Monday, December 7, 2009

CO2enhagen Daze

As we slide into Nordic overdrive in Copenhagen, my mind bounces like a ping pong ball between cautious optimism and deep despair.

On the one hand, the solutions for reducing CO2 are going to be reasonably easy to do. In the U.S., the waste alone will pay for most of the CO2 reduction. Conservative estimates are that 30% of energy used in the U.S. is wasted. It's probably closer to 50%. From homes and buildings built in the era of cheap energy that bleed heat and cooling, to cars, trucks and SUVs designed to be big and powerful without any regard to aerodynamics, mass or the gross inefficiencies of internal combustion.

It's very easy to downsize vehicles while keeping them safe. And as the bloated ICE age vehicles are gradually replaced by the smaller, nimble electrics, our personal contribution to climate change will diminish to a small fraction of today.

Add to that the enormous gains to be had retrofitting buildings. The millions of retrofitting jobs will be funded, for the most part, by the savings in energy.

The best approach seems to be the one described by James Hansen in an op-ed in today's NY Times.

"Under this approach, a gradually rising carbon fee would be collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas). The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production."

And the coolest part of the idea:

"All of the collected fees would then be distributed to the public. Prudent people would use their dividend wisely, adjusting their lifestyle, choice of vehicle and so on. Those who do better than average in choosing less-polluting goods would receive more in the dividend than they pay in added costs."

This is perfect! You add costs to the dirty fuels that have brought us wars and global pollution, sick and dying people, and despotic regimes run by the most evil people on Earth. You then distribute that money to everyone equally. That way, if you are efficient and use cleaner energy, you will make money. If you are wasteful and use dirty energy, you'll pay money to those treehuggers you hate so much.


It'll work great, too, "if" we get it passed.

I praise James Hansen for writing "Cap and Fade", especially in light of Paul Krugman's column, "An Affordable Truth". Friedman makes the inevitable "practical" case for cap and trade. If all we can get is a watered down C&T, I'll take it, but we'd be once again accepting less from our leaders than we as a society need to progress.

Which bounces me back to deep despair.

Our population is growing fast. When I was a kid in elementary school, we had about 3 billion people on the planet. By the time I graduated high school, it was 4 billion. Well, time stands still for no one and we now find ourselves pushing 7 billion people! And it's growing faster than ever, mostly in countries that cannot begin to care for the millions who will soon die from war, lack of food, or just global indifference.

There's so little time and all our Congress can do is dither.



  1. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate says,

    "A successful agreed outcome needs to capture a level of ambition that is commensurate with the scale of the problem."

    Watered down cap and trade isn't good enough.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Paul,
    Have to agree with you here. Hopefully, it won't come down to watered down cap and trade.

    Here's one critical take (on video) - albeit a somewhat reductive one - on cap & trade I'm running on SolarChargedDriving.Com right now.

    I also agree that population stabilization is the key to all the other problems.

    If you haven't seen this excellent YouTube video by a CU Mathematics professor on the math of population growth and finite resources, I highly recommend it (more than 1 million views -- of a lecture on math!)

  4. James Hansen got it right, though if anything he undersold his proposal. Not only would a fee-and-dividend program be more efficient and effective than cap-and-trade, it would be politically easier to enact. Contrast the bleak prospects of getting any sort of cap-and-trade through the U.S. Senate against the enormous popularity of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which is, in effect, a fee-and-dividend program.

    Unfortuantely, the imperfect and politically impractical cap-and-trade solution has taken on a life of its own. After the Bush Administration's rejection of Kyoto, cap-and-trade became a wedge issue in the environmental community. We have to move away from this and on to approaches that will work.

    Finally, a warning to EV supporters: Be careful what you wish for in advocating for cap-and-trade or EPA regulation of carbon emissions. If such programs only impose costs on large emitters, the result will be a change in the relative cost of electricity and gasoline in favor of gasoline. This would set back consumer adoption of GEV's and could, perversely, actually increase, rather than decrease, GHG emissions in the transportation sector.

    Jim Greenberger
    Executive Director
    National Alliance for Advanced Technology Batteries

  5. Jim, I agree with all you say, but want to comment on the warning in the final paragraph.

    Most of us in the EV movement fully understand that a carbon tax, or C&T, will raise the cost of electricity. This is something we desperately need so that people stop wasting so much. However, if done correctly, this doesn't have to negatively impact EVs.

    All utilities will need to implement tiered rates and time of use rates.

    Tiered rates means that a certain amount of kWh are sold at a low rate, then the subsequent tiers are sold at ever increasing rates. For example, here in Southern California Edison territory, we have 5 tiers. Tier one costs 12 cents/kWh, tier two is 14 cents, tier three is 24 cents, tier four is 28 cents and tier five is 31 cents. The CA Public Utility Commission governs the rates and they have mandated that all rate increases go into tiers 3, 4 and 5. That way, anyone who conserves energy, or is poor and doesn't use much energy to begin with, will not be affected by the rate increases. Those who are wealthy, or who waste energy, will pay more for the privilege.

    Time of Use rates (TOU) have to do with when the energy is used. Peak time of use is in the afternoons for the most part. That's when "peaker" plants come on line to generate power for only a few short hours. This is very expensive energy, as you can imagine. At night, there is much excess capacity, and the utilities would like to find a market for this energy so they don't have to keep powering up and shutting down the peaker plants, which are mostly natural gas fired.

    In Edison's case, they offer a special rate for EV that is TOU. The price drops to 10 cents/kWh, but only at night (exact hours to be determined). The EV charging plug is on a separate smart meter, so charging times can be measured accurately. This will naturally encourage people to charge on off-peak energy.

  6. Once again, good stuff Paul. I'm developing proposal for Santa Monica College to use its public construction bond money to fund sustainable buildings and lanscapes on campus rather than expansion. $295 million dollars will buy a lot of PV panels. Just like with consumers though, the college will need economic incentive and the political motivation to do so. Keep up the good work.

    William Hogan

  7. Ultimately, consumers need to reclaim their power and stop depending on the whims of politicians with their lobbied pressures. By buying carefully, conserving energy (which we are doing more and more), consumers will send a far greater message to these elected figure can do with "talks".

    When people drive less, buy less gas, conserve more energy, the message is very clear. Stop the waste and stop environmentally destructive energy sources.

    We have reached the tipping point.

  8. Paul:

    I agree that a carbon charge (whether imposed by tax, or fee, or C&T) will raise electricity prices, but if done correctly should not impair consumer adoption of GEV's. My point is simply, but importantly, that any charge on carbon, in whatever form enacted, needs to be source neutral (i.e., it must treat and charge each molecule of emitted CO2 equally).

    The danger I see in recent proposals to regulate only large emitters of CO2 is that this carbon charge may not fall equally on all CO2 molecules. Electricity tends to be generated by large emitters, who will be subject to the charge. It is far from clear to me that the CO2 emitted out of the tailpipes of millions of gasoline and diesel burning ICE's will be subject to the same charge. If they are not, then the cost of electricity will rise relative to the cost of gasoline. This would be a bad result for GEV's.

    Jim Greenberger

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