Environment Forum

Chevron CEO sees smoke and mirrors in cap and trade

“If you liked credit derivatives swaps, you’re going to love cap-and-trade.”

One can presume that Chevron Chief Executive David O’Reilly is not a fan of the current deep worldwide recession — which was worsened by a credit-market lockup blamed in part on hard-to-value securities.

And, he made it very clear on Thursday that he is not enamored of the system the Obama administration hopes to use to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, which are produced through the burning of fossil fuels sold by the No. 2 U.S. oil and gas company.

“It’s smoke and mirrors,” O’Reilly told a Boston business group. “Personally, I think it’s going to be a difficult system. I don’t think the American people trust it.”

A proposal working its way through the U.S. Congress would put in a place a cap-and-trade system that would give individual U.S. companies the right to emit certain quantities of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global climate change. Companies whose emissions are below their allotment could sell their extra rights to other companies.

A bad week for U.S. coal projects

It was a bad week to be planning a coal-fired power plant in the United States.

The industry suffered its second blow of the week on Friday with the cancellation of a plant in Michigan. The move by power plant developer LS Power marks the ninth such plant to be dropped in the United States so far this year, according to a count by environmental group the Sierra Club.

The company blamed regulatory uncertainty and the weak economy for the cancellation, which environmentalists cheered because coal-fired power plants are responsible for more than 30 percent of the United States’ global warming emissions.

The Michigan plant cancellation wasn’t the first blow to coal this week, either. On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency withdrew a permit for a massive coal-fired plant in New Mexico that would have been built on an Indian reservation.

Obama says greenhouse gases are hurting us — now what?

The Obama administration’s move to declare climate-warming carbon pollution a danger to human health was quickly hailed by environmental groups and leading liberals as a long-overdue shift from the Bush era and a historic first step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In making the announcement, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said that solving the problem would not only clean up the air but also “create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”

She says the way to do it is for Congress to pass comprehensive climate change legislation while at the same time averting a “regulatory thicket” that unduly burdens governments and businesses.

Is geoengineering the climate a policy option?

The current issue of the American magazine Foreign Affairs has a thought-provoking piece that asks if the geoengineering option shouldn’t be used as a last resort in the battle against climate change. You can see the introduction to the article here (but will need to be a registered user to read all of it online).

 Climate geoengineering is a thinly explored branch of science which to date has seen little in the way of peer-reviewed research. Some of its advocates envision global systems which would launch reflective particles into the atmosphere or position sunshades to cool the earth.

Another approach is to dump iron dust into the sea to spur the growth of algae that absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air. When algae die, they fall to the seabed and so remove carbon.

Wall Street Journal of Atmospheric Sciences: Reply to Jenkins

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”; this is a reply to a blog by Holman Jenkins, a Wall Street Journal columnist and member of the WSJ editorial board. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

Mr. Jenkins replies that the clarification of his perplexing column is reiteration of his original sentence “…We don’t really have the slightest idea how an increase in the atmosphere’s component of CO2 is impacting our climate, though the most plausible indication is that the impact is too small to untangle from natural variability…”

He still doesn’t say where his ‘most plausible indication’ comes from except for his reference to some unnamed : “ … many scientists who have pursued empirical results [that] show the human contribution [has] been …maddeningly elusive or indeterminate.”

The Amazon, the Pyramid and the Eiffel Tower

The Amazon rainforest lost trees and plants in a 2005 drought – shedding carbon equivalent to the weight of 140,000 Eiffel Towers or almost 200 Great Pyramids of Giza.

The drought, one of the worst in the past century, revealed the forest’s unexpected vulnerability to shifting rainfall and a huge role in releasing greenhouse gases – compounding problems such as logging and land clearance to create farmland.

The study in today’s edition of the journal Science (see story here) showed that the forest lost the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of Europe and Japan during the drought — that’s five billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, or 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon stored in vegetation. The drought killed off some trees and slowed growth of other vegetation.

China quake leaves CO2 legacy

Last year’s horrendous China earthquake may have big, lingering effects on the atmosphere. Mudslides after the deadly May 12 quake in Sichuan province are likely to trigger a release of carbon dioxide equal to 2 percent of the world’s current carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, geophysicists say.

“Mudslides wipe away plants and topsoil, depleting terrain of nutrients for plant regrowth and burying swaths of vegetation. Buried vegetable matter decomposes and releases carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere,” according to a statement ahead of a report in American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The gases, along with nitrous oxide, another major greenhouse gas, should spew into the atmosphere over a number of decades, according to the report due out on March 4.

Save the planet, and win a T-shirt?

 If you come up with an idea for saving the planet from global warming, you may be the lucky winner of a T-shirt emblazoned with your design.

A group opposed to large-scale intervention in nature to change the climate – such as placing vast mirrors in space to reflect the sun’s rays or fertilising the oceans with iron to promote the growth of algae that soak up greenhouse gases from the air – wants to hear of any zany ideas by April Fool’s Day.

Canada-based ETC Group, which says it works for conservation of ecological diversity and human rights, says the winner of what it calls the “pie-in-the-sky” contest will get a T-shirt and ETC will publish a cartoon of the winning entry on its website.

California climate chief has global warming plan

California looks ready to get the go-ahead to regulate greenhouse gases from cars, after President Obama on Monday told the EPA to reconsider a Bush administration refusal. California’s top climate official, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, last week predicted the okay would be ready to go by May. In the attached video, from the interview last week, she talks about California’s grand plans, which are the most aggressive in the United States.

For Reuters full environment coverage, check our stories here.

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”).

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