September 26, 2011

Choosing Clean Energy or Disaster Relief?

This year just set the record for most Federal Emergency Management Agency declared disasters. And we’ve still got 3 months to go.

So of course Congress wants to make us chose between continued funding for clean energy or disaster relief. 

But subsidies for the oil industry - still sacrosanct. 

September 24, 2011

The Generosity Experiment

Sasha Dicther from the Acumen Fund gives a tremendous talk about his generosity experiment. An experiment to find out what would happen if he choose to say yes when people asked us for help. 

Excellent insights as well regarding the nature of philanthropy and socially motivated "impact" investing. 

September 19, 2011

Siemens Announces - No More Nukes

Peter Löscher, chief executive of Siemens, told Der Spiegel that the company will no longer build nuclear plants and will instead focus on renewable energy. "Germany's shift towards renewable energies is the project of the century," Löscher said. 

Siemens decision also comes after an arbitration tribunal in May ordered the German company to pay €648 million to France's Areva after it failed to meet contractual obligations in a nuclear joint venture with Areva.

Toshiba made a similar announcement last May. Toshiba announced it expects the switch to renewables will improve its operating profit two times over, rising from 240.3 billion yen in March this year to 500 billion yen by March 2014.

When companies like Toshiba and Siemens who have invested billions in nuclear technology announce they no longer believe that nuclear is commercially viable, that is an important message. When they both announce that they expect to substantially improve their bottom lines by investing in renewable energy, that is also an important message. 

The levelized cost of electricity from nuclear has been rising for decades, the levelized cost of electricity from solar and wind has been falling for decades. We are now at the point where new wind and solar installations can generate electricity for lower costs than new nuclear plants and even new coal plants. 

September 17, 2011

Environmental News Summary

US Army announces plans to build 2 MW of solar energy systems on its land. 

VA court says insurance companies don't have to pay for global warming claims. The insurance policy in question requires the insurance company to defend claims "...caused by an occurrence or an accident." The judge ruled that global warming is not an accident. 

President Obama's decision to abandon new air pollution standards for ozone angered health advocates and environmentalists. 
The EPA also confirmed this week that it would not meet a Sept. 30 deadline for issuing rules governing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major sources. 
In a related move, the administration delayed the release of a health assessment on TCE more than 10 years in the making. 

BP Shortcuts led to Deepwater Gulf Oil Disaster 

NYC announces bike share program with 600 stations and 10,000 bikes

Henry Waxman, the ranking Democratic member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has introduced a searchable online database on the 125 anti-environment votes taken so far by the 112th Congress. Waxman claims that the House is the most anti-environment house in History.

Solar is the "Fastest Growing Industry in America" and made record cost reductions in 2010.

Candidates must deal with facts, not wishes - Kerry Emanuel op-ed (Lexington Resident) 

Scientists have determined  that the Great Oyster Crash of 2007 was directly linked to ocean acidification. "The oceans are the world's great carbon sink, holding about 50 times as much of the element as the air."  As carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels rise, so too does the level of acidity in the oceans.  Once it reaches a certain threshold, ocean acidification becomes lethal to many species, including clams and oysters, which become unable to build the shells or skeletons they need to survive. The threat of ocean acidification spreads far beyond the oyster industry and carries potentially catastrophic implications for the entire food chain. Basically any fish that might find its way onto your dinner plate relies on krill, plankton, snails or other shelled creatures stand to be hit earliest and hardest by acidification.

"No containment" of Texas wildfire - CBS News
The Texas Forest Service said - "No one on the face of this earth has ever fought fires is these extreme conditions." 

The companies with the sharpest focus on climate change have rewarded their investors with double the average return on investment of the world's corporate titans.

On Thursday, September 8, Ft. Belvoir, VA received an astounding 7.03" of rain in three hours and a stunning 13.52" since Monday. According to the National Weather Service, that amount of rain in that amount of time was "off the charts above a 1000-year rainfall."

US coal companies have pumped $1.5 million into House Speaker John Boehner's political operation this year accounting for more than 10% of the $12.5 million he collected in 1H 2011.

University of Bremen physicists reported that Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent measured since satellite observations began three decades ago. ttp://

Coral reefs 'will be gone by end of the century', the first ecosystem that human activity will eliminate entirely from the Earth, a leading United Nations scientist claims. 

Three agricultural societies recently published a position statement on climate change.  "A comprehensive body of scientific evidence indicates beyond reasonable doubt that global climate change is now occurring and that its manifestations threaten the stability of societies as well as natural and managed ecosystems."
"The potential related impacts of climate change on the ability of agricultural systems, which include soil and water resources, to provide food, feed, fiber, and fuel, and maintenance of ecosystem services … as well as the integrity of the environment, are major concerns."

The Empire State Building in New York City has been awarded LEED Gold certification following a two-year retrofit that is expected to cut energy use in the landmark building by 38 percent by 2013.

The TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401) is an assault on our clean air that would indefinitely delay the clean-up of dangerous power plant air pollution. It puts a year's delay on instituting Cross-State Air Pollution Regulations and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants while for the first time allowing for their indefinite delay. The information above comes from the Mom's Clean Air Force. 
Click here to write your representative.

Climate news from this weekend

Lou Holtz - "I'm so old the birthday candles on my birthday cake cost more than the cake and I've never seen so many football games canceled for weather in my whole career as were canceled in just this last weekend."

A wildfire in parched Texas destroyed nearly 500 homes

A tornado hits upstate NY town of Amsterdam

Tropical Storm Lee saturates Louisiana 

Death toll from typhoon in Japan rises to 34

The Munich Re (a global insurance company) Annual report says the annual frequency of weather and hydrological catastrophes has risen globally from under 400 in 1980 to over 900 annually. Last year saw 960 such events in the year and they are expecting a similar number for 2011.

Rebuilding with the new reality in mind

I found this article to be very interesting. 
The idea is to ask our town and state to make plans now for the new climate reality – so that when we do routine maintenance or emergency maintenance on our infrastructure, we are preparing ourselves for the new climate reality.

We no longer live in the same world we grew up in – and the engineering rules of thumb that worked when we were kids are no longer adequate.

Surviving My Own Predictions: A Vermont Climate Scientist Faces Hurricane Irene

By Dr. Elizabeth R. Sawin
31 August 2011
My daughter, Jenna, will miss her first day of high school on Wednesday. Woodstock, Vermont, where her school lies, is essentially shut down by flooding. The covered bridge in Quechee I drove across just last week is ruined, and the store where I bought hurricane provisions is just now emerging from flood waters. Across the state, 13 towns are stranded, 250 roads are impassable and more than 30 bridges are closed.
Okay, Irene was no Katrina. My family is fine. But, as a builder of climate simulations that connect burning fossil fuels to destruction like Irene's, my 'day job' in the 'real world' and my home-life in a beautiful corner of Vermont finally collided.
What now, Vermont? What now, World?
Around Vermont today, people are still tallying up the damage, getting water to the thirsty, offering shelter to the newly homeless, and clearing debris from all over. Those spared personal loss are pitching in where we can, volunteering our time, and donating provisions.
Attending to these immediate needs is critical, and a measure of our worth as neighbors, but responding to Hurricane Irene won't be over soon. We face a long and expensive recovery, and, with budgets already tight, our communities face tough decisions.
How to make good decisions, under pressure of time and in the face of loss, suffering and immediate need? There is no perfect formula, of course, but from my community of systems scientists and modelers a few key messages emerge:
Re-build with a transition to clean energy in mind. If a section of power line needs to be rebuilt, prepare for the smart-grid that can transmit clean energy from wind and solar. If a bridge needs to be replaced, rebuild it with a bicycle lane. If new cable needs to be laid, make sure that it equips remote homes and businesses for the interconnectivity of the digital age.
Irene didn't hit us at a time of business as usual. It arrived at the start of a massive global transition towards an efficient, low-carbon, smart economy. If we can hold onto to the vision of that clean energy future then the necessary work of rebuilding could propel Vermont forward to help lead that transition.
Rebuild with future disruption in mind. Like it or not, Vermont is caught up in the same global changes that are contributing to droughts in Africa and the American Southwest, the same forces that spawned last year's forest fires in Russia and flooding in Pakistan. With more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Vermont, like the rest of the planet, will see more extreme weather, including more intense precipitation. We should rebuild our infrastructure with this in mind, knowing that the same streams and rivers that caused such disruption a few days ago likely will not be as quiet for the next hundred years as they have been for the last hundred.
Keep the decision making process open. The best decisions for the long-term will solicit the highest levels of democratic participation possible. Vermont's long tradition of Town Meeting will serve us well in this regard. The voices of the least powerful among us may have the most wisdom when it comes to getting by on less, fixing what is broken, and taking care of one another.
Make the links, from dirty energy to devastated communities. Those people most affected by the current crisis have directly experienced some of what the future may hold for more and more of us if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise. Though climate scientists will say, correctly, that no single event is the result of climate change, we also know that '1- in 100-year' events are becoming more common. By sharing our experiences and linking them to the wider systemic driver – fossil fuel emissions – we can help explain the true costs of fossil energy (including paying for the costs of climate-change-related disaster relief) and help ensure that even worse disruption doesn't plague future generations.
So, what now Vermont?
We'll pick up the pieces, that's for sure.
But we have the chance to go further than that. We can connect the dots between events we just lived through and global rise in greenhouse gases concentrations, and we can work together with others around the world to help phase out the pollution that makes future Irenes ever more likely. And, as we rebuild, we can make Vermont a stronger, smarter place, powered by clean energy and ready for the extremes our already destabilized climate will likely send our way.
 Dr. Elizabeth Sawin. Sawin lives with her husband and two daughters at Cobb Hill Co-housing in Hartland, Vermont. She can be contacted at

The Texas Miracle

Blueprint to a new energy future

Rocky Mountain Institute has released a blueprint for a new energy future. Here are the highlights. 

September 11, 2011

Exxon Bets $3 Billion Climate Change is Real

This just in: Exxon Mobil has made a multi-billion dollar acknowledgement that climate change is real and is happening now.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to admit this, though. Exxon would like you to believe that climate change is neither real nor urgent. That is why they have spent millions of dollars over the last several years funding climate skeptics and fighting legislation that would regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases. When you hear climate skeptics speak, there’s a good chance that Exxon money is in their pocket.
Actions, however, speak louder than words. And Exxon’s most recent action was a thunderclap.According to reports, Exxon has just signed an extensive deal with Rosneft, the Russian state oil company, to develop promising offshore oil and gas deposits in the Arctic Ocean. The companies will begin by investing $3.2 billion to explore in the Kara Sea, with the potential of increasing the investment to $500 billion in the future. Exxon is so convinced of the potential of these sites that it is giving Rosneft ownership rights in several of its global properties to complete the deal.
Large deposits of gas and oil have been known to exist in the Arctic Ocean for decades. So why did they make this deal now? One key thing has changed: the arctic ice is melting rapidly. The Kara Sea has typically been covered by ice floes nine months of the year or more, making commercial development of its resources unprofitable. But for the last several years, the extent and duration of the arctic ice has been diminishing, a phenomenon the vast majority of scientists believe to be caused by climate change. Suddenly, oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Ocean is looking far more attractive. Exxon has realized that a warming planet offers some new opportunities for profit and is adjusting its strategic decisions accordingly.

Two Decades of Spills

Since 1990, more than 110 million gallons of mostly crude and petroleum products have spilled from the nation’s mainland pipeline network. More than half of it occurred in three states — Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana — where more pipelines exist. 

Bill McKibben had these comments. 

Yesterday, the front page of the New York Times carried one of those stories that reminds you why it’s a good thing we have reporters.
Two weeks after a State Department report, speaking in the hermetically sealed tones of bureaucrats, predicted ‘minimal environmental impact’ from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the Times investigation found that in fact pipelines already crisscrossing America are leaking constantly and disastrously, that the federal agency assigned to protect them is so chronically understaffed, and that as a result they’ve left the “too much of the regulatory control in the hands of pipeline operators themselves.”
Not surprisingly, this  “self-regulation” works about as well as fox oversight of the poultry industry. For instance, in Michigan a 35-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River “once teeming with swimmers and boaters, remains closed nearly 14 months after an Enbridge Energy pipeline hemorrhaged 843,000 gallons of oil that will cost more than $500 million to clean up.”
And, “this summer, an Exxon Mobil pipeline carrying oil across Montana burst suddenly, soiling the swollen Yellowstone River with an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude just weeks after a company inspection and federal review had found nothing seriously wrong.”
These are the kind of concerns that caused the Republican governor and senator from Nebraska to last week demand that the White House refuse a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will cross, among other features, the Sand Hills of the Cornhusker State, not to mention the Oglalla Aquifer.  And the pipeline will carry oil that’s actually hardly oil at all—in the words of the Times story,  what comes from the tar sands of Alberta is “a gritty mixture that includes bitumen, a crude drawn from Canadian oil sands that environmentalists argue is more corrosive and difficult to clean when spilled.”
The tarsands are a mess at their origin, where an area the size of European nations has been wantonly trashed to get at the oil, wrecking indigenous cultures and lives. They’re a mess at the end, when refineries will turn them into gasoline that, when burnt, carry enough carbon to, in the words of NASA’s James Hansen, mean “game over” for the climate.
But the Times story also makes painfully clear that they’re a mess in the middle. The good news is President Obama can stop them all by himself. We’ll find out before the year is out whether he listens more to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (an enthusiastic backer of the pipeline), or the front page of the New York Times. Whether, that is, he listens to money or to science.