February 28 News: What Will Partial Build of Keystone XL Mean for Energy Politics?

Other stories below: Santorum’s impious denial theology; debunking myths about wind turbines and carbon emissions

Keystone breakthrough may muffle Republican attack on Obama

A Canadian company’s decision on Monday to proceed with part of a U.S. pipeline might end up muffling one of the Republicans’ loudest arguments in this election year: that President Barack Obama has pursued failed energy policies.

TransCanada Corp announced it intended to begin work on the southern leg of the $7 billion Keystone XL project, from Oklahoma to Texas, leaving for later another run at the more controversial, and complicated, northern segment.

For months, Republicans have hammered Obama for blocking the pipeline project out of concern for the environmentally sensitive areas south of the U.S.-Canada border. Republicans seeking re-election to Congress uniformly branded his decision as a job-killer that undermines energy independence.

Natural Gas Our New Savior? Not So Fast . . .

Remember how ethanol was going to save us? It was the perfect solution to not one, but two different problems. The first was energy security: since it’s a type of alcohol distilled from home-grown corn, ethanol would replace the gasoline made from oil imported from Bad People in places like Iran. The second was climate change. Ethanol emits heat-trapping CO2 like gasoline does, but the corn sucks in CO2 while it’s growing, so it’s mostly a wash.

That was the sales pitch, anyway, and for a while, lots of people bought it. The Federal government subsidized ethanol production, and an EPA regulation requiring the use of renewable fuels boosted ethanol’s stock still further. Then scientists began calculating the actual climate impact of corn ethanol, and discovered it wasn’t much better than gas — and might actually be worse.

Santorum’s Impious Denial Theology

As Rick Santorum has tried to explain his “phony theology” comment aimed at President Obama, he has revealed some radical ideas of his own. They not only seem to reflect a breathtaking lack of knowledge about basic ecology, but also run equally afoul of both conservatism and Biblical teaching.

While Santorum articulates his total rejection of scientific consensus on climate change, which he refers to as “junk science” with fervor and conviction, his certitude is not supported by either evidence or Christian theology. It can only be chalked up to ideology, misinformation or a too-generous helping of both.

He recently argued that man’s dominion over the earth must be used “for our benefit, not for the Earth’s benefit.” He seems oblivious to the fact that the two are inseparable, that a healthy earth is essential to human life.

Determining the environmental impact of a product is a complex process

As concerns over climate change and resource depletion grow, comparing the environmental impact of various products has become something of a pastime: Paper towels or hot-air hand dryers? Paper or plastic grocery bags? Plane, train or automobile?

Environmental scientists can give pretty good answers to those questions using a technique known as life-cycle analysis, or LCA, which is an attempt to quantify a product’s effects on the planet, from greenhouse gas emissions to acid rain. Companies order LCAs to assess and trumpet their environmental credentials, and nonprofit groups conduct them to measure the effects of various products and processes.

Although few ordinary consumers are familiar with it, LCA is at the center of a battle among manufacturers, retailers and conservationists over how to measure and express a product’s overall environmental impact. Emerging rules governing LCA will help policymakers decide which products are eco-friendly and which companies are engaged in “greenwashing” (the marketing of a product as environmentally friendly when, in fact, it’s no better than any of its competitors). And future government efforts to push businesses toward sustainability will be based on LCA.

For a conscientious consumer, it’s useful to know how LCA works as well as how it can be abused.

Enlisting Nanoparticles to Help Replace Oil

The world has a lot of natural gas and not nearly enough crude oil. To address the imbalance, some companies have tried to convert the gas into a liquid that can substitute for refined oil products like gasoline and diesel, but the idea has not taken off in this country. It may be simpler to convert vehicles instead and have them burn natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel.

This logic has become stronger as the price of oil has risen on the global market and the price of American natural gas has declined. Lately oil has been trading at around $100 a barrel, but the same amount of energy can be bought for about $15 as natural gas when that fuel is trading in the range of $2.50 per million B.T.U.’s, as it has recently. (An average barrel is 5.8 million B.T.U.’s.)

New Jersey Budget Would Raid Money for Efficiency, Renewable Energy

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to drain the state’s clean energy fund and revenue from the northeast cap-and-trade program to close gaps in the general budget.

Christie’s 2013 budget would eliminate $210 million that would otherwise give people rebates for buying efficient appliances or weatherization (clean energy fund) and $473,000 from its share of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) revenues.

Christie pulled New Jersey out of the RGGI as of the end of 2011.

Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice & More Powerful Storms?

New research suggests disappearing sea ice at the top of the planet is playing a “critical” role in driving colder, snowier winters here in the United States.

Retreating Arctic sea ice, according to the researchers, helps alter the atmosphere in two ways.

First, scientists found that less ice is causing a change in atmospheric circulation patterns, weakening the westerly winds that blow across the northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans. That weakened jet stream, in turn, allows more frequent surges of bitter cold Arctic air not only into the U.S., but also in Europe and east Asia.

“We have more cold air outbreaks,” said Jiping Liu, a senior research scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, and a co-author of the new study released today.

Wind myths: Turbines increase carbon emissions

Some critics of wind power have started to make the claim that windfarms actually cause a net increase in carbon emissions due to the fact that their generating intermittency means they must be “backed-up” with gas-fired generation.

The claim seems to have originated from a Dutch wind critic and retired physicist called Kees le Pair who posted a non-peer reviewed paper on his website last October. The claim was then picked up and disseminated by, among others, the right-leaning thinktank Civitas.

International lenders will give $65 million in concessionary loans to 18 Caribbean nations to help the islands defend their coasts and fragile economies from the impact of climate change.The European Investment Bank will channel its lending through the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank, which announced the initiative Monday.

7 Responses to February 28 News: What Will Partial Build of Keystone XL Mean for Energy Politics?

  1. Colorado Bob says:

    Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice & More Powerful Storms?

    The ice chart ……

  2. Paul Magnus says:

    “Natural Gas Our New Savior? Not So Fast . . .”

    Does this mean it is technically impossible to meet the 2C cut off due to the GHG footprint of implementing GHG reduction solutions?

    I have wondered about this footprint in the past but have not seen any figures on what it would be. We need to be honest about these thing and face reality.

  3. Paul Magnus says:

    “The bottom line that emerges from this “life-cycle analysis,” or LCA, said Myhrvold, is that by the time we could switch from coal to gas, there would already be so much more CO2 and methane in the atmosphere that we’d be much deeper in the hole. ”

    “A switch to renewables (true renewables, that is, not corn-based ethanol) would also incur a carbon debt: it takes energy to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines too, after all. If we made that switch, according to Myhrvold and Calderia’s calculations, you wouldn’t see a change in temperatures for decades either. But by 2100, the decrease would start to kick in (he explicitly rejects the idea of new hydropower dams, by the way, whose energy is renewable but which are, he said, “much worse than coal for the first hundred years”: the trees and other vegetation that rot beneath backed-up water release lots of methane).”

  4. Poll: US belief in warming rises with thermometer

    WASHINGTON (AP) — A new poll shows Americans’ belief in global warming is on the rise, along with temperatures and surprising weather changes.

    The survey by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College says 62 percent of those asked last December think the Earth is getting warmer. That’s an increase from 55 percent in the spring of that year. It’s the highest percentage in two years.

    Nearly half the people who say they believe in global warming base that on their own personal observations of the weather. Climate scientists say daily local weather isn’t evidence of climate change. But they also say long-term climate change is so dramatic that people do recognize and experience it.

    The survey of 887 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

  5. Paul Magnus says:

    Ingrain bias to wind…

    Wind farms make noise. Coal fired power stations pollute the air and atmosphere. Coal-seam gas mines pollute underground water aquifers. All electricity generating sources, to some people, pollute the scenic landscape.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    Moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine has announced she will not seek re-election.

    She was facing the first primary challenge of her career by a tea party radical – she was told this would happen (last year I believe) by Koch funded and guided political groups for her voting record (she voted for something with Democrats and that was that). This is why you will find no Republicans even considering climate change is real.

    Based on her carefully chosen words, it appears she wasn’t up for the harassment from the Koch wing of her own party.

    This is how the GOP is being purged, systematically and successfully, of people who have voted for issues friendly to green energy and climate change in the past.

    The Dems are expected to have a good chance to pick the seat up, but of course its just a chance – the larger danger is that they will loose the Senate to GOP control.

  7. Sasparilla says:

    Here’s the link for the article on moderate Republican Senator Snowe withdrawing from the next election: