Carbon fee wins support, green investment up 16%

Study shows which fossil deposits should stay buried

A new study details which fossil fuel reserves would be most cost-effective to leave in the ground, if the world is to keep global warming under 2 ˚C. Writing in Nature, the researchers propose abandoning 80 percent of planet’s coal reserves, half its natural gas, and a third of the petroleum, while extracting only the cheapest and most accessible deposits. Seen in this light, one analyst sees the strategic wisdom in the Saudi decision to let oil prices slide to a level where only low-cost deposits like theirs are profitable to exploit. But some high-cost producers may keep pumping their fields to meet steep debt obligations.

Washington carbon charge draws public support

Washingtonians prefer a carbon charge as a way of funding state transportation improvements, according to a poll released last week. The carbon tax proposed in Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget won 70 percent support, beating out three other options—a gas tax, costlier car tabs, and a mileage fee. More than half of those polled said the state can’t afford not to improve its transportation network, a reversal of the result two years ago. On the local level, the governor’s climate goals drew support from the formal adoption last week of sweeping goals and commitments by the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration, which comprises nearly two-thirds of Washington’s largest county.  

Nebraska court OKs Keystone, fight moves to DC

A Nebraska court declined last week to overturn a law that greased the wheels of the Keystone XL pipeline through the state, tossing the decision on the project to Washington D.C., where Congress and President Obama stepped up their rhetoric. The GOP—flush with at least $700 million in fossil-fueled campaign funds in the last election cycle—has bet heavily on its fight against Obama’s climate agenda. But the prolonged fight against Keystone has emboldened opponents of other energy infrastructure projects across the country, who are challenging permits that together comprise a piecemeal energy policy in the absence of any legislated program.

Renewable power investment grows 16% in 2014

Global green power investment grew 16 percent last year, with increases in China and the U.S. leading the trend, Bloomberg New Energy Finance announced last week. Solar spending grew by 25 percent to garner more than half the investment in renewables for the first time. Australia, whose climate policies were up-ended by a Conservative parliamentary victory, saw its investment in renewables plunge by 88 percent. In Europe, Denmark won top marks in an EU study of climate policies and actions, while the Caribbean island of Bonaire has replaced nearly half its diesel generation with wind power, and is planning to displace the rest with biodiesel made from algae.

2014 officially hottest year on record

The Japan Meteorological Agency released data ranking 2014 as the hottest year in recent history, with record-setting heat in spring, summer, and fall, and an average temperature of 1.1 ˚F above the 20th century norm. Early in 2015, warm temperatures in the Cascade Mountains are lowering snow levels and driving snowfall 70 percent below average, forcing Northwest ski teams to cancel races, and raising the specter of drought and wildfire due to diminished runoff later in the year. Warmer temperatures and acidic oceans could bode ill for a favorite delectable: a new Swedish study finds that more acidic water causes shrimp to taste and look less appealing.

High-speed rail moves forward despite skeptics

California broke ground last week on a high-speed rail line, but some scoffed that the investment was less cost-effective at reducing global warming than alternatives such as electrified buses—and would take much longer to complete. As the price of gasoline plunged below $2 per gallon, observers wondered how long interest in alternative-fueled and high-mpg cars will last. But automakers pressed ahead, with GM announcing a $30,000, 200-mile electric car, and Toyota offering to license its fuel cell technology to others. The greenest mile is the one you don’t drive, however; 10 years after driving peaked, the federal government cut its forecasts of growth in traffic.

Some Republicans warm to solar energy

Rank-and-file Republicans have more nuanced views on climate action than their Congressional delegation, according to a new analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Most support the regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and a wide majority back tax rebates for solar panels and efficient vehicles. As if to underscore the results, a GOP-led group is circulating an initiative that would allow Florida solar power installations to sell power directly to the consumer, citing conservative values such as competition and the free market. In Minnesota, cheap fuel and peppy acceleration made a Tesla owner out of the new Republican chairman of the House energy committee.

Cape Cod offshore wind farm loses power contracts

The contentious wind project off the coast of Cape Cod suffered a major setback last week when two utilities that had agreed to buy most of its electricity gave notice that they want to cancel their purchase contracts. The utilities could exit because the project missed a Dec. 31 deadline to begin construction, but Cape Wind vowed to try to hold them to their agreement. The $2.5 billion project would be the first offshore wind project in the U.S., but it attracted opposition from prominent nearby property owners such as the Kennedy family and one of the Koch brothers, who opposed the project on aesthetic grounds.

Crowd-sourced projects document global warming

A group of leading photographers this month launched an Instagram collection of photos illustrating the impacts and causes of global warming, called Everyday Climate Change. The images already posted to the feed include tropical loggers, boreal insect outbreaks, coal mining, forest fires, and more, in the lush style of magazine photography. In Ontario, where backyard ice rinks are a treasured part of Canadians’ childhood, a geography professor created a crowd-sourced database called RinkWatch, to track where outdoor rinks are skateable across North America and document how the climate is changing over time. You can check out their live map here.

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On the Climate Solutions blog: The Lummi Nation cites its treaty rights in calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the permit for a coal export terminal near Bellingham, and Jessica Finn Coven lays out climate priorities for the coming session of the Washington state Legislature. 

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).