Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An earthquake, in Virginia??

This is a guest post by Rebecca Anderson, ACE Sierra's Educator and Team Scientist

This is weird. Today at 1:51 pm Eastern time a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck northwest of Richmond, VA. It was felt as far north as New York City.

Being a native East-coaster myself, I can tell you that we don’t get earthquakes in that part of the country. This means people, buildings and bridges are pretty unprepared for an event like this. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any reports of fatalities or serious injuries yet and hopefully that continues.

But this earthquake has got me thinking. Earthquakes have nothing to do with climate change. We know this. Some quakes can strike out of the blue, like this one, in such a random place that there’s no way you could have predicted it. But other places, like along the San Andreas fault in California, you know that living there goes along with the risk of earthquakes. Scientists put a lot of work into calculating those risks and buildings and bridges are built accordingly.

In this way, earthquakes give us a good analogy for dealing with climate change. The risks are understood and the precautions to minimize the risks are also known. You never know on a given day, even in California, if an earthquake is going to strike or not. Likewise, you never know when a big storm, flood or wildfire will hit. But, much like living along the San Andreas fault, with climate change we know that the chances of these events happening – flooding of the Mississippi, drought in Texas, wildfires in the southwest, this summer’s heat wave – are going up. As the venerable Stephen Schneider said, “We are loading the dice.”

Here’s where we get to the difference. Earthquakes are caused by nothing less than seismic ruptures deep inside the Earth, set off by the forces of plate tectonics. There’s not a lot we can do about that. Climate change, on the other hand, we know we can do something about. The cause of this problem is us and that means the solution can be, is and will be u

One of the best parts of my job with ACE is that I know this. I see it every week at high schools in Sacramento, Reno and in between. Those were my kids who started the Eco Warriors Action Team at Reed High in Sparks, NV. Inspired by ACE, they won $12,000 to green their school’s bathrooms. That was my girl, Laura Dang from West Campus High in Sacramento, showing off not just her DOT (Do One Thing to help the environment), but her 15 DOTs in ACE’s DOT Detectives contest this summer.

One of the coolest things I read about the earthquake is that people were getting tweets about it happening in DC just seconds before they actually felt the quake itself. That means with technology, we are faster even that those speedy P waves. Imagine what we’re capable of!

We know it: Climate change is not an earthquake. It’s our mess, we made it and we gotta solve it. Thousands of young people across the country are heading back to school, rejoining their ACE Action Teams and getting to work.

Step 1: Solve climate change.

Step 2: Stop plate tectonics.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

National Journal: Surviving the Coming Clean Tech Crash

Over at the National Journal's Energy forum, my Breakthrough Institute colleague Alex Trembath and I have a new submission to their ongoing discussion asking "How Can Washington Green America's Economy?" Here's the full text...

Before discussing the best way to green the economy, it’s important to note that the U.S. economy has been greening steadily over the past three years. Buoyed by the policies established and extended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the largest federal investment in clean tech in American history, the clean energy industry has experienced precipitous growth, as documented by Mark Muro and colleagues at the Brookings Metro program in their recent "Sizing the Clean Economy" report.

Unfortunately, the path of progress may be coming to an end. Our research shows that over 70% of the federal policies and funding support for clean energy that has catalyzed the recent growth of the industry is expected to lapse in the next three years, or has already expired. And make no mistake—clean energy is an industry dependent on government subsidy: tax credits, depreciation and other subsidies compose one third or more of the total after-tax value of most solar, wind or other renewable energy projects, for example. So while ARRA provided a “down payment” on a green economy, as these public investments fade away, we are now more likely to witness a clean tech crash than a clean tech revolution.

As the current programs supporting clean energy, like the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Section 1603 Treasury Grants, approach their expiration, there are a number of steps the federal government can and must take to avert an impending industry crash.

The first would be to get serious about the long-term energy innovation challenge. Until clean energy becomes cheap and cost competitive without subsidy, the pace of clean energy growth will remain constrained and the markets will face continual risk of industry busts if subsidy and policy support changes. We must treat energy innovation with the same priority we afford other national innovation quests, such as the Apollo or Manhattan Projects or the quest to cure cancer. We must invest far more -- eventually on the order of $15 billion annually -- and far more wisely -- restructuring America's energy innovation system and supporting effective new policy models such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), and new public-private regional innovation consortia.

Second, Congress can establish a Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA). CEDA would act as a public investment bank whose mission is to help leverage private-sector investment to bring emerging, innovative clean technologies to commercial maturity. CEDA would bridge the commercialization “Valley of Death” and provide a viable and predictable development path for technologies from the laboratory to grid-scale deployment. The Congressional Budget Office calculates that the agency would cost just $1.1 billion over the next four years. While leveraging billions more in private sector investment, the public bank would return profits from investments and financial products to the fund, making CEDA self-sustaining over time.

Another needed policy change is to reform the current clean energy deployment subsidy regime for maturing energy technologies, which today is comprised of a hodgepodge of tax credits like the PTC and the Investment Tax Credit, depreciation benefits and grants that primarily incentivize firms to deploy more of the same, current-generation technology. Instead, we need a smarter new deployment mechanism that is disciplined and designed to drive technology innovation to decrease the unsubsidized cost of clean energy so that it can be competitive without perpetual subsidy. Such a policy could augment a national renewable or clean energy standard (RES/CES) with a set of technology tiers based on technology maturity, which would provide the incentive for utilities to adopt and deploy clean energy technologies across a range of maturities, and demand continual cost reductions from technology firms over time. One way to augment this smart deployment policy would be with a small price on carbon, wires fee on electricity, or oil import fee, which instead of returning a dividend to consumers would generate dedicated revenues for a federal energy R&D fund to help support the continual innovation needed to get clean tech costs down to parity with fossil competitors.

The fate of many ARRA policies remains uncertain, and the unpredictable political machinations of the “supercongress” and ongoing deficit debate in Washington bring yet more volatility to the clean tech policy debate. Nobody expects a second down payment on the green economy on the scale of the last several years. But as current subsidy support runs out, Washington must support the industry by investing more and differently in clean energy innovation to maintain America’s position in the global clean tech race and avoid an ongoing cycle of clean tech boom-and-bust in the future.

Read more!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Say No to 'No Nukes' Revival

My colleague Sara Mansur & I have an op ed in today's San Francisco Chronicle, issuing a stern rebuttal to the revival of the "No Nukes" concerts this Sunday at Shoreline in Mountain View, CA.

The world has changed since the original five-night concert series in 1979. An anti-nuclear position may have made good sense then, but is no longer tenable today.

Graham Nash and the MUSE cadre of septuagenerian rockers appear woefully ignorant of the real intergenerational threat faced in the 21st century -- climate change -- and the implications that a 'No Nukes' world would have for public health and the environment.

You can find the print edition in today's Chronicle and an extended edition online here.

Read more!