The Green Mile

The distance that runs between what we need to do for the planet and keeping everything going just as it is, if not a little better. This supports another reason why the green is so compelling as a word for something we don’t understand and, simultaneously, know only too well.

An article in the New Republic spoons up the conventional wisdom on green and greening, how its fashion star has faded and what that  and ten cents will get you after polls prove how we’ll chose economic growth over the environment every time, as if that was anything more than one of the multiple answers supplied by the survey. Jeesh.

And then, almost as quickly as it had inflated, the green bubble burst. Between January 2008 and January 2009, the percentage of Americans who told the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that the environment was a “top priority” dropped from 56 percent to 41 percent. While surveys have long showed that enthusiasm for all things green is greatest among well-educated liberals, the new polling results were sobering. For the first time in a quarter century, more Americans told Gallup in March that they would prioritize economic growth “even if the environment suffers to some extent” than said they would prioritize environmental protection “even at the risk of curbing economic growth.” Soon thereafter, Shell announced it would halt its investments in solar and wind power.

Alright. But let’s not underplay this ‘green bubble’ idea as just another noctural, if speculatory, emission. It’s easy to do that, but still. Test yourself. What if the bubble is actually about the fact that the virtue of this necessity is not our requirement that it must co-exist with a romanticized view of the simple life, but that the over-leveraged, wasteful, fossil fuel-dependent life as we demand it IS the bubble?

It may be pleasant to imagine resource scarcity as a kind of hype that we can become less infatuated with and leave by the roadside, but the whole point was that we have to change the way we live not becuase it’s somehow musty or uncool but because the short-sightedness on which it is based is destroying the planet.

Separating our economic troubles from our environmental concerns should be the thing that seems passe’, no?

Ugly Green Ties to the Past

Not that one, specifically, but not altogether different, either.

I’m as skeptical as anybody about clean coal, but as a fan, of sorts, of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, I’m willing to give him and cc its due when he goes to links to take it seriously. Following routes we ostensibly mistrust, after all, is what open mindedness is about, n’Green pas?

This is all concerns FutureGen, a public-private partnership to build a first-of-its-kind coal-fueled, near-zero emissions power plant.

The article somehow manages to wax agnostic about the merits of living with the contradictions of the above statement.

Stephanie Mueller, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, issued a statement after Monday’s meeting leaving no doubt about Chu’s interest. “Secretary Chu believes that the FutureGen proposal has real merit,” Mueller said. “In the coming weeks, the department will be working with the Alliance and members of Congress to strengthen the proposal and try to reach agreement on a path forward.”

If the project is revived, it will have plenty of company internationally. Three similar IGCC projects figure among a dozen schemes that European leaders last month deemed eligible to compete for €1 billion in stimulus funds set aside to support commercial-scale application of CCS in coal-fired power plants. Of those projects, six will be selected to receive funding. Meanwhile, a consortium of Chinese power generators has initiated construction of the GreenGen project, which was inspired by FutureGen.

I cringed repeatedly about Obama’s invocation of cc on the campaign trail; it sounded exactly like the dreamy sort of pandering with which his critics have tried to paint him, to little effect thus far. But here comes the administration again, continuing to strike a serious posture with an expensive, non-serious solution.

The idea of outfitting new coal-fired power plants with carbon storage and sequestration technology should be a minimal point of entry into our energy supply; that the coal industry can and does tout this as the next greatest thing speaks to bar height for the industry and the candle power of politicians as much as anything. As we have said, the cheapest power plants are the ones we don’t have to build. Measures to flatten demand should at least accompany gargantuan efforts to make a dirty power clean.

And even on 4/1 this is not a joke.

The mall is flat

That title is stolen from Atrios, who refers to him as Little Tommy Friedman, age 9. I couldn’t agree more. Besides being married to a billionaire mall developer, he’s also a jingoist of the first order, using his NYT column to rhetorically taunt the Serbians back in the mid-90’s: “You want 1940? We’ll give you 1940. How about 1540? or 1340?” Implying that we would bomb them back to some past age. Excellent, Tommy.

Vanity Fair now has Friedman’s Five Worst Predictions and it’s a passable list, reflective of the intellect that allows him to breeze past CNBC producers straight to the pineapple daiquiris in the green room. Though this list of brutishly simplistic conclusions based on counter-intuitive and patronizing over-extrapolations of routine activity in the developing world leaves out some doozies, the thing about Friedman that almost makes my head explode is the seemingly highest-regard in which he is held by academics, many of whom I know personally. I just don’t get it that they don’t get it. Maybe the flat world idea is just too easy and useful to let pass despite its fundamental flaw, and so they can’t. It’s truly one of the great mysteries of my proximity to academia. But I think he essentially misunderstood the cabbie or whomever it was in Bangalore that first told him that line. And now it’s everywhere. And it’s truly stupid.

At least he makes our usual question easier to answer.


Is not cooling after all.

Global-warming skeptics have pointed to the presumed cooling of the continent as evidence that researchers’ computer projections of climate change are in error, but the new findings reported Thursday appear to refute their criticisms.

“We now see warming as taking place on all seven of the Earth’s continents in accord with what models predict as a response to greenhouse gases,” coauthor Eric J. Steig of the University of Washington said at a news conference about the report published in the journal Nature.

In related stories, scientists have also published new research showing that there is, in fact, no place like home, that many hands do make light work and that you should not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Update: That may be one of the last times I link to the L.A. Times. Good grief.


Disincentives are the levers of motivation we use on power companies to get them to sell us more energy than we need. We provide them by not expressing a preference against them. They are stupid in their own way. Why are light bulbs hot? Why do video game consoles automatically stay powered-up, unless we set them not to?

Greater energy efficiency – efficiency in general – is the elbow of the energy conundrum in which we are presently mired. It’s the least sexy part and yet the one which would have the most force if heartily applied to the mid-section of our wasteful nature. Whoa! We didn’t know we could do that! It’s empowering when you can get a creep off your back, especially using a tool you’ve possessed all along. And in this case, the shock itself would provide a little desperately-needed breathing room to take on the more difficult, sexier paths to sustainability like solar and wind (the T & A in this crazy, mixed-up analogy). Sensible adjustments to the way we generate, distribute and use energy even from dirty, nonrenewable sources would go along way toward highlighting and reforming the waste endemic to our ways.

Of course, the way things stand, the suppliers who generate the energy we waste desire anything but such illumination and reform. Their motives are also all about green, but the other kind. You can’t blame them (unless you recall that them = us); this is the system in which they/we operate. With shareholders to satisfy, their only incentives are for us to use more power. Why should they invest in expensive, energy-saving initiatives that adversely affect their bottom line?

The Department of Energy predicts a 30% increase in power demand by 2030. As this Time magazine article points out, the utilities that will supply this power are very aware that the cheapest new power plants are the ones they don’t have to build. But, if we give them no other alternatives than to build new clean coal-fired plants, they will oblige. We’ve already provided ourselves some pretty nasty choices by omission that have begun haunt the future, as we are loathe to face them.

We need to untangle some of the simple assumptions about status quo energy use in order to steer clear of the more complex and disasteful choices down the road regarding unaffordable new power production and out of control emissions. Realize that by not demanding less, we are demanding more.

Ourselves in

Boxing, that is. Via Think Progress, The U.S. Geological Survey now thinks that published estimates on how much sea levels will rise as a result of melting ice caps were a little on the light side.

Tom Armstrong, senior advisor for global change programs at the U.S. Geological Survey, said the report “shows how quickly the information is advancing” on potential climate shifts. The prospect of abrupt climate change, he said, “is one of those things that keeps people up at night, because it’s a low-probability but high-risk scenario. It’s unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, but if it were to occur, it would be life-changing.”

In one of the report’s most worrisome findings, the agency estimates that in light of recent ice sheet melting, global sea levels could rise as much as 4 feet by 2100. The intergovernment panel had projected a rise of no more than 1.5 feet by that time, but satellite data over the last two years show the world’s major ice sheets are melting much more rapidly than previously thought. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing an average of 48 cubic miles of ice a year, equivalent to twice the amount of ice in the Alps.

So we can continue with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind routine until further notice and new models have been developed which can present finally-irrefutable proof that was has been happening all along has, in fact, been happening all along. Great.

But in the meantime, just until we decide it’s too late to do anything, how about some massive public infrastructure spending to alleviate some of what might be the causes of the above? Ahem.

Building the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles and Anaheim line that will be the spine of the system will cost between $32.8 billion and $33.6 billion, according to the High Speed Rail Authority’s business report. Extensions built later would cost another $12 billion. In addition to the $10 billion from state bond sales, the authority is counting on $12 billion to $16 billion in federal funds plus $6.5 billion to $7.5 billion in private investment and $2 billion to $3 billion in local contributions.

Whoa. Sexy numbers like that are usually reserved an investment bank bailout or derivatives swindle. And this to build something no one will own, that only benefits the public? Who even goes there?

Update: Catching up on Krugman for the last few days, he explains the econ 101 behind my last bit of pith there.

O, brother

This is exactly the type of lame-O ‘Green’ article everyone comes to expect on the road to meaningless for the term, but especially as a stand-in for sustainability.

Maybe it’s the post-modern tendency to strafe both sides with cover fire while you move in for the ambivalent shrug. It works in a dig at two sides that have been set up up for no other reason than to (possibly) make you feel better no matter what side you’re on. Fascinating.

How green are your branches? How useless are your articles? End that one with an exclamation point, you pinheads!