Our Wet Drought

July 29, 2007 | Michael Shellenberger,

I've been teasing friends and family that global warming has done wonders for northern California. The summer has been sunny and hot (for northern California). Little rain. Gorgeous Mediterranean meals at 6 pm after work. Plums, blackberries, peaches, and tomatoes -- all ripe for the picking and eating.

Alas, nobody has hesitated to remind me that dry days are upon us, and Mike Madison writes in today's Sunday Times that we should remember that the first year of the drought is always lovely:

[T]he first year of a drought is a gift to the farmer. Our apricot trees flowered under clear skies, the bees did their job, and in June we harvested a record crop. I sold fresh apricots, I dried apricots, and my wife put up 800 jars of apricot jam: straight apricot, apricot with lime, apricot with saffron. The other crops in the district -- olives, walnuts, almonds, plums -- are on the same track, heading for a record harvest.

But there is a dark side to this. If the first year of a drought is a gift, the second year is a worry, and the third year is a crisis. That crisis has a twist to it. In the third year, the lakes and reservoirs are empty, and not only is water in short supply, but so is electricity, for with empty reservoirs there is no flowing water to turn the hydroelectric turbines. We get power failures that frustrate irrigation and every other sort of industry. The farmers age a lot in those years.

Of course, as Madison notes, we don't know if this is the first drought year of many to come or not. Such is weather: it is the last thing we humans seem to control on earth, save ourselves.

A close friend has kept saying to me, "Why don't we have gray water systems? Everyone in Germany does!"

Aside from pointing out that Germany is ahead of us on everything cool, not just gray water systems, I didn't have an answer. But her point was spot-on: why isn't there a concerted effort to conserve all this amazing water we have rather than draining down our reservoirs?

I think about our house times 35 million other Californians. We use clean drinking flush our toilets and water our lawns. Why not recycle the water from our showers, laundry, and dishwashers?

Conservation is, I'm sure, only part of it. But some of these things seem so easy -- a bit more up-front labor and investment when building homes -- it's just amazing we don't do them.


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By Another comment on 2012 09 12

Don't argue with Bill Gates. He knows what he is saying.

By Eva on 2010 03 16

Pretending there are limitless resources available to support our current economy is the dangerous denial in question. There is no magic silver-bullet technology that makes energy cheap and clean. The obvious (and politically distasteful) answer is to fully pay for the energy we use - which means including a price on carbon for our gasoline and electricity.

The marketplace will adjust, creating entire new industries in both transportation and electricity efficiencies and conservation.

"It is not a momentous technological undertaking," to transform our economy away from fossil fuels. Its technologically possible today, and the "costs" of implementation are actually investments in our collective future.
See Dr. Saul Griffith "Climate Change Recalculated" to understand what it will take to build the renewable energy infrastructure we need.

By LMerry on 2010 01 14

Nowadays seem to everywhere already alert about energy crisis. It's definitely good way to save the world by start to use green power solution.

By DIY Solar Panels on 2009 09 28

The bottom line for me is that a carbon tax isn

By muskel on 2009 09 26

Breakthroughs are not that far away, with modest investments in R&D for advanced nuclear power. For example, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) can produce electricity cheaper than from coal. This is the only way we will ever convince nations to stop burning coal. You quote Jeffrey Sachs "It is difficult to see how coal-based developing economies such as China and India will subscribe to tight targets on emissions.." as I do in the presentation on the technology and benefits of LFTR. Here is a technology that produces < 1% of the waste of existing nuclear power plants, that runs on inexhaustible (for many millennia) thorium fuel, can burn existing nuclear waste, and is being pursued by hundreds of scientists and engineers, on a voluntary basis, with hardly any R&D funding. Concepts were proven in the 1970s. It now desperately needs funding to actually construct a prototype. Yet a proposal to ARPA-E for a bit over $100,000 to pursue one of the benefits (waste destruction) was rejected. There is a groundswell of consensus that somehow "renewable" or "green" technologies will solve our climate and energy problems, but anything related to "nuclear" is a priori dismissed. Please visit the Aim High presentation about the technology and benefits of the liquid fluoride thorium reactor at http://rethinkingnuclearpower.googlepages.com/aimhigh

By Robert Hargraves on 2009 08 02

Green Energy
I think clean energy is a point which should be considered by each person in particular, not only by the government.
Two years ago, my brother, who is an inventor, created a solar-powered mini-electric station, which we use up till now, and half a year ago a small electromobile for kids, now he is working on other useful things, and he does not need billions of dollars for this. He takes his ideas mostly from
So I think we should not only sit and wait for help from the authorities. We can start making our planet clean today!

By Lucy on 2009 07 27

Anyone who has taught science or read Tom Friedman's book, The World is Flat knows that our culture has become not only complacent but lazy in promoting science, technology, engineering and math. This will be part of our downfall if we don't correct it soon. Thank you for bringing this to light and call to action.

By Glenn Fay on 2009 07 27

Please drop us a comment: What do you think the U.S. needs to do to win the clean energy race?

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 07 27

Despite the questionable science around global warming or climate change, we are likely to replace most of our fossil fuels with fuels from agricultural products in the next century. As a result, these fuels will be carbon neutral.

For the Natural Laws of Innovation see http://hallingblog.com/2009/07/15/natural-laws-of-innovation-1/

By Dale B. Halling on 2009 07 16

All these words, but not one word about the two instances of the most dangerous word in ACES, nuclear!

By Harold One Feather on 2009 07 13

400 million dollars to develop technology that already exists. What a bargin! Does anyone in the government pay attention to anything that goes on outside of the beltway? Save the taxpayers some money and do some research on the internet.

By sohbet on 2009 07 10

He wouldn't need an artificial volcano - just lift the sulfur controls on coal burning plants.

Of course, the government would never think of doing something so simple.

By Sam on 2009 07 09

Nice thoughts has been added. needs no addition
Shelly Smith

foreclosure auctions

By foreclosure auctions on 2009 07 08

nice info

By John on 2009 07 01

I'm just passing by, having discovered this blog from another, but I wanted to point something out when it comes to oil prices that few seem to be aware of.

When priced in gold, the price of oil has been amazingly stable over the last 60 years, even during periods of extreme volitility, such as last years run up to almost $150/bbl and during the OPEC embargo. Just take the gold price in any given period, divide by oil price in the same period, then divide that result into a troy oz (approx 31.1 grams) to get the bbl cost in gold grams. It has remained around 3 grams over the last 60 years.



What we see is mostly the fluctuations of the currencies, namely the dollar. Btw, as of this writing, oil costs about 2.35g/bbl, well below the 60 year average.

By JustPassingBy on 2009 07 01

Coal Supporter

Coal fire power is truly the only real generator of electricity in this country. Everyone talks about cleaning up the environment, but those same people love to use the electricity produced from coal. If we stop coal fire power then the lights will go out and all the people that are fighting coal power will complain that when they went to turn on there light

By jamy on 2009 06 27

I think I found a claus in Waxman-Markey that will actually cause increases in CO2.

It looks to me, on page 245, that they have added a clause requiring companies using the Title XVII Loan Guarantee Program created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to pay the "prevailing wage" for the project. Won't this greatly increase the cost of the project using this program, since I understand the usual interpretation of "prevailing wage" is the union wage?

There are a lot of nuclear power projects in the queue over at the NRC that were going to use Title XVII program and I suspect "prevailing wage" is going to gut them.

By Joel Upchurch on 2009 06 25

Given that the EPA appears set to be stripped of a lot of its powers by this bill, it is hardly surprising that they will take a negative view of it. Personally I think clean coal is one of the greatest hoaxes we've yet seen, and it is a triumph of the mining sector.

By Roger on 2009 06 25

Happened to catch the interview on NPR this morning, and I agree that a positive financial spin on global warming solves a multitude of problems the world is facing. In the realm of economics, developing clean energy creates jobs in basic R&D for engineers and scientists, there will also be manufacturing and installation jobs for the blue collar workers and a number of sales jobs for those former booth babes at car shows.

Another benefit off the radar screen of people not technically savvy about the petroleum industry, is IMHO developing the alternative energy sector is a good segway to try and solve the very real problem of reserve replenishment (AKA PeakOil). Right now the world has a steady or declining demand for liquid fuels which powers 98% or so of the transportation fleet (cars, ships and aircraft).

A society which has an economy 70% based on consumption and banking isn't sustainable! If it were then the global economy would be going up right now instead of going down or sideways. History is full of examples where innovative technology has the ability to drive the economy forward, witness the 1870's railroad which drove westward expansion. The aircraft industry of the 1950's ushered in the jet age. Silicon valley, commericialed the computer and a new form of "web" communication. The next tech breakthur that will drive the economy is clean energy because it solves many problems and those who "invest" in finding market solutions will make lots of $$$!

By ben on 2009 06 25

Great segment this am. Thought I'd share a video with you that I produced for the CA Innovation Corridor about how the collaboration between government, universities and business (or venture capitol) is what grew innovation in CA. It is the only way we are going to keep any kind of edge here in America. We have already lost manufacturing, if we don't invest to keep innovation going, we will lose that too.

Here is the link: http://www.innovatecalifornia.net/BTHvideo
You have to download it and then use QuickTime to view it. If you want a CD copy , just email me and I'll send it along.

kathy cummings

By Kathy Cummings on 2009 06 24

The bill will be so watered down that it will be ineffective. It

By ken on 2009 06 24


We have just added your latest post "National Science Board Calls for New Commitment to Clean Energy Innovation" to our Directory of Science . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory and get a huge base of visitors to your website.

Warm Regards

Scienz.info Team


By marie on 2009 06 23

Look, I've been saying this for some time now. Waxman & Markey are so hell bent on getting an agreement, any agreement, that the legislation will prove to be a disaster. I believe that to get agreement and passage in Congress, the emissions bill will actually produce a net increase in C02. And this EPA report backs up my claim. This bill is so bad now it must be stopped before it is actually enacted. We need a strong emissions reduction, not this watered down mush!

By Ken on 2009 06 22

"But it's wishful thinking to believe that raising the price by $20 to $40 a ton would make a big difference ..."

How much of a difference would $100 a ton make?

Suppose, for example, that a carbon fee is applied to electricity generation, with fee revenue used exclusively to subsidize new-source renewable energy. The fee formula is determined to create a price incentive for clean-energy commercialization equivalent to $100 per ton. But since there would initially be no "new sources", fees would be zero at the outset of the program. Fees would become significant only when new renewables gain significant market share, by which time market competition from an expanding, subsidized clean-energy sector would deter fossil-fuel energy producers from passing the cost of carbon fees on to ratepayers.

We need to change our thinking about carbon pricing. "Price" does not equate to "cost". A high price does not even preclude zero cost.

By Ken Johnson on 2009 06 19

Great post! Thank you for given this...

By Solar Products on 2009 06 04

Thank you very much for given this great post!!!!

By Solar Power on 2009 06 03

By my quick math, this is actually a pretty sizable investment considering the relative size of Australia's economy, compared to the U.S.

Since I don't know how long the $465 million investment in R&D is sustained over, I'll assume here it's sustained for 9 years, as with the CCS money (a conservative estimate I'd wager).

Assuming that, the sum total of these investments (USD 3.6 billion total and USD 574.7 million annually) is the equivalent of USD 10.3 billion annually as an equivalent portion of the nation's GDP (US GDP is 17.9x larger than Australian GDP, according to Google). That's not too shabby, and a good start from our friends Down Undah.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 06 02

Thanks for clarifying Leigh.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 06 02

Thanks for this good post.........

By Solar Power Business on 2009 05 29


By Marco on 2009 05 27

I have been reading Climate Progress for over a year. It's entertaining and topical, but I agree with all your criticisms of Romm. He shuts down debate with anyone who disagrees with him in even the slightest detail.

I have now been moderated to death and then banned twice on his blog. If you read the comments that survive they are now all of the "Joe you're a fantastic guy I want to have your babies keep up the good work" variety.

By Robert on 2009 05 24

I like the stuff you post on TBI - you share a healthy scepticism of the loophole ridden, easily gamed and weak W-M. Its rubbish - the US can do better than that.

Have you seen that mad Joe is having a pop at you again?


By Robert on 2009 05 23

Thank you for this great post.!!!!!!!!!!

By Solar Power Business on 2009 05 22

Good questions Jessie. There is some contradictory information about the amounts of cash allocated in the 09-10 budget. The Commonwealth will spend A$2 billion over nine years for CCS, and A1.6 billion over four years for building solar power plants. I have not yet been able to determine the time frame for the A$465 million to establish 'Renewables Australia'. I'll post again when I get more details. Cheers, Leigh.

By Leigh Ewbank on 2009 05 20

The initiative is good! A candidate should not wait for a particular time specifically before election in insisting this kind of proposal. Build America Bonds are tipped to be hot sellers. Build America Bonds, part of President Obama's infrastructure overhaul, are high interest government bonds that are issued by state and municipal departments. It's an investment in American infrastructure, and therefore American commerce; it would be worth short term loans to pick a few up. The series of bonds issued by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has only about $250 million worth left, out of about $3.5 billion worth of bonds they had to begin with. They are selling like hotcakes, and investors are scrambling to get their hands on safe investments and debt relief through wise trades like Build America Bonds.

By Payday Loan on 2009 05 19

Thanks for looking out for things Down Undah, Leigh. So glad to have you and the rest of the 2009 Breakthrough Generation fellows joining the team in our office here in just a couple weeks.

A question: what does the annual investment figure amount to? How much will be invested each year in solar, CCS and R&D? Seemed like the figures above were spread over different periods of time, and just wanted to be sure. Thanks for clarifying.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 05 18

The other issue is that Rust Belt money would be largely sent to states that need it much less. Finding a way not to hurt Rust Belt residents and industries by funneling money from the cap into green jobs, for example, would bring votes to this bill.

By Pat on 2009 04 30

Nice tone. I read Romm. He's a smart guy, and I think his heart is in the right place on energy and the environment. But he doesn't seem to be capable of really weighing the facts in an impartial manner. This is easily apparent every time he attacks you guys. I wish Podesta would rein him in a bit and let him know that this whole debate and movement is about more than proving Joe Romm right or wrong. It's about getting the best energy and climate policy we can get, and as soon as possible.

By Jackson on 2009 04 25

Wilmot, a couple things. First, devoting auction revenues to compensating consumers does not mean subsidizing utility bills to offset rate increases. If you give money back to households via a straight check (dividend) or a tax credit, they will be able to afford dealing with rate increases. However, since the rates (cost per unit) still go up, they are still incentivized not to purchase as much electricity or carbon intensive goods. So it doesn't end up all back with the power companies. Second, none of the auction revenue is "committed" yet, so hopefully some does go to research. But research usually gets overlooked in the rush to subsidizing deployment, because (I think) research labs aren't as heavy campaign donors as (even clean) energy companies. Finally, what presents a bait and switch for unrelated spending? Hopefully, political accountability, remember there was a bit of a push to spend this money on healthcare a little while ago, but that really rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, so its been dropped.

By Max Epstein on 2009 04 24

I agree. A tough carbon emission price, with cap auction revenues dedicated to real solutions (including a renovated national grid), and no phony offsets, is the only hope of doing anything meaningful in the time (20 years) we have to make a difference on global climate change. It is also the only hope of making clean power attractive enough to stimulate investment in clean tech. I believe that a call to action will get a good response from the American people, provided they can be assured that this is not just another fraud on the part of their government to sneak through a tax to pay for more earmarks and bailouts and wars. Dirty power is cheap in America, and we should get used to paying what the rest of the world pays for clean power. However, the recent Senate vote on consumer indemnity amendments seems to indicate which way the wind is blowing. Consumers want their cheap power to continue, and are not willing to make substantial sacrifices to pay for pollution controls. Politicians therefore be under pressure to promise them that cap revenues will go to offsetting the rate hikes that can be expected when the utilities go to their friendly local PUCs. So what then is the purpose of the cap auction, if the proceeds will get shuffled around and wind up back in the power companies due to compensating rate hikes? Practically none of the proceeds will go to research and development because they are committed to consumer indemnity. And how about the possibility of a bait-and-switch to get more revenue for non-related spending, a repeat of Social Security? What prevents that?

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 04 23

Max -- You say "the high carbon price isn't a big deal if you compensate consumers for the price increases that come from cap/trade" and you are probably right on that. The recent Senate vote on consumer indemnity amendments seems to indicate which way the wind is blowing. Consumers want their cheap power to continue, and are not willing to make substantial sacrifices to pay for pollution controls. Politicians therefore have to promise them that cap revenues will go to offsetting the rate hikes that can be expected when the utilities go to their local PUCs. So what then is the purpose of the auction, if the proceeds will wind up back in the power companies due to compensating rate hikes? Practically none of the proceeds will go to research and development because they are committed to consumer indemnity. And how about the possibility of a bait-and-switch to get more revenue for non-related spending, a repeat of Social Security? What prevents that?

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 04 23

Hot fusion, supercolliders, and such pure science research projects, are black hole money pits sucking up all available funding for applied science directed to making clean tech work. So a call for more money will be ineffective if the existing funding priorities are preserved. Even for clean tech applied science, research money for new approaches will be scarce because DOE has already committed $80 billion in future funding to 16 contractors for the old stuff. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/news/news_detail.html?news_id=12150 This parting shot of the Bush administration (Dec. 18, 2008) makes sure no new technology can be investigated, reiterating the canard that we already know what we need, and all that is missing is more money.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 04 23

Jesse, I'll respond to your FIRST/SECOND/THIRD points with 1/2/3 below...

1. You write: "There's just targets and a price signal. The only way the "cap's" mandates will be met is if there are readily available emissions reductions opportunities that are cheap enough to be deployed at scale without triggering the cost containment measures."

There will always be domestic offsets available for lower than the market price of an allowance, in any program that has any pretenses of offering fewer allowances each year than the year before. The market for allowances is so vast-- and the price difference between the allowances and offsets will always be too large to be arbitraged away-- that there will always be a backlog of investments in pending offset credits. By using public funds to deploy more wind farms, you are not reducing offsets but just incentivizing a few more coal plants to fire longer before they pass the baton to a gas-fired generator.

2. You write "a carbon price is a uniform subsidy. It applies the same to all clean energy forms. If it's $10/ton, then clean energy is that much more affordable relative to competitors, all forms of clean energy." Exactly, that's what makes it efficient. Then you write "But the prices of clean energy alternatives are NOT uniform." This is where policy gets dangerous. If solar is unfairly hindered by a collective action dilemma where no one is willing to step up and invest in a 2 year expensive project to discover a new catalyst that all other will then profit from, increase the appropriations for the DOE Office of Science and get started on it. If its 3-5 times more expensive than wind because...its 3-5 times more expensive than wind, than the system should deploy 3-5 times (or really way more) wind. Or set the equal "subsidy" (I'd call it a Pigouvian tax) and force solar to compete by becoming competitive, forcing the kinds of breakthroughs like CSP that will save us all money.

3. Jesse, I never dispute the need for public research, I even highlighted it in my question. But you're talking about something else entirely. On deployment of existing technology to satisfy existing market demand, private investors playing with their own money and playing for keeps will deploy capital much more efficiently than any Congressional PV spending program.

You also keep bringing up this ominous specter of the too-high carbon price, but the high carbon price isn't a big deal if you compensate consumers for the price increases that come from cap/trade. I know you guys keep harping on what the polling data shows but you can get a polled public to tell you anything you want. You could easily assemble polls ostensibly showing that the public strongly opposes everything Obama has done or plans to do. Do the policy right so that you can tout the environmental accomplishments without bankrupting voters and the public will go along with it just fine. You have to put more thought into how you compensate consumers than Congress is doing now, considering not just income but geographic variation in energy price increases they'll be exposed to, but it can be done.

By squandering the revenue on non-public-good functions that the cap will already motivate private actors to do, you are providing less compensation for consumers, prices will still go up, purchasing power will decline, and you will have no chance of strengthening the cap later (before or after passage of original bill). This is as much a threat to put a damper on a strong incentive for private sector investment in clean energy as any legislated cost-containment. That will also have adverse consequences for any chance of us discovering anything exportable to China and India, who, by the way, seem intent on becoming the next France and leaving us in the dust anyway.

By Max Epstein on 2009 04 22

Max (and all), I actually turned your question and my reply here into a quick separate blog post here:


Would welcome continued discussion here or at that blog post (probably at the other post is better)

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 21

Hi Max. You're missing a few things actually, but thanks for asking. First, the goal of investments is not to compel emissions reductions beyond what the cap mandates. The goals are several-fold. FIRST: you assume that the cap's mandates will be met without any further assistance. That assumption is wrong if any cost containment provisions, including safety valve/price offramps, discretionary price controls, massive use of offsets and/or borrowing from the future mechanisms are included. They are. In the Waxman-Markey bill (the latter two) and in every other climate legislation enacted or given serious consideration anywhere in any political economy in the world. If the bill has cost containment, there isn't really a "cap." There's just targets and a price signal. The only way the "cap's" mandates will be met is if there are readily available emissions reductions opportunities that are cheap enough to be deployed at scale without triggering the cost containment measures. That's where investment and a "tech push" is critical to maximizing the chances of meeting emissions reductions goals and to making up for the shortcomings of the "price/market pull" approach of cap and trade/carbon taxes. SECOND: a carbon price is a uniform subsidy. It applies the same to all clean energy forms. If it's $10/ton, then clean energy is that much more affordable relative to competitors, all forms of clean energy. But the prices of clean energy alternatives are NOT uniform. Wind is only a bit more expensive than coal (plus needs infrastructure build out) while solar is 3-5 times more expensive than coal, for example. Why should we want to make ALL dirty energy more expensive than the MOST expensive clean energy source we want to spur? Why not make dirty energy moderately more expensive, provide some market pull, and then use the revenues to fund targeted tech push strategies to push the development and drive down the costs (subsidized at first, real eventually) down to the price where the carbon price will take over? That gives you the same reductions, a better technology development pipeline and lower cost of compliance to the economy? Carbon dollars do double duty: first as modest market pull, second as critical funding source for targeted and effective investments to spur emerging technologies to scale and down the price curve. THIRD (and probably most importantly): we don't want to make clean energy cost competitive with coal WITH A CARBON PRICE. We want and NEED to make clean energy cheaper than coal. Period. Anywhere. In China and India and Brazil and everywhere else where the bulk of expected energy and emissions growth will occur, they demand affordable and scalable energy sources. Right now, fossil fuels are just about the only thing that foots the bill. The leaders of those nations have been pretty clear, over and over, that they won't put much of a price on carbon, if any at all. At least not for a LONG time. Since global warming is, after all, a global problem, we can't ignore this massive demand for affordable and abundant energy. How will that demand be met? With more coal plants, or with new clean and cheap energy sources? The answer will make or break our chances to stabilize the climate. Knowing that, the explicit goal of climate policy in the rich nations of the world should be to MAKE CLEAN ENERGY CHEAP. That argues for a limited role for making dirty energy more expensive through carbon taxes. We don't want to rely on a $50/ton carbon price to make clean energy sources competitive, for example. Especially not if there's little incentive in our policy design for those technologies to get much cheaper than that. We can rely on a modest carbon price to do some useful market pull and bring more mature clean energy techs to scale faster (and therefore down in price somewhat). But the real work can and should be done by tech push investments that can be targeted appropriately and steadily lowered in price as clean energy techs reach scale and achieve price and performance improvements. That's a strategy to MAKE CLEAN ENERGY CHEAP and to make coal obsolete in China eventually. If a climate strategy can't ultimately do that, then we're sunk. How does cap and trade do that? Thanks for the questions as always. What are your thoughts?

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 21

Remember when cigarette taxes were only going to fund anti-smoking programs and health care costs and the lottery was going to pay for schools? I do. "Clean energy" will be the bait and general fund revenue will be the switch.

By Robert L. www.neolibertarian.com on 2009 04 21

Jesse, what exactly is investing public money in deployment of wind farms and PV arrays supposed to accomplish if you do it with a carbon cap/trade?

Its one thing to address market failures like a lack of research and transmission, but deploying extra carbon-reduction measures in sectors covered by the cap will not compel emissions reductions beyond what the cap mandates. What am I missing?

By Max Epstein on 2009 04 21

Hi Payal, thanks for your work on this report as well. Excellent analysis. Yes, I noticed that the level of offsets allowed is set in absolute terms, not as a percentage of required allowances, which would make the volume of offsets allowed decline proportionately over time as the cap goes down (and would make more sense). Seems crazy to think we'd be able to find 2 billion tons of good reliable offsets today, let alone in 2040 or 2050 as you point out. Thanks for the comment.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 20

Thanks for this informative post.

By Photovoltaic Cells on 2009 04 20

Hi Jesse,

Thanks for your insightful blog and publicizing our report. Just a minor point, but the percentage of emissions allowance that can be met by offsets steadily rises over time (see the figure).

So by 2050 offsets can equal 2/3 of emissions allowances. Realistically, this doesn't make sense, because by 2050, one would expect source countries of offsets (India, China, Brazil) to also be reducing emissions, either through international agreements of their own domestic legislation. But this is what the bill allows!

By Payal Parekh on 2009 04 20

Jesse, sorry for the late reply.

On your last point, I would phrase it a bit differently. Compromise is inevitable, but I'm not sure that has to mean "cost containment," as in the kind of cost containment that is so aggressive it undermines the cap. Remember how before everyone talked about how a cap/trade would disproportionately hurt the poor? But that argument, while not gone, is generally muted now that policy makers have gotten serious about returning most of the revenue back to consumers to alleviate price increases. Its hard to scare someone with "your electricity bill will go up 10%" if the other side can say "yea but we'll mail you a check for $800 every year, more than the difference."

You could do this to address the regional cost issue as well, distributing some of the carbon revenue to states based on their vulnerability to a carbon price. Then, just like with the poor, there's no argument of "well what if the carbon price rises to X," because then the assistance goes up as well. So I'm still holding out hope that our need for compromise will not entail an overreliance on cost containment and other gimmicks, but obviously you can only be so optimistic after Waxman-Markey.

So if we take your point that offsets and assorted garbage will make their way into the bill, does that mean we need to spend the carbon revenue on clean energy? Maybe, but I think you have to be very careful to accomplish more than nothing. The cap sets the level of carbon reduction in the capped sectors, so from a practical perspective spending carbon revenue on deploying more wind farms than the cap otherwise would have compelled will lower the carbon price and a few coal plants will burn more coal or cofire less biomass or whatever to make it up.

You could spend the money on pursuing reductions outside the cap though, like protecting international forests, clean development generally, or trying to reduce our emissions in noncapped sectors (like agriculture). And most climate bills do some of this. But if you're spending on clean tech deployment in capped sectors, you're either raising or lowering the national cost of meeting the cap, but probably not contributing extra reductions beyond the cap. And I'd be generally skeptical, outside of addressing certain market failures such as transmission capacity and information problems with efficiency, that a broad program of energy deployment would really deploy resources more efficiently than private actors investing with their own money.

I could be missing part of your plan though. How do you see your deployment program interacting with the cap itself to exceed it?

By Max Epstein on 2009 04 20

Cap and trade bill is about as senseless as enacting gun control legislation, i.e., guns don't kill people, people kill people. What puzzles me most though, is how the whole climate change issue became intermingled with forcing corporation to assume a moral obligation for protecting the air, water and land of their customers-this is totally incorrect thinking as it is not a realistic solution to the whole issue at all.
A solution would be to enact legislation similar to that of the early twentieth anti-monopoly legislation, whereby the rights of the consumers and shareholders to a safe environment is guaranteed. The government cannot be allowed to enact laws itself regulating corporate policy. The laws must originate from the people and shareholders!!! This is why those environmental groups are failing, they cannot support the legislation as it would violate their non-profit status!
To close, nuclear energy is not the solution as it does point out that as a instrument of foreign policy, it offers only nuclear combat (which i feel is inevitable).

By igmuska on 2009 04 20

Hi Paul, thanks for commenting. Involving a number of different federal agencies involved in energy-related R&D is key. That is principally DOE, but also includes DOD, USDA, NASA, NSF, and Commerce's NIST and the Small Business Administration's Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) fund. We need a government-wide focus on clean energy innovation to propel American into a clean, prosperous new energy economy. Hope you keep reading and commenting. Cheers...

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 17

Hi CTF, thanks for the comment. In theory, I do tend to lean towards a carbon tax as a more transparent and straightforward way to set a carbon price, but like I said, a similar end goal can be accomplished through a cap and trade system with a price ceiling (or even a price floor as well), which makes it more like a carbon tax anyway. However, I'm not a fan of "revenue-neutral" carbon pricing, if by that you mean returning all of the carbon dollars to individuals or businesses through decreased taxes elsewhere or direct rebates. I think that defeats the primary purpose of the carbon tax, which is to raise significant revenues to reinvest in accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy. Given the political limits placed on carbon pricing, we are highly unlikely (I'd even say we flat out are not going) to establish a price signal on carbon that is sufficient enough to drive the transition to a clean energy economy at the pace and scale we need. Beyond that, there are many non-price-related barriers to a clean energy economy that the private sector cannot overcome, even with a better price signal on carbon. For that, we need a smart policy of targeted public investments in clean energy R&D, accelerated early stage commercialization and deployment, enabling infrastructure, education and low-cost financing to bring down capital barriers to efficiency. Almost all of those are "public goods" - i.e. their benefits are diffuse whereas the costs to any private sector actor would be concentrated and prohibitive. This is a role for public investment. Public investments built the railroads, highways, and fiber optic cables that united a transcontinental nation and enabled ever more efficient commerce. Public investments electrified rural America and irrigated the arid West. And it was public investment in technological innovation that gave birth to jet engines and commercial aviation, gas turbines and nuclear power, microchips and the Internet. Each of these smart public investments supported and catalyzed innovative American firms and businesses, spurred lasting economic growth, and served as the foundation of the nation

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 17

p.s. Max: thanks for the tip about the total allowances allocated in those years. I'll dig into the bill and see what you're talking about. Sounds weird, and haven't heard anyone else talk about that yet. What do you think about my concluding point though: that cost containment is inevitable, so we'd better be (a) thinking about the best kind of cost containment and (b) designing the rest of the policy to make up for the limits on carbon pricing that cost containment entails?

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 17

Max, thanks for the comment. Yes, I'm not "gaga" over the Waxman bill, that's for sure. There are still a lot of crucial details to be worked out, and what we have now is a discussion draft only, but I'm not at all excited by it. You can read more of my coverage of the bill here: http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/2009/04/new_climate_bill_proof_of_misp.shtml The bill's authors try to make a big deal out of the fact that this is an "energy and climate bill", not a cap and trade bill, relying on the slough of additional regulations and standards in the bill, like the RPS you mention. But indeed, those regulations do little really to add to the bill's robustness, or even to help spur the development and deployment of clean, cheap energy technologies. For that, the bill should focus on reinvesting the proceeds of the carbon allowance auctions into clean energy development and deployment, enabling infrastructure (like a 21st century grid) and low-cost financing options to break down capital cost barriers for energy efficiency (in that order of priority, IMO). That would truly accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy in the U.S., create jobs, strengthen our economic competitiveness, lower the ultimate cost of compliance with the carbon regulations and actually make up for the limited price signal the cap and trade system is likely to produce (given all the offsets or other cost containment provisions). Watch the House Energy Subcommittee markup of this bill closely over the next couple of weeks. If Chairman Markey goes back to the kind of bill he introduced in 2008 (iCAP), which invested billions in clean energy, we may have something worth fighting for. If not, it'll be time to start from scratch while we wait for cap and trade to run aground somewhere down the line. (Note: our comments at the blog accept limited formatting and no html. We had a problem with it earlier and have turned it off. Sorry for the less-than-ideal comment formatting. We're trying to upgrade our comments fields soon. Bear with us!).

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 17

I agree that cap and trade is fundamentally flawed and I hope beyond hope that Congress can move beyond it and work toward a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The bottom line for me is that a carbon tax isn

By CTF on 2009 04 17

Please include agencies that we normally wouldn't think were involved in energy conservation. I specifically name NASA. They can lower their carbon footprint per mission. NASA needs to remember how proud they felt when they invented the integrated circuit as a by-product of their work.

Please be prepared to develop and deploy inventions that inexpensively ameliorate the symptoms of global warming, or which inhibit global warming. Simple schemes, such as putting white roofs on houses on California, have had nonzero effects.

By Paul Klinkman on 2009 04 17

huh, sorry for the huge clump, I swear I typed it in with paragraph breaks...

By Max Epstein on 2009 04 17

Jesse, its refreshing to see someone in the environmental community not go gaga over the Waxman bill just because it has a Renewable Electricity Standard (which doesn't increase the carbon reduction under a cap/trade anyway, it just makes you pay more for the same amount).

I would be careful citing the Friends of the Earth report on carbon trading though. One of their recommendations is to ban banking of allowances for use in future years, which I had never heard anyone seriously suggest before. I doubt you could find an economist who wouldn't agree that would seriously increase price volatility, not decrease it. There were a few other very curious proposals in there as well.

On offsets, I don't think the right criticism is that "there's no way we can get 2 billion good ones." If, like the CDM, only X million are certified, that would still be a net plus if we could monitor/verify them. But we can't. Like the Stanford authors you mention wrote, (full study available at: http://www.ucei.berkeley.edu/PDF/seminar20090213.pdf ) there are just fundamental incentive and monitoring problems with any offset program.

Finally, a couple more gimmicks that Waxman-Markey engages in. 1) The cap actually doesn't decline for the first 8 years. I'm confused where the idea that it does comes from (though the EPA administrator is given some authority to tweak things down the line. But you never know who will be president in 2012, much less 2020. In 2004 political consensus was Democrats wouldn't win another election for a longgg time). Check out pages 360-361 in the bill text here:

4,770 million allowances in 2012, 4873 in 2020. In the intervening years it doesn't even stay stable or anything - it bounces around between 4666 and 5391. Weird. I mean the path's a bit irrelevant because of banking, but point is way more emissions allowances (and so actual emissions) are authorized for as long as anyone's planning on still being in office.

2) The "strategic reserve" of allowances to buffer price spikes is really just an absolute price ceiling. This is because its a virtually limitless pool of allowances because it dips from every year in advance, and proportionately more from later years, when proportionately more reductions are supposed to take place already. And then its continually refilled by purchasing offsets after allowances are expended. An actual "strategic reserve" would be a great idea, but to do it responsibly you'd have to fill it with extra allowances from a price-floor in the early years, or at least borrow from years in the soon-future (within 5 years or so). Borrowing from decades in the future is just punting to the future, just like not passing anything would be.

By Max Epstein on 2009 04 17

The compromise is to invest in new "green" nuclear technology. Dr. James Hansen (NASA AGW scientist) has endorsed this approach.


Those concerned about the safety, proliferation, and waste of current nuclear will be much more comfortable with this vastly improved "green" nuclear.

Those concerned about co2 and AGW will support "green" nuclear.

Those concerned about energy cost and US job loss will support "green" nuclear.

What is "green" nuclear? LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). This is a thorium salt reactor technology that was demonstrated in the 60's but largely abandoned because the thorium fuel cycle produces very little plutonium. In the 60's plutonium was desired to build weapons.



By charlesH on 2009 04 16

Christina, thanks for the comment. As far as CO2 goes, we can convert relatively easily there. It appears that the CO2 intensity of a Quad of crude oil (about 75 million metric tons/Quadrillion BTUs) is just about a third of the carbon intensity of the average kilowatt-hour from the U.S. grid (about 1470 lbs/KWh or 215 million metric tons/Quadrillion BTU). So, if all of that at-home energy consumption saved was electricity, it would have a higher impact on CO2 emissions than the comparison to barrels of oil energy equivalent would imply. However, even in this scenario, if you retrofit one third of all U.S. homes to save one third of their energy on average, you'd save about 8 percent of total U.S. CO2 emissions from energy (currently around 6 billion metric tons/year, that's for CO2 only, not including other GHGs or emissions from non-energy related activities). In reality, it'd likely be much less than that, since homes also consume natural gas and fuel oil, both of which are much less carbon intensive than electricity in the U.S. average mix (maybe the savings would be around 6%). Again, not insignificant savings, but that's from a massive effort to retrofit over 30 million homes over a decade. That's also a decade in which energy demand is expected to rise under business as usual scenarios, so you are fighting to overcome that as well. There's no reason to not get started on that effort, but we shouldn't consider it reason to delay action to rapidly develop and deploy a whole portfolio of affordable and abundant clean energy sources. There's no "time bought" by this kind of effort to retrofit millions of homes.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 15

Seeing these numbers in terms of implications for global warming requires considering the decrease in carbon emissions associated with retrofitting home. About half of electricity consumption is met through burning coal, a much dirtier fuel than oil. Thus, carbon emissions are likely being decreased by a larger percentage than energy consumption.

Among the range of possibilities for decreasing carbon emissions and energy consumption, efficiency programs stand out as the most economically viable option. In most cases, efficiency improvements produce a net savings both financially and in terms of consumption. Because the technology is available and affordable, these programs can get off the ground immediately while the details of more complex programs such as cap and trade are being debated.

Retrofits can be costly and cumbersome. However, there is great potential for encouraging the use of best available technologies through regulation. The EPA already has mandated the use best available technologies in relation to other harmful gases through its administering of the Clean Air Act. Retrofitting 3 millions homes in a decade is small compared to the roughly 2 million new homes per year predicted to be built per year by a report of the Homeownship Alliance. This is without including figures on retrofitting existing commercial structures, which account for a large proportion of our energy use. Best technologies could also be mandated for future commericial construction to increase this savings figure.

By Christina H on 2009 04 15

Obama science adviser: nuclear winter can halt global warming



By Pat on 2009 04 15

Jon, If there was such strong agreement on cap and trade, why are there three bills? And if you support large public investment so much, why isn't that reflected in the legislation you've endorsed? I'm not asking for greens to be perfect or united. I'm just pointing out that a strategy based centrally on raising energy prices cannot succeed in creating the clean energy transformation we all want. There's a gap here between the rhetoric of technology innovation and the policy proposals, including Van Hollen's, being put forward to achieve it.


By Michael Shellenberger on 2009 04 14

Breakthrough's continued obsession with finding 'disarray and division among greens' is both odd and telling. Once again, the mischaracterization can be chalked up to not reaching out - to not talking with folks like me who so often want to promote the good content of Breakthrough's work.

For if Michael had bothered to ask me, here's what I would have told him:

Let's consider the 'disarray and division' claim in the paragraph in which I am mentioned as a supporter of the Van Hollen bill. In fact, in the two pro-Van Hollen public fora in which I recently participated (at Powershift and on a National Call-In last week), the bill's supporters were crystal clear: we support ANY climate legislation that will work (including, I might add, the kind of 'breakthrough' investments advocated by, well you know ...) To speak out in favor of one of the three main bills that aim to put a price on carbon - Van Hollen, Larson, or Waxman-Markey - is to be neither divisive nor to seek disarray. It is to be engaged.

Supporter that I am of Breakthrough, I find the continued greens-are-in-disarray meme to be rather ripe by now. It's an unproductive use of the good minds and outreach that Breakthrough has at its disposal. You have made the point, again and again and again, Michael: greens are imperfect. But to build a coalition is much, much harder than to judge. Breakthrough has proved its ability to do the latter; are they willing to really take on the former? At least among recent graduates of the Breakthrough Institute, I do see such promise.

By Jon Isham on 2009 04 14

After double and triple checking these numbers, it really does seem clear that while retrofitting homes to save energy is a no-brainer and clearly has some impact, it simply isn't (and cannot be) the cornerstone of our national energy strategy. Efficiency retrofits should be pursued as an adjunct to (and complementary to) a concerted energy innovation and deployment strategy which can make clean energy cheap and bring a whole portfolio of clean energy technologies to scale as quickly as possible.

This post clearly points out the scale issues involved with efficiency retrofits and makes it clear that those who propose efficiency as a way to "buy us some time" are really misleading us. If we launched an all-out effort to retrofit 3 million homes annually, we'd save just a 18 days worth of oil consumption equivalent each year. Not a lot of time bought there!

We should pursue efficiency, but it CANNOT and MUST NOT be approached as an alternative to a cohesive, strategic and well-funded effort to develop clean, cheap and massively scalable energy technologies to sustainably power the 21st century global economy.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 14

Wilmot, Joe Romm does indeed "support" some investment in R&D in passing, but it's far from "a large increase in R&D funding for clean tech," as you write. In the "Breakthrough Illusion" piece I referenced above Joe Romm writes this (after writing at length about why we don't need, can't count on, and otherwise are wasting our time focusing on transformational innovation):

"Obviously government R&D, and especially first-of-a-kind demonstration programs, are critical before the technology can be introduced to the marketplace on a large scale

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 14

The best thing to do is apply the new auto policy by President Obama. So for the manufacturers out there, try inventing a ref that wouldn't cause big damage on our environment.

By buy wow gold on 2009 04 13

Ultimately, the issue is that many people have lost sight of our natures as omnivorous animals.

By libhomo on 2009 04 12

Joe Romm actually recommends a large increase in R&D funding for clean tech. His point in emphasizing deployment, as I understand it, is that time is short and we can't wait for better solutions to be discovered, given what he knows about how the research game is played. He has good grounds for pessimism. So at least have some respect for his sincerity, and give the author of "The Hype about Hydrogen" -- a great book -- a break here.

Pure science research, as pursued at universities and national science labs, should give way to mission-driven research, like the Manhattan Project or the effort that produced the transistor at Bell Labs. Pure science has so far failed to produce anything scalable and realistic to solve the basic problem, which is that the world, especially India and China, needs coal to satisfy the increasing demand for electricity, and there is presently no available CO2 capture and storage (or conversion) technology. DOE research money goes to string theory, supercolliders, hydrogen cars, etc. The academic caste system stands in the way of practical solutions.

We need some way to crowdsource the breakthrough search for post-combustion carbon capture and conversion (viz. "Crowdsourcing," by Jeff Howe (2008)). Maybe BI can help by defining problems and offering incentives for solutions, as InnoCentive does for private industry. (Id. at 42-45).

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 04 11

Those numbers look pretty much dead-on. The U.S. Residential sector consumed 20.77 Quadrillion BTUs (Quads) of primary energy in 2006 (from EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2009). That's about 1/5th of total US energy consumption (which is at right about 100 Quads in 2006).

If we cumulatively retrofitted 1/3rd of all US homes to save 1/3rd of their energy, we'd save 20.77*.33*.33 = 2.26 Quads of energy annually. That's the energy equivalent of 373 million barrels of oil each year, or about 18 and a half days of oil consumption each year, 186 days over 10 years. That's also just 5% of annual oil consumption and about 2.25% of total US primary energy consumption.

So that puts the numbers Michael estimates above in the right ballpark. If 30 million homes is about 1/3rd of all US homes and they get about a 15-30% energy savings when retrofit (who knows how much the Times assumes you save when a home is retrofitted), you'd save on the order of 90-180 days worth of oil consumption equivalent, or just a couple percent of total U.S. energy demand for all of that effort. Helping save customers money on their energy bills is great, and there are plenty of reasons to want to do that, but we're not going to get to a sustainable and prosperous 21st century energy economy by retrofitting homes. It's just not the cornerstone of a smart energy policy.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 11

Who pays for government investment? Taxpayers pay for government investment and the useage of electricity. The USA budget is way out of control and must be reduced before disaster strikes. Full effort on development of offshore oil and gas should be a part of any government policy.

By rdk on 2009 04 08

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By Solar Power Business on 2009 04 08

The world needs a new basis innovation for a 6th Kondratieff cycle. Nefiodow tells us that the long-waves are becoming more powerful and closer together. Just think of where the world would be without the informatics boom.

Thank you for this timely report. I learned about your think tank through your twitter account (thank you IT).

The next innovation must be in clean and cheap energy production. Oh yea, and we need it NOW.

By Jim on 2009 04 08

Tim, thanks for the comment as well. Indeed, a variety of policies will be needed, but we also have to be clear about the scale of the challenge and not neglect key priorities, including efforts to dramatically accelerate technological innovation in the energy sector. Please keep commenting and voicing your reactions, questions and responses to our posts. Thanks and take care,

Jesse Jenkins

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 08

Asa, glad you find something of interest here, and it's always good to consult numerous sources. However, I want to point out that we are not, in fact, solely focused on "massive R&D" and have advocated major public investments in the direct deployment of clean energy technologies as well as a modest carbon price as a synergistic measure and a funding mechanism. See most recently, this post: http://theenergycollective.com/TheEnergyCollective/37028 but there's a lot more in our archives I can point you to if you'd like. We're definitely not advocating any delay in deploying current technologies at scale, even while we support the kind of transformational innovation the experts and organizations cited above all advocate. Sincerely,
Jesse Jenkins

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 08

This is why I read both your blog and Joe Romm's (and others). Breakthrough is too quick to diss approaches other than massive R&D, and Romm is focused on exactly those approaches. Now, to find someone making a strong case for cap-(or tax-)and-100%-dividend, and I'll have my bases covered, and never agree with any one of them all the time.

By Asa on 2009 04 08

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. It costs the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to charge and drive an electric car. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.We have so much available to us such as wind and solar. Let's spend some of those bail out billions and get busy harnessing this energy. Create cheap clean energy, badly needed new jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What a win-win situation that would be for our nation at large! There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

By Sherry on 2009 04 08

Great post. I source a lot of stuff from CP for my own blog and learning, and whilst it's still very useful, I find one needs to be able to filter some stuff out.

This is one such instance.
Saving the world will comprise of
-tech breakthrough/innovation
-CO2 signal to market
-energy efficiency
-demand shifting
-energy source from renewables
-smart grid + appliances

Greentech needs to be a system, holistic system.

Tim M
Heresy Snowboarding

By Tim M on 2009 04 08

I wonder if part of the problem is that many of these groups are primarily lead by attorneys. I don't mean the usual criticism of too many lawyers, but simply the fact that without other professions in the leadership, the proposals will focus on new laws and regulations rather than on spurring new technologies.

By R Margolis on 2009 04 07

Nobody says a carbon price is sufficient in itself, but it is absolutely necessary. New technology has just created new ways for us to use more energy. More efficient cars mean more driving and more sprawl, and only a little less fuel burning.

An explicit, predictable, progressive carbon tax is the most effective first step. With it, the technology will follow. Without it, we perish.

Fortunately, the House Ways & Means Committee is getting the idea. See http://www.carbontax.org. Video, petitions and letters to Congress at http://www.pricecarbon.org.

By James Handley on 2009 04 07

Thanks for this article and for sharing the news of this report. Presents a pretty duanting challenge.

Your readers may also want to read the August 2008 report entitled The Coming Oil Supply Crunch by Paul Stevens


Brendan Barrett

By Brendan Barrett on 2009 04 06

There is no such thing as a self powered generator. Devices like the Lutec 1000 have been repeatedly shown to be scams. The perpetual motion machine repeatedly shows up throughout history, and does nothing for our energy picture except make a few people money, and discredit supporters of renewable energy.


By dooberheim on 2009 04 05

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



By Joannah on 2009 04 04

I'm an inventor. I'm prolific. I'm currently sitting on far more breakthroughs then you can imagine one person having. Sitting on them. For years, for decades.

I'm sitting on more cost-efficient space heating and water heating for buildings. The farther north you go, the more advantage my patent-pending system gains. I'm working on cheaper biofuels, possibly far cheaper than you and OPEC will really expect. I believe I can push alternative energy generation down to new lows, with 24/7 energy storage for peak power use. I have various automobile gadgets but I'm much more proud of my proposed transit program, which features about 150 innovative pieces working together. Finally, I have easily buildable, low-impact devices to inhibit a runaway Arctic methane release, heading off the worst worldwide impacts of global warming for the planet.

This new climate change bill continues our country's long-standing betrayal of anyone with a socially responsible innovation.

By the way, does the Breakthrough Institute have anything to do with advancing global warming and energy independence breakthroughs of this type? It would be nice to build a prototype to prove the concept, then build a demonstration model, then prepare to scale up. Unfortunately I'll still be sitting on these inventions tomorrow while I'm working my day job, and next week,... The inventions are quite useless as long as the prototyping work doesn't get done.

By PaulK on 2009 04 03

Revolutionary breakthroughs will do the trick much more easily than legislation!

One system will make possible the elimination of the need for batteries in electric cars. Self-powered magnetic generators, tapping ambient energy, are expected to replace the need to plug-in a plug-in hybrid. 2,000 watts can be taken from a typical wall socket. A 2,000 watt self-powered generator is on the horizon. It will eventually demonstrate a capability to end the need to plug-in.

If the development of self-powered generators is put on a 24/7 footing, it may be possible to provide 100 kW systems on a prototype basis far more rapidly than might otherwise be expected. If that occurs, since no fuel or battery recharge is required, automobile manufacturers may conclude that engines requiring fossil fuel are en-route to becoming obsolete. Consumer purchasing patterns could begin to reflect a new reality, with the market deciding most future cars will never need gasoline or diesel fuel.

The economics are likely to prove compelling. Until now, car ownership has been an expense. Vehicle to Grid Power (V2G) has been explored in a modest way for hybrids. When equipped for V2G, plug-in hybrids, equipped with a two way plug, can feed power to the local utility while parked. This is 95% of the time for the average vehicle. Professor Willet Kempton, at the University of Delaware, has stated the car

By Mark Goldes on 2009 04 02

Thanks Robert. Enjoying getting comfortable with this new (for me) medium to communicate these things. Again, apologies for the (too) rapid speech. I swear I hadn't even had my coffee yet that morning! Cheers,

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 02

Very interesting segment. It certainly shows the differences in approach amongst the carbon activists. Thanks for posting.

By R Margolis on 2009 04 02

Jesse, in fact that's the point I'm trying to make. I for one would like to see the the bloated historic subsidies for the incumbent fossil fuel industries light a little more fire in the public's demand for clean energy. I know that it won't eliminate the concern over potential costs, but we have other options to do that, as you mention. But it wouldn't hurt to add a little outrage into the public demand for clean energy. I heard somewhere that the best defense is a good offense. Seems to me like we need to play a little more offense here.

By Juliana on 2009 04 02

Juliana, you have a point in that one way to advocate clean energy investments is to point to the large historic - and even ongoing - subsidies enjoyed by well-entrenched dirty energy competitors and now embedded in their costs. It's not really about helping people be ok with their rates going up though. There's little you can do, especially during a recession, to make them ok with that, and all polling evidence we've seen shows that the best approach is to limit the up-front impact as much as possible and reinvest their money in something they actually want to see - e.g. green jobs, clean energy technologies and industries, greater energy independence, lower gas prices, etc. - rather than just give them their money back. Canada has tried that model and it doesn't go over well at all. When we talk about the subsidies enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry, it's far more about helping policymakers and pundits get over their market fundamentalist, knee-jerk reaction to "picking winners" in the clean energy sector. In the energy industry, we've always picked winners. And in an industry so fundamental to our economic and national security, with clean energy so clearly in demand, why NOT do what we need to to ensure a clean energy economy?

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 02

It's true that removing subsidies from fossil fuels won't change the current situation, but it is one glaring example of the role that government has played continuing their dominance. I brought this up largely to emphasize the fact that billions of dollars of taxpayer money has been spent in those subsidies, which is useful as we look to communicate to the public why energy prices are expected to go up under a cap and reduction plan. There are ways to protect individual consumers from rate-hikes from the fossil energy companies under a cap system. I know this would be hugely unpopular with the industries and the politicians they buy, but there are options for keeping the increase in cost from severely impacting consumers in the near term.

By Juliana on 2009 04 01

Hi Juliana, thanks for weighing in. I'm not sure that if we removed all subsidies for fossil fuels overnight that it would change much. Fossil fuels are, in the words of Marty Hoffert, an affirmative action program for humans. Clean energy just doesn't compare in terms of the energy density, low cost, and widespread availability of coal, oil and gas.

By Michael Shellenberger on 2009 04 01

One thing to remember is that fossil fuels are incumbent energy sources, thanks to Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) for the phrase. This means that fossil fuels have a pre-existing advantage over renewable sources because of the billions of dollars in subsidies provided to the fossil fuel industries for over a century. Given this unequal playing field, it's no surprise that the Senate is talking about energy prices going up. We have been spending taxpayer money keeping the cost of fossil energy low for decades. Unfortunately because the money for the subsidies comes from the federal budget and not from consumers wallets each month, the public hasn't seen their billions of dollars going to fossil industries with record breaking profits.

By Juliana on 2009 04 01

This is why the public and our legislature are on a no-stopping-now collision course. Political policy has ceased to have any rational elements, and certainly is not crafted in the best interest of constituents. Quite to the contrary it is not even crafted on verifiable fact. All these policies are, are ways to for each party to assure its own perpetuity, and keep curry favor with special interests for a rainy day.

Global Warming is a hoax. Yet on the heels of a housing collapse that bankrupted the world economy, billions of dollars have already changed hands over it. So as they meet for the G20 to try to figure out how to fix the current financial mess, most world leaders have already signed their names to assure the next, bigger one. Houses are real, and the market collapse was tragic. What will happen when the biggest countries in the world are wholly invested in Carbon Trading schemes and the curtain finally drops? And it will. Here's why:


If you believe something different you are wrong, and if the sane among us have any luck you will die before your next opportunity to vote.

Sounds harsh, but its a fate better than what the living will experience if we allow these plans to be followed through to completion.

By Dubl on 2009 04 01

My thoughts exactly, Nar. While he may be in for a few political reality checks in the near future, I believe Chu is a man with a vision. How exciting is it to finally have a competent scientist in this position rather than a businessman!

By Tyler Burton on 2009 03 29

I think the fact that Energy Secretary Chu is first and foremost a scientist and not a traditional policymaker or lobbyist will be an asset to the "reinvention" of the way the DOE approaches energy issues. It seems he may have a keen understanding as to where money should be spent to get the best scientific results -- the labs.

By NarWilliam on 2009 03 29

Did you see this study? I found it on Linkedin - Green Techies around the world. Probably something that should be addressed?


By jsuter on 2009 03 28

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. It costs the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to charge and drive an electric car. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.We have so much available to us such as wind and solar. Let's spend some of those bail out billions and get busy harnessing this energy. Create cheap clean energy, badly needed new jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What a win-win situation that would be for our nation at large! There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

By Sherry on 2009 03 24