reduce emissions by investing in clean technology.

First, as Drum puts it, Plumer's commentary may be an attempt at "intellectual honesty," but honesty doesn't make it completely accurate. True, the whole world will benefit from advancements in clean energy no matter where it comes from, but China is not motivated to compete in the clean tech industry by emissions reductions - it is driven by the potential for economic gain.

As a (rapidly) developing nation, economic development, not emissions targets, is the highest priority. Thus, the race is not about emissions, it is about whose economy stands to benefit from leadership in clean technology.

Drum views the clean energy race through "green" tinted glasses, as well, preferring the "race" rhetoric to the alternative: the apocalyptic narrative that has clearly failed to motivate effective climate change action. Rhetorically speaking, framing the need to reduce carbon emissions as a clean energy race is both more engaging and more productive. As he aptly declares:

If this kind of thing got us to the moon, maybe it can save the planet as well. I say we go along.
The clean energy race, however, is more than just a new and improved framing mechanism or encouragement of America's honed nationalistic tendencies - it is an economic truth. What Drum misses when he writes off the recent proliferation of clean energy articles as hype, is that this issue could both be an effective rhetorical tool as well as a humbling reality.

The main-stream media and editorial contributors are not the only writers expressing concern that America is sacrificing competitiveness in the clean tech industry. Recent reports from the Climate Group, the Center for American Progress and others report quantitative analysis that China (not to mention Japan, South Korea, and India) is accelerating its clean tech initiatives at unprecedented rates, especially in comparison to the U.S.

Although his language is flippant, Drum draws attention to an important criticism of the clean energy race narrative. It has the potential to be perceived not only as an example of over-exerted nationalism but also as an expression of xenophobia. Anti-China or anti-Asia sentiment could be an outgrowth of engaging in a clean energy competition, however, that is not the point of alerting policymakers and the general public to the fact that America is losing ground in a sector it should be dominating.

While Drum obliquely asserts that clean energy rhetoric paints the Chinese as "scary" "quasi-socialist...hordes," this is far from the intention. While the framing plays to American aspirations of greatness, it does not do so at the denigration of the Chinese. The point is that the U.S. needs to be competitive, not because the Chinese are bad guys, but because America is being challenged by a serious economic threat to its leadership in innovative sectors. The U.S has the ability to lead, but it is not currently living up to its potential.

Plumer and Drum are correct in terms of climate change. The clean energy race is effective rhetoric but it is not a zero-sum game since more clean energy technology is a win-win-win. Unlike the nuclear arms race - which left the world with an arsenal of supremely destructive weapons and dicey non-proliferation policy to negotiate - the clean energy race will only lead to innovation and eventually, significantly less carbon intensive energy supplies.

In fact, the clean energy race has repeatedly been compared to the "space race," a nation competition that also spurred innovation and technological advancements. The space race ended on the moon; it is still not clear where the clean energy race finish line will be.

From an economic stand-point, however, the clean energy race has much higher stakes. If America wins, the race is a productive means by which the U.S. can revitalize a struggling economy. The imperitive to "win" is strong since the U.S. stands to lose its status as the world's technology innovation leader and economic superpower.

Still, it is not quite a zero-sum situation. Full-fledged, healthy competition will spur innovation, resulting in measurable economic benefits for both countries and the rest of world. Thus, America must embrace this technology challenge, not because it must defeat China, but because it stands to gain from rising to the occasion and proving that it deserves to be a global economic leader.

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The Clean Energy Race: Nationalism, Rhetoric or Realpolitik, Part 1

Originally posted at The Breakthrough Institute

When the Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus began advocating for a paradigm shift in the global approach to climate change in the early 2000's, they could not have predicted that a paradigm shift of another variety might occur simultaneously. That is: a shift in the balance of global power.

In an op-ed entitled, "Rebalancing Relations with China," published in the Washington Post this week, Henry Kissinger assessed the power shift occurring between the U.S. and China, calling for Sino-American cooperation in lieu of boisterous assertions of nationalistic superiority and hegemonic power.

A Nobel Peace Prize winner, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the Nixon Administration, Kissinger is a known proponent of realpolitik. Although that term typically has a negative connotation in the U.S. and is often associated with power abuse, the word actually refers to a theory of politics grounded in the realistic assessment of power, rather than ideology.

In accordance with this theory, Kissinger's puts forth an ideology-free assessment of the current relationship between the United States and China. China's position as America's largest creditor and the economic crisis, in combination, have served to level the playing field between the two nations. Faced with increasing economic interdependence and China's conflicting interest in reducing that dependence, "ambivalence," Kissinger asserts, "is the inevitable consequence."

In Kissinger's estimation, a new political framework that recognizes China as a global economic power will be crucial to revitalizing the world economy. From this standpoint, there are three ways a Sino-American relationship could play out on the global stage.

First, both countries could resort to unmitigated nationalism. Historically, Kissinger points out, aggressive national rivalries have resulted in damaging confrontations with far-reaching societal consequences.

American leaders must resist the siren call of a containment policy drawn from the Cold War playbook. China must guard against a policy aimed at reducing alleged American hegemonic designs and the temptation to create an Asian bloc to that end. America and China should not repeat the process that, a century ago, moved Britain and Germany from friendship to a confrontation that drained both societies in a global war.

As China gains political influence, both countries must resist the urge to subvert each other. Should China and America refuse to cooperate, international issues that depend on their partnership, "such as energy, the environment, nuclear proliferation, and climate change," will suffer the greatest casualties. Unmediated nationalism, on behalf of both countries, would only impede progress for both societies and the rest of the world.

The second outcome is for the U.S. and China to form a powerful but exclusive G-2. Perhaps the most alienating possibility, this type of exclusion could only motivate divisive nationalism among other countries instead of the global cooperation that is desperately needed to ensure world order.

Finally, Kissinger suggests that the global goal should be for the U.S. and China to engage in a balanced, cooperative relationship that is particularly inclusive of China's bordering neighbors. This would require the U.S. to break from its time-honored habit of hegemony while still maintaining a leadership role as it adjusts to Asia as the locus of international attention.

While Kissinger's portrayal of the current balance of power between the U.S., China, and the rest of the world is driven by realpolitik, his call for cooperation may not be. For a Sino-American cooperation scenario to play out, the paradigm shift would need to be two-fold: 1) Kissinger's proposal for a new political framework would be adopted and the U.S. would cede the solitary role of global superpower and graciously inhabit the role of co-global superpower; 2) the U.S. would have to accept China as the new technology leader, particularly in clean energy technology, and nostalgically recall the days when winning that other great nation race took us to the moon.

The first shift is already occurring; the second is a potential outcome of the clean energy race.

While Kissinger warns against resorting to "classic balance-of-power" politics, engaging in a clean energy race with China has productive value both inside and outside the realm of economic power. Nationalism aside, competition between the U.S. and Asia, will both drive economic growth (for at least one, if not both countries) and improve the global energy supply. Given its lackluster efforts to construct effective clean energy policy, the question may not be who will win, but can America even compete?

With an old-hand technology leader on one side and an ambitious novice on the other, visions of clean tech grandeur are to be expected and pursued. While competition may preclude both nations from realizing the ultimate wisdom of Kissinger's vision, a high stakes clean energy race has the potential to produce the best both nations have to offer. Of course, the consequences could also be a dramatic shift in economic leadership and a new center for global power.

Read Part 2 in this series here.

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US Must Not Blow Its Chance as Foreign Investments Bring Wind Jobs Ashore

Originally posted at The Breakthrough Institute

It's strange to hear of "insourcing"--the transfer of manufacturing jobs into the United States instead of out--but that's exactly what's happening with Denmark's wind giant Vestas, according to a New York Times article yesterday.

According to the report, a combination of global recession and domestic stimulus spending on clean energy is adding up to a boon for the American clean energy manufacturing industry.

In Europe, Vestas has seen several nations slow down their rates of added wind capacity, and flagging government support combined with financial difficulties has impeded the construction of new projects. By contrast, the United States built 8,500 megawatts of wind capacity in 2008 to Britain's 500, and demand for turbine technology is high. So for opportunities in a more robust wind market, Vestas has begun to look across the Atlantic.

The New York Times reports:

"Vestas is rapidly expanding its production base in the United States, where it says it has created more than 1,200 skilled jobs. The company expects that number to climb to more than 4,000 by the end of 2010, if President Obama's Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is carried out. Vestas believes that the Obama-led push to more renewables will stimulate demand and re-establish the United States as the world's largest market for wind turbines. It hopes Congress will pass a national renewable energy standard that will stabilize the U.S. market in the long run."

That's a key point. The US wind market has been historically unstable, due to a periodically lapsing production tax credit and other forms of inconsistent government backing. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) this year created a market boom by delivering $65 billion for clean energy, efficiency retrofits and similar investments, including $2.3 billion in tax credits for clean energy manufacturers and a three-year extension of the production tax credit for wind power.

However, the clean energy investments begun in ARRA are temporary. Clean energy manufacturing incentives are short-term and even the production tax credit, finally extended for more than one year at a time, will expire in 2012. If the US doesn't build on ARRA's clean energy down payment with a substantial, sustained policy of government support for the wind industry and other emerging clean technologies, demand for renewable energy is likely to collapse--and foreign firms like Vestas will quickly stop opening doors within US borders.

In the NYT report, a Vestas representative was quite clear that nations must have strong and continued support for clean energy industries in order to attract the company's investment.

"A key prerequisite is having long-term, stable national schemes that provide the industry with the necessary opportunities to plan and invest in employees, technology and production facilities," he said.

So far, the United States is in danger of lacking such a long-term strategy to grow clean energy industries after the stimulus investments expire in 2012. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) would invest just about $10 billion a year in clean energy, defined broadly--less than a third of the annual level established by Obama's stimulus plan. The good news is that manufacturing-friendly measures like Senator Sherrod Brown's proposed IMPACT bill--which would establish a $30 billion loan fund for clean energy manufacturers--look likely to make up a part of the climate bill currently before Congress. But the US must take a similarly strategic approach to nurturing all sectors of the clean energy industry in order to continue earning foreign investment and gaining manufacturing jobs.

Meanwhile, major wind manufacturers like Vestas and Germany's Siemens have also taken notice of the promising wind market in China.

"In China, Vestas has five factories in Tianjin, a sales office in Beijing, a new factory in Hohhot and a procurement office in Shanghai and is currently building additional facilities in Xuzhou. It wants the turbines it sells in China to be 100 percent Chinese-made. Siemens is also expanding in China, building a new $85 million plant that will open next year in Shanghai with 400 workers.

'China could soon become the largest wind energy market in the world. We are rigorously advancing the internationalization of our manufacturing network for wind turbines to optimally meet the needs of our customers,' said Wolfgang Dehen, CEO of the Siemens Energy Sector, in a statement."

Unlike the United States, China is poised to provide foreign wind companies with strong assurance of continued growth in the wind market, in the form of a $440-660 billion clean energy investment package set to be released this year. That could spell trouble if the United States fails to make similar investments in its clean energy industries--inevitably, manufacturers seeking the best market conditions will close facilities and shift valuable jobs from American to Chinese shores.

For now, Vestas has signaled confidence in the US wind market. According to the report,

"With the Obama administration promising big investments in green energy, wind turbine producers see the United States as the key to the industry's future."

Indeed, Obama's substantial stimulus funding has laid the foundation for booming American markets in wind and other clean energy sectors, and foreign technology producers are taking notice. The challenge is to ensure that the U.S. remains on top of the wind market, and also opens other domestic clean energy markets to capitalize on the inflow of money and jobs from abroad. The United States can do this by enacting a stable, long-term national strategy that invests at least $30 billion per year in the development and deployment of clean energy technologies, and by passing measures like Brown's IMPACT bill to support American clean energy manufacturing.

Without this strategy, we risk losing the forward momentum of ARRA investments, and we forfeit the chance to secure the prosperous clean energy economy so recently set in motion.

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Indian Prime Minister Says India Must Invest in Clean Energy Technology

Originally posted at The Breakthrough Institute

In New Delhi yesterday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India must invest in both new and existing clean energy technologies in order to develop sustainably over the coming decades. This comes as the latest indication of India's progress on building a domestic clean energy economy through investment--a strategy that could also serve as a new approach to international climate policy. Unfortunately, Western nations that stall climate negotiations with their insistence on setting carbon caps continue to miss the world's best chance at forging a global agreement.

Speaking at a national conference on environment, Singh emphasized the importance of clean energy investment for India's development:

"...We need access to new technologies that are already available with developed countries. We must also make our own investments in new environment-friendly technologies," he said.

Developed nations might perceive India as uncooperative when it comes to setting carbon caps, but already, India has shown its commitment to making clean energy cheap and abundant. The Indian National Solar Mission, unveiled in June, sets the ambitious target to reach 20 GW installed solar capacity by 2020--more than the entire world's current capacity for solar generation. Though India expects to pay for the $20 billion plan primarily through international financing, the government will also implement direct measures such as taxes on gasoline and diesel, feed-in tariffs, solar power purchase obligations, tax breaks for manufacturers, and exemptions on tariffs for imported equipment.

Prime Minister Singh's comments prove that the highest levels of Indian government are prioritizing investment in clean energy. Here in the US, President Obama has also signaled an initial commitment to public investment in clean energy. By allocating an unprecedented $65 billion--or more than $30 billion per year--for clean energy in the nation's $787 billion stimulus package, he took the first step toward securing America's prosperous clean energy future.

But unfortunately, the ACES climate legislation before Congress threatens to derail these efforts. Instead of building upon the substantial foundation of Obama's two-year stimulus funding, ACES would invest just $10 billion per year in low-carbon technology and energy efficiency measures combined. That's nowhere near the $30 billion annual clean energy investment urged by Breakthrough, Brookings, International Energy Agency, Apollo Alliance, and numerous other energy experts--and it's far below the foundation set by the stimulus plan.

If a developing economy like India can make clean energy investment a national priority, developed nations like the United States can and must do the same. Not only that, but they must also make clean energy investment the focus of an international agreement on climate change.

India has helped set the pattern for a new approach that may be the only hope of reaching consensus in international climate negotiations. It's an approach based on investments to accelerate clean energy R&D and deployment to decarbonize the energy supply, along with direct efforts to improve the energy intensity of heavy-emitting industries.

India's neighbor China is also implementing a massive investment-centered strategy within its borders. Meanwhile, the US and EU remain tied to a failed carbon-capping model in both domestic policy and international negotiations. But the answer to a successful climate treaty lies not in forcing the issue of targets and timetables, while bullying the developing world over what it has yet to do. Instead, Western nations must wake up and look to what India and China have already done.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It Began with a Few Hundred...

This is the first post in a multi-part series on youth climate heroes from around the country.

The youth climate movement is connected like no other movement in our world's history. Thanks to the internet, we can instantly communicate with people around the country and globe and spread awareness, organize, and make change!!

It sounds almost like it should be easy by now! Like polar bears should be getting bigger, not smaller. And yet, "making change" -- and especially knowing when we are making change and what that even means-- can be really hard. Plus, it's frustratingly vague a lot of the time.

Over here at ACE, we have been lucky enough to work with over 40 high school students from around the country this summer. Many of them shared their stories with us.

And now, each week, we will share a youth climate hero story. The students we are profiling are taking one of the boldest steps, getting involved in the first place. Their projects really span the gap of what is possible and have the power to show others what it can mean to get involved.

Check out Kristine Cabugao's story:

Hailing from Angelo Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, CA, Kristine woke up to the dangers of climate disaster when she saw an Inconvenient Truth. With climate change as her new passion, she is sparking an eco-magazine at her school next year: The Remedy. Plus she scored an ACE Action Scholarship for her efforts.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Caught in Forged Letter Fraud, Dirty Coal Front Group ACCCE Throws their Astroturf Contractor Under the Bus

An update on the story that just keeps on giving: the unfolding saga of the forged letters fraudulently sent by DC lobby firm Bonner and Associates on behalf of dirty coal interests in a deceitful attempt to kill Congressional clean energy and climate legislation.

In June, employees at Bonner and Associates, on a contract for the dirty coal front group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (subcontracted via the Hawthorne Group), sent letters to several Congressional offices fraudulently posing as black, Hispanic, women’s and senior citizen’s groups urging votes against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (the Waxman-Markey bill).

Now, Brad Johnson at the WonkRoom reports:

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is dumping Bonner & Associates, the Astroturf firm that forged letters to Congress attacking clean energy legislation on its behalf. ... ACCCE spokesman Joe Lucas told National Journal that his organization “did nothing wrong”:

"We will not be working with Mr. Bonner again. ACCCE did nothing wrong. Looking back, there would be many things we would do differently."

In fact, ACCCE covered up the fraud and is now throwing Bonner under the bus. The coal coalition had been informed by the Hawthorn Group, its primary contractor, days before the pivotal House vote on the energy legislation. But ACCCE kept silent, failing to notify lawmakers or the defrauded organizations. ACCCE continues to employ the Hawthorn Group and the notorious voter-fraud company Lincoln Strategy Group.
Makes you wonder, what else is the dirty energy lobby up to...

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Breaking: State Department Issues Permit for Alberta Clipper Pipeline

450,000 Barrels/day of Dirty, Climate Destroying Oil to Flow Into US

The decision sat on Clinton's desk for months, and with a stroke of the pen, she could have denied this expansion of dirty energy infrastructure. But today, the State Department issued the permit, committing the US to more CO2 emissions from oil, and committing Canada to more destruction of indigenous lands and Boreal forest. We brought the Tar Sands Monster (see image above) to Clinton's doorstep, generated thousands of phone calls and emails, but Clinton failed to make the right decision.

From the State Department:

By Executive Order, the State Department has been delegated authority from the president to receive applications for the construction, connection, operation and maintenance of facilities at the borders of the United States, including petroleum pipelines, and to issue or deny Presidential Permits for such facilities upon a National Interest Determination. A Presidential Permit application triggers an environmental review of the proposed project, under applicable environmental laws and regulations.
Yet they insist that the US and Canada are committed to finding climate solutions:
The State Department will continue to work to ensure that both the United States and Canada take ambitious action to address climate change, and will cooperate with the Canadian government through the U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue, the pursuit of comprehensive climate legislation, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and other processes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Avaaz Action Factory will deliver this letter to the state department tomorrow. Please help us by sending them an email using this as a starting point.

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We are very upset about your decision, announced today, to approve the Clipper pipeline that will carry dirty tar sands oil from Alberta into the US. If you and the president are truly committed to "reducing overall emissions and leading the global transition to a low-carbon economy," as mentioned in today's release, then this decision is entirely hypocritical. The use of tar sands for energy in the US will certainly increase, not reduce, our overall carbon emissions.

A few weeks ago, we let you know about the problems associated with the construction of the Alberta Clipper Pipeline. We urged you not to approve the destruction of indigenous lands and increased carbon emissions that this pipeline will bring. Hopeful that you would make the right choice, we acted out a skit in front of your office at the State Department, where you rescued Canada, America and the rest of the world from the filthy, evil Tar Sands Monster. We filled up your voicemail box numerous times with phone calls from across the country, and we sent you over 10,000 emails urging you to deny this permit.

Today's statement asserts that this permit approval sends a "positive economic signal." We can't afford to send any more positive economic signals to dirty energy corporations; instead we must only send positive signals to those who are creating green economic prosperity. We have been encouraged by the administration's rhetoric that economic growth and fighting climate change are not in fact mutually exclusive, but this decision does not reflect that perspective.

This oil pipeline will only extend the US’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels for decades to come instead of reversing global warming and putting the US on a low-carbon track towards green economic prosperity. We're watching your decisions. We are aware of the contradictions between your words and actions, and we are disappointed.


Avaaz Action Factory

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DOE smacks down Space Solar to Fund Hot Parking Lots

(by Tyler Burton, crossposted from the Breakthrough Institute blog)

The ARPA-E initiative is a project of the Department of Energy, its purpose is to fund "high-risk, high-payoff transformational R&D ... that can enhance the economic and energy security of the United States through reductions of imports of energy from foreign sources, etc." (more here)

Funded with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one would think that ARPA-E, being a semantic cousin of the Pentagon's well-known DARPA division, famous for its assisted walking suits, robotic espionage dragonflys and, of course, the internet, would have a slew of strange projects on their roster. However, one scientist, whose rejected space based solar program requested a modest $2 million dollars for further testing, feels the DOE's selection process was a bit lopsided.

Senior Breakthrough Fellow and Professor Emeritus of Physics at NYU, Martin Hoffert, has long made the case for space-based solar power as an alternative to earth-moored models. Up beyond the filters of pollution and the limits of daylight, the sun's energy is nearly constant and undiffused. Using solar panels affixed to a satellite or, say, the International Space Station, the idea would be to beam the energy back to terrestrial sources in the form of microwaves or some other heretofore undiscovered method.

Hoffert even has the PR effort down pat, as he explains in a segment for Clean Skies TV: "We've spent a fortune on the International Space Station, and people are still saying, 'What have we got from it?' Well, we could probably beam power from the International Space Station to various locations along its ground track, including some in developing countries that have no prospect of getting energy."

Now that certainly sounds "transformational"; and for $2 million dollars it's a no-brainer, right? But out of the 3500 applications the ARPA-E program received, only 40 - 60 (roughly 1.1%) will receive funding of between $3 to $5 million dollars. While Hoffert's program got the snub, in the approved pile is a project that aims to capture the heat trapped in asphalt parking lots and other paved surfaces via a series of tubes filled with water.

On his Dot Earth blog, NY Times science reporter, Andy Revkin, asks the $2 million dollar question: "Which project strikes you as more 'transformational'?"

Solaren gets the nod from PG&E, Hoffert gets the snub...

Not only is Hoffert's query more transformational, it is also supported by big industry. When news broke this April that California's biggest energy utility, PG&E, had signed on with Solaren, a manufacturer of solar cells, to potentially capture and beam back to earth 200 megawatts of electricity from solar power stations orbiting the earth, can you guess who wasn't too surprised to hear the news?

PG&E have contributed no money to the project as of yet, but have promised to buy the energy back from Solaren at an undisclosed, but roughly equivalent rate to the current market prices of other renewables.

"Solaren would generate the power using solar panels in Earth orbit and convert it to radio-frequency transmissions that would be beamed down to a receiving station in Fresno, PG&E said. From there, the energy would be converted into electricity and fed into PG&E's power grid." (via MSNBC)

The Solaren plan puts together some more of the specifics about how they plan to get the satellites into space via private deployment vehicles, which makes sense given that most of its employees are former aerospace engineers, but it makes no mention of using methods other than those that Hoffert and his son, through their company, Versatility Energy, have long pioneered to beam the wattage back to terra firma.

So it would seem that with a major utility taking the time to put its public stamp of commitment upon a technology, that the development of the above-mentioned "undiscovered methods" would merit at least a couple million dollars study in the meantime, particularly if the results might further the adoption of a potentially limitless resource. Then again, maybe ARPA-E's focus is on something a bit more pedestrian.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CS Monitor: China Aims to "Leapfrog" U.S. in Clean Energy Race

Originally Posted at The Breakthrough Institute

Imagining China as a giant green frog seems a little ridiculous, but, as Peter Ford of the Christian Science Monitor reported last week in a piece entitled "China's Green Leap Forward," China's intent to "leapfrog" the United States in the clean energy race is far from ridiculous - it may soon be a reality.

While the U.S. languidly inches forward in clean energy RD&D, China's burgeoning clean and renewable energy industries are growing at an unprecedented pace for a developing nation. Much more than a response to the suffocating pollution clogging the airways of its major cities, the explosion of clean energy technology is part of a national strategy to dominate the industry. As Ford succinctly puts it:

China price" and "China speed" are poised to snatch the lion's share of the next multitrillion-dollar global industry - energy technology... Indeed, China is pushing ahead on renewable technologies with the fervor of a new space race.

Indeed, China is approaching clean energy with a "space race" mind-set, however, the U.S. has yet to adopt the same sense of urgency. As Americans wait for a Senate decision on the significantly weakened American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), which will invest just $1 billion per year in clean energy R&D and $10 billion for clean energy investments broadly defined, China has already implemented a suite of clean energy policies beginning with the Renewable Energy Law of 2006.

By supporting the growing wind sector with subsidies, tariffs, and an obligatory renewable energy requirement for power companies, China now expects wind manufacturing to grow from 8GW in 2007 to between 12GW and 20GW by 2010. In comparison, the U.S. manufactured just 2.4 GW of wind turbines in 2007 despite having the largest wind market in the world.

While China is already the world's leading solar manufacturer and is preparing to launch the first mass-produced electric car, as Ford points out, the story of "clean coal" (i.e. carbon capture and storage technology, CCS) may be the best portent of the future of China's clean energy competitiveness. Neither the U.S. nor China will easily bump coal from their energy mixes in the near future. Since China and the U.S. glean 80% and 50% of their electricity from coal generation (respectively), both will need innovations in CCS technology to mitigate their dirty fuel usage.

Despite America's thirty-year head start in clean coal R&D, there is surprisingly significant uncertainty as to who will dominate the CCS market. Under ACES, $1 billion would be allocated to CCS demonstration and another $2.4 billion would be provided for deployment, improving the outlook for the more experienced U.S. Still, after watching the U.S. Futuregen project become mired in cost and political obstructions, China started the Greengen initiative, which is predicted to be the "most efficient and cleanest coal-fired power station every built." According to Chinese officials, it should begin operating at the end of 2010.

In the story, Zhang Hongmei, the director for technology strategy and development at China's largest privately owned clean energy provider, ENN, astutely assesses the CCS hold-up in the U.S.:
In America, some people say there is no such thing as clean coal. It is very controversial. Here [China] it's not a question of debate or lobbying. It's a question of doing something.

Ford reiterates a question Breakthrough's Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris recently asked in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle - will American lose the clean-energy race? - and, if China wins, what are the implications for the rest of the world?

In order to stay abreast of the China and the other Asian tigers in the clean energy race, Breakthrough has repeatedly called for increased investment in clean energy deployment, R&D, and manufacturing. Furthermore, Breakthrough is currently advocating for RE-ENERGYSE, President Obama's energy education program that was recently dropped from FY2010 appropriations budget. A science and math initiative that encompasses K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education, the program is designed to usher in a clean energy workforce prepared to compete in the global clean energy industry.

Both nations are fully cognizant of the economic advantages of clean energy dominance and the urgency of the clean energy race is more salient than ever as demand for "green jobs" dominates news headlines.

As President Obama, Breakthrough and others (see here and here)have cautioned, without a strong, comprehensive effort by the U.S. to expand its clean energy industry on a global scale, China's looming shadow, frog-shaped or otherwise, will be perfectly positioned to eclipse the U.S. as the world's next economic powerhouse.

Click here to see Breakthrough's complete coverage of the clean energy race...

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New Report Recommends Technology Deployment Targets to Decarbonize Industry

Originally posted at The Breakthrough Institute

Here's the current climate stalemate: While US and EU negotiators keep pushing for an international treaty based on cutting emissions, developing nations like China and India keep refusing to adopt hard emissions caps. But according to a new report by the Center for Clean Air Policy, those emission caps are too hard to measure and monitor in developing nations, anyway. Instead, the report concludes, developing countries should adopt a new approach to increase efficiency in their most energy-intensive industries by setting measurable clean energy technology targets.

Dan Klein of CCAP, a co-author of the report, explained:

"To be able to say we're going to improve our emissions intensity by 5 percent, that's a nice concept. But to be able to actually do that means ... you have the ability to measure industrywide what you're doing now and what you're doing after."

On the other hand, "It's not such a difficult thing to count the number of plants that have a certain technology," Klein said.

In a close examination of China's cement, iron and steel industries, Klein and his colleagues--including collaborators from China's Tshinghua University--found that adopting targets for the deployment of more efficient technologies in the cement industry alone could reduce emissions in that sector by 10-20%.

Not only would a technology-based approach reduce emissions more quickly and effectively than setting a hard cap, it would also make developing nations more likely to get on-board for an international climate treaty.

Haibing Ma, another co-author of the report, said:

"This kind of approach will have more buying power. [China has] shown a greater level of interest in this type of approach" than in energy-intensity or hard emissions cap approaches.

A technology-based approach also follows logically from the rapid deployment actions China is already taking. The nation has set ambitious targets for clean energy technologies including wind, solar, and nuclear. The Chinese government has implemented a wide range of subsidies and incentives to facilitate the deployment of these clean energy technologies. And it will continue to foster clean technology deployment with a massive $440-660 billion clean energy investment plan, set to be released this year.

As Breakthrough and others have reported, it's not emissions caps but targeted technology deployment policies-- underwritten by substantial and stable government support--that have put China on track to surpass the US in the race to dominate the burgeoning clean energy industry.

Last week's CCAP report isn't the first to call for direct decarbonization of global industries. It falls in line with a recent paper coordinated by British professor and researcher Gwin Pryns, who recommends a strategy called the "Direct Kaya Approach" to reduce the carbon intensity of an economy by increasing energy efficiency and deploying low-carbon technologies. Such a framework could replace the failed, emissions-centric Kyoto model and provide the backbone for a new international climate agreement like the one Breakthrough has advocated.

The sooner climate negotiators heed the call of experts like Klein and Prins, the better. Pledges to slash emissions may make for rosy-sounding headlines, but without a plan to reach these goals, an international climate deal will amount to nothing but empty promises. The world has a far ways to go in order to avert catastrophic climate change--and a framework based on clear, measurable technology targets provides a roadmap for how both developed and developing countries will get there.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

UN Climate Chief: Global Community Needs to Invest $300b Annually in Climate Fight

A quick post this morning...

The global community should be investing $300 billion annually to combat global warming, according to UN climate chief Yvo de Boer (pictured). De Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change, says the world needs to be spending $100 billion annually to help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, and another $200 billion each year to shift the global energy mix away from fossil fuels.

"The world will need a phenomenal amount of money to change its energy supply from fossil fuels to cleaner sources and to adapt to climate change," de Boer said Friday.

According to a UN Environment Program news update:

With 110 days left until the Copenhagen Climate Conference, only "limited progress" was made at the most recent United Nations climate change talks where financing to cut and cope with climate change proved to be a major sticking point among negotiators. ...

De Boer estimates the annual cost of climate change adaptation at US$100 billion per year. This is the amount needed to cope with natural disasters such as flooding and drought that will result from increased warming. Meanwhile, he pegs the cost of cutting global emissions at US$200 billion annually.
Currently, the draft text contains 200 brackets indicating points of disagreement between negotiators, who differ on who should bear the financial burden of the climate change challenge.

Nevertheless, De Boer stressed that a U.N. climate pact to be agreed upon in Copenhagen should set up a fair mechanism for raising long-term funds, rather than compel countries to contribute specific amount. "A robust burden-sharing formula is the most important thing."

De Boer also recommended that countries participating in the Copenhagen Conference, open negotiations with some cash on the table, perhaps US$10 billion.

At the G8 Summit in July, UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner noted that a successful Copenhagen Summit depended on the political will of world leaders to make good on their Green Economy pledges which entails investing heavily in renewable energies and energy efficiency.
A fair and "robust burden-sharing formula" would presumably imply that as the world's richest nation and the world's largest contributor to cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions, the United States would contribute something like 1/4 to 1/3rd of the total global investments required to adapt to and mitigate the climate threat. That would imply $50-66 billion annually to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency and a contribution of $25-33 billion annually to global adaptation efforts, for a total of $75-99b/year.

Where exactly is that money going to come from? An excellent question, and one that seems neglected by the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill now winding it's way through Congress. After political concessions to (attempt to) silence industry opposition, that bill would invest just about $10b annually in clean energy and efficiency and devote just about $1.6b for domestic adaptation efforts and $1.9b for international technology transfer (all values assuming a $15/ton CO2 price, and scale proportionately at other CO2 prices).

The clean energy and efficiency investments in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus bill) put us in the right ballpark - at least on the mitigation front - investing over $60 billion annually in America's efforts to build a new clean energy economy. But those short-term investments will expire by the end of 2010, and without an effort to build on and extend this critical clean energy spending, the U.S. will be left without sufficient funding to fulfill our fair share of global climate investments.

With the climate advocacy community primarily focused to date on establishing (and protecting already compromised) emissions reduction targets and "caps," the Waxman-Markey bill looks poised to leave the United States a long way from the level of commitment to clean energy and adaptation investments called for the UNFCC Secretariat. We're running out of time to change that picture...

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Greetings from the DC Action Factory tent city!

Cross posted from, post by Kalen Pruss

We are just hours into our 26 hour tent city marathon. We set-up our camp with relative ease, had a not unpleasant chat with the police, and are just now settling down for the long haul. It is quite literally starting to heat up, and despite the cops mandating that we dismantle our overhead tarps, we are doing our best to keep cool. As uncouth as it sounds, at least our project has an end date. For millions of climate refugees across the globe, drought, flooding, disease, or famine make harsh conditions a permanent reality.

It is important, then, that we stand in solidarity with these many millions, and bring their voices to the policy-makers whose decisions will ultimately shape their future. Such action is desperately needed, yet our leaders typically fail in recognizing climate refugees altogether. In high-level talks regarding climate refugees, decision-makers find themselves bogged down in determining even the basic definition of climate refugees (see Morgan's post from last night). It appears that after so much politicking over semantics, world leaders are simply too exhausted to take real steps toward aiding these involuntary migrants.

But according to the International Federation of Red Cross, climate change disasters are currently a bigger cause of population displacement than war and persecution combined: current estimates of the number of climate refugees range from 25 to 50 million worldwide, compared to the official refugee population of 20.8 million. World leaders claim that they do not want to complicate the word "refugee," as if they worry about sullying the term for political exiles. Call them what you will, climate refugees are very real; their stories are harrowing, and their numbers are rapidly growing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that there will be 150 million climate refugees by 2050.

Our leaders are performing a gross negligence by ignoring the growing refugee crisis caused by global warming. Not only are we destroying their homes with the pollution of the industrial nations, now we are trying to ignore their existence all-together. But we are asking Secretary Clinton to demonstrate a small act of goodwill, take on the mantle of US leadership, and ensure that the world will take action to address the climate refugee crisis in the years to come.

By including language to recognize and protect climate refugees, Clinton will not only take a much-needed moral stance, but also provide for the security of the nation she represents. The millions of people displaced by global warming will inevitably seek asylum elsewhere. Already, rising sea levels caused by climate change are exacerbating tensions between Bangladesh and India, causing India to construct a 2,1000 mile high-tech fence along its border, to cite but one example. The U.S. can expect similar security questions to rapidly arise. Establishing an international process that recognizes, protects, and helps to provide for these refugees will help to prevent a refuge crisis at our own borders.

Currently, there is little or no aid available to climate refugees, unlike conventional refugees protected under current international treaties. The recent, tragic death of Ken Bacon, director of Refugees International, has highlighted his life-long work on refugees, and his recent work in establishing a Climate Refugee Center. Secretary Clinton praised the work of Bacon, even as her department tries to ignore the issue.

Including language recognizing and protecting climate refugees in the Copenhagen agreement is the first step in establishing this process. Secretary Clinton, act now! Otherwise, what will your legacy be?

Follow @actionfactorydc for updates as the protest progresses
Media contact: Kim Huynh/ 904-327-7650
Press conference: Monday, 12:30pm, West entrance to the State Department
For more info:

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seeking to Have an IMPACT on Climate Policy, Senator Brown Calls for New Investments in Clean Energy Manufacturing

By Jesse Jenkins and Johanna Peace, originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

Recently, Senator Sherrod Brown refused to accept a climate bill that would simply send both emissions and U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas - inaccurately earning him a label as a "threat" to the passage of federal energy and climate legislation. This week, the Ohio Democrat formally introduced legislation to strengthen America's efforts to both cut emissions and build a prosperous clean energy economy: the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act of 2009.

"We can revive American manufacturing through investments in clean energy," Brown said. "This bill will help our manufacturers retool, put our auto suppliers back to work, and produce clean energy technologies."

The bill would create a two-year, $30 billion revolving loan fund to help small and medium-sized American manufacturers to improve the manufacturing process and increase their production of clean energy parts and systems. The IMPACT Act would also directly invest $1.5 billion over five years to help guide manufacturers into clean energy markets and streamline their implementation of new manufacturing technologies and methods through the Manufacturing Extension Program, a division of the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology.

As part of a crucial block of swing legislators in the Senate, Brown (D-OH) has long been a vocal supporter of effective climate policy that would make clean energy cheap by directly investing in new technologies, accelerating the deployment of existing clean energy sources--and most importantly to Senator Brown, creating new clean energy jobs in the American Heartland along the way.

Senator Brown's efforts to advance new investments in clean energy technologies and manufacturing are critical, and IMPACT is consistent with Breakthrough's recommendations to make clean energy cheap. As Breakthrough advocates:

Direct federal funding should ... be provided to retool the nation's industrial heartland, train a skilled clean energy workforce, and ensure American factories and workers are commercializing and building the clean, cheap energy technologies that will power a prosperous 21st century economy. Innovative, advanced manufacturing techniques can drive significant improvements in the price and performance of clean energy technologies, making investments to support cutting-edge U.S. manufacturing a critical component of a strategy to make clean energy cheap.

In its April "Green Manufacturing Action Plan," the Apollo Alliance laid the foundation for IMPACT by outlining a series of aggressive steps to boost American production of energy systems and components.

According to an Apollo press release, "70 percent of America's clean and efficient energy systems are currently produced abroad, including half of the country's existing wind turbines and all transformers for the electrical grid."

Apollo Alliance Chairman Phil Angelides joined Brown at the announcement of IMPACT, saying:

"Without a program to support our own domestic manufacturers, policies that create new demand for clean energy will just lead to more imports. It is critical that Congress enact legislation that provides direct and substantial investment in clean energy component manufacturing to ensure that jobs are created in the U.S., and to wean us from our dependence on other nations to meet our energy needs."

It's true: America is lagging in the heightening global clean energy race - and it's not just our competitors in Europe that are gaining the upper hand. The US now lags behind several East Asian nations on clean energy manufacturing as well.

In 2007, the U.S. manufactured just one-third of what China produced in both wind turbines and solar PV. And a full 85% of the world's lithium ion batteries are produced in China, South Korea, or Japan. That's a disturbing picture for those like Senator Brown, who worry that valuable jobs in the clean energy manufacturing sector will be created overseas, and stay there.

Legislation like Brown's IMPACT bill is a critical component of any federal climate and energy strategy and contrasts with the House's Waxman-Markey climate bill, which as currently drafted, would invest little in building America's clean tech production capacity. Direct public investment is necessary to jump-start a robust clean energy manufacturing sector that will ensure the US gains a secure foothold in a burgeoning (and lucrative) global industry. Otherwise, our wind turbines and solar panels--like so many other products that sustain our economy--will continue to bear the label "Made in China."

If you'd like to support the IMPACT clean energy manufacturing investment bill, our friends at the Apollo Alliance have an action opportunity here.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is the Silicon Valley of Clean Energy Growing in China?

How Baoding, China became the world's first "carbon positive" city.

(by Tyler Burton, crossposted from The Breakthrough Blog)

100 miles southwest of Beijing, a green revolution is underway; and it began, as Peter Ford of the Christian Science Monitor reports, with a "bad case of smelly fish".

Yu Qun (pictured) had only recently been elected mayor of Baoding, China when fish in the region's largest lake began to die by the thousands. In his mind, this could only be the direct result of pollution from the several hundred factories which lined the river's banks. So Mr. Yu took a drastic but, in the long run, incredibly fortuitous step: he closed the factories.

This move cost his city large points at first with the Central Government. His annual economic growth was down almost two percentage points; but Mr. Yu had a plan:

"Polluting first and cleaning up later is very expensive," says the boyish-looking mayor, a former college math teacher. "So we chose renewable energy to replace traditional industry."

In three years, Yu has transformed Baoding from an automobile and textile town into the fastest-growing hub of solar, wind, and biomass energy-equipmentmakers in China. Baoding now has the highest growth rate of any city in Hebei Province. Its "Electricity Valley" industrial cluster - consciously modeled on Silicon Valley - has quadrupled its business.

Of course, Mr. Yu met large resistance at first. Many officials in the provincial and central governments thought he was "impractical", that "renewable energy was 30 or 40 years away..." (Sound familiar?) But Yu persisted, and his persistence paid off.
Such has been the success of his perseverance, and of the advantages that Baoding offered new "green-tech" investors, that the city now houses nearly 200 renewable energy companies. One of them makes blades for wind farms in Texas. Another is providing the solar panels for the largest solar power station in the world, in Portugal.

"New energy has become a pillar industry in our city," the mayor says. Within two years, he forecasts, it will have overtaken the auto and textile sectors as the most important mainstay of the local economy.

And what's good for Baoding may be good for the world. By one reckoning, the city is the world's first to go "carbon positive": The carbon saved annually worldwide through the use of equipment made here outweighs the city's own emissions.
As America struggles to retool its aging manufacturing sector, perhaps one city's success at sloughing off its own burden of pollution can offer inspiration. A word to city planners far and wide: we might do well to look towards our own pragmatic Mr. Yu's. If we dare to make bold choices with a slant towards the future, what can we accomplish in 3 years?

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The most important meeting in America?

Pondering Geoengineering Solutions that are a Win-Win-Win for America and the Planet

A guest post by A. Siegel, who writes regularly at

There are a lot of valuable and exciting conferences out there. To say that the energy and environmental domains are “hot” and that you could spend your life solely running from conference to conference while only getting a taste of what’s going on doesn’t seem lunatic. From wave energy meetings in Sweden to water-less toilet sessions in Finland to Energy Summits hosted by Harry Reid in the Las Vegas heat, there are a lot of valuable and important choices out there. As with looking toward better sanitation options in Finland, some potentially critical sessions are going on with little media (and thus popular) attention. Right now, Boulder, Colorado, is hosting one such meeting: North American Biochar 2009.

Right now, humanity is engaged in a massively reckless geoengineering experiment, pumping huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other GHGs while continuing to pave the planet black and otherwise modify the humanity’s habitat with little understanding (or regard) for the havoc that we are and could be creating. In response to this, we have the serious movements to find paths to reduce emissions (whether through efficiency or clean energy or …) but there are also increasing calls for looking toward geoengineering (both from the thoughtful to the inane).

When it comes to this arena, there are some basic principles that should guide on thinking on geoengineering. In short, we should seek paths that support multiple goods (saving money, improving life conditions, helping reverse global warming) rather than costly paths that create more risks and uncertainties and whose pursuit seem to large costs with stovepiped (and uncertain) benefits.

The core principle should be: win-win-win. A proposal that, in a systems of systems effort, provides multiple wins and does not solely address temperature. Thus, a proposal that offers real potential for improving economy, reducing carbon, and contributing to reduced temperature (both directly, somehow, and indirectly through reduced carbon loads or carbon capture) would seem to merit greater prioritization than high-cost efforts that would solely impact “temperature” but not impact (or worsen) the carbon load equation.

Thus, $trillions to put umbrellas in space is not the item that seems sensible to be on the top of the table. In fact, applying those principles, there are two basic approaches that seem to merit being on the top of the table: one that applies directly to the built environment and the other in the agricultural sphere.

The first, when it comes to the built environment, is High-Albedo (White) Roofing (and other human infrastructure): Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has brought attention to the great win-win-win potential here. Building owners would see direct financial savings, the urban heat island would cool (leading to more energy savings as the ambient temperature falls), our cities would be more comfortable, and we would reduce global warming directly (reflecting more solar radiation to space) and indirectly (the multiplicative energy savings). What are we waiting for? Let’s get to it … make this national building code for, at least, flat-roofed buildings: yesterday!

When it comes to the agricultural space, we turn to bio-char/agri-char and why Boulder might have the most important meeting in America. Very simply, we have the potential for a carbon-negative fuel that will, over time, also foster improve fertility in soil. Very simply, gasification of biomass can be combined with agricultural practices to create energy, have the waste plowed back into the soil to improve fertility (while reducing fertilizer requirements), and have some of the carbon from each of these cycles captured in the soil.

“[T]he great advantage of biochar is the fact that the technique can be applied world-wide on agricultual soils, and even by rural communities in the developing world because it is relatively low tech.”

To provide a simple context, the Amazonian jungle looks to be a heavily geo-engineering environment, with “Slash and Char” agriculture, over 100s (1000s) of years having built up areas of incredibly rich soil 6+ feet deep. To provide another context, analysis of biochar potential suggest that we could be enriching the soil while sequestering more carbon than the United States currently emits. While we must drive down emissions as quickly as possible, biochar provides one of the most promising paths to not ‘reduce’ emissions but actually set us on a path toward reducing global CO2 concentrations. (And, it can be applied in innovative ways to help create jobs in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.)

This is a highly promising arena that has gotten a little attention, but not enough and certainly not enough resources. If Secretary of Energy Chu has become a visible spokesman for White Roofing, maybe another Administration official will do the same for bio-char:

The keynote speakers for the conference will be Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Dr. Susan Solomon, Senior Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Tom Vilsack could do American farmers (and farmers globally) a great service while helping turn the tide on Global Warming’s rising seas through strong promotion of a global agenda of large-scale research and demonstration projects, with fast-tracking of movement from ‘demonstration’ to large-scale deployment when working paths are proven.

Beneath the radar scope of most, there is a lot of work going on in biochar/terra preta. Some additional resources

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