Tales from the Trail

from 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.

from Environment Forum:

Could “putting the cow inside the plant” make a new biofuel?

SWITZERLAND/The Next Big Thing in biofuel might involve genetically engineered plants that digest themselves, making it cheaper to turn them into fuel. That's one of the new ideas that Arun Majumdar finds fascinating. As the head of the U.S. Energy Department's ARPA-E -- the path-breaking agency that aims come up with efficient, green energy solutions -- Majumdar said this concept is one of a few dozen that are in the development stage now.

Majumdar let his enthusiasm show as he described this project at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit on Thursday. He was talking about a project in its early stages at Massachusetts-based Agrivida.

"If you look at biofuels, cellulosic biofuels  ...  you take agricultural waste, you separate out ... the cellulose, then you throw a bunch of enzymes at them. And these enzymes are there in the cow's gut, or termites, that break down this long chain polymer, this cellulose, into small bits and pieces called sugar molecules. And then you take those sugar molecules and feed them into another bug and then you produce gasoline," he said.

Amidst the shivering in Washington, the case for global warming

WEATHER/OK, it’s cold in Washington. It’s really cold. And snowy. And blizzardy. It’s hard to recall that long-ago moment — what was it, six days ago? — when you could go for a walk without cross-country skis and a flask of brandy. But just because it’s winter doesn’t mean global warming is a myth.

But the storms gave conservatives fresh fodder for mocking former Vice President Al Gore and his efforts on global climate change.  Senator Jim DeMint tweeted “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’,” Politico reported.

For decades, scientists have struggled to explain the difference between weather, which changes in the short term, and climate, which changes over the long term. There’s a good explanation at the new government Climate Service Web site called “Short term cooling on a warming planet.” The new site went up this week, between blizzards, and is supposed to guide consumers and businesses so they can adapt to climate change. The Climate Service itself is expected to be up and running by the start of the next U.S. fiscal year that begins on October 1.

Bomb plot thrusts Obama into political storm

President Barack Obama is weathering a political storm over last month’s suspected al Qaeda plot to bomb a Detroit-bound plane, particularly from Republicans who say he dropped the ball on security while pursuing healthcare and climate reforms. But how much substance there is behind the allegations may depend on who’s talking.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told NBC’s Today show that he believes Obama just woke up to the gravity of the al Qaeda threat. SECURITY-AIRLINE/OBAMA

“A lot of us have been concerned over the last year that the president did seem to downplay the threat of terror. He doesn’t use the word anymore. He hesitates to say that there is a war on terror,” DeMint said.

Energy Secretary proud to be a “Nerd” on The Daily Show

Following the launch of his Facebook and Youtube accounts, Energy Secretary Steven Chu made another attempt to reach the young, hip, in-crowd Tuesday night by appearing on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Chu,  a Nobel Prize winning scientist and self-described nerd, began his appearance by  offering a t-shirt to the show’s host comedian Jon Stewart, proclaiming him an honorary member of the “Nerds of America Society.”

“You know I have been an unofficial member for years,” Stewart quipped in response.