earth systems – climate – energy

Amory Lovins: energy views and values

[Reposted from my old blog, P&P -- originally published March 01, 2010.] Looking back at Amory Lovins’s 1977 Soft Energy Paths, I was struck by his still-relevant list of "basic values": Underlying much of the energy debate is a tacit, implicit divergence on what the energy problem ‘really’ is. Public discourse suffers because our society [...]

Carbon budgets — a new climate target?

Say that all of humanity – past, present and foreseeable future – has a dollar to spend on carbon-fueled economic growth. Those of us that have reaped the industrial world’s benefits doled out four bits or so from 1750 to 2008, and some of those investments paid off handsomely. Standards of health, education and material [...]

Some context for NYT on wind energy variability

I don't often comment on daily journalism, but yesterday's NYT piece on wind energy variability (print: "Grappling With the Grid" / web: "Intermittent Nature of Green Power Is Challenge for Utilities," by Diane Cardwell) could use a little context. Here's the crux of the NYT story: It is not the first time the grid system [...]

Examining multi-level climate governance

In the 2009 World Bank report, "A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change," Elinor Ostrom challenged the notion that a global atmosphere requires global action. Given the complexity and changing nature of the problems involved in coping with climate change, there are no “optimal” solutions. … The advantage of a polycentric approach is that [...]

New volume on Cultures of Energy

Just glancing at the January 2013 publication, Cultures of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies, edited by Sarah Strauss, Stephanie Rupp, and Thomas Love. From the introductory chapter by the editors: Among anthropologists, Leslie White was most prominent in writing about energy, analyzing its relation to the evolution of culture and the development of civilization (1943, 1959). [...]

Johan Rockström: The 3-6-9 reality

This morning, I mentioned Stockholm Resilience Center executive director Johan Rockström’s video about the newly proposed Sustainable Development Goals. It's also worth noting what he calls "the 3-6-9 reality." We are moving to a world of 3°C warming above pre-industrial levels. We are living through the 6th mass extinction of species, undermining genetic diversity and ecosystem [...]

Renewable energy accounting

Could energy needs be met with renewables? Last week, a New York State feasibility study by Mark Jacobson and coauthors was released by the journal Energy Policy (pdf). In February 2011, when papers by Jacobson and Mark Delucchi examined global energy options, I took a look at their assumptions. Reprinted in full below. Mark Jacobson (Civil [...]

Clumsy solutions to wicked problems

[I wrote last time about Nigel Cross's sense that design thinking can help tackle wicked problems. That post reminded me of this June 2010 one I wrote for P&P, "Clumsy Responses to Wicked Climate Problems," reprinted in full below.] More and more, climate change is referred to as a wicked problem, one that is "difficult [...]

Robert Rapier: Oil resources are not reserves

I keep catching misleading statements about U.S. oil, so this post by Robert Rapier, one of the "top ten of best read Oil Drum posts in 2012," seems worth a CC-enabled reprint. People are often confused about the overall extent of U.S. oil reserves. Some claim that the U.S. has hundreds of billions or even [...]

OECD report on energy and carbon taxes

Taxing Energy Use, a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), compares tax rates per unit of energy and per tonne of CO2 emissions from energy use across its 34 member countries. Switzerland has the highest taxes per tonne of CO2 (on the right), at 100+ Euros (~$141). These figures for [...]

Theda Skocpol on cap and dividend

Harvard social and political scientist Theda Skocpol offers a detailed post-mortem on the 2009-10 U.S. national effort to pass climate change legislation in "Naming the Problem: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight Against Global Warming" (pdf). From her conclusion on a cap and dividend policy (p.125-127): Politically speaking, [...]

Ronald Mitchell: Reasons for climate optimism

Last week, University of Oregon's Ronald Mitchell circulated a request: I am teaching a course on the 'science and politics of climate change' this term. As the term comes to a close, I would like to leave them with some notes of optimism. If anyone was willing to send on articles, news items, or simply [...]

Systems folks on Lakoff and systemic causation

The topic of causation is anything but simple, and cognitive linguist George Lakoff has for years been describing and propagating the phrase "systemic causation." Here's Lakoff in a new post, linking Sandy to climate change: Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy - and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as [...]

Our smart grid future?

We've all heard the smart grid story. Digital communications networks will manage and monitor advanced electrical functions: integrating large quantities of distributed generation, shifting and scheduling demand loads, and dynamically pricing electrical delivery. The grid will be better able to balance the variability of renewables like wind and solar. Consumers will modify electricity use; we'll [...]

Climate regulation and requisite variety

If a photographer wants to capture twenty images, and the subject of each image requires a distinct combination of focus and exposure, then the camera must have available at least twenty distinct settings. This example of requisite variety comes from Ross Ashby's 1956 book An Introduction to Cybernetics (pdf download from Principia Cybernetica). At the [...]

Carbon bubble – a $20 trillion write-off?

Perhaps the most chilling observation in Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone article is that large quantities of climate-disrupting fossil fuels have already been factored into financial projections. The logic of finance creates into own realities, which are not easily discounted. Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it's already [...]

Sources and sinks – energy and resource quality

In yesterday's piece about "humanity's carbon budget," I followed Bill McKibben in comparing the constraints imposed by energy and climate. This is basically a story about sources and sinks -- where our stuff comes from and where it goes to. Decades ago, there was a lot of talk about resource constraints. The famous 1980 bet [...]

Humanity’s carbon budget

Eyes are on Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone article, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math." The math is not really new, but that hardly seems to matter, for the terror is real -- if you want to go there. McKibben has again written a defining piece. The story in a nutshell goes like this. Forget peak oil. [...]

Exxon Mobil: We will adapt to this

The Council on Foreign Relations posts the transcript of a fascinating talk by Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation, entitled: "The New North American Energy Paradigm: Reshaping the Future." Tillerson advocates for North American energy security, based on a Mexico-Canada-U.S. joint commitment to increased production. His talk serves as a reminder that [...]

Bob Inglis: A revenue-neutral tax swap

"What we're after is a conservative definition of sustainability," declares former-Congressman Bob Inglis, Republican from South Carolina. And why not? After all, conservative and conservation have much in common, theoretically. Inglis calls his proposal a revenue-neutral tax swap: Remove all energy subsidies, and attach all costs to energy products. He's been touting the tax swap [...]