December 15, 2010

Fox News boss orders reporters to cast doubt on climate

From:  Sammon, Bill
To:  169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 036 -FOX.WHU; 054 -FNSunday; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers; 069 -Politics; 005 -Washington
Cc:  Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay; Smith, Sean
Sent:  Tue Dec 08 12:49:51 2009
Subject:  Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data…

we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.
This morning, MediaMatters released the bombshell e-mail "sent by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon … less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was 'on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.' "

Well, okay, this would be a bombshell email coming from any other news organization in the world (see Howell Raines: "Why has our profession … helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?")

So maybe the only bombshell is that Sammon was foolish enough to put this egregious Fox News policy into an email.  What follows is an extended excerpt of the MediaMatters story, including a video of the story that triggered the email:

This latest revelation comes after Media Matters uncovered an email sent by Sammon to Fox journalists at the peak of the health care reform debate, ordering them to avoid using the term "public option" and instead use variations of "government option." That email echoed advice from a prominent Republican pollster on how to help turn public opinion against health care reform. 

At the time of Sammon's directive, it was clear the "scandal" did not undermine the scientific basis for global warming and that the emails were being grossly distorted by conservative media and politicians. Scientists, independent fact-checkers, and several investigations have since confirmed that the CRU emails do not undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet. 
Contrary to Sammon's email, the increase in global temperatures over the last half-century is an established fact. As the National Climatic Data Center explains, the warming trend "is apparent in all of the independent methods of calculating global temperature change" and "is also confirmed by other independent observations." 

Climate Science and Climate Deniers

As the Earth's climate continues to change at an accelerating rate, the juggling and magical thinking and outright hypocrisy of climate change deniers continues to accelerate as well. While there are many examples of the remarkable ability of deniers to hold onto mutually contradictory beliefs and ideas, here are four well-worn arguments regularly put forward by deniers in public forums despite the fact that they've all been debunked (over and over and over) by scientists:

Deniers claim that climate models are bad, but they're happy to rely on far less reliable economic models to argue against taking action: One of the classic arguments of climate deniers is that the multitude of climate models is bad. Yet at the very same time, they promote the conclusions of a couple of economic models that say that doing anything about climate change will bankrupt the global economy. In fact, climate models are far superior to economic models. Climate models are far more rigorously tested, far more firmly based in physical reality, and far more unanimous in their projections than the economic models that have been applied to the problem of climate change. Indeed, you can find one set of economic models that says that mitigating greenhouse gases will be relatively cheap and another set that say it will be extremely expensive. You cannot find a state-of-the-art climate model that says the climate won't change with growing greenhouse gas concentrations.

In addition, none of the economic models that look at the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions addresses the other, critical side of the economic argument — the vast and exponentially increasing costs to society of doing nothing. What's the economic cost, for example, of losing California's snowpack or a species of plant or animal? What's the economic cost of a one-month acceleration in the timing of runoff in major rivers in the western U.S.? What's the economic cost of rising sea level or growing heat stress or more intense storms or changing distributions of plants and animals — all impacts that are certainly going to occur? Perhaps we can compute some dollar values for some of these things, but we haven't yet, and so no complete estimates are included in cost comparisons. In other words, climate deniers and those who argue against action say that the cure (reducing emissions) is worse that the disease (the impacts of climate change), when we have contradictory estimates of the costs of the cure and no comprehensive estimate of the costs of the disease.

Government action is anathema; the answer is let the free market work (oh, but we can't have markets for carbon): Some climate deniers argue that climate science is wrong because they're driven by a strict ideology that opposes (rightly or wrongly) growing government regulation, while they simultaneously believe that economic free-market approaches are the only way to handle public policy problems like pollution. This is free-market fundamentalism, and while one might agree or disagree with that philosophy, it has no bearing on the validity of climate science. Yet these same free-market ideologues reject market solutions and strategies to control greenhouse gases, such as carbon markets, trading systems, and classic tax programs that would internalize externalities. Thus we have the odd situation where the Federal government is now being forced to regulate greenhouse gases through the USEPA and potentially awkward governmental mechanisms because climate skeptics and deniers in Congress failed to adopt their own preferred market and economic solutions.

Deniers argue that comprehensive observational data on the world's changing climate are wrong, but then point to cold weather in this or that location to argue that the world cannot be warming: While the public may not fully understand the difference between climate and weather, or understand how the world could be warming while it's cold outside, most well-known climate deniers fully understand these distinctions — they just choose to ignore them in order to make false arguments to and score points with the public and gullible policymakers. Cherry-picking selected data that supports a particular point (i.e., it's cold today), while hiding or ignoring more data that points in exactly the opposite direction (i.e., global average temperatures are rising), is bad science and it leads to bad policy. Just last week Glenn Beck pointed to a snowstorm in Minneapolis as proof that global warming isn't happening. He knows better, but his audience may not.
Another example was the effort by the Bush Administration to argue that they were taking action on climate change and that the US was doing more and better than European countries, when in fact, the White House cherry-picked the data that showed their position in the most favorable light. All the data, analyzed together, showed exactly the opposite conclusion.

Oh, and by the way, it looks like 2010 will be, globally, one of the warmest years on record, after a long series of increasingly hot years. And the entire decade from 2001-2010 is undoubtedly the warmest 10-year period since the beginning of comprehensive weather records in 1850.

Deniers seize on a few minor mistakes in the IPCC report to claim its overall conclusions are invalid; but then use massively flawed scientific arguments to dispute real climate science: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a series of reports over the past decade or more, thousands of pages in length, summarizing the scientific understanding from tens of thousands of peer-reviewed reports. It is not new science; it is a comprehensive and clear summary of the science. A few minor errors have been made (and corrected), but none of these affect the conclusions, despite the fact that they've been seized upon by climate deniers as evidence that the whole thing is wrong. Yet climate deniers use deeply flawed scientific arguments that have been debunked over and over or have little or no basis in reality. This is a double standard: it is incumbent upon scientists to produce their best work, to acknowledge mistakes, and to correct them. It is time to hold climate deniers to the same standard, rather than letting them repeat long debunked falsehoods.

San Fran aiming for 100% renewable energy

Outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) launched an initiative that he says will result in 100 percent renewables to meet this city's power demand within a decade.

Newsom, who becomes lieutenant governor of California next month, announced the program during a speech commemorating the completion of the Sunset Reservoir Solar Project, which at 5 megawatts is the largest municipal solar facility in the state.
The project was completed last week and covers an area said to be the size of 12 football fields. The plant, owned and operated by Recurrent Energy, triples the amount of solar energy available to the city government here.
But Newsom is looking for much more. At the ceremony, he announced a $250,000 grant from the Sidney Frank Foundation that will assess how to meet the city's 950-megawatt peak power demand with nothing but renewables by 2020.
Officials admit the city has a long way to go to reach that target. In addition to the 5-MW solar project, the city can claim about 10 MW of distributed solar and 3.5 MW of biogas, leaving more than 900 MW subject to the generation portfolio of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power system, which supplies water and electricity to the city from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park.
Because the Hetch Hetchy system powers the entirety of the city's municipal power needs, that means about a fifth of electricity demand here is already met with renewable, carbon-free energy -- assuming you consider large hydropower renewable.

Court Rejects Industry Challenge to Limits on Smokestack CO2

A decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit means that, come January, for the first time, many new or upgraded factories, power plants or other facilities will have to get a permit under the Clean Air Act to emit carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases. 

All the balls that are in motion towards regulation will now stay in motion. First, the endangerment finding, which is the foundation for all the regulation, is intact. That means that the vehicle rules finalized in March 2010 setting mileage and emissions standards for model-year 2012, which are the first ever to address GHGs [greenhouse gases], will go into effect in January.
Under EPA's interpretation, GHGs become "subject to regulation" on January 2, 2011, which is when the vehicle rules become operational. Once GHGs are subject to regulation, new stationary sources (i.e. smokestacks) that emit more than certain thresholds of GHGs will require permitting that mandates the "best available control technology" for GHGs. 
Initially, in January, under EPA's "tailoring rule" only sources that emit more than 75,000 tons of  CO2e will require permitting but only if they also require permitting for conventional pollutants as well. Then in July 2011, any facility that emits more than 100,000 tons of CO2e will require permitting even if they do not require a permit for conventional pollutants. EPA has not stated if or when they are going to lower the thresholds to smaller sources. 

Cloud Computing - reduces CO2 emissions

The rapid growth of cloud computing could reduce energy usage in the global information technology industry by 38 percent by 2020, according to a new report. Cloud computing refers to Internet-based computing in which data and applications are shared between computers on demand, rather than hosted on a separate server.

According to Colorado-based Pike Research, much of the computing currently done by businesses with internal data centers will be outsourced to more efficient cloud data services within a decade. That investment will yield "industry-leading rates of efficiency" and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report. 

"Simply put, clouds are better utilized and less expensive to operate than traditional data centers," the report says. 

Blankenship resigns

Don Blankenship, the chairman and CEO of America's most notorious coal company, unexpectedly announced his retirement this week. 

Blankenship ran Massey with an iron fist and a stunning disregard for the safety of its workers or the environmental effects of its mining practices. Last year alone, Massey had more than 500 safety violations and nearly $1 million in fines, and last April's explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine alone (29 men killed) was America's worst mining tragedy in 40 years. 

The company has been a leading proponent of mountaintop-removal mining for years and, between 2000 and 2007, violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times. Its record number of safety violations has resulted in another, tragic record: In the past decade, 54 Massey workers have lost their lives -- more than at any other American coal company. 

Rating the Leaf & Volt

The EPA has determined that the Nissan Leaf gets 99 mpg, which is really interesting since the Leaf doesn't have a gas engine. 

The EPA has also determined that the Chevy Volt gets 93 mpg in all electric mode.  The stickers for both cars are included below. 

You could argue that the mpg rating for an electric vehicle must be either zero or infinite, but a better comparison would be miles per dollar or dollars per mile. So let's compare the Volt and Leaf with a gas powered car.

Here's the math for a dollars and cents comparison:

Nissan Leaf - 34 kWh per 100 miles or 4,080 kWh for 12,000 miles. At $0.16 per kWh that works out to $653 a year or $0.0544 / mile. 

Chevy Volt - 36 kWh per 100 miles (all electric) or 4,320 for 12,000 miles. That works out to $691 a year or $0.0576 / mile. 
If you assume half your miles are powered by plugging in and half from filling up - the numbers work out like this. 
6000 miles / 37 mpg = 162 gallons x $3 a gallon = $486 for gas + $345 for electricity = $832 a year or $0.0693 / mile.

A 24 mpg gas car would use 500 gallons a year at $3 a gallon which equals $1,500 a year or $0.125 / mile. 
That's 2.3x the cost per mile of a Leaf and 1.8x the cost per mile of a Volt.  

So a Leaf will save you $847 a year and the Volt will save you $668 a year in operating expenses. 

Here's the math for CO2 emissions. 

The EPA sticker also claims that the Nissan Leaf produces 0 pounds of CO2 which will be true for those of us who get their electricity from renewable sources like rooftop solar panels or NSTAR Green. 

Here's the math if you get your conventionally generated electricity from NSTAR. 

Conventional electricity in Massachusetts generates 1.28 pounds of CO2 emissions per kWh. 
Gasoline generates 19.56 pounds of CO2 emissions per gallon. 

A conventional electricity powered Nissan Leaf will generate 4,080 kWh x 1.28 pounds of CO2 per kWh = 5,222 pounds of CO2. 
A Chevy Volt will generate 2,160 kWh x 1.28 pounds of CO2 per kWh + 162 gallons x 19.56 pounds of CO2 per gallon = 5,933 pounds of CO2. 

A gas powered car will generate 500 gallons x 19.56 pounds per gallon = 9,780 pounds of CO2  or 1.87 times more than a Leaf or 1.65 times more than a Volt. 

If you read the fine print you may be surprised to learn that the EPA assumes that Nissan Leaf will be paying $0.12 per kWh, but that the Chevy Volt will be paying $0.11 per kWh. It's been a long time since anyone in Lexington paid 11 or 12 cents a kWh for their electricity. 

Coral Reefs - The end is in sight

I've been an avid scuba diver since 1987. I learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef and have had the great privilege to dive the same reefs numerous times in Hawaii, the Caribbean and the Great Barrier Reef over the last 23 years. 

The changes that I have observed in just the last 23 years have been astonishing. I've seen coral reefs dying before my own eyes. 

This isn't an isolated instance. All the reefs where I've dived, whether in Australia, Hawaii or the Caribbean are becoming bleached and lifeless. Where before there was miraculous beauty beyond words. I was diving in the Grand Caymans a little less than a year ago and I came home from our family vacation - mourning. The devastation of these once beautiful reefs, is now beyond words in another way. 

Here are some thoughts from someone who has spent his life studying coral reefs. 

"Unless we change the way we live, the Earth's coral reefs will be utterly destroyed within our children's lifetimes. Reefs are the ocean's canaries and we must hear their call. This call is not just for themselves, for the other great ecosystems of the ocean stand behind reefs like a row of dominoes. If coral reefs fail, the rest will follow in rapid succession, and the Sixth Mass Extinction will be upon us — and will be of our making." - J.E.N. Vernon

Veron is the former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.  He is principal author of 8 monographs and more than 70 scientific articles on the taxonomy, systematics, biogeography, and the fossil record of corals.  His books include the three-volume Corals of the World and A Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End (2008).  His research has taken him to all the major coral reef regions of the world during 66 expeditions.

When reefs have disappeared after previous mass extinctions it has taken millions of years for them to reappear. There is no technology that can recreate a reef after it is gone. 

EPA Turns 40

Lisa Jackson's essay on the agency's 40th birthday. 

Last month's elections were not a vote for dirtier air or more pollution in our water. No one was sent to Congress with a mandate to increase health threats to our children or return us to the era before the EPA's existence when, for example, nearly every meal in America contained elements of pesticides linked to nerve damage, cancer and sometimes death. In Los Angeles, smog-thick air was a daily fact of life, while in New York 21,000 tons of toxic waste awaited discovery beneath the small community of Love Canal. Six months before the EPA's creation, flames erupted from pollution coating the surface of Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, nearly reaching high enough to destroy two rail bridges.

These are issues that are above politics. The last 40 years have seen hard-won advances supported by both sides of the aisle, and today the EPA plays an essential role in our everyday lives. When you turn on the shower or make a cup of coffee, the water you use is protected from industrial pollution and untreated sewage. In fact, drinking water in Cleveland was recently shown to be cleaner than a premium brand of bottled water. You can drive your car or catch a bus without breathing dangerous lead pollution. At lunch, would you prefer your food with more, or less, protection from pesticides?

The most common arguments against these protections are economic, especially as we continue to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Fortunately, the last 40 years show no evidence that environmental protection hinders economic growth. Neither the recent crisis nor any other period of economic turmoil was caused by environmental protection. In fact, a clean environment strengthens our economy.
Special interests have spent millions of dollars making the case that we must choose the economy or the environment, attacking everything from removing lead in gasoline to cleaning up acid rain. They have consistently exaggerated the cost and scope of EPA actions, and in 40 years their predictions have not come true.

We have seen GDP grow by 207% since 1970, and America remains the proud home of storied companies that continue to create opportunities. Instead of cutting productivity, we've cut pollution while the number of American cars, buildings and power plants has increased. Alleged "job-killing" regulations have, according to the Commerce Department, sparked a homegrown environmental protection industry that employs more than 1.5 million Americans.

Even in these challenging times, the EPA has been part of the solution, using Recovery Act investments in water infrastructure, clean-diesel innovation and other projects to create jobs and prepare communities for more growth in the years ahead.
The EPA's efforts thrive on American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Holding polluters accountable sparks innovations like the Engelhard Corporation's catalytic converter, which pioneered the reduction of toxic emissions from internal combustion engines, and DuPont's replacements for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which protected the ozone layer while turning a profit for the company. One executive told me that the EPA's recent standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars will help create hundreds of jobs in a state where his company operates—a state whose U.S. senators have both opposed the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

These attacks are aimed at the EPA, but their impacts are felt by all Americans. Pollutants like mercury, smog and soot are neurotoxins and killers that cause developmental problems and asthma in kids, and heart attacks in adults. We will not strengthen our economy by exposing our communities and our workers to more pollution.
In these politically charged times, we urge Congress and the American people to focus on results from common-sense policies, not inaccurate doomsday speculations. That is how we can confront our nation's economic and environmental challenges and lay a foundation for the next 40 years and beyond.

Lakes show rapid warming

A new NASA study shows that lakes are warming rapidly, especially in mid and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. 

In Europe temperature data drawn from satellite measurements taken from 1985 to 2009 show a rate of warming as high as 1.72 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. In North America the warming rate was more than 1 degree Fahrenheit per decade. 

Surface temperatures were extracted from nighttime thermal infrared imagery of 167 large inland water bodies distributed worldwide beginning in 1985 for the months July through September and January through March. Results indicate that the mean nighttime surface water temperature has been rapidly warming for the period 1985–2009 with an average rate of 0.045 ± 0.011°C yr−1 and rates as high as 0.10 ± 0.01°C yr−1. Worldwide the data show far greater warming in the mid- and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere than in low latitudes and the southern hemisphere. The analysis provides a new independent data source for assessing the impact of climate change throughout the world and indicates that water bodies in some regions warm faster than regional air temperature. 

Salazar announces oil drilling moratorium

Based on lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Department has raised the bar in the drilling and production stages for equipment, safety, environmental safeguards, and oversight. In order to focus on implementing these reforms efficiently and effectively, critical agency resources will be focused on planning areas that currently have leases for potential future development. As a result, the area in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that remains under a congressional moratorium, and the Mid and South Atlantic planning areas are no longer under consideration for potential development through 2017. The Western Gulf of Mexico, Central Gulf of Mexico, the Cook Inlet, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic will continue to be considered for potential leasing before 2017.

The Obama administration is rescinding its decision to expand offshore oil exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast because of weaknesses in federal regulation revealed by the BP oil spill, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced on Wednesday.
Mr. Salazar said that drilling would remain under a moratorium for those areas for at least seven years, until stronger safety and environmental standards were in place.
Drilling will continue in the central and western Gulf of Mexico, although under a set of new safeguards put in place after the deadly BP explosion and oil spill in April. Future gulf leases will be subject to further environmental and safety studies, he said.

December 1, 2010

The Story of Electronics

US Energy R&D Spending

The United States lags behind other industrialized countries in public support for energy research and risks being overtaken in the development of new energy technologies if added support is not forthcoming.

November 30, 2010

A Sputnik Moment in Clean Energy

"When it comes to innovation, Americans don’t take a back seat to anyone – and we certainly won’t start now. From wind power to nuclear reactors to high speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead.

Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it’s time for America to do what we do best: innovate. As President Obama has said, we should not, cannot, and will not play for second place."

That’s Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in speech Monday on how China’s bid for world leadership in clean energy should be our “Sputnik moment.”

November 24, 2010

Solar Furnace Melts Anything

In this clip from BBC One’s “Bang Goes the Theory,” a high-performance solar furnace focuses normal sunshine into a heat-ray that reaches 3,500C, hot enough to melt rocks.

Salazar promotes Wind Power

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a broad-based initiative aimed at accelerating the development of offshore wind power projects on the Outer Continental Shelf along the nation's Atlantic coast.
The initiative is intended to shave years off an uncertain permitting process that developers say can drag on for the better part of a decade, discouraging potential investors.
The announcement comes a day after state regulators in Massachusetts approved a plan by National Grid, a regional utility, to buy part of the power to be generated by the Cape Wind offshore wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound. That project has been hampered by legal wrangling, federal reviews and other roadblocks for nearly a decade.
The Interior Department finalized a lease with developers of Cape Wind last month.
"The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America's renewable energy future," Mr. Salazar said in a statement. "But to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation's vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough and unburdened by needless red tape."
The new program, called the "Smart From the Start" wind energy initiative, is modeled after a similar scheme meant to accelerate the adoption of solar power in the West, Mr. Salazar said.

National heat records

National heat records set in 2010
The year 2010 now has the most national extreme heat records for a single year--nineteen. 

National cold records set in 2010
No nations set records for their coldest temperature in history in 2010.

November 22, 2010

Coal Powered Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook. His Facebook profile doesn’t list his relationship status, but if it did, it might say “in a relationship with Coal”.

Everyone has had a friend in a destructive relationship — a relationship that you just know is going to hurt your friend in the long run, and which also hurts others around him. Mark Zuckerberg and his company certainly have an electric relationship with coal power, but we can see that it just isn’t sustainable.

The affair began in January, when Zuckerberg announced that he would build a data center in Prineville, Oregon, choosing coal to power it. Then he announced that he would double the size of the storage facility, also doubling his dependence on coal despite its well earned dirty reputation.

It was Zuckerberg’s decision to take the plunge with coal, rather than weigh other attractive options like wind or solar, that drove us to begin an intervention. In a letter to Zuckerberg on September 1st, Greenpeace’s Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, expressed his concern:

No global business leader, particularly not one who reaches so many people daily, could deny that in this time it is both a threat to a company’s reputation and financial health risk to ignore their company’s environmental impacts.
Half-a-million Facebook friends also tried to steer Zuckerberg in a healthier direction, suggesting he seek some renewable energy and look for places that have an abundance of fresh, sustainable options. Coal may be a cheap date right now, but over time it will pose a financial risk to his company and create a terrible environment for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, Facebook’s response indicates that Zuckerberg is still afraid of commitment.

We want to see Facebook thrive. And we want to make sure that the rest of us don’t suffer from the company’s bad choices. This video is another attempt to help Facebook face reality: coal is going to cause us all pain. It’s time to end the relationship.

If you want Facebook to have a healthy, sustainable relationship with renewable energy, pass the video around to others. With your help, we can get Facebook to change its relationship status with coal.

This is a reprinted post from Daniel Kessler, Communications Manager of Greenpeace International

Coal Plant canceled in Kentucky

When the East Kentucky Power Cooperative proposed building a new 278 megawatt coal-fired power plant, a coalition of local environmental groups and concerned members of the cooperative became determined to stop this dirty energy and emissions project. For the past few years groups like Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the Sierra Club, and the Kentucky Environmental Foundation have been fighting the Smith Coal Plant, taking on the powerful coal industry in the heart of coal country. Today these groups have announced their hard-fought battle for clean energy is finally won.
East Kentucky Power Cooperative has agreed to cancel its plans for the coal plant and expand investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. In return environmental groups will dismiss several lawsuits against the cooperative, and will not oppose the cooperative raising rates to recover costs already invested in the now-dead coal plant. According to Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, "This is a new day for Kentucky's rural energy co-ops, and a great step toward new power for Kentucky."
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth helped launch the "New Power" movement which pitted a vision of Kentucky's clean energy future against dirty, outdated coal energy and emissions. Today's New Power movement victory suggests once again that when people are given a clear choice between the clean power of the future and the dirty energy of the past, they tend to choose the former—even in one of the most coal-dependent regions in the country. Home to 56 existing coal-fired units already, Kentucky still has a long way to go before severing ties with coal energy and emissions. But the defeat of one of the last new coal plant proposals in the country means clean energy advocates and climate hawks have a bit less work ahead of them.
It has been approximately two years since any new coal plant broke ground in the United States, thanks largely to the work of clean energy activists. Yet though the defeat of the Smith Coal Plant was part of a national movement, opposition to the proposal came from within the East Kentucky Power Cooperative as well as from environmental groups. Members of the co-op voiced serious concerns about the impact of coal energy and emissions, and some even ran for the co-op's board of directors as part of an effort to defeat the Smith Plant. Nationally renowned author Wendell Berry, who is a member of the co-op, firmly opposed the coal plant as well.
So what does the defeat of one more coal plant really mean for energy and emissions policy in the United States? While media pundits bemoan the death of sweeping federal climate legislation for at least the next couple of years, climate hawks and clean energy activists are going quietly about the work of transforming the US energy future. Whether by defeating the oil company-backed Proposition 23 in California, convincing banks to pull out of the coal business, or stopping new coal plants andretiring existing ones, grassroots organizations are winning the fight for a clean energy future. Today's defeat of the Smith Coal Plant marks just one more victory along the way.
Article by Nick Engelfried, appearing courtesy Justmeans.

Storm upon Storm - Extreme is normal

Even in an agricultural state that has always prided itself on stoically accepting the offerings of unpredictable skies here at the heart of the continent, South Dakota is nearing the end of an unusually punishing year of weather.

In a recent storm, hail shattered windows, punched holes in roofs and mangled cars. The clumps of ice were left to melt, but one, an unusual spiked orb the size of a cantaloupe, was preserved in the freezer of an old ranch hand. Locals later claimed that it was not even the largest hailstone to fall that day, and added that it had shrunk a bit while in the freezer before electricity was restored. But when the official measurements were made — a record-setting 1.93 pounds and 8 inches in diameter — the results confirmed what the still-visible trail of damage had already made painfully apparent: that was some storm.

"The flooding is increasingly getting worse," said Mr. Knock, who lost 160 acres of corn to the river that parallels his property. "People are getting disgusted with it. Because it's not just some years and it's not just once a year. It's three times or four times a year. Extreme is normal — that sounds crazy, but that is how it is."

The seven presidential disaster declarations issued here — part of a record 78 nationwide so far this year — more than doubled the number in any previous year, naming all but 10 of the 66 counties as a disaster area; some many times over. 

Dire Warnings Can Backfire

Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.
"Our study indicates that the potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people's fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming," said Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of a study to be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.
"The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it," agreed Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology and coauthor of the study.

But if scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways, and present solutions to global warming, Willer said, most people can get past their skepticism.

Overall, the study concludes, "Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages."

Auto Mileage improves in 2009

The NY Times reports that gas mileage for 2009 model cars and trucks showed the largest increase since the oil crisis of nearly three decades ago, according to an annual report by the EPA released on Wednesday.
The report found that the average fuel economy in 2009 model cars, vans, pickups and S.U.V.'s was 22.4 miles per gallon — an increase of 7 percent, or 1.4 miles per gallon, over 2008 figures.
The balance between cars and trucks also shifted, with the light truck segment — including vans, pickups and S.U.V.'s — slipping to 40 percent in 2009 models, a decrease of 7 percent from 2008 and 12 percent from the peak year of 2004, when the "average" car was a light truck. The truck share is now at its lowest level since 1995, the agency said.

November 18, 2010

High Speed Rail

The U.S. government awarded $2.4 billion to 54 rail projects in 23 states a couple weeks ago. This is in addition to the $8 billion awarded by the Obama administration at the beginning of the year. Projects in Florida, California, Michigan, and Iowa received the funds this time. While both U.S. and foreign companies are eligible to get high-speed rail contracts paid for with this funds, all companies “hired to build America’s next generation high-speed rail lines” have to “establish or expand their base of operations in the United States.” As a result, hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs are expected to come from these projects.

Florida looks like it is likely to have the first high-speed rail line in the U.S. The Siemens Velaro trains it is looking to get travel up to 403 km/h (250 miles per hour), comparable to almost any high-speed train in the world. These trains already run in Germany, Spain, China, Russia, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria, but they have not touched American rails yet.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority recently released a video on the details of its proposed project and visualizations of its trains. A few key points mentioned in the video are that high-speed trains will take people from downtown L.A. to downtown San Francisco in under 2.5 hours, these trains will go up to 354 km/h (220 mph), this will be the largest public works project in California in 50 years, and 600 construction jobs plus an additional 450 thousand permanent jobs will be created from the project (which is likely to keep moving ahead steadily with Democrat Jerry Brown recently elected there). Watch the video below for more details.

China continuously sets high-speed rail records. It recently opened a 220-km high-speed rail line between Shanghai and Hangzhou, extending the largest high-speed rail network in the world to 7431 kilometers (4617 miles). Running on this line is (by some standards) the fastest train in the world. While the “absolute world record holder” is a Japanese maglev train that went 581 km/h (361 mph) in 2003 and a French train set the record in 2007 for a train running on conventional rails at 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph), a train running on this new line in China went 416.6 km/h (258.9 mph), setting the world record for “unmodified commercial trainset,” in October. Watch the video below.

November 15, 2010

In the middle

TVA Closing Coal Plants

As part of its new ten-year plan, the Tennessee Valley Authority plans to retire at least 1,000 megawatts of coal energy (and emissions that come with burning coal) by the year 2015. This amounts to about 7% of TVA's total coal fired capacity, and represents a good first step for this federally owned energy supplier that controls a sizable fraction of the eastern US coal fleet.

TVA's actions should call into question why other power suppliers like the Northwest's Portland General Electric keep insisting they can't get their own dirty and outdated coal plants offline on a similar timeframe. In explaining the government corporation's move to cut out a chunk of its coal power, TVA President Tom Kilgore cited a desire for TVA to lead the way on sources of energy that come with far fewer carbon emissions than coal. It seems TVA is coming to recognize an inevitability which utilities across the country should take note of: coal power, associated with high levels of carbon emissions and other pollutants, is on its way to becoming a thing of the past.

TopTen Energy Efficiency Ratings

Ever wonder what the most energy efficient products are when you are making that big purchase decision?

Well now there is a website designed to help.

I found out that my recent dishwasher and laptop purchases were both in the top ten. 

From their website - 

TopTen USA is a nonprofit organization that identifies and publicizes the most energy-efficient products on the market. We make it easy for consumers to find the most energy- and money-saving models, which in turn encourages manufacturing innovations that will make products in the United States even more energy-efficient.  

Modeled after organizations located in 16 different European countries, TopTen USA intends to transform the American market from the one of excessive energy use to one that actively sustains products with the highest practical energy-efficiency.  

Mountaintop Removal Reprieve

PNC Bank, the top funder of Mountain Top Removal (MTR), has announced an end to its support for the ecologically devastating practice.

Before this decision, PNC provided financing for six of the biggest MTR coal mining companies — Massey, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, Alpha, International Coal Group, and CONSOL — who were responsible for nearly half of all mountaintop removal mining in 2009.

"This move makes PNC bank number seven to issue a position on MTR," the Rainforest Action Network's Amanda Starbuck writes, "following in the footsteps of Bank of America, Citi, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Credit Suisse." PNC's decision leaves UBS and GE Capital the only major banks that support mountaintop removal. After the Bush administration rewrote rules to encourage the blowing up of mountains for their coal, the Appalachians were rapidly reshaped by rapacious coal companies. 

This year, the Obama administration once again began enforcing laws against the total destruction of public waters and land, after scientists revealed the full extent of the immoral practice. Now, PNC Bank will neither fund MTR projects nor make loans to companies like Massey Energy that specialize in MTR.

Polls Show Voters Want Clean Economy

Reuters reports that  "There was no mandate on turning back the clock on environmental protection," said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. "Polls galore show continued and strong public support for making continued progress to protect our health and boost our economy."

When voters who chose the Republican candidate were asked to name their biggest concern about the Democrat, only 1 percent cited an answer related to energy or cap and trade. When offered a list of six arguments that Republicans made against Democrats, 7 percent selected what the GOP mislabeled a "cap and tax." 

55 percent of those polled supported a comprehensive energy bill that charges energy companies for carbon emissions but also would limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to develop clean energy. Some 38 percent opposed that reform.

By a 22 percent margin, battleground voters supported the idea of the Environmental Protection Agency tackling global warming by regulating carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles, factories and other sources. The poll showed 58 percent supported the EPA taking such initiative and 36 opposed the idea.

Finally, by a 41 percent margin, voters said that corporations should be held accountable for their pollution. Some 68 agreed, while 27 percent said new regulations that will hurt businesses should not be imposed.