How “An Inconvenient Truth” Contributed to Partisan Polarization on Climate
Joe Romm of Center for American Progress Misrepresents Polling Data
Scroll down to read an update from the authors, written on April 14, 2014
Joe Romm of Climate Progress misrepresented polling data in his critique of our recent New York Times op-ed when he claimed Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth did not contribute to partisan polarization of public attitudes toward global warming.
Welcome New York Times Readers
An Introduction to the Breakthrough Institute
If you read Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s op-ed in the New York Times today and have come here to learn more about the Breakthrough Institute, welcome. For general information on Breakthrough, please visit our About page.
Breakthrough has provided more articles for understanding the larger context of the op-ed:
The Psychology of Climate Change
The Science and Scholarship of How Humans Think and Feel about Global Warming
A growing body of scholarly and scientific studies finds that fear-based appeals around climate change backfire, resulting in increased climate skepticism and fatalism among much of the public.
This post summarizes scholarly and scientific articles published in peer-reviewed publications on the psychology of climate change.
Our High-Energy Planet
A Climate Pragmatism Project
More than one billion people globally lack access to electricity, and billions more still burn wood and dung for their basic energy needs. Our High-Energy Planet, a new report from an international group of energy and environment scholars, outlines a radically new framework for meeting the energy needs of the global poor.
According to the authors, the massive expansion of energy systems, mainly carried out in the rapidly urbanizing global South, is the only robust, coherent, and ethical response to the global challenges we face, climate change among them. The time has come to embrace a high-energy planet, they say.
Energetic Africa: Part One
What Obama & the UN Should Do on Energy for Sub-Saharan Africa
The Obama administration, the US Congress, the United Nations, and other international agencies should encourage and plan for far-higher energy consumption in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions that rely on burning wood and dung for energy, say a group of international energy and development experts in a new report, Our High-Energy Planet.
The report comes at a time of debate about how to help Africa and other poor nations gain access to electricity. Congress held hearings on Electrify Africa legislation in March, and the Obama administration is currently developing a framework to support increased electrification in Africa.
Jesse Ausubel Announced as 2014 Breakthrough Paradigm Award Winner
Environmental Scientist Has Demonstrated How Humans Save Nature
Modern humans are destroying the planet. Once, there was a time in which people lived in harmony with nature, but those days are long gone. In order to save the Earth, we must roll back the clock and live like pre-industrial civilizations lived. Or so goes the classic environmental narrative, which blames industrialization, modernity, and human development for what ails Mother Nature.
But as environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel argues in his landmark paper, “The Liberation of the Environment,” human beings have been committing sins against the environment for thousands of years. And contrary to conventional wisdom, modernity, development, and technology are not drivers of human-led destruction of the environment. Rather, Ausubel contends, human development is the liberator of the environment.
IPCC Sides With Roger Pielke, Jr.
New AR 5 Report Confirms Pielke's Conclusions on Disasters
The new United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released Monday, March 31 confirms representations of the climate science made by a University of Colorado-Boulder scientist who wrote a controversial column for Nate Silver’s new media company, FiveThirtyEight.com, two weeks ago.
Fighting to Breathe
New WHO Report Says Air Pollution from Cooking Caused 4.3 Million Premature Deaths
That news may not come as a surprise to anyone who has seen images of smog-belching smokestacks in Beijing, Delhi, or Mexico. But those factories—or even the clogged roadways of modern cities—are not the biggest culprit. Each year, some 4.3 million people die earlier than they should because of foul air inside their homes, says the WHO. (Its study accounted for fact that people spend time both indoor and outdoors.)
In Defense of ‘Picking Winners’
To Reduce GHG Emissions, We Need Government-Led Innovation
Virtually all economists working on climate change agree that we should price GHG emissions. Doing so creates an incentive to reduce emissions without the government directing specific technology adoptions or activity changes, that is, without “picking winners.”
Nearly as many economists agree that we should subsidize basic R&D. Doing so accelerates the scientific breakthroughs that will be necessary to avoid even higher concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere. Of course, we can’t and shouldn’t subsidize all basic R&D regardless of how nutty the idea or indirect the connection to GHG reduction. We should subsidize the best ideas, that is, we should pick winners.
Four Surprising Facts About Population
Why Humans Are Not Fated to Ecological Disaster
One often hears that we are in the midst of exponential population growth, and that the Earth cannot support many more people. Unless we take immediate measures to control population growth, the story goes, we are on a crash course for ecological and humanitarian disaster.
But what is really going on with global population trends? In this essay, we present four surprising facts that will change the way you think about population, the environment, and human progress.
Hydropower for Me But Not for Thee
Why Poor Nations Deserve the Large Dams From Which the West Has Benefited
One of the great divides between the rich and poor worlds is the access to electricity. As Todd Moss has noted, consumption of electricity by a standard single-family American refrigerator is ten times the consumption of electricity by the average Ethiopian. An equally great divide is the use of hydropower. In most rich countries over 80 percent of economically-viable hydropower potential is tapped; in Africa, the comparable figure is under 5 percent. Many African countries are, accordingly, giving high priority to developing hydropower as a source of cheap, clean energy. But to tap this energy, they need assistance from external private and public partners. Historically the World Bank and other international finance institutions have played a major role. President Obama’s major initiative with Africa, “Power Africa,” envisages a major role for hydropower.
Ivanpah’s Land Footprint
World's Largest Thermal Project Requires 92 Times the Acreage of Babcock & Wilcox "Twin Pack"
The opening of the world's largest solar power station provides an opportunity to take stock of our energy options. Comparison of large solar and small nuclear holds some important lessons for constructing a future that is both energy-rich and decarbonized for around 10 billion people.
Keeping the Poor Poor
Against Anti-Growth Environmentalism
It has become fashionable in some circles to come out against economic growth. Bill McKibben, the author and climate change activist, asserts that “growth may be the one big habit we finally must break.” He adds that this is “a dark thing to say, and un-American.” Such calls for an end to growth are typically advanced in environmental debates and those about economic globalization. But what does it actually mean to be against economic growth? I argue that to be anti-growth actually implies keeping poor people poor.
Methane Leakage from Cows Higher than from Natural Gas Development
New Data from EPA, DOE, and EDF Confirm Declining Methane Leakage from Gas Prodution
Since the onset of the shale gas revolution, many have worried that emissions of fugitive methane — the main component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide on a molecule-for-molecule basis — are eroding the climate benefits of switching from coal to natural gas. Some have gone so far as to claim that natural gas is worse than coal because of excess methane emissions. But according recent measurements from the Environmental Protection Agency, total methane emissions have been going down, most rapidly in the natural gas system.
The Poverty of the Energiewende
How Low Homeownership Makes Germany's Antinuclear, Pro-Renewables Policies Regressive
I recently had an interesting opportunity to spend a week in Berlin talking to many people about Energiewende, one of the most radical and far-reaching initiatives any affluent economy has undertaken in recent years. The term Die Wende has a gradation of meanings, from a gradual turnaround to a sudden U-turn, and before it became associated with energy, its most common use in German conversations was in reference to the demise of East Germany in 1989. That was, of course, a true U-turn, from dogmatic communism to absorption by liberal Germany. Energiewende cannot be a near instant U-turn — no complex technical infrastructure can be changed that rapidly — but Germany’s new energy goals are bold and truly transformative. Their implementation is also proving to be less than admirable, indeed the process is becoming rather burdensome. Yet most of the people I talked to in Berlin seemed unconcerned, and many were even incredulous or politely hostile when I suggested (always mindful of Andersen’s wise tale) that the king may not be fully clothed.
7 Charts That Will Change the Way You Think About Africa
1. Energy poverty is an endemic and crippling problem; nearly 600 million people in Africa live without access to any power, which also means no access to safer and healthier electric cooking and heating, powered health centers and refrigerated medicines, light to study at night, or electricity to run a business. Here’s the situation in the 6 countries chosen to be part of President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative, home to nearly 1/3 of the continent’s population:
When Renewables Destroy Nature
How Integrating Society Into Nature Can Be Bad For Both
The case against using trees and crops as fuel for cars and power plants has grown stronger in recent years. The expansion of corn for ethanol in the American Midwest has worsened water pollution and soil erosion, and has had no benefit in terms of reduced emissions. Europe’s biofuels mandate has resulted in a palm oil boom that has devastated the rain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia, driving orangutans to the brink of extinction. And now efforts like those in Germany to burn wood for fuel, known as “biomass,” have been shown to be no better for climate change than coal—and perhaps even worse.
The Nuclear Power Imperative
Breakthrough Senior Fellow Richard Lester on the Need for Next-Gen Nuclear
Can we solve the energy problem without nuclear? I’ll come to my own views on this question shortly. But first I want to make a few comments about other people’s views.
In recent months, some prominent and previously antinuclear environmentalists have been declaring their support for a larger nuclear role, citing the risks of climate change for their change of mind.
Brighter Nights in Africa
$300B Required for African Nations to Achieve Universal Electricity Access by 2030
How long the night the dawn will break. Such is the saying – often quoted as an African proverb – attesting to the virtues of patience and perseverance. However, it also serves as an allusion to Africa’s gaps in infrastructure, particularly for electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. As the well-known satellite photos of Africa at night show, very little of sub-Saharan Africa’s vast expanse is illuminated, so the nights are long indeed.
How Wood-Burning Environmentalists Show Behavior Changes Won't Solve Climate Change
While much of the US has been dealing with severe winter weather, California is experiencing a record dry spell. The clear skies have also brought some cold nights and, with them, wood smoke. What I’ve noticed in my neighborhood is that the desire for a cozy wood fire cuts across political lines. And as the local air quality authority has called a record number of no-burn days due to poor air quality (high levels of PM 2.5, the fine particulates that can get through the respiratory system and lodge in lungs), the anger at restrictions on those cozy fires has also cut across political lines.
How Greens Justify Bioenergy’s Assault on Nature
Look at the brochures of just about any environmental organization and what you will see are images of an energy system that appears to lie weightlessly on the land. Solar panels gleam atop suburban homes. Wind turbines sprout from fields where cows graze contentedly. It is a high-tech, bucolic vision that suggests a future in which humankind might finally live in harmony with nature, rather than waging ceaseless war with it.
But there are other images to consider as well. Trees clear-cut, chipped, and fed into boilers. Once diverse forests turned into monocrop plantations. Wild places sent under the plow. And melting ice caps from global warming. This is the underside of renewable bioenergy — biomass, biofuels, and biogases – one that is decidedly at odds with the ethos of pristine eco-friendliness described in the brochures.
On Keystone XL and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Why Civil Rights Metaphors Are Inappropriate for Getting Off Oil
Writing on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” former green-jobs czar Van Jones invoked Dr. King to justify the environmental movement's singular focus on stopping the Keystone XL pipeline: “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
The Passion of Alvin Weinberg
The Humanitarian Behind China's Great Thorium Push
The 59-year-old physicist was in a something of a panic. The earth was getting hotter, and nobody in Washington seemed to care. Nuclear power — the only realistic way to produce a lot of electricity with few carbon emissions — was the solution. But rising costs for nuclear power and the power of the coal lobby appeared to be trumping environmental concerns, and rationality itself.
He started writing articles. The first he published in Science. It was called “Global Effects of Man’s Production of Energy.” Next, he co-authored an article evaluating what would happen if the U.S. moved away from nuclear. “Continued energy demands during the first few decades of the next century will push atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to levels which warrant serious concern, even for the low energy growth case.”
Germany’s Nuclear Phase-Out & Rising Coal Consumption
In September 2012 Germany's Environment Minister opened a new lignite power plant, arguing the following: “If one builds a new state-of-the-art lignite power plant to replace several older and much less efficient plants, then I feel this should also be acknowledged as a contribution to our climate protection efforts.”
Peter Altmaier is not alone, recently the climate benefits of Germany's new and apparently ultra-efficient coal power plants have been extolled not only by manufacturers such as Siemens and power companies including RWE, but even some of the German nuclear phase-out's most vocal proponents.
Baucus Proposal A Promising Start, But Neglects Existing Nuclear
Current Fleet Supplies 60% of Domestic Zero-Carbon Energy
Last month Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus released a proposal to replace 42 existing energy tax incentives with two “technology neutral” tax credits, one for electricity fuels and the other for transportation fuels. By embracing natural gas and new nuclear power, Chairman Baucus’ proposal could contribute to a pragmatic climate strategy. But the plan could go even farther by extending incentives to the existing nuclear fleet, where an anticipated decline over the next two decades poses the largest threat to emissions reduction efforts.
The Coal, Hard Truth
China's New Coal 6 Times Higher than Wind, 27 Times Higher than Solar in 2013
The new year brought some deserved celebration of the advance of renewable energy in China, as the government announced nearly 8 gigawatts of wind power additions and 3.6 gigawatts of new solar installed during 2013. But as I’ve previously pointed out, it is important to keep this laudable progress in perspective compared to the still staggeringly large annual increase in new China coal power capacity.
Steeling Ourselves for More Coal
Why Explosive Steel Manufacturing in China Matters
There is no material more fundamental to industrial civilization than steel. Modern buildings, ships, cars, planes and bridges would all be unthinkable without steel, and as pointed out by Allwood and Cullen in their fine recent book on materials production we currently have no viable substitute materials that could perform steel's multiple functions. We are still very much living in the iron age.
Animal Planet’s Bogus Account of Chernobyl Wildlife
Fission for Scare Tactics
As someone who has spent the past four years making and distributing a documentary film about nuclear energy, Pandora’s Promise, it’s nice once in a while to spend a relaxing weekend at home with my kids thinking of more pedestrian things, like doing the laundry. But the battle over nuclear energy refuses to leave me alone despite my best efforts.
Recently, my 10-year old son, Luc, has become enamored with a highly popular fishing show on Animal Planet called River Monsters. To those of you unfamiliar with it, River Monsters is a British reality show that follows a dashing expert fisherman named Jeremy Wade around the world in search of dangerous freshwater predators. Last weekend, my son and his best friend were hanging out on a rainy day watching their favorite show when suddenly I hear shrieks from the TV room, “Dad, you gotta come and see this!”
Can Geoengineering Save the Planet?
Two Climate Scientists Debate Pros and Cons of Climate Engineering
Geoengineering. It’s not the sexiest sounding topic, but a small group of scientists say it just might be able to save the world.
The basic idea behind geonengineering (or climate engineering) is that humans can artificially moderate the Earth's climate allowing us to control temperature, thereby avoiding the negative impacts of climate change. There are a number of methods suggested to achieve this scientific wizardry, including placing huge reflectors in space or using aerosols to reduce the amount of carbon in the air.
It's a hugely controversial theory. One of the main counter-arguments is that promoting a manmade solution to climate change will lead to inertia around other efforts to reduce human impact. But the popularity of geoengineering is on the rise among some scientists and even received a nod from the IPCC in its recent climate change report.
Nuclear Waste Worth Its Salt — for a Billion Years
250 million-year-old DNA has been recovered intact from a nuclear waste disposal site in New Mexico and provides ample evidence that the waste will be imprisoned for life, but likely prison time will top a billion years.
Forensic teams of scientists working over a decade in laboratories at University of North Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico State University, and West Chester University carefully culled the evidence from original fluid inclusions in the massive salt rock that hosts America’s only operating deep underground nuclear waste repository, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The DNA and other biomolecules are remnants from ancient salt-loving bacteria that once lived in a drying-up ocean.
The Revolution Won’t Be Distributed
Most Renewables Deployment Centralized
If you read the environmental press, clean tech media, or even the New York Times, you might conclude that America is on the cusp of a distributed generation (DG) revolution. “Solar power and other distributed renewable energy technologies could lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model to the ground,” wrote leading environmental news site Grist last April. “Renewable-energy technologies like solar and wind power,” the Times wrote, are now “challenging the traditional distribution system.”
Love Your Frankenfoods
Anti-GMO Mob Scarier Than Biotechnology
The Frankenstein metaphor that opponents of genetically modified food use to promote their fears is more apt than they realize. Yes, the monster is an unnatural life-form created by scientific hubris that wreaks death and destruction, the way they describe biotechnology. But remember that frightened angry mob in the Frankenstein movie, the terrified townspeople that take up torches and pitchforks and follow their baying hunting dogs to kill what they fear? It’s a more-than-apt metaphor for how the most virulent segments of the anti-GM mob are behaving. And for society as a whole, between the perceived risk of GMOs and the real risks of making policy about safety under the torches of an emotion-driven mob that distorts and ignores the evidence, the latter is the FAR scarier of the two.
Solar Lamps Are No Substitute for Access to Modern Energy
Energy Poor Need Cheap, Reliable Electricity
I’m a pretty big fan of cash transfers. I’ve become convinced that cash is an efficient immediate way to help the poor and very often a better alternative than other standard development interventions like training or building schools. Cash transfers may even be catalytic, giving poor people a floor to invest in business, their children’s health and education, and some breathing space to pursue higher value activities.
How Virgin Galactic's Efficient Spacecraft Opens Up New Frontiers for Energy Consumption
In a new article in today’s Wall Street Journal, two Breakthrough Institute staff members argue that the rise of commercial space tourism, heralded by Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo upcoming launch, makes the case that humans will continue to use more, not less, energy in the future, despite improvements in energy efficiency. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, efficiency improvements may ultimately enable greater levels of energy consumption.
2014 Breakthrough Senior Fellows Announced
Five Distinguished Scholars Join Breakthrough Community
A economist studying electricity access for India’s poor. A Stanford University scholar who published a groundbreaking ecomodernist critique of environmentalism over two decades ago. One of France’s leading novelists and social critics. The co-inventor of a breakthrough nuclear technology. And the engineering professor who revitalized MIT’s nuclear energy department. Breakthrough Institute is honored to announce these individuals — Joyashree Roy, Martin Lewis, Pascal Bruckner, Per Peterson, and Richard Lester — as Breakthrough Senior Fellows 2014.
This is the sixth year of Breakthrough Senior Fellows. These five new Senior Fellows will join 30 Senior Fellows. 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.
2013: A Year of Hope and Change for the Environment
How the Green Ideological Nucleus Split
For many people who care about the environment, 2013 was a dispiriting year. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million, the highest in three million years. Beijing choked on smog. Policy action on climate, whether at the United Nations or in Washington, appeared more remote than ever.
But in other ways, 2013 was an inspiring year. Declining US carbon emissions from cheap natural gas offered a picture of what climate mitigation looks like in the real world. Top environmental scientists, business leaders, climate advocates, and the world's largest economies embraced nuclear power. And a wide number of “ecomodernists” are coming to embrace an approach to saving nature that is strikingly different from the seventies-era "small-is-beautiful" model.
California Gets Coal for Christmas
SONGS Closure Produces Extra 18M Tons of Carbon Dioxide
California is getting a lump of coal for Christmas because it was naughty in shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in San Diego this year. The lump of coal comes in the form of an extra 18 million tons of CO2 per year delivered to the atmosphere by replacing the 15 billion kWhrs of electricity each year with a mix of gas, wind, and solar. Also lost will be 1,500 local jobs and $50 million in lost revenue to Southern California each year (EIA, NEI).
Virgin’s Richard Branson Defends Nuclear
Sir Richard Urges People to Watch 'Pandora's Promise'
Few would question the environmental credentials of Britain’s business magnate Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group. As founder and chief benefactor of the Carbon War Room, Branson has long advocated carbon pricing, energy efficiency measures, and transforming business as the answer to global warming. Add to that list the expansion of nuclear energy.
2013: The Best Year in Human History
Five Reasons to Celebrate Progress
Between the brutal civil war in Syria, the government shutdown and all of the deadly dysfunction it represents, the NSA spying revelations, and massive inequality, it’d be easy to for you to enter 2014 thinking the last year has been an awful one.
But you’d be wrong. We have every reason to believe that 2013 was, in fact, the best year on the planet for humankind.
United Kingdom & Australia Far From Decarbonization Targets
While I was working on The Climate Fix I published several peer-reviewed articles on climate policies in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia. In recent months I have updated these analyses and will summarize the updates here.
Without Government the Market Fails and Fails Badly
What the Simon-Ehrlich Debate Reveals About Technological Change
In a previous post, we discussed some of the evidence suggesting that technology is indeed endogenous and does respond to scarcities and prices.
Many economists have worked on modeling this type of endogeneity of technology and how it responds to prices. Remember the great economist John Hicks’s assertion, which we quoted in our previous post, about how higher price of a factor will tend to induce technological changes directed at economizing on that factor.
Climate Change Is Now in the Developing World’s Hands
Can Their Economic Self-Interest Help Us All?
This past weekend, exhausted diplomats from around the world climbed into fossil fuel–powered airplanes and bade good riddance to Warsaw, Poland. They had spent two weeks holed up in the frigid capital engaging in what has become an annual Kabuki dance over what to do about climate change. Almost exactly as has happened in prior international climate change conferences—gatherings that, like the falling leaves, have become autumnal rites—intonations about a global warming threat were offered, hope for selfless environmental cooperation was expressed, and battles over who should foot the bill were fought. By the time everyone headed for the airport, little of substance had gotten done.
Hendrik Hertzberg’s Nuclear Option
New Yorker Editor Endorses the Atom
Tucked into his New Yorker column on Congressional filibuster reform, Hendrik Hertzberg admitted his support for the expansion of nuclear energy: “Nuclear power plants have their drawbacks, as we’ve learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima,” Hertzberg wrote. “But global warming has changed the picture.” Echoing a recent letter written by four leading climate and energy scientists, which acknowledges the scaling challenges of solar and wind, the New Yorker senior editor argued, “breezes and rays are not enough.” In terms of a realistic alternative to fossil fuels, Hertzberg says, “the nuclear option, though not the best of all possible worlds, is better than the one we’re living in.”
Embracing Our High-Energy Planet
More Energy, Not Less, the Key to Cutting Emissions
"The long story of human progress is one of continually rising energy consumption," says the Breakthrough Institute's Alex Trembath.
In order to continue the path of human progress, and indeed to extend it to all of the world's inhabitants over the next century, Trembath argues that we need a "high-energy planet."
This idea flies in the face of the conventional environmental movement. Our profligate energy use is our biggest problem, the story goes. So in order to avoid doomsday scenarios, we need to cut back. We all need to live simpler and smaller lives.
The Socialist Case for Nuclear Energy
How Technology Can Achieve Marx’s Vision of a New Society
The deepest, the most objective and the most indisputable criterion says: progress can be measured by the growth of the productivity of social labour. -- Leon Trotsky, The Lessons of October (1932)
Energy, the environment, global climate change, and sea level rise are all huge, vast interconnected subjects that generate much debate and controversy at every level of society. One expects this when the future of our species, and all other species, are at stake.
The center of this discussion can be narrowed down to one technological and scientific issue: the generation, use, and distribution of energy. The historic application, or utilization, of various forms of energy is a measure of human progress. Even before the rise of civilizations such as the Indus, Greek, Persian, and others long gone were relegated to the anthropology text books and museums, and even before the development of class society, human use of energy set us apart from all other species, including the higher ones such as dolphins and apes.
Barriers to Climate Legislation Following the 2016 Election
Political Dysfunction Requires a New Paradigm for Climate Advocacy
Political forecasts are always difficult to make. But given the dysfunction in Washington and the fall out from Obamacare, as I write in a column at Ensia magazine this week, environmentalists would be wise to reflect on what are quickly appearing to be tough barriers to passing a major climate bill following the 2016 election. Even assuming that an experienced leader like Hillary Clinton is elected president, let’s take a moment to consider how these barriers are likely to shape up.
Behind Japan’s Climate Fail
Nuclear Energy and Global Warming Commitments
A government panel on measures to tackle climate change approved on Friday a new goal to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 3.8 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level ...
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he is sure that Japan can substantially contribute to global efforts to tackle climate change. The government will steadily implement necessary measures to achieve the new emissions reduction target, he said.
The new goal means a setback from the target of reducing emissions by 25 percent from 1990 by 2020, which was set in 2009 by the administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan. The DPJ is now an opposition party.
It’s Not About the Money
More Money for Basic Science Is Not Resulting in Societal Benefits
Amid the mess of US politics — a pointless government shutdown, across-the-board cuts, endless partisan squabbling — now is a good moment to take stock of the fate of publicly funded science. After all, five years ago next week Barack Obama was first elected president, promising that he would “restore science to its rightful place” in US society. How has he done?
The Great Green Meltdown
How Economic Arguments Against Nuclear Highlight Environmentalist Delusions
Two weeks ago, four of the world’s most respected climate scientists took the extraordinary step of sending an open letter to their long-time friends and colleagues in the environmental movement, urging them to reverse their longstanding opposition to nuclear power. The scientists told AP and CNN they felt the need to make public their displeasure after years of trying and failing to reason privately with green leaders, who believe solar, wind, and efficiency are enough to power the planet.
Nader-Shellenberger CNN Debate Showcases Generational Divide on Environment
The generational divide around nuclear power within the environmental movement got wider last week when environmental leaders from two different generations clashed on CNN’s Crossfire.
Breakthrough Institute’s Michael Shellenberger, president of Oakland-based environmental think tank, Breakthrough Institute, debated legendary consumer and environmental advocate Ralph Nader on November 7.
Top Climate Scientists Urge Support of Nuclear Power
Letter Calls for ‘Fresh Approach’ to Nuclear in the 21st Century
On Sunday, November 3, four top climate and energy scientists, James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wigley, released an open letter calling on world leaders to advocate for the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems. The letter begins:
To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power:
As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems. We appreciate your organization’s concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.
‘Pandora’s Promise’ Airs Nationwide Nov. 7 on CNN
Pronuclear Documentary Deemed ‘Essential Viewing’
Tune in and set your DVRs: Pandora’s Promise will air nationwide on CNN this Thursday, November 7 at 9 p.m. (EST), with an encore showing at midnight (EST). Following a strong critical reception at Sundance Film Festival and a successful film tour led by its Academy Award-nominated director Robert Stone across the United States, Australia, and Japan, Pandora’s Promise will be available to US viewers for one night only.
The Lessons of Hinkley Point C
Why Nuclear Needs to Get Cheaper, Faster
The energy-geek world I inhabit has been abuzz this week with the announcement of commercial terms for the construction of 3.2 GW of new nuclear power in the UK, to be known as Hinkley Point C. Total cost to first operation is £16 billion, comprising £14 billion in construction and £2 billion in costs to date. At £5,000 kW installed, we are talking some serious coin here.
Limiting Population Growth Is Not the Answer to Global Warming
‘Elephant in the Room’ Has Weak Relationship to Greater Carbon Emissions
Getting people to produce fewer babies – they already are – is a far less important challenge than getting them to consume and produce energy more rationally. It is time we worried more about rich people driving luxury cars than poor people having more babies.
Australia’s Climate Follies
Abbott Government the Bellwether of Global Carbon Debate
Australia’s longest-running tragedy is starting a new season with a new cast but the same familiar follies. Of course I am talking about Australian climate policy.
Before Julia Gillard was deposed she had announced that Australia’s carbon price, which had been implemented as a tax (following her pre-election promise not to institute a tax), would be linked with Europe's emissions trading scheme by 2015, cutting almost $20 from the per-tonne price of carbon that had been so hard won, leaving it in the low single digits.
Is Pot Growing Green?
Assessing the Carbon Footprint of Cannabis
Over the past several years, the campaign for marijuana legalization has surged ahead in the United States. Colorado and Washington have voted for full legalization, and a number of other states now allow the consumption of medical cannabis. Yet the US federal government still regards the substance as a “Schedule 1” drug, more dangerous and less useful than cocaine or methamphetamine. The position of cannabis in American society is a deeply charged issue undergoing a sea change in the court of public opinion.
A Science Communications Intervention
Dan Kahan on How Different Cultural Groups Evaluate Risk
It’s a common refrain: If people only knew more about the science, there wouldn’t be so much polarization on the issue of climate change. But Dan M. Kahan’s groundbreaking work has gone a long way to prove that idea wrong. In fact, he’s found, it’s not the lack of scientific understanding that has led to conflict over climate change, but rather the need to adhere to the philosophy and values of one’s cultural group.
Peak Coal in China or Long, High Plateau?
Half of Nation’s Power in 2030 Will Come From Coal
China coal power is one of the world’s largest single contributors to carbon dioxide emissions, which will likely need to be reduced to near-zero levels over the next few decades to manage climate change. So when two reports came out in the last few weeks that project a peak in Chinese coal consumption within the next couple of decades, many environmental and energy commentators concluded that the problem has been tamed, and that coal will be swiftly replaced by wind, solar and gas.
How Much Energy Will It Take?
We’ve been surprised at all the attention Todd’s new fridge has gotten recently—including comments saying the comparison against African per capita electricity consumption isn’t fair because many of those people don’t have refrigerators. Exactly our point!
Sparse grids and limited incomes make it hard to own or operate modern appliances, but plenty of Africans would consume a whole lot more energy if it was available. Regular rolling blackouts suggest that countries aren’t producing enough energy to meet current demand, let alone what would be necessary to achieve universal access by 2030 (possibly a post-2015 MDG).
Innovation Before Carbon Pricing
How Economists Misrepresent Energy and Technology
Carbon taxes are in vogue. Economists’ predilection for price signals as the universal solution has fused with environmentalists’ impulse to punish Big Oil and Big Coal to make carbon taxes the darling of the climate change debate.
It’s the elegant solution climate hawks have been looking for since the death of cap-and-trade. But as Dr. Rob Gross, the Director of the U.K. Imperial College Centre for Energy Policy and Technology stated, this idea is, “so simplistic it is absurd.” Carbon taxes are doomed to fail because they do little to drive what is needed most: innovation that generates affordable clean energy that all 7 billion humans will want to adopt, not out of altruism or coercion, but out of self-interest.
Weighing the Benefits and Trade-Offs of Natural Gas
A Conversation with Michael Shellenberger & NRDC’s Kate Sinding
MODERATOR: Kate Sinding is a senior attorney and deputy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's New York Urban Program. Her primary focus involves ensuring the proposed natural gas drilling in the northeast is subject to the most stringent environment and health protections.
Michael Shellenberger is an author, environmental policy expert and the president of the Breakthrough Institute, which is a long-time grantee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Co-editor of “Love your Monsters” and “The Death of Environmentalism,” Michael, and his co-author Ted Nordhaus, were described by Slate Magazine as modernists or ecopragmatists. Welcome to both of you.
Fukushima Fallout Does Not Endanger US Seafood
Radiation Levels in Fish No Higher Than Average Banana
This article was originally published by the Center for American Progress.
In recent weeks, there has been a significant uptick in news from Fukushima, Japan. Officials from the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, admitted that radioactive water is still leaking from the nuclear plant crippled by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The new revelations about the amount of water leaking from the plant have caused a stir in the international community and led to additional scrutiny of Pacific Ocean seafood. Last week, South Korea announced it had banned all imports of Japanese seafood from a large area around Fukushima. And Al Jazeera reported that the cost to the region’s fishing industry over the past two years exceeds $3.5 billion.
Scientists & Experts Must Guide, Not Usurp, Climate Negotiations
Last Friday, Björn-Ola Linnér and I had an op-ed in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that discussed the role of experts in politics. We argue that, "a commitment to democratic governance means accepting that power rests with the people, and not the experts." An English translation appears below, courtesy Björn-Ola Linnér.
On Thursday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented the first of four assessments, this one taking stock of the physical science of the climate system. The report’s reception and promotion highlights challenges that arise when expertise meets politics.
Bridging the Polarization Gap
How Science Communication Paves the Way
Those of us involved in journalism, education, and science like to believe that facts and science illuminate the way through contentious debates. We believe that given ample evidence, thoroughly weighed, we will arrive at some consensus. At the very least, our viewpoints will converge. This devotion to objective facts, the scientific method and the primacy of evidence is the basis for a liberal democracy.
Oh, how very 18th century.
Mark Bittman Gets It Wrong On Gas
How New York Times Columnist Misunderstands Shale Revolution
Natural gas and nuclear have done more than any other fuel source to displace coal, and have saved the United States 54 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since 1950. In the past five years, natural gas alone has displaced coal and driven the country’s power sector emissions down 20 percent, leading to immense environmental and human health benefits. What follows is a response to Mark Bittman’s dreary diagnosis of natural gas.
Climate Skeptics Against Global Warming
What Conservatives Can Teach Liberals About Global Warming Policy
Over the last decade, progressives have successfully painted conservative climate skepticism as the major stumbling block to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Exxon and the Koch brothers, the story goes, fund conservative think tanks to sow doubt about climate change and block legislative action. As evidence mounts that anthropogenic global warming is underway, conservatives’ flight from reason is putting us all at risk.
The Bottom Line on iPhones vs. Refrigerators
"The Cloud Begins with Coal" Author Responds to His Critics
It’s uncontroversial to note that the global information-communications-technology sector (ICT) uses a lot of electricity. But convert that observation into a per capita form, illustrated, for example, by how many kilowatt-hours an iPhone might use, and protests and invectives sprout up faster than windmills in Iowa.
In response to our new report The Cloud Begins with Coal: Big Networks, Big Infrastructure, Big Power, some in the media got the point, but others seized on the comparison between an iPhone and refrigerator’s annual energy use and made claims of cherry picking and questionable assumptions. It should be obvious -- though apparently not for some -- that we are not talking about the few kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year needed to recharge the battery inside an iPhone, iPad, or their equivalents.
Gas Industry Should Embrace Regulation
Sorting Out Legitimate and Illegitimate Concerns About Fracking
On Thursday, August 29, President Obama visited Binghamton, New York, and was met by a diverse collection of citizens. On one side were organized opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, protesting the President’s more-than-tacit support for an industrial practice with significant impacts on local communities. On the other side, members of the Joint Landowners Coalition hosted a picnic endorsing the economic and environmental benefits fracking would bring to New York. Similar face-offs have been staged recently at political events in Ohio, Colorado, and elsewhere. But while anti-fracking sentiment fomented by national environmental organizations have focused on groundwater contamination and fugitive greenhouse gases, the protests and recent surveys indicate that communities are far more concerned about issues like increased trucking traffic, pollution from gas processing plants, and the industrialization of virgin landscapes.
Nuclear Has One of the Smallest Footprints
From Fuels to Building Materials, the Atom is Antidote to Sprawl
When evaluating the footprint of nuclear, writers and analysts tend to focus on its near-zero carbon emissions. Yet, there are many other areas where nuclear power consumes fewer resources than other electricity-generating technologies. In fact, when compared to coal, natural gas, and renewables, nuclear is the most land efficient, energy-dense source of power, with the lowest use of building materials per unit of energy generated per year, and one of the least expensive in terms of levelized costs. Evaluating these different aspects of its footprint demonstrates that nuclear is one of our most viable solutions to readily decarbonize the economy.
Remembering George Mitchell
Tributes Honor Gas Innovator as Public Servant
“I don't want to take anything away from Mitchell,” wrote Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, in Foreign Policy after famed Texas gas innovator George Mitchell passed away in late July. “He was a great investor, philanthropist, and entrepreneur who doggedly pursued the idea that shale could be made to yield its vast oil and gas content. But contrary to the classic picture of the lone wolf inventor who persists alone in the face of indifference, ridicule, disappointment, and even contempt, Mitchell had a partner -- the American taxpayer and the federal government.”
Trash, Trees, and Taxes
The High Environmental & Economic Costs of Germany's Energy Transition
Germany’s renewable energy transition, the “Energiewende,” has long been a subject of scorn among conservatives, who have argued that it is a massive ratepayer-subsidized boondoggle that has harmed Germany’s economy and imposed significant regressive costs on poor and working class energy consumers. But the last several months have seen growing skepticism about the Energiewende from the center-left as well. Both Der Spiegel and the Wall Street Journal have published lengthy investigative pieces raising troubling questions about the costs and the environmental benefits of Germany’s headlong pursuit of an all-renewable energy future. Even left-leaning Dissent Magazine recently published a long expose about the failure of the Energiewende to reduce carbon emissions, concluding that Germany’s enormous investments in renewables, together with plans to phase out its nuclear fleet, would cost the nation a generation in the fight against global warming.
Climate Scientists Must Not Act as Policy Advocates
More Science Doesn’t Solve Our Problems
As a climate scientist, I’m under pressure to be a political advocate.
This comes mainly from environmentalists. Dan Cass, wind-farm director and solar advocate, preferred me not to waste my time debating “denialist morons” but to use political advocacy to “prevent climate catastrophe”. Jeremy Grantham, environmental philanthropist, urged climate scientists to sound a “more desperate note…Be arrested if necessary." A concerned member of the public judged my efforts at public engagement successful only if they showed ”evidence of persuasion."
The Cloud Needs More Precise Energy Accounting
Don’t Feel Guilty About Your iPhone Use Just Yet
In the last few weeks an idea has been making the rounds that, when you count all of the required networks and cloud services, your iPhone uses more electricity than your refrigerator. This idea was first presented in a publication called The Cloud Begins with Coal by Mark Mills, and was quickly followed up with further analysis (and a different version of the calculation) by the Breakthrough Institute, “Bracing for the Cloud.” [Disclosure: I am proud to be a Senior Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute.]
Since these articles make some very interesting points, I decided to dive into the data. I’ll share some observations here. At the end, I’ll take a closer look at the iPhone-fridge comparison. Teaser: I wouldn’t crank up the iPhone guilt just yet.
Poverty, Not Global Warming, Remains Biggest Challenge
Deprivation Is Most Important Problem No Matter Climate Impacts
It’s particularly trendy among politicians and members of the media to be worried about climate change. When President Obama recently spoke before a crowd in Berlin, he said that climate change “is the global threat of our time.”
But that’s not true. Just a cursory glance around the world reveals that, given the enormous problems facing our planet, it would be surprising if climate change cracked a list of the top 10 immediate concerns.
Drilling for Innovation
How Revenue from Oil and Gas Can Fund Clean Energy R&D
In 2011, ITIF proposed using a portion of U.S. oil and gas drilling revenue from federal lands to fund critical clean energy innovation programs. The proposal expanded on a similar idea made in 2008 by House Republicans in the American Energy Act, which called for using revenue from expanded drilling to support both fossil fuel and clean energy programs. In 2013, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski reinvigorated the idea by calling for the creation of an “Advanced Energy Trust Fund” backed by revenue from expanded oil and gas drilling to support a broad set of policies including clean energy innovation. Shortly thereafter, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) proposed a scaled-down version that would use a smaller share of oil and gas revenues to support the development of low-carbon and natural gas-based transportation technologies. President Obama ultimately made SAFE’s proposal a key part of his second-term energy strategy during his State of the Union address.
Nuclear and Gas Account for Most Carbon Displacement Since 1950
US Saved About 54 Billion Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Emissions Switching to Cleaner Energy
A new analysis finds that the vast majority of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with America’s carbon intensity decline since the mid-1900s can be attributed to the increasing shares of two energy sources: nuclear fission and natural gas. These two fuels have done more than any others to displace coal, and have saved the country 54 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since 1950. By comparison, in 2012 the entire world energy sector emitted 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Mark Bittman’s Renewables Delusions
Debunking the New York Times Columnist’s Recent Attack on Nuclear Energy
Nuclear provided America with about 180 times more energy than solar last year, and is one of our cheapest, safest baseload sources of zero-carbon energy, and yet New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman insists that solar and other renewables are better positioned than nuclear to replace coal. This post debunks Bittman's column.
Subsidies for Solar Two Times Higher Than for Nuclear in California
Golden State Spends More on Solar than Nuclear on Per-Kilowatt Basis
California has spent two times more on subsidies for solar than nuclear, measured on a per-kilowatt basis, according to a new Breakthrough analysis. The finding challenges a new analysis from DBL investors, which compares nuclear to solar subsidies without accounting for the fact that nuclear generates far more electricity than solar. Comparing subsidies on a dollar-per-kWh basis is more appropriate because it gives a sense of relative effectiveness of subsidies at providing services to society, in this case electricity provision.
Betting Against Apocalyptic Thinking
The Simon-Ehrlich Wager
$576.07. That is how much money Julian Simon won from Paul Ehrlich, John Harte and John Holdren in 1990 in a bet about commodities prices. The wager was actually a proxy for competing ideological views about the role of humans on the Earth. The story of the bet between Simon and Ehrlich is told in a wonderful new book by Yale historian Paul Sabin, titled The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and the Gamble over Earth’s Future.
No More Railing Against iPhones
ICT Ecosystem Must Be Part of Innovation Strategy
Given the explosion of information and communications technology (ICT) and the proliferation of tablets, smart phones, and other high tech devices, it is pertinent to investigate the potential climate change implications of an increasingly digital world. This is the topic of the Breakthrough blog post “Bracing for the Cloud,” which rightly points out that “we need to be thinking seriously about how we can power the information sector with cheaper, cleaner alternatives.”
Building the Case for a High-Energy Planet
Generation Fellows Assess Future of Energy, Innovation, and Agriculture
How much land would be required to power the world on renewable energy alone? When does greater energy efficiency actually increase energy consumption? How are China and the United States working together on innovative technologies like solar and wind? What is the future of travel? These are some of the big questions Breakthrough Generation 2013 Fellows confronted this year, leading to surprising and path-breaking answers.
Preaching to the Choir
Is Bill McKibben's Anti-Keystone Chorus Doing More Harm Than Good?
On a cold March afternoon in 2007, Bill McKibben made an important strategic declaration about his growing campaign to fight global warming.
"It's important now to get everyone in the choir to sing at the top of their lungs," the environmental author and activist told a packed auditorium at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College.
After describing the imminent dangers of climate change, and the urgent need for a mass social movement capable of averting them, McKibben had been accused by an audience member of "preaching to the converted."
Decentralized Renewables Won’t Fuel Modern Cities
Why We Can’t Ignore Fundamentals of Power Density
The 21st century will almost certainly witness a transition to an overwhelmingly urban human population, and – hopefully – a low-carbon energy system. The former scenario, however, will have a significant impact on the latter because a fundamentally urban species cannot be powered locally.
The continued, and essentially unabated, accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may at times render considerations of the requirements of a decarbonized energy system appear somewhat self indulgent, but I must ask the reader to indulge me, and at a little length.
Watchdog of the Biosphere
The Eco-pragmatism of Vaclav Smil
A few weeks ago, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates published his personal summer reading list on his blog Gates Notes. Of the eight titles, two are by the same author, a Canadian professor emeritus you’ve probably never heard of: Vaclav Smil.
“I’m trying to read everything he writes, but he publishes so quickly that I can’t keep up,” Gates writes of Smil on his blog.
Electricity for All
What Universal Energy Access Will Take
This article was coauthored with Morgan Bazilian, and originally appeared in Issues in Science and Technology (Summer 2013) under the title "Making Energy Access Meaningful."
In a somewhat inconsequential meeting at the United Nations (UN) in 2009, Kandeh Yumkella, the then Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s informally assigned “energy guy”, noted something obvious and profound, namely that, “the provision of one light to poor people does nothing more than shine a light on poverty”. Yet much of an emerging discussion on the critical importance of global energy access as a pathway out of poverty continues to focus on what are, in effect, “one light” solutions. In this essay, we seek to help clarify the challenge of energy access, expose assumptions that are informing policy design in the development and diplomatic communities, and offer a framework for future discussions rooted in the aspirations of people around the world to achieve energy access compatible with a decent standard of living.
Bracing for the Cloud
Digital Economy Requires Massive Amount of Electricity
They weigh less than five ounces, but according to recent data, when you count everything that matters, the average iPhone consumed more energy last year than a medium-sized refrigerator. By the numbers, a refrigerator from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star ratings list uses about 322 kWh per year. In contrast, the average iPhone used 361 kWh of electricity when you add up its wireless connections, data usage, and battery charging. Considering that a smart phone represents just one device in the ocean of the world’s Information-Communications-Technologies (ICT) ecosystem, it seems superfluous to say that the digital economy is poised to consume massive amounts of energy.
Why Zero Carbon Technology Is the Key
Initiatives to curb the anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change have, since 1997, centered upon the implementation of top-down market-based solutions known generically as cap and trade. Theoretically speaking, cap and trade is based on the premise that climate change is best conceptualized as a case of market failure. As Nicholas Stern said, "The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay." This conceptualization, however, misapprehends the challenge of climate change because it doesn’t address the problem’s fundamental political dimension.
The Proactionary Principle
Between No Caution and Precaution
What is the most prominent science-based principle that influences international law today? The answer is undoubtedly the precautionary principle, which aims to promote only those policies whose likelihood of harm to both target and collateral populations is relatively small.
The principle is "scientific" insofar as it invites skepticism towards ambitious claims, typically about proposed innovations, which are sufficiently uncertain that their worst outcomes would be catastrophic and possibly irreversible. Thus, applications of the precautionary principle tend to be accompanied by "risk assessment" studies that try to distinguish what former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld memorably called the "known unknowns" from the "unknown unknowns." This sounds very hard-headed. But is it really?
The Founding Father of Foodie
Wendell Berry and Green Pastoralism
No other contemporary writer has captured the hearts of food-conscious Americans than Michael Pollan, who argues across his seven books, most recently Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, that our food and our eating habits have a complex narrative we must heed. Today’s narrative, according to Pollan, is one in which Americans tacitly accept the industrial food industry and cheap energy system, both of which are cause not only for obesity and disease, but also global warming, pollution, and humanity’s numerous wicked problems.
Against ‘Anti-science’ Tribalism
Science Is No Substitute for Politics
One of the more useful concepts to emerge from online discussions is Godwin’s Law, which holds that the longer that an online debate takes place the probability that someone invokes Hitler or the Nazis approaches 1.0. When discussions reach such a point of fantastic overstatement, the existence of Godwin’s Law enables its invocation, and often a conversation can be reset to good effect.
Liberals and Progressives for Nuclear
The Coming Atomic Age
While historically conservatives have been the prominent supporters of nuclear energy, the urgency of climate change has recently compelled liberals and progressives to reconsider nuclear as the best zero-carbon source of baseload electricity for a world with rapidly rising energy demand.
A couple years prior to the release of Robert Stone’s documentary Pandora’s Promise, which follows five anti- to pro-nuclear converts, Breakthrough Senior Fellow Barry Brook, writing at his blog Brave New Climate, composed a list of the most prominent intellectual leaders and public figures who changed their mind about nuclear energy and now support it.
Germany’s Green Energy Bust
Energiewende by the Numbers
Through much of 2012, the Energiewende, Germany’s pioneering effort to construct an energy system around renewables while simultaneously phasing out nuclear power and cutting carbon emissions, was on a roll. Plunging prices and eye-popping production figures for wind and solar power seemed to fulfill all the visionary prognostications. Germany shrugged off the shuttering of nearly half its nuclear plants without a backward glance: not only did it not suffer the predicted power shortages, it boosted electricity exports. Renewable power pushed market prices down and threatened to drive gas- and coal-burning power plants into bankruptcy. The press and the green blogosphere celebrated passed benchmark after shattered milepost, including the day in May when, according to Treehugger.com’s headline, “Half of Germany Was Running on Solar Power.”
Methane Leakage Not a Deal Breaker for Natural Gas
A Response to Anthony R. Ingraffea
In an op-ed published in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea argued that natural gas should not be part of any strategy to confront climate change. “I can assure you that this gas is not ‘clean,'” Ingraffea argued, “because of leaks in methane, the main component of natural gas, the gas extracted from shale deposits is not a ‘bridge’ to a renewable energy future.” To make his case, Ingraffea cited two studies estimating methane leakage rates from shale gas production: one study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the other study by Ingraffea and colleagues at Cornell University.
A Green Vision of Technology
How Ecomodernists Foresee Room for Nature
There is a new environmental agenda out there. One that is inimical to many traditional conservationists, but which is picking up kudos and converts. It calls itself environmental modernism — which for many is an oxymoron. Wasn’t the environmentalism of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Greenpeace’s warriors against industrial whaling and the nuclear industry, and efforts to preserve the world’s last wild lands, meant to be the antithesis of the modern industrial world?
The Ethics of Ecological Modernization
Embracing Creative Destruction
The concluding panel at the Breakthrough Dialogue raised questions about the doomsday narratives embedded in current conversations of mankind’s ecological impacts, and pointed to an alternative set of ecologically modern ethics that might succeed the “small-is-beautiful,” anti-consumerist, and technologically skeptical values of traditional environmentalism.
Dark Age Politics
Energy Austerity A Return to Feudalism
Of all the fantasies that entrance neo-Malthusians, none is more dangerous than the idea that a low-energy, low-consumption, locavore world could be organized along egalitarian lines.
A Deeper Climate Conversation
How Natural Gas and Nuclear Are Essential to Decarbonization
In the last month, the Breakthrough Institute has published two major reports that inject fresh and pragmatic perspective to the discourse on climate and energy. In contrast to the binary and simplistic conception of decarbonization that imagines a step-wise shift from fossil fuels to exclusively renewable technologies, we have aimed to simultaneously place the role of natural gas in the broader process of decarbonization and chart a new path for nuclear energy innovation. These two goals are neither replacements nor antecedents for continued support for renewable energy, but they do and should complicate dialogues over how best to transition to a high-energy, zero-carbon planet.
Mugged By Reality
Nordhaus on the Smarter Environmental Agenda
In 2007, when Ted Nordhaus, the co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, published his first book (Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility) he became simultaneously one of the most despised and one of the most revered figures in the U.S. environmental movement. The book, coauthored by Michael Shellenberger, was a seething indictment of the sort of traditional environmentalism that prizes renewable energy, condemns fracking and nuclear plants, and threatens global apocalypse should we fail to address climate change. Five years later, he hasn’t backed down. What follows is an edited interview based on two recent conversations with Nordhaus.