Lima climate talks begin, Kinder Morgan withdraws

Lima talks open with optimism, posturing

Recent announcements of climate targets by the European Union, China, and the U.S., along with the rise of visibly practical alternatives to fossil fuels, are fueling optimism in the run-up to climate talks in Lima, which open this week. While the process is buoyed by the Green Climate Fund having nearly reached its initial $10 billion target, observers say that’s a paltry sum compared to the investment actually required for a clean energy transition. EU negotiators are bringing a pitch for binding targets, and a 56-country bloc wants carbon capture to be recognized in the deal that emerges from the sum of individual nations’ climate commitments.

Renewables gain ground in Scotland, presaging global gains

Renewable energy was the leading source of electricity in Scotland for the first half of this year, topping second-place nuclear power and third-place fossil generation, according to a Scottish trade association’s analysis. That national  milestone bolsters recent articles and in-depth reports arguing that an extensive transition to clean power is possible in the U.S. by mid-century. Although wind is currently the least expensive source of renewable power, Chinese renewables entrepreneur Li Hejun predicts in China’s New Energy Revolution that photovoltaics—particularly thin-film cells—will overtake it thanks to falling costs and the ubiquity of sunlight.

U.S. wind development tied up in fate of federal tax bill

The economics of U.S. wind development hangs on the fate of a package of tax incentives before the lame-duck session of Congress. A $440 billion bipartisan deal reached last week would renew the tax credit and then phase it out by 2017, but President Obama threatened a veto because the deal offered too few tax benefits for families. Offshore wind development is poised to expand, with four leases off the Massachusetts coast up for auction next month. Although offshore wind has drawn fire off nearby Martha’s Vineyard, South Dakota researchers have found wind development is welcomed in impoverished rural areas.

Study shows 80-percent-renewable Germany would save money

Germany’s largest utility last weekend embraced a new business model based on renewable energy, efficiency services, and grid operations, and will spin off its fossil power plants to a separate company. The shares of the firm, E.ON, rose more than 4 percent on the announcement. The company’s move underscores new research, which shows that cutting Germany’s carbon emissions 80 percent by mid-century would actually be profitable compared with continued dependence on fossil fuels. In turn, those findings support the feasibility of the European Union’s carbon reduction goals, so far the most ambitious of any government, although climate campaigners call for even deeper cuts.

Fossil fuel profiteers oppose state energy programs

In a move fraught with irony, Florida regulators last week ended energy efficiency programs and state rebates for rooftop solar installations, even though a one-meter rise in sea level caused by global warming would inundate more people’s homes in Florida than in any other state. The vote followed heavy lobbying by the state’s utilities whose markets were at risk. In a move stirred similarly by the profit motive, the Koch brothers are funding efforts to roll back state-imposed renewable energy standards, and to urge Republican congressional representatives to oppose the renewal of the wind energy tax credit.

Groups fighting clean-energy standards exposed as Astroturf

The Western States Petroleum Association spawned more than a dozen “Astroturf” entities to lobby against clean-fuel standards and the extension of California’s cap-and-trade system to include motor fuels, according to leaked documents. The association’s Powerpoint deck lists fake grassroots groups such as “Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy” and “California Drivers Alliance,” formed to carry the banner of unbridled fossil fuel consumption. Another member of the oil industry backed down in British Columbia last week, when Kinder Morgan bowed to protests and withdrew its drilling rigs from Burnaby Mountain before completing its geological probes for an oil pipeline.

Shareholders, citizen groups, seek limits on new fossil reserves

Two shareholder activism groups have filed a proxy proposal demanding that Exxon scale back oil exploration and instead distribute more profits as dividends to shareholders. The resolution’s proponents cite the high price of oil that would be needed to make the investments profitable, and the risk that those reserves would ultimately turn out to be unburnable due to climate concerns. In another move to stem increases in the supply of fossil fuels, two NGOs backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen are suing the federal government to demand that it review the climatic implications of coal-mining leases on public land. 

Climate coverage—fictional and real—comes in for criticism

Climate developments figured prominently in a recent episode of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, and the global warming facts presented there were actually accurate, according to one reporter’s analysis. But the facts were framed in a way that didn’t do justice to what was really significant about the issue, writes Grist’s David Roberts. It seems that art imitates life: just three days earlier, Roberts deconstructed the shortcomings in Politico’s coverage of the EPA rule on smog-forming pollution from power plants, highlighting the ways shallow journalism accepts basic industry premises about environmental protection and weaves them into the very fabric of its coverage.

New material promises power-free cooling for buildings

A new material developed at Stanford University has the potential to cool buildings and cars without using any electrical power. The prototype—about the size of a personal pizza—reflects sunlight back into space, but more unusually, radiates infrared heat at a wavelength that isn’t absorbed by the atmosphere. In tests published in Nature, the surface was nine degrees cooler than the ambient air, even when the sun was shining on it. With air-conditioning accounting for 15 percent of U.S. electric usage in buildings, the new substance could bring about substantial reductions in power demand.

* * *

On the Climate Solutions blog: A video montage of watercolor images and pithy text describes the importance of the carbon cycle to our climate, and how good management of the land, cities, and estuaries of the Pacific Northwest can provide benefits to our communities and their atmosphere. Kathy LeMay of Raising Change writes on the rhythms of social change. In this season of Thanksgiving, we appreciate those who joined us for Climate Solutions’ sixth annual dinner and report on the event for those who missed it. 

Seth Zuckerman's picture

Editor, ClimateCast

, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).