A Look at Wind and Solar
Part 1: How Far We've Come
This post is co-authored by Alex Trembath and Jesse Jenkins.
After decades of incipient growth, it seems that wind and solar power are finally ready for prime time. These two renewable energy resources are growing rapidly and are beginning to move the needle in global energy supplies.
Marian Swain to Speak at 1st Annual Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy Symposium
What is the “Future of Food”? We are in the midst of an often-rancorous debate about how we can farm more sustainably and produce healthier food. How can we meet the challenge of changing consumer preferences in affluent countries and the dramatic demand for more calories in the developing world — all while decreasing the global agricultural footprint?
Looking for Leapfrogs
Where's the Evidence That Poor Countries Are Leapfrogging Fossil Fuels?
Today, the Pew Charitable Trusts released a report on energy demand in emerging markets titled Power Shift: Emerging Clean Energy Markets. The report offers some very encouraging and useful data on energy supplies and investments. Unfortunately, by cherry-picking their case studies and making strange analytical conclusions, Pew paints a selective and flawed picture of electrification in poor countries.
The Return of Nature
The Grid Will Not Be Disrupted
The Grid Will Not Be Disrupted
Why Tesla’s Powerwall Won’t Catalyze a Solar Revolution
The announcement two weeks ago of Tesla Motor’s cheap new lithium-ion storage batteries set the renewable energy world on its ear. Breathless commentators pronounced them a revolutionary advance heralding cheap, ubiquitous electricity storage that would make solar power a 24/7-power source for the masses. Elon Musk, Tesla’s wunderkind CEO, fed these hopes at the glitzy product launch for the 10 kilowatt-hour (KWh) Powerwall home storage battery.
“You could actually go, if you want, completely off the grid,” he told them. “You can take your solar panels, charge the battery packs, and that’s all you use.”
The Return of Nature
The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Red Herring
The Return of Nature
How Technology Liberates the Environment
In September 2014, a bear in the Apshawa Preserve, 45 miles northwest of New York City in New Jersey, killed Darsh Patel, 22, a senior at Rutgers University, while he was hiking with friends. Patel’s death was the first fatal bear attack recorded in New Jersey in 150 years. Five friends were hiking when they came across the bear, which they photographed and filmed before running in different directions. After regrouping, they noticed one was missing. State authorities found and euthanized the bear, which had human remains in its stomach and esophagus, and human blood and tissue below its claws.
No. 5 / Summer 2015
The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Red Herring
Subsidies to Fossil Energy Aren't the Low-Hanging Fruit We Might Wish They Were
Every few months — or constantly, depending on your attention span — we hear another round of passionate recommendations that fossil fuel subsidies be phased out to level the playing field for clean energy. Most recently, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim emphasized that “we need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now” in his agenda for promoting clean energy.
Sounds like a sensible goal, but there’s reason to think that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies wouldn’t be nearly as transformative as is often suggested. In this post, I’ll briefly explain why that’s the case.
Waste Not, Want Not
Waste Not, Want Not
The Rhetoric and Reality of Food Waste
Food waste has become a high profile topic in the world of food politics and the environment. In the wake of a recent report, the New York Times wrote an editorial urging food waste reduction, calling it a “serious threat to the global environment and economy.” The United Nations estimates that one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, and according to one expert, the amount of food wasted in the United States alone would be sufficient to feed 1 billion hungry people in the world. Jonathan Foley explained that smaller portions and eating more leftovers are some of the most effective solutions to increase food availability.
Alex Trembath to Speak at Annual AAG Meeting
Senior Analyst Alex Trembath will speak on a panel at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, which brings together the nation's geographers, GIS specialists, environmental scientists, and other leaders for the latest in research and applications in geography, sustainability, and GIScience.
An Ecomodernist Manifesto
From the Death of Environmentalism to the Birth of Ecomodernism
Ten years ago the two of us wrote a controversial essay arguing that inaction on climate change required rethinking everything we thought we knew. Our assumptions had us defining the problem and solutions too narrowly. Too much negativism was turning people off. We needed the death of environmentalism so that a new and more expansive ecological politics could be born.
Breakthrough Dialogue 2015: The Good Anthropocene
Five Surprising Public Health Facts About Fukushima
Journalist Will Boisvert Investigates and Finds Fewer-than-Average Thyroid Cancers and Seafood Safe to Eat
Four years ago a large earthquake and tsunami devastated northeast Japan. More than 15,000 people were killed. A subsequent nuclear meltdown added fear to grief.
As terrible as the meltdown was, the radiation did not have significant public health consequences, much less the catastrophic ones that many feared and some continue to claim.
On the fourth anniversary of the tsunami, earthquake, and meltdown, journalist Will Boisvert investigates and unearths five public health findings from Fukushima that you've probably never heard.
China’s High-Energy Innovation
An Interview with Dr. Ming Sung, Clean Air Task Force
What’s the state of energy innovation in China? Breakthrough spoke with Ming Sung, Chief Representative for the Asia-Pacific region at Clean Air Task Force, about the work underway in China to rapidly develop and commercialize carbon capture and storage, advanced nuclear, and renewable technologies to curb pollution and meet energy demand.
The Increasing Complexity of Technology
An Interview with Innovation Scholar Don Kash
Following our Lessons From the Shale Revolution conference in late January, the Breakthrough Institute had a chance to catch up with Don Kash, professor emeritus of George Mason University’s School of Policy and Government. Kash spent his entire career working at the intersection of technology, policy, and society, and has been a major influence on contemporary energy and innovation scholars. Long before the Breakthrough Institute made the case for ‘making clean energy cheap,’ he highlighted the crucial role of public energy R&D to improve environmental outcomes.
Harvard Historian of Science Steven Shapin on the Nutrition Wars
Last month the US government issued a 571-page report suggesting it would be making significant changes to its dietary guidelines. Eggs are no longer a no-no. Caffeine consumption is encouraged to prevent Parkinson’s disease. The report comes at a time when new studies, and journalists including Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, and Aaron Carroll, have called into question the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet promoted by the nutrition establishment for more than half a century.
Breakthrough is interested in the battle over dietary advice as an example of “wicked problem” — a problem characterized by high levels of uncertainty and expert disagreement — and asked Harvard historian of science, Steven Shapin, to provide some historical and sociological context. Shapin is the author of numerous articles and books about the history diet and nutrition.
A Call to De-escalate the Climate Wars
Why the Congressional Investigation Into Scientists Takes Us Backwards
Democratic lawmakers in Washington are demanding information about funding for scientists –– including Breakthrough Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, Jr. –– who publicly dispute their party’s arguments on climate change, hoping to find information linking the scientists to the notorious Koch brothers or other fossil fuel interests.
Climate of Incivility
Climate McCarthyism is Wrong Whether Democratic or Republican
On April 23, 2010, the Attorney General of the state of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, initiated an investigation into the research of climate scientist Michael Mann. Mann is the creator of the so-called “hockey stick” graph, which used tree-ring measurements and other proxies to show that average global temperatures have spiked dramatically since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Mann’s research was cited by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but was controversial among climate skeptics.
Ted Nordhaus to Speak at The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:comics Conference
The Future of Business and the Environment
This March 25-27, the editors of The Wall Street Journal will bring together global CEOs, top entrepreneurs, environmental experts, policy makers and leading thinkers at ECO:nomics 2015 to identify and assess the most compelling opportunities — and pressing risks— emerging around the world in businesses impacted by the environment. Breakthrough's Ted Nordhaus is one of 20 featured speakers who will debate, discuss and get the inside story on essential issues: investing in innovation, disrupting current business models, the new meaning of sustainability and the future of the environmental movement, where energy policy is heading, and much, much more.
2015 Breakthrough Senior Fellows Announced
Three Trailblazing Ecomodernists Join Breakthrough
An iconoclast who forged a new path for environmentalism. A leading scholar on energy access and economic development in Africa. An industrial ecology researcher who shows us why human consumption isn’t a runaway train towards disaster. Breakthrough is proud to announce Stewart Brand, John Asafu-Adjaye, and Iddo Wernick as the 2015 Breakthrough Senior Fellows.
This is the seventh year Breakthrough has conferred Senior Fellows. Brand, Asafu-Adjaye, and Wernick join a group of 35 Senior Fellows awarded in previous years. Breakthrough Senior Fellows advise Breakthrough Institute staff, collaborate on scholarly and popular papers and reports, and attend Breakthrough Institute’s annual conference, the Breakthrough Dialogue. Congratulations and welcome to our new Senior Fellows!
Peter Teague Joins Breakthrough Institute
Senior Advisor to Focus On Energy Access for Development and Nature
Breakthrough Institute cofounder, advisory board member, and longtime environmental philanthropist Peter Teague has become Senior Advisor at the Breakthrough Institute, where he has joined the staff leadership team and will oversee the think tank’s energy access work.
Beyond Technology Tribalism
A Call for Humility and Comity in the Clean Tech Debates
Last week, Stony Brook professor and economics blogger Noah Smith published a blog post titled “Nuclear will die. Solar will live.” In the post, Smith argues that nuclear power plants are incredibly large, capital-intensive, and complex investments, while solar power “can be installed in large or small batches” and continues to benefit from cost reductions. Smith ties solar’s success to nuclear’s challenges and criticizes Breakthrough Institute for our “anti-solar antipathy.”
The End of the Clean Energy Race
The 'Cooperative Advantage' in Energy Innovation
Last year, the Breakthrough Institute and ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes released High-Energy Innovation. In the report, my colleagues and I argue that rapidly growing energy demand in emerging economies and increased multilateral investment represent the next great opportunity to accelerate energy innovation.
We contrasted this to a framework embraced over the last few years: the idea that the United States was in a race to capture the jobs and industries associated with clean energy technologies like solar panels, batteries, and advanced nuclear reactors.
The Education of an Ecomodernist
Did the US Kill OPEC?
Why We Should Pay the Shale Revolution Forward
"Did the US kill OPEC?"
This is the question that New York Times economics columnist Eduardo Porter asks today, referencing Breakthrough Institute’s research, which found that 35 years of public-private investments led to the technologies that allow for the cheap extraction of natural gas and oil from shale.
Frequently Asked Questions About Natural Gas
To Protect the Gorillas, Protect Humans Too
An Interview with Primatologist Annette Lanjouw
How did you get involved in this field?
I started doing work in Zaire [now the Democratic Republic of the Congo], in the early 1980s working at the Lomako Forest Bonobo Research Station of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Later, between 1987 and 1990, I ran a project to conserve chimpanzees, using tourism as a way to generate support for conservation. What was unique about the project was that we habituated the chimps for research and tourism without providing them with food. That worked well, but then war broke out with rebellion against [then-president] Mobutu, and all tourism was put on hold. Eventually I became Director of Programs for the International Gorilla Conservation Program, IGCP, a collaboration of three conservation NGOs, in partnership with the park authorities of the three countries.
Killing in the Name of Conservation
Can Trophy Hunting Help Save Africa’s Wild?
Conservation is not a morality play, but don’t try telling that to Kendall Jones. A 19-year-old student and cheerleader at Texas Tech, Jones has been hunting big game in Africa with her father since she was nine. This past July, she posted photos on Facebook of herself with her kills — leopard, lion, hippo, zebra, elephant, rhino. The response was overwhelming: 325,000 people signed a petition asking Facebook to remove the images, which it did, saying the act violated its rule about "graphic images shared for sadistic effect or to celebrate or glorify violence.” The “Kill Kendall Jones” page remained for three days before Facebook removed it, too.
Interview with William Burnett, Formerly of the Gas Research Institute
The Gas Research Institute's Evolving Role in Shale Gas
Continuing Breakthrough Institute’s series of in-depth interviews with pioneers of the shale revolution, Senior Energy Analyst Alex Trembath talked with William Burnett. William worked in energy R&D for the US Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, and Gas Research Institute (GRI). He retired from GRI as Executive VP, where he was responsible for R&D planning and management in natural gas supply, transportation, distribution, and utilization.
Interview with Bob Hanold, Formerly of Los Alamos National Laboratory
On the Partnership Office Between Los Alamos and Sandia
Continuing Breakthrough Institute’s series of in-depth interviews with pioneers of the shale revolution, Senior Energy Analyst Alex Trembath talked with Bob Hanold, formerly of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Bob completed his PhD in engineering science at Case Institute of Technology and accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1966, where he worked until his retirement in 1999. Although initially involved in microseismic fracture mapping and hydraulic fracturing for geothermal projects, he transitioned entirely to oil and gas projects with the formation of the Partnership Office.
The Year of Our High-Energy Planet
Top Breakthroughs of 2014
If 2013 was the year of hope and change, 2014 will be remembered as the year of the high-energy planet. The “small is beautiful” ethos crumbled as global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions grew faster than ever in recent years, despite the financial crisis, a global recession, and fears of “secular stagnation in the West.
Alex Trembath to Speak at Future Tense Event: How Will Human Ingenuity Handle a Warming Planet?
Humans are altering the Earth system at every scale, up to and including the global climate. Going forward, how will human ingenuity handle a warming world? We’re all familiar with the doomsday predictions of more droughts, fires, floods and economic disaster, but what are the possibilities for thriving in a changed climate?
On Thursday, Jan. 15, Breakthrough Institute's Alex Trembath will join Future Tense—a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University—to discuss these issues at the New America offices in Washington, D.C.
Are Solar Microgrids a Step on the Ladder Towards Grid Access?
In July of this year, Greenpeace installed a solar/battery microgrid in the village of Dharnai in eastern India. The 100-kilowatt system was designed to provide power for the village’s 2,400 residents, 50 businesses, 2 schools, and other infrastructure. Greenpeace called the project “inspiring,” writing that case studies like Dharnai prove “villages can develop their own clean power and contribute to saving their environment by showing we don’t need to use nuclear, coal or other fossil fuels for energy.”
High-Energy Innovation: The Case of Shale Gas
The Global Quest for Natural Gas
The recent boom in natural gas production in the United States, brought about through technical innovations in the recovery of natural gas from previously inaccessible shale rock formations and land-use policies that favor private development, has helped lower electricity costs and benefitted the petrochemical and manufacturing industries. Even more significantly, it has contributed to a drop in US carbon dioxide emissions to their lowest levels in two decades, as inexpensive natural gas accelerates the closure of aging coal plants around the country.
Natural Gas Overwhelmingly Replaces Coal
New Analysis of US Regional Power Generation Between 2007 and 2013
The growth of natural gas generation in the US power sector has overwhelmingly displaced coal generation, a new Breakthrough Institute analysis of regional power generation data finds. There is little evidence in the aggregate regional power generation data that cheap gas has displaced other low-carbon sources of electricity, such as renewables, nuclear, or hydro. Nor is there evidence that increased gas generation has induced new demand.
Frequently Asked Questions About Population
The Global Population by 2100
What is the current human population?
The most recent official numbers from the United Nations Population Division estimate that the world population was 6.9 billion in 2010. More recent estimates from the UN and the United States Census Bureau estimate that the world reached 7 billion inhabitants in either 2011 or 2012.
How do we measure world population?
The United Nations collects data on population, birth and death rates, age and gender ratios, and international migration from national-level censuses, surveys, and registers. The combination of data on fertility, mortality, and migration produces a comprehensive view of population in a given year. Most developed nations regularly conduct these sorts of demographic analyses, but for many developing countries, the data are scarce, unreliable, or nonexistent. In those cases, the UN relies on models and indirect estimates based on understandings of demographic trends and historical trajectories of similar nations.
Crashing the Party
Human Rights Activists Shake Up UN Climate Talks
Senior officials representing nearly 200 countries gather in Lima, Peru this week for the final stages of United Nations-led climate change talks. The meetings, which began December 1, are intended to lay the final groundwork for a major international agreement to be reached a year from now in Paris, France.
Key issues, however, continue to divide countries.
The US prefers that nations make non-binding commitments to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the European Union urges legally enforceable pledges. New tensions have also surfaced over funding for climate adaptation efforts – protection measures to help poorer nations cope with the impacts of climate change.
US-China Climate Deal Underscores Need for Substantial Energy Innovation
China to Add More Electric Power From Coal Than From Nuclear, Wind, or Solar
Talks at the UNFCCC COP20 in Peru undoubtedly have been buoyed by the recent US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change. While the pledges by the two largest players may represent a political breakthrough, a new Breakthrough analysis of China’s energy plans shows there is reason for concern. Despite unprecedented efforts, China will likely replace existing coal consumption with more new coal power generation than that from new nuclear, or from new wind and solar power generation combined.
A Climate Pragmatism Project
Clean energy innovation and decarbonization efforts will be overwhelmingly concentrated in rapidly industrializing countries, where demand for energy is high and deployment opportunities are broad, says a new report from a group of 12 energy scholars.
High-Energy Innovation evaluates four clean energy technologies – shale gas, carbon capture and storage, nuclear, and solar – and finds that, in all cases, industrializing countries are making significant investments and leveraging international collaborations in order to make energy cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable.
Extreme Conservation of Gorillas
An Interview with Primatologist Martha Robbins
What attracted you to mountain gorillas?
When I was at university I became interested in the evolution of sociality. Primates are one of the key groups to study. It’s been almost 25 years now.
Are the mountain gorillas saved?
In general, the mountain gorilla numbers are going up, but they haven’t been saved since their numbers are under 1,000. Since gorillas mature so slowly, even killing a few individuals in a population can lead to a negative growth rate. We cannot be complacent about mountain gorilla conservation even if their populations appear to be increasing in size.
War and Peace and Gorillas
An Interview with Central Africa Scholar Laura Seay
How did you get interested in the Congo?
I started studying the region when I was 18, during my first year in college, when I had to write a paper. I was supposed to be writing about refugees, but when rebels in DRC (who we now know were partly comprised of Rwandan troops and partly Congolese rebels) Kabila, were moving across the country, I started asking about the causes of such a complex crisis. I didn’t understand this then, but I came to understand the DRC crises as partly being the continuation of Rwanda’s civil war on Congolese soil.
Violence, the Virungas, and Gorillas
An Interview with Conservationist Helga Rainer
How did you decide to focus on conflicts around Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Some of my early work with refugees and the environment focused on the energy issue and the linkages with violence, especially for women who had to move increasingly farther and farther away from the refugee camps to get fuel. I was also concerned with the health effects of wood burning, especially on children under five years old due to the smoke particulates. This was when I first interacted with energy-saving stoves.
Based on what I saw on the ground, I felt that the role of the environment in conflict was an aspect not being talked about. The conversations about the role of environment in conflict were about resources like coltan or oil, but there were other dynamics happening that were necessary to explore.
Postcolonial Gorilla Conservation
An Interview with Ecologist Sarah Sawyer
What do we know about what it takes to save gorillas?
Habituating gorillas so they can tolerate tourists can help keep them safe. There’s some data from the tourist groups in Rwanda, which suggests gorillas near tourism have higher birth and lower death rates. During the Rwandan genocide, researchers were evacuated but the guards stayed without pay. They felt an ownership and pride in taking care of the gorillas, which helped them stay protected. On the other hand, in areas where gorillas are hunted, habituation can actually put them more at risk by decreasing their avoidance of people.
Leapfrog or Backfire?
Wharton Economist on the Rebound Effect in Developing Economies
Arthur van Benthem is an Assistant Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy at Wharton. His research specializes in environmental and energy economics. His recent work focuses on unintended consequences of environmental legislation and natural resource taxation.
What motivated you to write your article “Has Leapfrogging Occurred on a Large Scale?”
I worked for a couple of years in the long-term energy scenarios team at Shell in my home country of the Netherlands. We made assumptions on tech leap-frogging occurring. The assumption was energy-efficient technologies would result in China’s future growth in energy consumption being lower than that of rich countries during their development.
A Special Breakthrough Conservation Series
The mountain gorillas of Central Africa are a beguiling endangered species. Tourists pay thousands of dollars to spend a few hours with them, making their protection in parks in Rwanda and Uganda a conservation success story.
So are the mountain gorillas of central Africa saved? If so, what saved them? If not, then what still imperils them? What can be done to protect them?
Virunga, the Congo, and Oil
An Interview with "Virunga" Journalist Melanie Gouby
What initially motivated you to go to the Congo?
I always wanted to cover issues of justice since I grew up with a sense of social justice. The reason I went to Congo was because my first job out of university was covering the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I worked for an organization called the Institute for War and Peace Reporting that does a lot of media capacity development in Congo, Afghanistan, Kosovo, etc. They hired me to cover the International Criminal Court, and produce a radio program broadcast in DRC. All of the trials dealth with Congolese warlords. After a few years they got funding to go to DRC, where I trained Congolese women journalists in print and radio reporting. I fell in love with the place, as many people do.
Taking a Look at Lazard’s Levelized Cost Estimates
How Do the Costs of Solar and Natural Gas Stack Up?
In September, Lazard – an international financial and management consultancy – released its updated estimates for the levelized cost of different electricity generation technologies (LCOE). Observers were excited, principally because Lazard show wind and solar photovoltaic costs surprisingly competitive with natural gas. According to Lazard, utility-scale solar has an LCOE range of $72 to $86 per megawatt-hour (MWh), rooftop solar’s (residential, commercial, and industrial) is $126 to $265/MWh, wind’s is $37 to $81/MWh, and natural gas’s is $61 to $87/MWh.
Renewables and Nuclear Energy at a Glance
Renewables and Nuclear Energy At A Glance
Climate Mitigation and Environmental Footprint
Interview with Norm Warpinski, Director of Technology for Pinnacle
On the Early Experiments That Catalyzed the Shale Revolution
Continuing Breakthrough Institute’s series of in-depth interviews with pioneers of the shale revolution, Senior Innovation Analyst Loren King talked with Norm Warpinski, a Halliburton fellow for Pinnacle – a Halliburton service. Of his many contributions to hydraulic fracturing, Norm is perhaps best known as a principal developer of microseismic monitoring, which was crucial to understand the nature of underground fractures. At Pinnacle, Norm works on developing new tools and analyses for hydraulic fracture mapping, reservoir monitoring, hydraulic fracture design and analysis, and integrated solutions for reservoir development. He previously worked at Sandia National Laboratories from 1977 to 2005 on various projects in oil and gas, geothermal, carbon sequestration, and other geomechanics issues.
Interview with David Northrop, Formerly of Sandia National Labs
On the Partnership Office That Facilitated Public-Private Collaboration
David A. Northrop completed his BS, MS, and PhD in chemistry at the University of Chicago. He started working at Sandia National Lab in 1964 and worked there until his retirement in 1998. During his tenure, Northrop was heavily involved in fracture observation and shale mapping systems. In the following interview, Northrop talks about the early days of Sandia’s involvement in natural gas research, and the unique Partnership Office that facilitated public-private collaboration.
Why Having A Realistic View of Energy Efficiency Matters to Climate Change
A Response to Our Rebound Critics
In response to our New York Times op-ed about the limits of energy efficiency and the furious reaction to it from some quarters, Andy Revkin asks whether we can find room for agreement on the rebound effect.
To some degree we already have.
The Rise of the Up-Wingers Part Two
The Case for the Proactionary Principle In the Face of Uncertainty
In part one of the interview with Steve Fuller, the professor of social epistemology at the University of Warwick discussed an emerging ideological axis in which the Left and the Right are replaced by Up-Wingers and Down-Wingers. Up-Wingers, Fuller says, are fundamentally opposed to the dominance of the precautionary principle in guiding policy. In the second part of the interview below, we explore the failings of the precautionary principle and the advantages of a proactionary state, which has a documented history throughout the United States and Europe.
The Rise of the Up-Wingers Part One
Steve Fuller on the Proactionary Principle, Environmentalism, and Interstellar Flight
Cryogenically preserved at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona, the transhumanist Fereidoun Esfandiary – “dead” since 2000 – might better speak to the future of politics than today’s prognosticators. The leader of a loose group of futurists and thinkers in the 1970s, FM-2030 (as he dubbed himself) believed that humankind’s full potential could be unlocked by advances in science and technology.
The Age of Us
Can People Power Drive Action on Climate Change?
In a new "Age of Us" column launching this week at The Conversation, I will be writing about research, ideas, and trends that shed light on why we disagree so strongly about climate change and other environmental problems. A major focus will be on the strategies that can promote political cooperation on our tough, new planet. You will encounter not only my thoughts and ideas but also the voices and arguments of leaders in the fields of communication, journalism, political science, sociology, and the policy world.
Just as importantly, as readers and commenters, you will be sharing your own thoughts and conclusions, often challenging my ideas and those of others. At The Public Square, in combination with regular original essays, I will be expanding on columns at Age of Us as they are debated and discussed.
Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger to Debut ‘Nature Unbound’ at RFF First Wednesday Seminar
Evidence abounds of humanity’s creative ability to produce more goods and services using fewer resources. In many cases, our use of natural resources is declining, particularly when measured in terms of GDP consumption per capita or per dollar. In fact, consumption of some natural resources (certain croplands, fuels, metals, and water) has plummeted, even as we produce more and more from these resources.
Breakthrough Institute Chairmain Ted Nordhaus and President Michael Shellenberger will discuss this evidence and highlight the ingenuity enabling reduced natural resource use on a panel at the RFF First Wednesday Seminar. The Seminar, entitled "Making Nature Useless? Global Resource Trends, Innovations, and Implications for Conservation" will discuss Breakthrough Institute's upcoming report, Nature Unbound, and probe the question, "can we credibly envision a peak environmental footprint?"
E2e Scholars Acknowledge the Importance of Rebound
Despite Missteps, Latest Paper Signals Shift in the Right Direction
Gillingham et al.’s latest working paper is emblematic of the great progress realized in recent years to squarely confront the challenge of energy efficiency rebound by an ever-widening cadre of serious scholars.
Innovation Needed for Gas to Bridge to Somewhere
New Nature Piece Tells Us What We Already Knew
A new research letter in Nature (McJeon et al 2014) concludes that globally abundant natural gas will not “discernibly reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions.” The paper models a scenario in which the US shale gas revolution is scaled globally. While natural gas displaces higher-carbon coal-fired power, zero-carbon power like nuclear and solar are also displaced, according to the model, and cheap gas encourages more energy consumption. The net impact is marginal: between 2 percent less and 11 percent more emissions in the authors’ “abundant gas” scenario:
Breakthrough Dialogue 2015: The Good Anthropocene
Ruth DeFries Announced as 2015 Paradigm Award Winner
Frequently Asked Questions About Renewables
What is renewable energy?
As a category, renewable energy encompasses a broad range of energy technologies and fuels, ranging from photovoltaic solar cells to the burning of animal dung for fuel in many poor regions of the world. Major sources of renewable energy –– in the rough order of the amount of energy they contribute globally –– include hydroelectric power, wood used for heating, cooking, and electrical generation, bioenergy produced from agricultural crops and waste, wind energy, concentrated solar power generated with mirrors and steam turbines, photovoltaic solar cells, geothermal energy, and tidal energy.
Why Energy Efficiency Can Increase Energy Consumption in Poor Countries
Pent-Up Energy Demand in Developing Economies Points to High Levels of Global Rebound
Over the last several decades there has been a broad consensus that energy efficiency is a cheap and easy way to reduce carbon emissions. Make our cars and light bulbs more efficient, the thinking went, and energy use will go down.
Welcome New York Times Readers
An Introduction to the Breakthrough Institute
In a new opinion piece for the New York Times, Breakthrough cofounders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus comment on the recent bestowment of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to the trio of researchers whose work led to the creation of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Shellenberger and Nordhaus commend the researchers for their scientific achievements, but caution against the idea that LEDs will significantly reduce energy consumption, as touted by the Royal Swedish Academy in the award presentation. Shellenberger and Nordhaus conclude:
Breakthrough's Research Program provides an empirical basis for the Institute's mission. Our rigorous, data-driven, and original analyses are in service of accelerating the transition to a future where all the world's inhabitants can enjoy secure, free, and prosperous lives on an ecologically vibrant planet.
Collection: Energy Efficiency
The Breakthrough Institute team works to publish up-to-date analysis on energy efficiency, centering around the economic benefits of energy efficiency, rebound and backfire, and relatedly, the limitations of energy efficiency as a climate mitigation strategy. Here is our collection of analyses and opinions on energy efficiency:
Ruth DeFries Announced as 2015 Paradigm Award Winner
How Humans Thrive in the Anthropocene
The Breakthrough Institute will honor Ruth DeFries, Denning Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University, with the 2014 Paradigm Award in recognition of her exceptional research on how humans transform their environments.
Lighting, Electricity, Steel
Jessica Lovering to Speak at American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting
Jessica Lovering will speak at the American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting's Opening Plenary entitled "Nuclear: The Foundation of Clean Energy" on November 10 at 8:00 a.m. The following day, November 11 at 1:00 p.m., Jessica will join panelists Vaughn Gilbert of Westinghouse and Ashley Finan of Clean Air Task Force to discuss public education and outreach tactics in nuclear science and technology on a panel entitled: "Finding Common Ground with New Audience".
Both sessions are part of the larger five-day conference, which will be held in Anaheim, CA from November 9-13. Beginning with the ANS Nuclear Technology EXPO on the November 9, the conference will explore topics including Aerospace Nuclear Science and Technology, Biology and Medicine, Decommissioning and Environmental Sciences, Fusion Energy, Isotope and Radiation, Reactor Physics, and Thermal Hydraulics. Register for the conference here.
Michael Shellenberger to Speak at Energy Africa Conference
Michael Shellenberger will speak at the 7th Annual Energy Africa Conference at Colorado School of Mines on November 13th. He will be joined by hundreds of private, public, non-governmental organizations and academicians as they dialog and invest in the work needed for African countries to supply energy that is affordable, accessible, efficient and clean. Access to affordable, reliable, clean and economically viable energy supply is essential to Africa’s economic growth and enhancing the standard of living of its citizens. To register for the conference, click here.
Lighting, Electricity, Steel
Energy Efficiency Backfire in Emerging Economies
Countries that expect to consume much more energy will likely experience higher levels of energy efficiency rebound, concludes a new Breakthrough report, released today. Rebound is the phenomenon in which energy efficiency measures increase demand for energy, which diminishes expected energy savings.
Lighting, Electricity, Steel: Energy Efficiency Rebound in Emerging Economies presents three historical case studies of when energy efficiency rebound occurred: lighting from 1700 to present, electricity generation in 20th century America, and iron and steel production from 1900 onward.
DOE Loans Are Only the Beginning for Much-Needed Investment in Nuclear
Hurdles Remain for Next-Generation Reactors
Last week, the Department of Energy announced a major investment in advanced nuclear power, a draft solicitation for up to $12.6 billion in loan guarantees across four categories of innovative nuclear energy technologies: front-end fuel cycle innovation, advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, and upgrades or uprates to existing reactors.
IEA Acknowledges Rebound Effects
Clean Energy Equivalent of 4 to 19 Australias Required to Meet Gap Created by Rebound
A reversal in the International Energy Agency’s views on energy efficiency suggests that as much as 2,176 million tons of oil equivalent worth of extra clean energy consumption will be required by 2035 to meet the organization’s aggressive climate targets. That’s the equivalent of 19 Australias’ energy consumption. This finding is the result of a Breakthrough analysis of a new IEA report, which showcased a new position for the agency on what energy experts call “rebound effects” – a hotly contested phenomenon in energy consumption growth.
Breakthrough Dialogue 2014
For the past 40 years, rising energy production and consumption have been widely viewed as inherently destructive of nature. A steady stream of government, United Nations, and environmental proposals have identified lowered energy consumption as the highest goal of climate and environmental policy. But during that same period, global per capita energy consumption has risen by 30 percent. And over the next century, global energy consumption is anticipated to double, triple, or more. The reality of our high-energy planet demands that we rethink environmental protection. The question for Breakthrough Dialogue 2014 is, “How might a high-energy planet save nature?”
Not Solar Fast
Rapid Expansion of Solar Depends on Massive Subsidies and High Carbon Price
This week the International Energy Agency updated their technology roadmaps for solar photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal energy (STE). The bottom line is that significant policy and technological progress are required for solar to play a major role in electricity in the future. With that progress, IEA finds, solar PV could provide as much as 16 percent of global electricity by 2050, with STE providing another 11 percent –– making solar’s collective 27 percent the largest single contributor to global electricity in this IEA scenario.
Jessica Lovering to Speak and Moderate at Nuclear Science Week’s Big Event
Breakthrough Senior Analyst and coauthor of How to Make Nuclear Cheap Jessica Lovering will speak on the Nuclear Science Week 2014 Big Event's opening panel entitled "Nuclear in Pop Culture: Evolving Narratives About Energy" on Thursday, October 16th from 12:00-1:15 pm and moderate a panel on Nuclear Leadership on Friday, October 17th from 9:30-11:00 am.
This two-day public symposium will be hosted the week before Nuclear Science Week at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. Interested individuals can pre-register for the symposium here.
Collection: Natural Gas
The Breakthrough Institute team works to publish up-to-date analysis on natural gas, centering around the history of the shale revolution, pragmatic climate policies, and technological innovation. Here is our collection of analysis on natural gas:
Frequently Asked Questions About Natural Gas
Understanding the Shale Gas Revolution
What is natural gas?
Natural gas is methane (CH4), a combustible gas than can be used as fuel for automobiles, for industrial process heat, for residential uses like cooking, and for electricity generation in power plants.
Natural gas is found in a variety of geologic formations, including coalbed seams, sandstone, limestone, shales, and, frozen methane hydrates under the ocean floor. The extraction of natural gas from the ground also produces natural gas “associates” or “gas liquids” like propane, ethane, and butane, that are typically separated from methane and used for other commercial purposes. Because natural gas takes so many different forms and exists in so many different formations, vast quantities of it are found in most parts of the world.
The Left vs. the Climate
Why Progressives Should Reject Naomi Klein's Pastoral Fantasy — and Embrace Our High-Energy Planet
Ever since Marx’s day, leftists have been straining to spy the terminal crisis of capitalism on the horizon. It’s been a frustrating vigil. Whatever the upheaval confronting it — world war, depression, communist revolution, the Carter administration — a seemingly cornered capitalism always wriggled free and came back more (and occasionally less) heedless, rapacious, crass, and domineering than before.
Real-World Barriers to Carbon Pricing
Economists’ ‘One-Page’ Climate Plans Won’t Work
Ask an economist how to combat climate change, and you’re likely to get a pretty simple answer: put a price on carbon.
“If you let the economists write the [climate] legislation, it could be quite simple,” MIT business school economist Henry Jacoby told NPR last year, implying that the whole plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions could “fit on one page.”
In short, tax fossil fuels in proportion to the amount of carbon they release. Make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive. “That’s it; that's the whole plan,” as NPR’s David Kestenbaum put it.
Saudi Arabia Fast-Tracks to Nuclear
Royal Family Plans for Nuclear to Provide 15 Percent of Power in 20 Years
Last Tuesday, energy officials in Saudi Arabia announced plans to become a major nuclear energy state, assuring the reactors would be used only for peaceful purposes (The Nuclear Wire). They intend to move fast, beginning construction by year’s end.
Today, more than a billion people lack adequate access to electricity and modern energy services. But modernization across the developing world, from China to sub-Saharan Africa, reveals that humanity is rapidly closing this energy gap. These trends point to the future as a high-energy planet, and recognition of this crucial trend is essential to energy scholars and policy makers.
Economists have long recognized innovation's central importance to economic growth, but have still not come to terms with the reality that “general-purpose” technologies like electricity, microchips, and the Internet often emerge from long-term public-private partnerships. And since no two technologies are exactly alike, case studies of successful innovation policy must be carefully analyzed to spur similar successes in the future.