Energy and Global Warming News for December 11th: China continues to race ahead of U.S. to invest in clean energy reports Washington Times; Home weatherization primed for expansion

What’s perhaps most interesting about this story is that it is from the conservative Washington Times:

China continues to race ahead of U.S. to invest in clean energy

Regardless of the outcome of this month’s climate talks in Copenhagen, China is sprinting ahead in an effort to develop renewable energy sources – especially solar and wind power – to ease its reliance on carbon-rich coal.

China’s need to sustain strong economic growth means its reliance on fossil fuels will continue to grow, as will its position as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon, analysts say. But it is also investing heavily in windmills, solar panels and hydroelectric power, having doubled its wind generating capacity every year since 2005.

China is already the world’s leading manufacturer of solar panels, Dinghuan Shi, chairman of the government’s China Renewable Energy Society, said at an energy conference in Beijing earlier this month.

Julian Wong, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, said solar power looks especially promising.

“It hasnt even been a full year since the [Chinese] government made domestic solar deployment a priority. We have seen how government support of wind helped it take off. It could be the same for solar,” Mr. Wong said.

China’s rapid industrial development in the past three decades has been fueled by coal, which supplies 76 percent of China’s electric-generating needs.

“For China to keep its rapid economic growth going, the only economic option is to burn more coal; renewable energy simply cannot compete,” said Tristan Edmondson, founding partner at Mint Research, a Beijing-based consultancy.

Mr. Edmondson estimates that China will use 2.17 trillion [kg] tons of coal a year by 2020, up from 650 billion [kg] tons in 2000.

By then, Chinese planners are counting on non-fossil fuels to provide 15 percent to 17 percent of its electricity, up from about 8 percent today.

China’s new energy development plan, drafted by the National Energy Administration, is expected to be announced shortly after the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen concludes next week.

Home weatherization: One of America’s few industries primed for expansion

It’s been a big few week for jobs. At last Thursday’sJobs Summit President Obama announced the question of the moment, “How do we get businesses to start hiring again?” How do we get folks back to work?

We all know someone. We spoke to a friend just yesterday — an unemployed elevator technician in the area — whose nerves are rattling with the approaching holiday season. We actually had good news for him, we mentioned the job creation machine right in our nation’s capital — an American-made job creation machine.

WeatherizeDC launched in September and is proving that it’s really possible to create good green jobs now — today, yesterday, and tomorrow. We initially realized two things: home weatherization represents one of America’s few industries primed for expansion and job creation (check out cash for caulkers buzz, Romer confirms) and that a missing link has been a partnership between non-profits, organized labor and the local small businesses that perform the audits and weatherizations and ultimately hire new workers. WeatherizeDC is the campaign of a local non-profit forging these crucial and sustainable partnerships with small home performance businesses, the community and organized labor to advance economic and environmental justice.

How we do it? WeatherizeDC’s Green Teams gather together their neighbors and friends through house meetings, door-to-door canvasses and events to help them through the details and process of home weatherization. Audits and weatherizations then take place in discounted group rates and the home performance businesses of the local community finally grow and finally hire given the increased demand. Organized Green Teams are gearing up to weatherize 200 homes by March, which in turn will generate up to seven good green jobs. It’s not only job creation, it’s community-driven job creation.

Up to date, the WeatherizeDC community members and youth leaders have knocked on thousands of doors, hosted a dozen home energy meetings on community-based weatherization and identified hundreds of homeowners interested in taking the next step. As of the beginning of this week, WeatherizeDC generated enough new demand for our first small business partner to hire two new full-time workers equipped with family-sustaining wages and benefits. It’s job creation now.

We’re excited about the Jobs Summit and President Obama’s plan to quickly activate employment. But, we’re even more excited about 2010 being a year of community-driven job creation machines popping up all over the country. Together, we will reenergize our nation’s economy.

Senate roadmap raises expectations for Obama on world stage

A Senate blueprint on energy and global warming legislation released yesterday quickly rippled across the Atlantic as all eyes focus on what President Obama can deliver when he arrives here next week at the close of U.N.-led climate negotiations.

The four-page framework from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) offers several broad statements that are at the center of the Copenhagen, Denmark, negotiations and the Obama administration’s position.

The senators slightly lowered their sights on greenhouse gas emission limits for 2020, dropping from 20 percent to the same “range” of 17 percent below 2005 levels that the United States has already put on the table. And they pledged to include in their bill long-term financing for developing countries’ adaptation, deforestation and technology deployment efforts (see related story).

Reflecting several critical points for moderate lawmakers, the senators also call for “a strong international agreement that includes real, measurable, reportable, verifiable and enforceable actions by all nations.”

Observers in Copenhagen and Washington said the Senate efforts raise countless questions in the days and months ahead about whether Obama can really pass a bill — and in turn keep the momentum going on the U.N. talks that are already in a critical stage in Denmark.

Dirk Forrister, managing director of Natsource and former chairman of the Clinton-era White House Climate Change Task Force, said the 17 percent range for emissions should give diplomats confidence that a unified position is forming in Washington.

“More people will be encouraged as a sign of things beginning to solidify in a consistent direction,” Forrister said. “If you have a position by the administration, the House and the Senate that all actually have the same number, that’s a good sign.”

Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, found reasons for optimism.

“It’s a very constructive bipartisan message largely consistent with the president’s, and that should give other parties greater confidence that the U.S. will be in a position to deliver on its provisional target,” Diringer said. “The greater that confidence, the stronger the prospects for a positive outcome here.”

… “It’s very important,” Vijai Sharma, India’s environment secretary, said of the need to pass a U.S. climate law.

Bill Hare, a scientific adviser to Grenada’s delegation who also works for the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said that many countries have been tracking Obama’s policies and the Capitol Hill debate.

“The quality of that bill and the way it connects to the international position of the United States is fundamental to the outcome of this process,” Hare said. “If the U.S. bill falls over, people in some ways would have to go back to square one in terms of how you designed a system or to see what the U.S. administration is to deal with that. That’s quite important.”

… Although Senate Democrats say they will consider the bill next spring, Obama may face demands from world leaders to be more specific, said Alden Meyer, director of international climate strategies at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The conference’s Danish hosts are trying to line up support on a political agreement that spells out the negotiation schedule for next year, with an end date either in June or next December in Mexico City. Meyer said the United States would soon be pressed into taking a stance on a “real deadline” for negotiations that should be influential back on Capitol Hill.

“In some ways, whatever negotiation mandate that’s set here at the end of next week becomes the de facto deadline for completion of the U.S. process,” Meyer said, “Otherwise, we’re back in the same box, that we come to the next negotiation session trying to get a final deal with the Congress not having acted.”

Climate change fears may worsen depression

Deadly heat waves, home-wrecking hurricanes, neighborhood-scorching wildfires: When you stop to think about it, global warming can be downright depressing. Now, scientists are starting to validate that feeling.

According to accumulating evidence, climate change won’t just trigger new cases of stress, anxiety and depression. People who already have schizophrenia and other serious psychological problems will probably suffer most in the aftermath of natural disasters and extreme weather events.

“When these events happen, people with pre-established mental illnesses often have more extreme difficulty coping than the rest of the population,” said Lisa Page, a psychiatrist at King’s College London. “This is an area we maybe need to think about a little more seriously.”

In public health circles and even in climate talks, scientists have looked a lot at how climate change might affect physical health, by for example, spurring the spread of malaria, dengue fever and other infectious diseases.

For the most part, though, the experts have made only vague references to the link between climate change and mental health, even though evidence for such connections is starting to pile up. In a review of the published literature, Page and a colleague found a variety of examples.

After natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, for instance, studies have clearly documented a rise in post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and other mental disorders. The same symptoms occur during infectious disease outbreaks.

In the future, climate models predict more destructive storms, more floods, more droughts and more diseases. In turn, the new study suggests, more psychological crises will follow.

Heat waves “” like the one that killed some 70,000 people in Europe in the summer of 2003 “” will also happen more frequently, last longer and be more severe in coming years. The mentally ill will be hardest hit by these events, Page suspects, because they’re more likely to live in substandard housing without air conditioning or other amenities.

Many psychotropic medications also increase the risk of dying from heat-related complications. So does substance abuse, which is common among people with mental illnesses.

People with pre-existing mental challenges will probably also have an extra hard time dealing with other forecasted consequences of climate change, including the sinking of coastlines and mass migration away from flooded shores.

U.N. Op-Ed: Bracing for the flood

Earthquakes. Cyclones. Tsunamis. Floods. Mudslides. Natural disasters have doubled in frequency over the last two decades. Catastrophes have also become more intense, destructive and threatening to human life. In 2008 alone, some 36 million people were suddenly displaced by these phenomena.

While that is an enormous figure, it is dwarfed by the number of people whose security and livelihoods are being steadily undermined by the longer-term consequences of climate change: droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns, the degradation and desertification of the land, coastal erosion and salinification.

A particularly disturbing characteristic of these developments is their potential to ignite conflicts within and between states, especially in situations where communities are competing for increasingly scarce resources such as fresh water and grazing land.

Looking a little further into the future, citizens of small and low-lying islands will face the prospect of their countries crumbling into the rising sea, their nationalities, cultures and identities drowned.

Nobody can say exactly how many people will be displaced by natural disasters and climate change in the decades to come. Current predictions vary enormously: from tens of millions to over a billion.

What one can say with considerable confidence, however, is that the impact of climate change will be felt most strongly by those low-income countries that are least responsible for the phenomenon and least equipped to deal with it.

Within the developing world, moreover, disadvantaged women and men “” subsistence farmers and fishermen, slum and shantytown dwellers, members of ethnic and religious minorities “” will bear the brunt of the changes taking place in our ecosystem.

In these respects, addressing the challenge of climate change cannot be separated from the struggle to promote effective forms of development cooperation and to secure human rights for all.

We are now confronted with a number of global megatrends that interact with each other. In addition to climate change, they include population growth, migration, urbanization and food, water and energy insecurity, all compounded by the global economic crisis.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has frequently reminded us, climate change is at the fulcrum of these trends, multiplying the impacts of the others.

Attempting to deal with these trends individually would doom the effort to failure. They require a common response, which often eludes the international community given the fragmented nature of its analytical and policy tools.

Due to its relationship to the other trends, our response needs to begin with climate change. I would propose a three-pillared strategy.

First, as recognized by the Copenhagen climate change conference, there is a need for effective mitigation, particularly by means of measures that reduce carbon emissions and thereby slow the place of global warming.

Second, affected communities must be supported in their efforts to adapt to climate change, recognizing that in some instances, mobility may be one of the elements of adaptation.

And finally, timely and coherent responses are required in those situations where people are forced to flee due to the impact of climate change, both directly and as an accelerator of other drivers of displacement, such as natural disasters, food insecurity and conflict.

Peak uranium: More reasons to worry about powering the nuclear revival

Is it time to start worrying (again) about “peak uranium”?

Every so often, the world’s planned nuclear renaissance runs into concerns about future availablity of the main fuel source for all those reactors.

A few news items this week fuel those concerns. Chinese officials acknowledge that their planned nuclear push could strain uranium supplies in the future””especially since Chinese uranium production seems well below domestic needs already. And India’s existing nuclear fleet is running well below capacity because of shortages of domestic uranium. India has also planned a massive nuclear-energy expansion. All that has Russia eager, as always, to step into the breach with offers to supply uranium to potential new customers.

The fears over “peak uranium” boil down to simple math: The world presently consumes a lot more uranium than it produces. The latest numbers from the International Atomic Energy Agency say global annual consumption is 69,100 tons; global production from mining is around 43,000 tons. The difference””for now””is basically made up from nuclear-weapons stockpiles, which obviously aren’t an infinite resource.

That’s the arithmetic that has renewed “peak uranium” chatter in recent weeks. Swiss scientist Michael Dittmar talks of a supply crunch as soon as 2013. And all those worries are based on the size of the world’s current nuclear power fleet.

The thing is, China, India, the Middle East, and the U.K. are already ramping up their own nuclear renaissance. The U.S.””the world’s biggest user of nuclear energy””has plans for more, though perhaps not as much as Republicans would like. Either way, nuclear expansion on the drawing board seems likely to increase the world’s appetite for uranium.

So is there cause for concern? MIT, in its benchmark evaluation of the outlook for the nuclear industry, brushes off concerns about uranium supplies. The IAEA figures the world has 5.5 million tons of uranium already identified””which would be about 80 years of supplies at today’s current pace. (Though the official estimates of supplies have their own share of critics.) And Harvard’s Belfer Center just summarized all the myriad challenges facing the nuclear revival-fuel supplies per se aren’t one of them.

In the end, demand might just create its own supply. Just the talk of the nuclear renaissance has jazzed up uranium-mining companies and countries which spent a couple of decades treading water.

And, as has been historically true with oil and is probably true with future supplies of lithium for electric-car batteries, there’s nothing like a supply crunch and rising commodity prices to spur new exploration and production.

5 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for December 11th: China continues to race ahead of U.S. to invest in clean energy reports Washington Times; Home weatherization primed for expansion

  1. James Newberry says:

    Regards the Washington Times statement that China uses about one trillion tons of coal per year, can we check this figure? It sounds like they are off by a factor of one thousand.

    Regards our economic depression turning into phycological depression as the planet responds to our reversion of the atmosphere to past geologic stages (when ice caps did not exist and seas were hundreds of feet higher) and to the increasing violence of the earth’s hydrologic cycle, many of us fight against this every day. It is economic fraud that we have been fighting against for decades. Now the systems are crashing all around. We are now for clean energy economics for survival, much less “prosperity.”

    Regards uranium: this is a material resource, an element and has no “efficiency” as an energy resource because it is not an energy resource, it is a mined material resource. Fission creates highly powerful permanent and shorter-lived poisons as well as potential weapons systems, with all escaping water system heat and radiation creating more death in our oceans and rivers, or adding to climate crisis through vapor. Property values are falling around reactors as the market responds to nuclear waste and neigborhood cancers increase.

    It has no economic feasibility in a “free market.” Some markets that are not free are “fascistic markets,” typically effected through national or transnational corporatism and indemnification (removal from liability by national government). Even corrupt Wall Street won’t invest in these military/industrial boondoggles. Only massive economic fraud, bailouts and transfer of public funds and liability allows them to exist at all. Can you imagine if the US had invested the historic half trillion dollars of atomic subsidies instead in solar. It might even be “too cheap to meter” by now. The truth is that solar is “cheaper” than atomic fission now, even if you could price the unquantifiable.

  2. When one reads the prediction below from this article, one wonders how it will be possible to reduce the global GHG needed for humanity’ survival: China is expected to increase its coal use by over three times. China already is the larger CO2 emitter on earth.
    Even with increased governmental support for green energies, it is predicted that only 15- 17% of China electricity generation will not emit GHG. The most critical thing is to reduce consumption by new approaches to building China’s massive projects, in housing, industry and infrastructure. Humanity can not do it in the old ways – just make it bigger and more massive.

    But that is not the direction China is taking or may want to take. Since China depends to a large extent on export the global community must pressure them to change their approach by taxing the GHG content of their products. And the same should be done for all sources.

    “China’s rapid industrial development in the past three decades has been fueled by coal, which supplies 76 percent of China’s electric-generating needs.
    “For China to keep its rapid economic growth going, the only economic option is to burn more coal; renewable energy simply cannot compete,” said Tristan Edmondson, founding partner at Mint Research, a Beijing-based consultancy.

    Mr. Edmondson estimates that China will use 2.17 trillion tons of coal a year by 2020, up from 650 billion tons in 2000.
    By then, Chinese planners are counting on non-fossil fuels to provide 15 percent to 17 percent of its electricity, up from about 8 percent today.”

  3. Joe Shea says:

    More news: The government of British Columbia has just approved two wind power plants, with a combined generating capacity of over 700 MW.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Coal consumption figures are indeed all off by a factor of about one thousand. Somebody seems to have mistranslated “kilograms” into “tons”.

    [JR: I think you are right. Fixed it.]

  5. GFW says:

    Wouldn’t “closed fuel cycle” reactors get 100 times more power from the same amount of uranium than current “once through” designs? (And require far less waste storage…) Even at that nuclear is probably too expensive to compete as wind and solar continue to tumble in price.