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We focus on energy policy and issues relating to climate change. Anyone may comment on an item; all views solely reflect the opinion of the author. Please email us if you have comments or questions.


Gore's Updated Slides (Again)

Mon, 11 May 2009 22:28:15 +0000

More new slides, once again from TED

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No free lunch

Thu, 16 Apr 2009 18:08:13 +0000

The Washington Post has a good article about the tough decisions that face lawmakers and renewable energy system planners regarding wildlife protection, other environmental concerns, and economic feasibility. It highlights a new transmission line, the SunZia line, that would connect New Mexico's renewable energy potential in wind and solar with Arizona's large cities' demand for electricity. The line would provide additional electricity to consumers that would prevent the need for new coal-fired plants, but its location threatens wildlife - its path is set to cross the Rio Grande, acres of grassland, and go along two national wildlife refuges.

One of the biggest challenges renewable-energy projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources, such as coal-fired power plants. A team of scientists, several of whom work for the Nature Conservancy, has written a paper that will appear in the journal PLoS One showing that it can take 300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant. Regardless of the climate policy the nation adopts, the paper predicts that by 2030, energy production will occupy an additional 79,537 square miles of land.

The impact will be "substantial," said Jimmie Powell, the Nature Conservancy's national energy leader and one of the paper's co-authors. "It's important to know where the footprint is going to be."

In some cases, scientists are just beginning to discover the unintended effect of projects such as wind turbines. Grassland birds such as the lesser prairie chicken and the greater sage grouse, both of which are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act, appear to avoid vertical structures such as wind turbines and transmission-line towers. This is proving to be a problem in states such as Kansas, an ideal site for wind power, because as more turbines are built, lesser prairie chickens will confine themselves to narrow ranges, fragmenting a population that must be connected to survive.

The more impacts and effects that are taken into account, the harder solving these problems seems to be.

Renewable Energy's Environmental Paradox

Geoengineering gains more traction

Thu, 09 Apr 2009 21:20:27 +0000

All options are on the table to control climate change effects, according to Obama's science adviser, John Holdren, including technologies formerly (or still?) derided by mainstream scientists. Examples include injecting pollutants high into the atmosphere to block sun rays, using mirrors to reflect sun rays, or a huge umbrella to filter sun rays (see my previous post for another link).

Twice in a half-hour interview, Holdren compared global warming to being "in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog."

Last week, Princeton scientist Robert Socolow told the National Academy that geoengineering should be an available option in case climate worsens dramatically.

But Holdren noted that shooting particles into the air—making an artificial volcano as one Nobel laureate has suggested—could have grave side effects and would not completely solve all the problems from soaring greenhouse gas emissions. So such actions could not be taken lightly, he said.

Still, "we might get desperate enough to want to use it," he added.

Obama looks at climate engineering

Official who proposed MN’s cap-and-trade system now criticizes Obama’s approach

Mon, 23 Mar 2009 20:41:26 +0000

From Keith:

Story on the St Paul Legal Ledger describing Ed Garvey's comments about Obama's cap & trade plan - he does not support the current position, saying that there needs to be a "workable" solution, that "does not penalize petroleum manufacturers," for whom he currently lobbies.

Official who proposed MN’s cap-and-trade system now criticizes Obama’s approach
President Obama's Unfortunate Cap & Trade Proposal

Mega Energy Bill?

Mon, 09 Mar 2009 16:13:43 +0000

Democrats may put Obama's carbon regulation bill together with renewable energy measures into one large bill. Could be good, in that it would be all in one, so it wouldn't take as long to pass as two bills. Could also be bad, in that it could align all efforts against either measure into a stronger movement. The vote could be as early as this summer, according to Sen. Harry Reid's spokesman.

For more info, see Democrats May Combine Carbon-Trading, Renewable Energy Measures

New Clean Coal Ad

Fri, 27 Feb 2009 21:50:18 +0000

Thank you Coen Brothers

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Climate Change Today

Tue, 24 Feb 2009 23:38:01 +0000

The November issue of Mother Jones introduced me to - the important new organization spearheaded by Bill McKibben. "The Most Important Number on Earth" talks about the tipping point of climate.

McKibben has been doing great work to update people who know that climate change is a problem but still aren't sure what to do about it. He recently showed up in a Q & A feature in Foreign Policy to answer key questions about climate change in 2009.

Those of us who have followed this for awhile have been arguing that we need to get beyond arguing that this is scientific fact. We won't convince everyone - and enough people are convinced that we need to do something about it rather than wait for purposely dense people to "get it."

Those who will lose out in the clean economy have moved on as well. They used to pour their resources into groups that denied global warming but they are a late-night joke now. So these companies have adjusted and are instead pouring money into studies that show insanely high costs if we put a price on carbon. NPR's On the Media recently covered some of the subterfuge they use in these reports.

Sometimes it seems that one cannot listen to a program on climate change without hearing someone foolishly talking about how nuclear power is the big solution, if only big-government liberals who hate the market would let the market build more nuke plants. This remains a confusing claim to anyone knows anything about nuclear power as it is totally at odds with a free market approach - heavy government intervention into markets is required for nuclear power to work - from insurance to loans to waste disposal. I thought David Leonhardt from the NY Times dealt well with this issue on a good episode of the Diane Rehm Show that recently dealt with Green Collar Jobs. Also, Foreign Policy magazine offered some sobering reminders as to how hard it will be for nuclear power to make a dent in the climate change problem.

I'll end this by embedding a video from - which is totally social media enabled (facebook, youtube, twitter, etc).

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Is corn-based ethanol good for us?

Wed, 18 Feb 2009 17:33:02 +0000

Depends on who you ask.

The University of Minnesota recently released a study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, suggesting that corn-based ethanol is about the same as gasoline in terms of energy but may in fact be worse for the environment in terms of air quality. The University of Nebraska countered with a study, published by the Journal of Industrial Ecology, that suggests corn-based ethanol has made huge progress in increasing its energy efficiency and has significantly reduced carbon emissions, such that it is a better alternative than gasoline. Both Minnesota and Nebraska are corn-rich states, and both have a large corn-based ethanol industry, though the U of M has been accused of being anti-corn ethanol (by the corn and ethanol industries). Each study includes different variables, which may account for some of the difference in outcome. Both articles are linked below.


For more information, see:

Climate change and health costs of air emissions from biofuels and gasoline
National Corn Grower Association's take on articles, plus link to Nebraska article
U study: Corn no better than gas
New study praises corn as source for ethanol
Five reasons corn ethanol won't save the planet

Is Pawlenty changing his mind about energy?

Wed, 18 Feb 2009 16:40:37 +0000

In an apparent policy reversal, Minnesota state agencies told legislators that further climate change action may be unnecessary. Data have shown a drop in emissions from 2005 to 2006, and the assistant commissioner for air quality at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, David Thornton, and the new head of the Office for Energy Security, Bill Glahn, suggest that if that trend continues, Minnesota will meet its emission reduction goals in 2015 with no new policy actions.

This seems highly unlikely to me, and I find the suggestion disturbing.

Furthermore, they are suggesting that Big Stone II will reduce carbon emissions because it could replace two older coal plants (which won't happen), and that the only new policy suggestions from the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG) they support are eliminating the ban on new nuclear plants (which the MCCAG suggested should be studied) and implementing appliance efficiency standards.


Thanks to Keith for the heads-up.

But that climate legislation is needed now!

Tue, 27 Jan 2009 18:34:52 +0000

In a sobering release, climate researchers from the US, Switzerland & France have announced that we will experience negative climate change impacts despite future emission reductions. Carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere faster than previously thought, making any emission reduction goals all the more urgent.

This study suggests that if carbon levels reach 600 ppm, many areas of the world will see severe drought, similar to or worse than the 1930s Dust Bowl. Sea levels will also rise by 3 feet by the year 3000, though the prediction did not take into account glacier and sea ice melts, which would increase the level.

Another study released yesterday states that emperor penguins will likely be extinct by 2100, due to loss of habitat, warming temperatures, and decreases in food population. Because the birds are long-lived and breed later in life, they are less adaptable to changes in climate. Now the poles each have a threatened mascot...

For more information, see:

Long Droughts, Rising Seas Predicted Despite Future CO2 Curbs
Emperor penguins face extinction