Archives for December, 2010

In my undergraduate environmental economics class at UCLA, I ask my students to discuss whether buying a Prius could increase their gasoline consumption and thus increase their greenhouse gas production.    David Owen would argue that it certainly could.  Suppose that I used to drive a vehicle that achieved only 25 MPG.  If gasoline is priced…

There’s no consensus on global warming. Climate models are inaccurate. Temperature records are unreliable. Earth’s climate has changed before. Oceans are cooling. Human CO2 emissions represent a tiny percentage of overall CO2. Water vapor is the most powerful greenhouse gas. And so on, and so on. We’ve heard them all. Climate change is one of…

Energy efficiency has become very popular in recent years. So much so that it’s becoming cool for the truly hip to hold it in disdain. Case in point: David Owen’s piece in this week’s New Yorker: “The Efficiency Dilemma” (subscription required). It reads like he’s being contrary just for the sake of being contrary. I…

Daniel Kammen’s posts appear here and on the Development in a Changing Climate blog at the World Bank, where he is chief technical specialist for renewable energy and energy efficiency. He is an adviser to National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative. The last few days at COP16 have, in a low-key way, accomplished more than…

A Shipload of Algae

Algae is the world’s first solar panel.  By converting energy from the sun into usable organic material, it has been a renewable source of energy for the last 3 billion years. For the last 50 years we have been trying to figure out how to harness that process to fuel our own energy needs. Recently,…

Who’s Defining the Energy Debate

As part of the documentary I’m making about nuclear power, I’ve been looking into why it is that after nearly 40 years of recognizing the need to revolutionize the way in which we produce and consume energy, very little has actually been done in the way of fundamental change.  I suppose it should come as…

Are cook stoves a hotter climate-change item than international negotiations? Climate Talks Wrap – Progress or Retreat? Last week in Cancun, Mexico, officials from the 190+ nations wrapped up international climate talks at the 16th Conference of the Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (a k a COP-16). The somewhat upbeat…

The people who spend their lives buying and selling oil are making big bets that the price is going up, with a number of analysts predicting the return of $100 per barrel oil within months. This makes a lot of people nervous, for good reason. When oil gets expensive, life tends to get ugly. The…

Climate talks in Cancun are moving forward very slowly, but in the right direction. That’s in a nutshell what facilitators reported at the informal stock-taking meeting convened by COP16 president Patricia Espinosa. The informal reporting ended at 10 pm and delegates resumed negotiations immediately after. Most negotiators expressed a “qualified optimism” about the possibilities of…

The results of the November U.S. elections have been interpreted thousands of ways by now, but one undeniable mood shift in the American public regarding energy and the environment is a retreat from unquestioning support of government programs and policy initiatives that collectively amount to a costly and disruptive national industrial policy for the energy…

Conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy, just back from the United Nations climate talks, shared his thoughts with National Geographic on the work under way in Cancun, Mexico, on addressing the role deforestation plays in global warming. Lovejoy, an innovator who coined the term “biological diversity” and introduced the concept of debt-for-nature swaps, was keynote speaker on…

As the slow-moving conference on climate change gets underway in Cancún, the 193 nations present at the talks don’t seem to agree on much of anything. There is little hope that China and the United States will get past their differences on transparency reporting and other key sticking points, which made the Copenhagen agreements difficult…

How much (or whether at all) a new generation of nuclear reactors should be considered in meeting America’s future electricity needs is a hotly debated topic these days, to say the least. But, in some respects, that’s putting the cart ahead of the horse. The question of what to do with the nuclear fuel we’ve…

The Cancun climate summit represents a surprising opportunity for progress towards saving the world’s forests and other ecosystems, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) in the wonky parlance of the climate negotiations. Even as a comprehensive agreement faces challenges, there’s relative consensus that the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor climate agreement…

As a colleague recently put it, PACE financing (Property Assessed Clean Energy) was the Get Out of Jail Free card of the residential efficiency market. PACE financing could have solved a number of the most persistent problems in funding residential retrofits. Under a PACE program, a city or municipality would issue and sell bonds. They…

Forty years ago today, the Environmental Protection Agency was created. It’s fitting that the anniversary falls just one week after Thanksgiving, because every American from every state should be grateful for the Agency’s work. Consider that by 1990, the EPA’s actions had prevented 205,000 premature American deaths, 189,000 cardiovascular hospitalizations and 18 million child respiratory…

One thing’s certain about the international climate negotiations happening right now in Cancun: no one’s expecting big things.  After last year’s failure in Copenhagen to broker a legally-binding, international agreement to reduce carbon emissions, the media, negotiators pundits and activists pretty much all agree that if anything comes of Cancun it will be unambitious.  Even…