Environment Forum

Stern, in center of climate pessimism, hopeful about U.S.

Nicholas Stern, the British economist who warned five years ago that global warming could cost the world’s GDP as much as 20 percent a year by 2050, hasn’t given up on the United States  taking action on climate even though he’s down on Washington for not passing a bill that would do just that.

“If you look around the world, of all places to sit and wonder where (climate policy is) going, this is probably the most pessimistic place — this city,” he told a small gathering of reporters at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. late this week.

But all one has to do is travel out of the U.S. capital to see enormous potential for taking action, he said. Stern is optimistic about U.S. companies in Silicon Valley and Boston and other places developing low-carbon technologies such as batteries for electric cars, or new biofuels that aren’t made out of food crops.

“There are so many technological ideas on the table that you don’t need all of them to work, just some,” he said.

 He also takes heart in state level mandates for renewable energy and the reelection of Jerry Brown, the pro-solar governor of California, who wants to set the bar even higher for renewable energy.

The roof is on fire

FRANCE/Much has been written about how solar power could help to
solve the energy crisis facing mankind. Ideas range from
harnessing the Sahara’s heat through parabolic mirrors to
transmitting solar energy from space to earth.

The Desertec solar project, for example, aims to supply 15
percent of Europe’s energy needs by 2050. Yet according to
Brussels-based EPIA, the world’s biggest solar industry
association, more could be achieved some 30 years earlier.

Technically, Europe’s roofs could meet 40 percent of the
EU’s electricity demand in ten years from now — at least in
theory.

Deepwater drilling is inappropriate, period

AUSTRALIA

Jean-Michel Cousteau is an environmentalist, documentary producer, president of Ocean Futures Society and the son of ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He has produced over 70 films, including the documentary series Ocean Adventures in 2006. Any views expressed here are his own. –

In the midst of desperate attempts to stem the flow of oil and the agony of waiting to understand its effects, we are left with simple questions like what exactly is happening to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico? And how quickly can we move from dependence on oil to a sustainable, renewable energy policy?

Absolutely no one knows the damage being done throughout the mile-deep water column. Crude oil and gas are gushing out at a few thousand pounds per square inch of pressure.

California looks to catch a wave, of energy

surferBesides surfing, tourism and the ocean views, California may get another benefit from its famed coast: energy.

With shores that stretch for 745 miles along the Pacific Ocean, California could harness more than 37,000 megawatts of ocean power, or enough to supply a fifth of the state’s energy needs, according to the California Energy Commission.

On Friday, California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co, or PG&E, took a dive in that direction. The company said it signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to study a wave energy project near a base and off the coast of northern Santa Barbara County. The utility is also seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

Are U.S. solar jobs here to stay? Senators fight for a yes.

A trio of U.S. senators this week introduced a bill to spur solar manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Through additional tax credits, the legislation aims to encourage more U.S. companies to make solar equipment, creating jobs and building up the country’s clean energy economy.

Many — from politicians and environmentalists to investors –  have pinned great hopes on green jobs. Clean energy could create 850,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States, according to recent research Reuters reported this week.

How much electricity do you use in a year?

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

Obama in fuel efficiency driver’s seat

President Bush is pulling out of the race to set the next round of car fuel efficiency standards before his term in office ends. That means President-to-be Obama will decide how fast Detroit should be pushed toward a car and light-truck standard of at least 35 mpg. That’s the goal set by Congress for 2020, but the president gets to decide how fast to move in the phased implementation.

With Detroit drooping, Bush thinks a little breathing room is needed. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are eager for quick action by Obama. The Transportation Department has until April to finalize the 2011-2015 target.

(Picture: Reuters)

Antarctica warms; scientists say we’re to blame

New research shows that both Antarctica and the Arctic are getting less icy – and the best explanation is mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

But will that convert anyone who doubts that global warming is caused by human activities, led by burning fossil fuels?

The scientists, writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, say that a study of temperature records from Antarctica (there aren’t many of them) shows a slight rising trend over recent decades that can be best explained by a build-up of greenhouse gases led by carbon dioxide.

Is a “green revolution” inevitable?

Denmark’s Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard delivers her speech during the Malaysia-Danish Energy & Environmental Forum in Kuala Lumpur January 25, 2007. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad (MALAYSIA)Is a global ”green revolution” unstoppable, even with an economic slowdown?

That’s what Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard (left) predicts, saying that a huge shift to renewable energies, such as solar and wind power, from fossil fuels will survive flagging economic growth.

She has to puzzle over the outlook since she is set to be host of a U.N. meeting in late 2009 in Copenhagen at which the world is meant to agree a new climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate change, it’s snow joke

snowshow1.JPGIt’s summer at the G8 media centre in Hokkaido. Yet underneath the building are tonnes of snow to keep journalists cool as they write about global warming.

Japan budgeted $283 million for security at the summit and $30 million to build a temporary, low-emissions media centre far from where the G8 leaders are meeting in a luxury hotel.

The centre took five months to construct next to a ski resort and the company that built it says 95 percent of the materials will be recycled or reused once the building is torn down in the weeks after the G8 meeting.

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