Posts tagged “climate change”
If not for the US government’s latest demonstration of incompetence that played out at the end of last week (a.k.a. sequestration), the top news story might have been a report issued by the US State Department late Friday.
The report was the Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL Pipeline project, and it was unwelcome news for environmentalists who have been protesting the crude pipeline extension that would link Canada’s oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.
It may seem arbitrary, given the large number of oil and gas pipelines that already criss-cross the US, that this particular one has generated such a high profile debate around energy security and the environment. But this debate isn’t really about a pipeline. This pipeline isn’t going to make or break the development of Canada’s oil sands, nor — as I will show here — is it going to make a measurable difference with respect to climate change.
President Obama aggressively called for addressing climate change in his fifth State of the Union address, but ultimately came up short of outlining a clear and compelling vision with the necessary policy scope to address the significant technological challenges impacting clean energy.
Here are my five top take-aways:
1) Demanded Action to Address Climate Change
It is indicative of the sad state of the U.S. climate debate when a mere mention of support for addressing climate change elicits celebration. Nonetheless, the President deserves credit for calling on Congress to take action against climate change and using about 10 percent of his speech to discuss what he would like to see.
“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”
2) Aggressively Called for Increasing Public Investments in Energy R&D
One of the biggest issues impacting clean energy innovation is declining public investments. Of particular concern are stagnant energy R&D programs, which are a fraction of what is necessary to aggressively develop breakthrough clean energy technologies. According to the Energy Innovation Tracker, federal funding for energy R&D totaled $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012. In comparison, the Defense Department’s R&D budget that year was $72.3 billion, or more than 20 times as much.
Europe’s Emissions Cap
This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in particular, and the nature of a market-based emissions cap (AKA cap-and-trade) system in general.
Granted, the ETS is an imperfect cap because it only covers about 45% of total emissions in the EU – most notably it does not include emissions from home heating or automobile transportation. Importantly, though, it does cover major industrial emitters and utility-scale electricity production, which are the major users of coal.
(Read More: Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions — Facts and Figures)
However, the articles continually say things like this, in Friday’s Washington Post: “Green-friendly Europe has a dirty secret: It is burning a lot more coal.” The schadenfreude exhibited in these articles is unrelated to Europe’s actual record on climate policy.
What Can Obama Do?
The President has begun his second term in office by saying that he will act on climate change, stating in his inaugural address: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
However, the question now becomes: what can President Obama do about climate change? He made action on climate change a central argument during his 2008 campaign and early in his first term, but failed in the effort to pass major emissions reduction legislation through Congress. While the stimulus had many important clean energy sections, it is unclear whether these will result in lasting changes in our economy.
Market-Based Actions Are Most Effective
Having tried and failed to pass major climate legislation through Congress in 2009 and 2010, and knowing that a polarized Congress is unlikely to address this again in the next few years, I believe that the Administration will move towards a two-pronged approach that uses regulation at home, but prioritizes action on climate as a tool of international relations.
(Read More: Why Climate Change is a Matter of National Security)
Oil Money is Bad Money, Except When…
Al Gore has just released a new book — The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change — and is on a media tour to promote it. But he has had to face some very uncomfortable questions involving a charge that has been around for a while: That Al Gore is a hypocrite.
The hypocrisy charge has been raised against Gore over the years. Until now, the most infamous incident of apparent hypocrisy took place in 2007 when it was widely reported that Al Gore’s mansion had a utility bill about 20 times more than the average family home. (See Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’? — A $30,000 Utility Bill). I found the news troubling; after all Gore was the Conservationist-in-Chief but he certainly didn’t appear to be walking his talk.
But I also wrote that if he was running a staff out of his home, then the higher electric bills were more understandable. I also learned at the time just how rabidly partisan people can be when discussing Gore. Some on the left would not tolerate criticism of Gore, and I was vilified for saying that I was disappointed in his behavior.
But, I really wanted to like Al Gore. I thought of him as someone who was making a positive impact by calling attention to a serious problem, and getting people to conserve. I defended him when people noted that Gore traveled around the world in fossil-fueled jets. After all, I argued, if he traveled halfway around the world but convinced 500 people in a foreign country to become involved and take action, then the net impact could easily be lower carbon emissions as a result of his travels.
The purpose of Energy Innovation 2013 – a half-day conference co-hosted by my organization, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and the Breakthrough Institute – was to discuss the possibility of developing and deploying all of the cheap, high-performing zero-carbon technologies necessary to meet 40 terawatts of projected global demand by mid-century. Most importantly, the conference spurred debate on how the need for clean energy innovation should influence the climate and energy policy debate.
Over the course of three stellar panel discussions as well as follow-on debate via twitter (check out #EI13), a number of themes emerged that merit further debate amongst advocates, thinkers, and policymakers:
It’s Global Warming, Not American Warming
ITIF President Rob Atkinson set the stage for why energy innovation needs to be a policy priority by presenting a straight-forward logic chain: climate change is real and man-made, it’s about developing clean energy technologies that are cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives to drive down carbon emissions, and it’s globally pervasive. Clean energy technologies need to be affordable to all nations, and particularly emerging economies with growing populations that will consume more energy in the coming decades than the United States.
A year ago, President Obama, under pressure from a deadline set by House Republicans, rejected the application of TransCanada for the Keystone XL pipeline that would pump Canadian crude from Alberta to the American gulf coast.
With a new decision on the Keystone XL pipeline due in the first quarter of 2013, according to the State Department — a date that may slip according to some observers — it is useful to assess the actual effects of not building the Keystone pipeline on Canadian oil production and North American energy markets.
Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline was touted as a big win for environmentalists, who had set their sights on Keystone XL as a big target. As Bill McKibben often quotes NASA scientist James Hansen, using the entire resources of Canada’s oil sands would mean “game over for the climate.” Once complete, Keystone XL would have a capacity of up to 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen per day – 54% of Canada’s total bitumen production (note: bitumen is the crude product from production in the oil sands). So, for groups like McKibben’s 350.org, the goal of stopping the pipeline was to slow and eventually stop the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands. The thought was that if environmentalists could stop the building of the Keystone pipeline, they could prevent Canada from having a market for their oil, and thereby production would slow and eventually stop.
I, along with my editor Sam Avro, recently conducted a broad-ranging interview with John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil and currently the head of Citizens for Affordable Energy, a non-profit group whose aim is to promote sound U.S. energy security solutions for the nation. Previous interview with Mr. Hofmeister were:
In the current installment, he outlines his ideas for what would constitute a sound plan of attack on climate change.
Global Warming Debate is Settled — With a Twist
I began by asking Mr. Hofmeister whether he agreed that the debate on global warming is over. He responded that he is not a scientist or climatologist, but said that once a critical mass of public officials has determined that something is a problem, then the debate is effectively settled. He also agrees that humans create significant waste, and that if this waste is cleaned up, that would address the climate change issue:
A report written by the British arm of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace titled “Dirtier than Coal” criticizes their government’s plan to burn trees to make electricity. In my opinion, these two organizations seem to get things right about as often as they get things wrong, so you would be just as well off flipping a coin.
For me, this is largely an academic exercise. As a species, I suspect that we are incapable of overriding our instinctive drives for self-promotion, subconscious biases, and propensities for self-deception to the point of tackling a problem of this magnitude — global warming. We will always find ways to rationalize what we do and think, especially if doing so brings home the bacon.
In this case they got one thing right (IMHO) by calling for the withdrawal of public subsidies for making electricity by burning imported trees (roundwood and sawlogs). Their report is based on input from Tim Searchinger who was asked to review the studies done by the British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
With sustainability and clean energy both hot topics nearing the end of the presidential campaign, pollsters are hitting up citizens from around the United States in order to see where the general population stands on those subjects and their relation to climate change.
The results show that Americans overwhelmingly support political efforts to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases, with most agreeing that climate change is an important issue that needs immediate attention.