When the Spirit(s) Move You

May 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A fairly accurate critique of climate advocates and global warming advocacy can be that we can be a bit depressing.  This is not surprising when we are telling a story about how current trends will lead to large portions of the world becoming uninhabitable and sea levels rising to swallow many of our coastal cities and every day another study comes out that shows even the unenforceable and aspirational pledges by our governments will not be met and we face “potentially disastrous consequences.”

But an different and reoccurring theme in work around climate is interesting interaction with “adult” beverages like wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages – and not just because it is tempting to give up and just spend the day drinking (perhaps at a Green Drinks event for environmentalists).

There is the story of a leading climate scientist who is also a wine expert – and therefore the leading voice on the impact of global warming on the production of wine – a very serious matter when you consider that changing climate will undermine the ability of centuries old vineyards to thrive. Similar concerns bedevil the world of beer, where a changing climate endangers the production of the hops that are the heart of quality beer.

But spirits may also be part of the vast bank of solutions that we will need to make the fundamental shift in our economy and society that will be needed to stop our runaway greenhouse gas emissions.  Advanced biofuels, like high energy biobutanol, may well prove to be one of the many tools we will need to power a thriving post-carbon economy and entrepreneurs and researchers in Britain are working on converting distillery waste into that fuel – creating the possibility that brown liquor could helps us to go green and save ourselves from the consequences of global warming like the sea level rise that threatens our beaches and coastal communities.

Vermont’s Clean Energy Shortfall

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: Ivy Dawned, Flickr

The end of any legislative session is tumultuous. Vermont’s citizen legislature, that meets part-time only a few months each year, is no different. In this year’s end-of-session tumult, progress on clean energy was left on the cutting room floor. This is a big disappointment. The same legislature that made skiing and snowboarding Vermont’s official winter sports failed to pass legislation that would keep those sports off the endangered list.

The Vermont Legislature stripped the Renewable Energy Standard from the energy bill it approved. Renewable standards require utilities to help address climate change by providing their customers with a certain percentage of power from clean, renewable sources. The more power we get from clean sources, the less power we get from older and dirtier fossil fuel plants. Twenty-nine states, including every other New England state, already have renewable standards, but Vermont is left behind in the dark ages of dirty power.

Throughout the session, CLF worked closely with other environmental organizations, business leaders and renewable developers to put in place a meaningful renewable standard so Vermont’s electric power users can do more to reduce carbon. The urgency of the climate crisis demands strong action.

There will be opportunities to move further ahead on renewable electricity next year, along with some legislation to help heating efficiency and electric vehicles, but each year we delay means more carbon reduction is needed. It is disappointing that in a year in which Vermont saw, in the form of flooding from Hurricane Irene, the kind of damage that climate change can do, and then saw one of the warmest winters on record (which wreaked havoc on ski areas and maple syrup production), we are not doing more to tackle climate change.

Join CLF at a Free Screening of the Last Mountain on Wednesday, May 9 in Cambridge, MA

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A keystone to CLF’s work to secure a clean energy future for the region is completing the transition to a coal-free New England. It is a time of historic progress: cleaner, cheaper alternatives are driving coal out of the market, and old coal plants are closing their doors. But Massachusetts remains a critical battleground for CLF’s work, with two costly old coal-fired power plants continuing to jeopardize public health and stoke climate change.

That’s why we’re delighted to tell you about an event hosted by Cambridge City Councilor Marjorie Decker entitled “The True Cost of Energy: Coal.” Councilor Decker has invited the public to a panel discussing the true costs of coal and a free screening of the critically acclaimed documentary The Last Mountain in Cambridge, MA, on Wednesday, May 9. With stunning footage of the practice of mountaintop removal mining, the film bears dramatic witness to the social, public health, and environmental damage wrought by coal and power companies, and chronicles the grassroots fight against coal in Appalachia and around the country. The New York Times called The Last Mountain a “persuasive indictment” of coal; I think you’ll agree.

The Last Mountain producer Eric Grunebaum will be on hand for a panel discussion to discuss the film and the future of coal-fired power in Massachusetts and New England. I will be available before and after the event to answer any questions you may have about CLF’s work to secure a coal-free Massachusetts.

Please attend:
When: Wednesday, May 9, 2012. 5-8:30 pm.
Where: Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138 (map).

Bring your friends and family, and email me at scleveland@clf.org with any questions. I hope to see you there!

You can watch the trailer here:

 

Reason to Believe In Taking Action on Global Warming

Mar 29, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Climate Scientist Katherine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who sees her work and the need to protect the earth as deeply consistent with her faith.

Read all about her at Climate Central.  Buy her book, co-written with her husband who, like Dr. Hayhoe, is a Professor at Texas Tech. He is also the Pastor of their church.

Given the latest science showing that the models that predict the exact march of global warming appear to be overly conservative and underestimating the effects of the warming in progress and the strong likelihood that we are about to cross an irrevocable tipping point that commits the planet to deeply damaging warming it is not crazy to suggest that we need science, prayer and action.

The need for action and steps to be taken to address this crisis is not abstract.  The latest massive compilation of science shows the very real effects that global warming is having all around us and will increasingly inflict upon us.  The need to build resilient communities that can survive (and even thrive) in these conditions is very real.  However, it is equally vital that we reduce the emissions that are disrupting the climate.  This means building renewable energy of many sizes and types, it means making our society and economy more efficient, properly planning and building our communities and providing and funding safe and clean transit and spreading and truly implementing efforts like the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act and the greenhouse gas regulations being slowly rolled out by the Federal government.

The size, scale and nature of the crisis we face must spur all of us, whether we are motivated by a purely secular moral motivation to watch out for our fellow humans and/or other planetary passengers or the religious mission that guides someone like Dr. Hayhoe, to act. Because if we don’t we truly don’t have a prayer.

 

CIRC Alternatives Forge Ahead

Nov 17, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The initial short-range solutions are in.  Quick, effective and clean.  Unanimous agreement on a suite of projects to move forward to help people get around in Chittenden County. 

When Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin announced in May that the “Circ Highway” - an expensive, polluting and outdated ring-road around Burlington – would not be built as planned, he set in motion a Task Force to develop short, medium and long range solutions.  Since the summer the Task Force has been meeting and working.  Despite bumps, potholes and diversions in the form of more limited time and money because of the need to address problems that arose from managing the chaos Hurricane Irene left Vermont, the Task Force forged ahead.  

Last week we agreed unanimously on 5 short-term projects to get started in the coming year.  They include some innovative and out-of-the-box projects like expanding park & ride opportunities for commuters by leasing spaces in key locations, as well as more traditional projects of bus shelters and intersection imprrovements.  One very exciting project would re-work the street grid in Essex Junction, turning a parking lot into a downtown street, converting “five corners” into “four corners,” enhancing the streetscape and improving commerce and living opportunities in this New England downtown. 

Conservation Law Foundation is excited to be working with Chittenden County communities, businesses and state officials to get people, goods and ideas moving.  We are off to a great start. 

You can learn more about the Circ Task Force’s work at its website

A Public Meeting to discuss and learn more about these projects will be held on Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 7:00 p.m. at the  Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Colchester.

Clean Energy Solutions needed: Small, Medium, Large and Extra-Large

Nov 14, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

I often say that there are two phrases that a professional climate advocate, whether they like or not, ends up repeating.

The first one, which is not the subject of this post, is “The scary part is . . . ”  As in “The scary part is that Daniel Yergin might be right when, in his new book, he suggests that climate science is right and fossil fuels are a systemic problem AND that peak oil/gas theory is wrong and we are not running out of fossil fuels.”  But that is the subject of another and different blog post to be written and just one of millions of examples of sentences beginning “The scary part is . . .” that you can write or utter about global warming.

The second one is “We have to do that too . . . ” As in, “Yes, we need to conserve more and be more efficient but we need to build wind farms, like the one proposed off of Cape Cod, too.”   As so many folks, including the folks at Princeton who are more famous for wedges than dairy farmers in Wisconsin, will tell you big systemic problem like global warming requires a huge range of solutions.  As some like to say, there is no silver bullet, perhaps multiple rounds of silver buckshot.

This last point causes me to do something I am reluctant to do – disagree with a very smart guy who has a record of knowing how to get things built.  In an opinion piece, Jiggar Shah, the founder of the solar development company Sun Edison and CEO of the very laudable Carbon War Room disagrees with the wisdom of the “jumbo” solar projects being undertaken by large energy companies like NRG Energy that are chronicled in a recent New York Times article.

My suggestion is simple: We need to do both.  We need the vast network of distributed solar on millions of rooftops that Mr. Shah envisions.  We need to do smart development of large solar as well.  We also need to be far more efficient in how we light and heat all our buildings and how we use energy to travel.

The array of technologies we will need to address global warming range from new smart heating devices for our homes, sidewalks to allow safe travel on foot in all our communities, shareable bicycles like the one I took to work this morning, electric cars powered by clean renewable energy, trains that connect cities and neighborhoods, and intelligently sited wind farms and solar installations on land and in the water.

We need to be relentless in our search for new solutions, recognizing dead-ends like the old nuclear power plants that have proved to be an expensive dead-end while aggressively evaluating new answers.

The good news about solar electric generation, as a source of new answers, is that the price of this technology continues to descend at a very steep rate.

While this is very bad news for folks trying to build a business that depends on making a profit by selling these modules, it creates many new opportunities to deploy solar electric generation as part of a large scale clean energy solution; and to do so in the form of a whole lot of Small on many rooftops, a fair amount of Medium on large roofs and appropriate locations on the ground, some Large and, where appropriate, even some Extra Large.

Beacon Power bankruptcy: NOT “another Solyndra”

Oct 31, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The unfortunate news that Beacon Power, an innovative technology company based in Massachusetts,  declared bankruptcy has inspired a bit of a media feeding frenzy centered around analogies to the failed California solar company Solyndra,  because Beacon (like Solyndra) received  a federal loan guarantee.

This analogy simply doesn’t hold up for the following reasons:

  • Beacon Power has a fully operational facility in Stephentown New York that is an operating model of their flywheel technology, a innovative technology that provides an essential service to the electricity grid, providing stability to the power system at a very low cost.  This stability will allow smoother operation of the power grid and allow for integration of many more renewable resources like wind and solar smoothly at a reasonable price.
  • The Federal loan guarantee is structured in a way that protects the financial interests of the taxpayers – giving them the right to be repaid out of the assets of Beacon before other companies and people that are owed money.
  • Unlike Solyndra, which was effectively losing a price competition with Chinese and other US manufacturers, Beacon makes a unique product that is being developed here in the United States.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a mere 11 days ago, issued a detailed rule that requires utilities to compensate companies like Beacon that provide power system stability in a competitive manner.  This sets a clear trajectory for Beacon, and the handful of other companies providing similar services, to be economically successful.

Given the assaults on the environment and climate and continuing economic and social disruptions there is enough bad news out in the world without alarmist voices generating scary stories because of events like the Beacon bankruptcy.   While it is an unfortunate event for some private investors and employees of Beacon it is not a crisis for taxpayers and can and will not stop the development of innovative and important technologies that will be the backbone of a new clean energy economy.

Why we do what we do: Unfortunately Global Warming is real and having real effects here and now

Oct 31, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Much of CLF‘s work these days is focused on the challenge of global warming and in particular reducing immediately, structurally and effectively the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and the other “greenhouse gases” causing the problem.

This is, of course, not all that we do.  But much of our work on this over-arching problem overlaps with other important work like reducing air pollution that directly harms the health and lives of people or providing good transit access to urban communities, thus providing access to jobs for residents of those communities while reducing automobile trips and emissions. Still other CLF work, like protecting and nurturing our fisheries and forests, ensures that management of those resources is mindful of the changing climate while preserving unique ecosystems both for their own benefit and to ensure that future generations will be able to use and enjoy special places and resources.

When we step up and assert the benefit to the climate of, for example, wind farms in Maine or in Nantucket Sound or energy efficient light bulbs or the need to consider the climate in considering a transmission line across New Hampshire or in a merger proposed between utilities the question comes back to us: is it worth the cost?  Often it is a cost measured in dollars but sometimes it is a “cost” in terms of a view from a house or a beach or a mountain changing.

Responding to this question presents us with two challenges: first we need to show that the result we are advocating in favor of will actually reduce emissions and then we need to show that the need for those emissions reductions outweighs the cost of taking the action we are advocating.

One good example of how we show that an action will actually reduce emissions comes from the world of wind farms.  In those cases we can present expert testimony about how deploying wind resources will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.  And that analysis isn’t just created by our experts, it draws upon reports done by the planners and operators of New England’s wholesale electricity system – work that is sometimes summed up in official summaries and nice presentations that include informative charts like this one showing how when the system gets 9% of its power from wind that emissions drop by 9% but when it gets 20% of its power from wind the emissions drop by 24% for reasons explained in the report:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then we turn to the question of showing that this all matters and the cost of taking action outweighs the price of that action.  In our cases, again using the wind farm example, we use expert testimony.

But the bottom line is that we as a society are getting to the point where the cost of global warming is no longer a horrible possibility- it is an immediate reality, all around the world from Russia to Texas and points in between like New England.  And what we are experiencing is only a preview of what is to come and a strong reminder of the need to take action.

Really, really inconvenient truth, wedges of solutions, Galileo, etc . . .

Sep 30, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Back in 2004 a group of researchers and analysts at Princeton led by Robert Socolow published the “wedge analysis” that captured the problem of greenhouse gas emissions reductions in a pithy way that presented solutions in a manner that a lot of folks found very appealing – they presented their own scenarios but did it in a way that was flexible and allowed readers to dial technologies up and down to reflect their own beliefs and preferences.

Socolow has revisited that work and done some meditating on why in the intervening seven years we have not only failed to start to solve the problem but in fact have been making the hole we are in deeper.

Andrew Revkin (in his continuing capacity as a New York Times blogger, even though he has left the reporting business as a day job at the Times in favor of generally nurturing and studying environmental journalism at Pace University) summarizes and presents that work and reactions to it in a way that really makes for truly required reading.

Employing one of the best things about the blog form Revkin collects in a new post email exchanges he had with Socolow and various academics and experts about the essay and conversations springing from it.

In the course of that conversation Socolow presents a bit of a searing critique of himself and all others who have been trying to provoke action on global warming:

Worldwide, policymakers are scuttling away from commitments to regulations and market mechanisms that are tough enough to produce the necessary streams of investments. Given that delay brings the potential for much additional damage, what is standing in the way of action?

Familiar answers include the recent recession, the political influence of the fossil fuel industries, and economic development imperatives in countries undergoing industrialization. But, I submit, advocates for prompt action, of whom I am one, also bear responsibility for the poor quality of the discussion and the lack of momentum. Over the past seven years, I wish we had been more forthcoming with three messages: We should have conceded, prominently, that the news about climate change is unwelcome, that today’s climate science is incomplete, and that every “solution” carries risk. I don’t know for sure that such candor would have produced a less polarized public discourse. But I bet it would have.

And one of the responding voices, (David Victor, author of “Global Warming Gridlock” and a professor at the University of California, San Diego) agrees with Socolow on substance but disagrees  with Socolow on specific strategy and tactics arguing that the policy advocacy community has actually been doing a pretty good job of broadcasting the messages that Socolow is saying need to be heard but that the problem is much deeper and broader:

Outside of a few hyper green countries—like the EU15—climate change is just one of many issues. Like most environmental issues it comes and goes. You can’t sustain action in these countries without either finding ways to make action costless (or at least invisible) or linking action to other things people care about. The costless/invisibility strategy is a big part of the reason why the world (notably the US) did so well in cutting ozone depleting substances.

But it won’t work on climate—or at least not yet—which means plan B. Talk about how climate links to energy security and such. That’s now happening and it is having an effect (across the board the polling data are much more favorable to regulation on greenhouse gases when the questions focus on other benefits). Obviously we can’t over-sell this approach because it won’t stop warming and it easily leads to mischievous policies that hide true intentions and lard the economy with lots of extra costs. But all else equal, the more “reluctant” a country is to do something on climate itself the more important it is to talk about other goals as well. The community of policy advocates—especially folks drawn from academic science and engineering—is shockingly naïve about politics and the strategy of political action.

Revkin also provides us with a quote from Prof. Victor on the literary and historical metaphor that should be expunged from the climate advocacy vocabulary:

A last word—a plea really. Let’s all stop evoking Galileo. Whenever someone feels under siege they look to Galileo because he was right and persistent and his critics were both wrong and egregious. But the metaphor is hard to use effectively because what really matters is ex ante. For every Galileo there were thousands of others who were hacks. Maybe the one thing that we have learned from Galileo is that it is unwise to punish dissenters, and that’s a good message. But it is interesting to read the Tea Party stuff on climate and see that they use Galileo as well. Everyone is dueling over the same metaphor—they just can’t agree on who is Galileo and who’s the Pope.

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