Sunday, January 28, 2007

California: Trend-setter leads the way on climate

I remember a book, in the early ‘70s, called “The Late, Great State of California.” The main thrust was the state split off from the continent in a massive earthquake. But it also pointed out how important California was, and that often the state started trends that then moved east across the country. Let’s hope that’s the case with mitigation of greenhouse gases.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his “Republic of California,” (pronounce that with a hard “i”) are forging ahead and not waiting for the federal government to act on Global Warming.

In his State of the State address this month, the governor ordered a 10% reduction in GHG emissions from motor vehicles between now and 2020. This move could triple the use of the renewable fuels, according to Greenwire.

Transportation accounts for more than 40% of California’s GHG emissions, according to the Los Angeles Times.

State regulators will develop low-carbon fuel standards to increase the sale of clean fuels and encourage the purchase of flex-fuel and hybrid cars. Fuel manufacturers would have a number of ways to meet the criteria, including a market to trade carbon credits.

Last summer, the legislature passed a law to cut overall GHG by 20% of 1990 levels by 2020. The new executive order will help the state reach its goal. Additional cuts will come from power plants and forestry.

Other steps taken
California has been ahead of the curve. An earlier executive order, in 2005, set goals to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The 2006 law, for the short range, is even stronger.

California also bars investor-owned utilities from long-term contracts if emissions exceed those of the cleanest gas-driven plants.

The first state to attempt to regulate CO2 tailpipe emissions, California’s Pavley law requires automakers to reduce the average emissions of the cars it sells in California by 30%, beginning in 2009. Light trucks and SUVs must meet the same standard by 2016. (That law is being challenged in court by the auto industry so it hasn’t taken effect.)

In August, Schwarzenegger signed legislation to make solar panels a standard option for new-home buyers by 2012. State utility regulators established a $5,500 rebate for builders who install such systems, which cost $20,000. Federal law gives them a $2,000 tax credit.

The state recently added electronics chargers and remote controls to a long list of appliances that must be energy efficient.

Wouldn’t it be nice of all our governors were that eager to take on Global Warming.

Climate crisis reports
So, why is Arnold, the former Hummer driver, so willing to act on climate change? It’s likely related to the release of a couple of studies about the impact Global Warming would have on California. One, from the University of California-Berkeley, said limiting emissions would increase the gross state product by $60 million and create 20,000 clean technology jobs. Another report, by the California Climate Change Center and the Union for Concerned Scientists, warned of coastal flooding, water shortages for drinking and agriculture, health problems, more wildfires, heat waves and damage to the economy resulting from an expected increase in temperature.

More specifically, it said if the temperature goes up 5.5 to 8 degrees F (the middle scenario), sea levels could rise 14-22 inches, wildfires could increase by 55%, and 70-80% of the Sierra snowpack could be lost, as well as 30% of pine forest yields. Heat-wave days in major urban areas could shoot up 2.5 to 4 times, causing 2-6 times more deaths. And the number of critically dry years could double. To read more about this study, see

California is not insignificant. It has the world’s 6th largest economy and it furnishes half our country’s fruits and vegetables, not to mention it’s wine business (the largest in the U.S.), tourism, ports, and, of course, the center of world-wide entertainment. Steps it takes will make a difference and are likely to be copied by others.

Congressional round-up

• A plan to make utilities get 15% of their power from renewables by 2020 is one of the goals of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) argued that more than 20 states already have renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Other goals include energy efficiency; extension of tax credits to 2017 for renewable energy, biofuels and fuel-efficient vehicles; and more research by the Department of Energy.

• Senate Commerce Committee Democrats support a bill to increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards to 35 mpg by the 2019 model year. Chair Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) sponsored the bill, which could reduce GHG emissions 18% by 2025. The White House opposes Congress setting mileage standards and wants the Transportation Department to have that authority. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who previous opposed CAFE legislation, has his own bill to increase efficiency to 40 mph by 2017, but gives authority to the Transportation Dept. to set mileage standards for the next 5-6 years. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said he plans to hold hearings on CAFE next week in his Energy Committee.

• Reps. John Olver (D-Mass.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) introduced a House companion bill to the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act. This version differs slightly by asking for more stringent emissions cuts by 2050 and does not specifically promote new technologies.

• Sens. Bingaman and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) plan a series of private meetings with other Senate offices to try to reach consensus on global warming. The meetings, which start Feb. 2, will be held every second week. Spector, from a coal state, has twice voted against mandatory limits on GHG but signaled a possible position change in 2005.

News briefs

1. What Bush said – and didn’t say – in the State of the Union
The speech was more about energy independence than Global Warming. The president called for a 20% cut in the projected use of gasoline in 10 years by increasing production of ethanol and other alternative fuels to five times the current rate. Included in those fuels is liquefied coal, which causes twice as many GHG as gasoline. He also called for increasing fuel-efficiency for cars and trucks by 4% a year, starting in 2010 for cars and 2012 for trucks. Cars and trucks contribute one-third of greenhouse gases nationwide. He said nothing about power plant emissions nor did he set a goal for reducing greenhouse gases. Even with implementation of Bush’s plan, there will likely be a 14% increase in GHG emissions by 2017 as energy demand rises, said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. (Source: New York Times)

2. President then signed executive order on GHG
In an executive order signed after the speech, Bush ordered gasoline use in the federal fleet reduced by 2% annually through 2015 by using alternative fuels in flex-fuel cars. He also called for reduction of GHG by curbing energy “intensity” 30% by 2015. Intensity means in relation to the growth of the economy, not in real amounts. (Source: Greenwire)

3. Biofuels will have to be imported to meet projected goals
Biofuel imports will be needed to meet the goals outlined by the president last week, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Thursday. Tariffs on ethanol likely won’t be extended past 2008, he said. Meanwhile, Brazil, the largest exporter of ethanol, is eager to help solve the problem. Brazil makes its ethanol from sugar cane, which is the cheapest process. But tariffs have discourage ethanol imports to the U.S. (Sources: E&ENewsPM and PlanetArk.)

4. School district backs down on restricting Gore film
A school board in Washington state reversed itself after the organization Progressive Majority generated 18,000 e-mails to board members in about 24 hours. The School Board in Federal Way, Wash., had ruled that teachers who show the “An Inconvenient Truth” must also present a “credible, opposing view.” That ruling followed the complaint by a parent who believes the Earth is 14,000 years old, and said the film presented a “cockeyed view” and that “the Bible says that in the end of time everything will burn up, but that perspective isn’t in [the film].” In a related story about the film, the National Science Teachers Assoc. refused to help distribute 50,000 donated copies of the movie. Producer Laurie David said it was because they were concerned the oil industry might pull some of its funding. She noted the group had distributed movies by oil companies. ”An Inconvenient Truth” garnered two Academy Award nominations. (Source: Greenwire)

5. Sea levels likely to continue rising for 1,000 years
Sea levels could rise 11 to 16.9 inches this century, nearly 3 feet more in the 2100s, and another 11 to 31 inches by 2300, according to a draft U.N. climate report due out next week. The increases would then begin to taper off, but seas would continue to rise for 1,000 years, even if GHG emissions are reduced in the near future. The draft by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also predicts a temperature increase of 3.6 to 8.1 degrees F above pre-industrial levels, with a best estimate of 5.4 degrees, if CO2 emissions are stabilized a 45% above current levels, according to those who have seen the document. (Source: E&ENewsPM)

6. GAO: Alternative energy today won’t cut into oil imports
Federal spending on alternative energy is insufficient stop the growing reliance on foreign oil over the next 25 years, according a report from the Government Accounting Office. Unless there is dramatic change in energy policy and R&D spending, it is likely U.S. dependence on foreign oil will grow, the report said. Imports now fill two-thirds of the country’s oil demand, compared with 40% in 1980. The Department of Energy’s R&D budget fell more than 85% from 1978 to 2005, from $5.5 billion to just $793 million. (Source: Greenwire)

7. American executives less worried about Global Warming
A survey of CEOs from around the globe, unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, showed on average 40% were concerned about Global Warming. But only 18% from America were. Highest concern was among the Japanese execs (70%) and South Koreans (60%), followed by Germany, China, Latin America and Britain. The U.S. was near the bottom along with Italy and Russia. 83% of the Japanese, 51% of South Koreans and 26% of Americans said their companies had invested in solutions. (Source: New York Times)

Do something
It’s time to go carbon-neutral. You can offset the CO2 you produce by going to Use their calculator to estimate the carbon you produce and offset it by making a donation. You can choose whether your money goes to alternative energy, reforestation or energy efficiency. Offset your carbon footprint. I’ve done it. Al Gore has done it. You should too.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Were dinosaurs wiped out by Global Warming?

Well, no. The theory still stands that dinosaurs disappeared because a large asteroid collided with Earth. But several other mass extinctions tens or hundreds of millions of years ago may have been due to greenhouse gases making the planet too hot.

I want to share with you information from an article by in Scientific American about a new theory that Global Warming killed off large portions of life on Earth – animals and plants on both land and sea – and that it happened more than once. It could happen again, if the oceans get too hot.

The theory is that extensive volcanic activity threw out enormous amounts of CO2 and methane. These greenhouse gases then caused rapid and intense Global Warming. As the oceans heated up they were less able to absorb oxygen, which destabilized the “chemocline” between the oxygen-filled surface and the bottom of the ocean, where little purple and green bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide. The poisonous H2S rose to the ocean’s surface and displaced the oxygen, suffocating sea life. It then rose into air, causing massive death on land. Then, just to finish things off, the H2S moved up into the atmosphere, attacking the ozone shield and allowing ultraviolet rays to add to the destruction below. Nice.

Many millions of years ago
This is believed to have happened at least twice – about 250 million years ago at the end of the Permian period and 50 million years ago at the end of the Triassic period. There is also some reason to believe warming caused other extinctions, including a minor one at the end of the Paleocene era, 54 million years ago.

In the Permian and Paleocene periods, we know that CO2 in the atmosphere increased to about 1,000 parts per million. Today we are at about 385 ppm, with predictions for a rapid increase. If Global Warming isn’t curtailed, we’re heading for 900 ppm by the end of the next century.

During the mass extinctions, the majority of life was destroyed and it took thousands, perhaps millions, of years for it to be replenished. Permian, the largest extinction, took out 90% of ocean dwellers and 70% of plants, animals and insects on land.

This is not sci fi
What takes this out of the realm of science fiction and makes it a scientific theory is that there is evidence to back it up.

Biomarkers in ocean sediment and rocks show chemical evidence of an ocean-wide bloom of H2S-consuming bacteria. And carbon isotope records confirm that CO2 concentrations skyrocketed immediately before the start of the extinctions and stayed high for hundreds of thousands to several million years.

Fossil analysis shows the Permian and Triassic extinctions were drawn-out processes spanning hundreds of thousands of years. And new carbon isotope evidence suggests the biosphere suffered a long series of environmental hits rather than a single, cataclysmic event coming from outer space, where there is sudden die-off and rapid recovery.

So when a non-believer, like Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), says, sure, there is Global Warming, but it has been a lot warmer in the distant past, you can say yes, it has been, but it wiped out most of the life on Earth.

If you want to read the whole article, by Peter D. Ward, find it at The title is “Impact from the Deep.”

Congressional round-up

• The House voted Thursday to roll back $6 billion in oil industry tax breaks, set a fee for deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and recoup royalties lost to the government because of a mistake. The vote was 264-163. Democrats said the bill could raise $14 billion, mostly for alternative energy. The bill is expected to have a tougher time passing the closely divided Senate. The president opposes it.

• The Sanders-Boxer bill, the “gold standard” according to co-sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), calls for cutting GHG 80% by mid-century. Its goal is to stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere by capping emissions at 1990 levels by 2020 and increase cuts each year until 2050. It lets the EPA require further cuts if global CO2 concentrations exceed 450 ppm. Co-sponsor is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). This bill has the support of many environmental groups.

• Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) reintroduced their Climate Stewardship Act mandating reductions in CO2 emissions across all sectors. It calls for stabilization at 2000 levels and would gradually lower the cap to one-third of 2000 levels by 2050. It allows trade of carbon credits, including borrowing and offsets, to ease the cost of meeting regulations. Some environmental groups say it doesn’t go far enough and encourages nuclear energy.

• Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the first of five energy bills. This one would cut emissions from power plants. It would create a cap-and-trade system and would limit CO2 emissions to 75% of projected 2020 levels. She has the support of 6 power companies.

• Sen. Boxer introduced two bills to increase use of cellulosic ethanol and fuel-efficient motor vehicles. The first asks for $1 billion for R&D and $1 billion for infrastructure to sell the ethanol. The second bill tells the government to buy fuel-efficient fleet cars. Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, plans hearings on Global Warming Jan. 30.

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) set up a select committee on Global Warming to emphasize the issue’s importance. The move was seen by some as a push to House Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.), whose support of the auto industry is a concern. Dingell said he will hold hearings and has invited former Vice President Al Gore to testify. Pelosi wants all committees to bring climate change legislation to the floor by July 4.

• A new coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders and prominent scientists went to Washington last week to ask for action to stop Global Warming.
(Sources: Greenwire, Environment and Energy Daily, E&E Daily PM and AP)

News briefs

1. Last year was warmest in United States history
The average temperature in 2006, in the continental 48, is the warmest on record, according to NOAA. The average was 55 degrees, 2.2 degrees F above the mean for the 20th century and .07 degrees above the previous record, in 1998. The past 9 years were all in the hottest 25 recorded. Worldwide, 2006 was the sixth warmest, according to the United Nations. Last year also set the record for wildfires in the United States. (Sources: E&E News PM, AP)

2. Corporations join in call for strict emissions limits
10 big companies, including GE, DuPont and Caterpiller, are expected to call Monday for a firm limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would result in a cut of 10% to 30% from current levels in 15 years. They will ask that government action include a cap-and-trade system and that no new plants be built that can’t easily capture and store carbon. Other companies in the coalition are Alcoa, BP, Duke Energy, FPL, Lehman Brothers, PG&E and PNM Resources. Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Center on Global Climate Change and World Resources Institute are working with them. (Source: New York Times)

3. State of the Union speech to address Global Warming
President Bush is expected to speak about Global Warming in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, but he will disappoint British officials who were hopeful he might agree to mandatory caps on emissions. The White House said he won’t, and still favors voluntary steps, but that he will encourage the development of alternative fuels like hydrogen and ethanol. Prime Minister Tony Blair met last month with the president, hoping to get an agreement on climate change before Blair leaves office. (Sources: League of Conservation Voters, Greenwire)

4. Doomsday Clock moves ahead; climate change cited
Because of climate change and global nuclear instability, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock was moved two minutes ahead and now rests at 5 minutes to midnight. It hasn’t been that close since the Cold War. This is the first time climate change was included as a specific threat to civilization. The scientists who made the decision said climate change is second only to nuclear annihilation as a threat to humanity. (Source: BBC

5. Sweden aims to eliminate fossil fuels by 2020
The Swedish government has plans to increase renewable energy from its current 26% and up its use of biofuels, in order to phase out fossil fuels in the next 13 years. Last year new cars running on alternative fuels increased to 15% from 1%, in part because of government incentives. Some cars run on subsidized methane, made from garbage, which is cheaper than gasoline. (Source: Greenwire)

6. Bears delay hibernation because of hot temperatures
Also in Sweden, bears at a safari park put off starting hibernation from the usual October till December because of record-high temperatures in the southern part of the country. In an unrelated story, Swedish scientists have developed navigational technology that plots the “greenest” route for cars to take, avoiding stoplights, traffic and high speed limits. Initial tests show the system can cut fuel consumption by 8.2%. (Source: Greenwire)

Do something

The League of Conservation Voters has set up a new Web site, Check it out. And for now, you can help by signing their petition to all candidates to make Global Warming a priority.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

What is the best answer for clean auto fuel?
As plans are made for the nation’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Colorado, experts point out its advantages over corn ethanol, the main biofuel now produced in the U.S.

Cellulosic ethanol – which can come from sugar cane, switchgrass, poplar trees, cornstalks and many other plants – has the benefit of being much more abundant than corn and better for the environment. It also is more expensive.

Cellulosic ethanol could provide 100 billion gallons of fuel, replacing nearly half the 140 billion gallons of gasoline the nation now uses, according to the Rocky Mountain News. (If you’re wondering about the numbers, ethanol is less efficient.) By contrast, traditional corn ethanol, with a capacity for just 20 billion gallons, could replace only 14 percent. The country’s 105 corn ethanol plants now produce just 5 billion gallons a year, the paper says.

Former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan reportedly told a Congressional hearing that cellulosic ethanol is the only alternative fuel that could make a dent in the nation’s gasoline consumption.

Environmentally, corn ethanol (when energy for production and distribution are included) only saves 10%-20% of the greenhouse gas emissions of gasoline, according to Scientific American, while cellulose can save between 65% and 90%.

But corn has strong lobbyists in states like Iowa and Illinois, so politically it has an edge over cellulose.

It’s expensive
Cost has been an issue for cellulose. Production (including taxes, transportation and distribution) costs $2.20 a gallon, double the cost of corn ethanol and nearly three times that of regular gasoline, according to the Rocky Mountain News. It also is a more complex process. Scientists have been studying it for years but, “Nobody wants to build the first plant,” David Wilson of Cornell University told the newspaper.

Financing has been a problem. Government incentives will be needed and the Energy Department has helped out with $3 million for the planned Colorado plant.

President George Bush, understanding the potential for cellulosic ethanol, wants to make it competitive with corn ethanol by 2012. The Congress has mandated production of 250 million gallons by 2013, which would require 6 to 10 plants, according to the Rocky Mountain News. Additional Congressional action is expected this year (see Congressional round-up below).

The U.S. Energy Department has promised $250 million to set up two bioenergy research centers, to focus mostly on cellulosic ethanol.

The plant now on the drawing board for Yuma, CO, would cost $50 million and is to be built in 2010 by PureVision Technology. The plan is to start with a $5 million prototype this year, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Some Wall Street money is available for cellulosic ethanol as well. Goldman Sachs has invested $27 million in a Canadian company, Iogen, which is planning a plant near Ottowa.

Brazil is doing it
While cellulosic ethanol is new for North America, Brazil has produced it from sugar cane for years.

Most Brazilian fuel is gasohol, currently 23% ethanol by government mandate, according to Scientific American. But there is also pure ethanol, at pumps next to those with the mix. And the majority of news cars are now flex-fuel – they can use either fuel.

Brazil, the largest sugar cane grower in the world, produced about 282,000 barrels of ethanol a day in 2005 and expects to be up to 442,000 in 2010. Brazil also produces more than 2 million barrels of oil a day. But for cars, 40% of the fuel is homegrown ethanol. Sugar cane, which is plentiful and needs little attention, provides the cheapest ethanol in the world, says Scientific American. And GHG savings from sugar ethanol run around 90%.

Brazil plans to build an ethanol pipeline to its ports and export more of its biofuel. But in the U.S. government, seeing increasing imports from Brazil, imposed a tariff to protect homegrown corn ethanol, according to Scientific American.

More research
Some are investigating other biofuel technologies. British Petroleum said it will invest $500 million over the next decade in an Energy Bioscience Institute at a university in England or the U.S. And BP and DuPont are working with British Sugar to produce butanol – a different type of biofuel.

Chicken fat?
Meanwhile, two men in Missouri are building a $5 million biodiesel plant that will use chicken fat, which is plentiful in the area, with Tyson Foods nearby, according to the Chicago Tribune. They will mix the fat with soybean oil and produce an estimated 3 million gallons of biodiesel a year. Tyson, Purdue and Smithfield Foods are all setting up renewable energy divisions, in anticipation the market will grow.

Congressional round-up
• House Democratic leaders are planning a Jan. 18 vote on a multi-billion dollar rollback of tax and royalty incentives for the oil industry. The plan is to spend much of the money on alternative energy.
• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in her speech, talked about a “new America that declares our energy independence, promotes domestic sources of renewable energy, and combats climate change.”
• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in a legislative “marker” package, called on Congress to pass a bill to mandate reductions of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. He said Global Warming and energy legislation will get attention in the Senate early this year.
• A bi-partisan group of five senators, including Barak Obama (D-Ill.), introduced a bill calling for incentives for biofuels. The bill aims to put 60 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel in the fuel supply by 2030 and gives tax breaks for, among other things, development of cellulosic biofuels and production of flex-fuel cars. It also would prevent oil companies from blocking sale of biofuels at their gas stations. And it requires that all buses bought with federal money use clean technologies, and that the federal fleet have better fuel-efficiency.
• Sen. John Bingaman (D-N.M.) said Senate energy policy will be spread out over several bills. Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, said a national energy strategy to curb reliance on imports must maintain domestic oil and gas production as well as increase auto efficiency and use of biofuels.
(Round-up sources: Environment & Energy Daily, Greenwire.)

News briefs

1. 2007 may be warmest year yet, British agency says
There is a 60% chance this year may turn out to be the world’s warmest, according to the United Kingdom’s Meteorologic Office. This is in part due to the El Nino that began last year and will continue through the winter, causing more flooding on the West Coast and extending the droughts in Australia. The average global temperature is expected to rise .54 degrees Celsius (1.2 Fahrenheit) above the average for 1961-90. (Source: Greenwire, Associated Press)

2. Huge ice shelf breaks off island 500 miles from North Pole
A 41-square-mile ice shelf broke off Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic and has formed a new ice island 30 miles away. This major ice shelf was one of six remaining in the area, dating back 3,000 years. “We are crossing climate thresholds,” said Warwick Vincent of Laval University, “and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead.” (Source: Associated Press)

3. China temperatures to rise, water shortages seen
China will have water shortages as temperatures rise, according to a Chinese government study that found global warming could inhibit the country’s development. The study predicted China’s average temperature could increase 6 degrees Celsius by 2100. Rain is expected to increase but rapid evaporation will take away the benefits. (Source: Greenwire)

4. German town will get its power from under ground
A geothermal generator will soon provide power and heat to the small town of Unterhaching, Germany. The 3.4 megawatt plant, which gets its power from 3,300 meters below ground, will be the first major geothermal power source in Germany. Another plant provides 200 kilowatts. With government incentives to lower the cost, two more plants are expected to go online this year for a total of 7 megawatts, and German officials expect the country to produce more than 200 megawatts by 2016. (Source: Greenwire)

Do something
If you haven’t gone out and bought condensed fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, make it your New Year’s Resolution to do so. They are more expensive but use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer, so overall you’ll save money.