Gallon of Regular Gas -$3.64

Kilowatt/hour of electricity:  $0.11

Watching a dittohead’s head explode: Priceless.

Most Volt owners, like Earl Weinstein from Los Angeles, report that strangers who approach about the car are more likely to be curious than confrontational. “When I was parked at Helen’s bike shop in Santa Monica to buy a new bike rack a few weeks ago,” he relates, “at least three people came up to me to ask about it, one of whom had just leased a new Prius and started to regret his choice after I described how awesome the Volt is.”Muse, who lives near Detroit, says, “I also get people who come up to me telling me that they worked on the Volt at GM, and want to know how I like it.” He tells them, “It’s easily the most fun car I’ve ever driven and worth every penny I’ve spent on it.”

With the long election season now over, can Volt owners expect its politicization to subside? “I’m hoping to see the issue fade into the background,” Muse says. “[The] Volt will eventually be accepted as well as any other hybrid is today.”

Leapman also hopes that the Volt-bashing will stop. “Maybe everyone will realize just how great an American car it is,” he says.

One of the last sounds Dave Muse probably expected to hear as he drove his Chevrolet Volt past the massive crowd at the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise in Detroit was the sound of people booing. But there were indeed catcalls for his car, although it was Detroit-built and one of the most technically advanced and highly acclaimed vehicles ever to come from that city.

To be sure, there were also plenty of cheers for the Volt from the crowd, which annually numbers more than 1 million. But the undercurrent of condemnation was clear.

It was clearer still for Muse when a stranger approached him in a parking lot, “complaining loudly about my choice of transportation,” he says. As Muse attempted to exit the Volt, the stranger pushed his car door closed, forcing him back into the driver seat, and then stormed off.

During a polarizing election year, the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt has become an unexpected focal point, touted by supporters of President Obama as a shining symbol of a resurgent American auto industry and a model choice for climate-conscious drivers. At the same time, it’s been painted by right-wing pundits as an icon of big government excesses, a sentiment that officially entered the presidential race when Republican candidate Herman Cain proclaimed the car “Obama’s baby” and alleged the President is “subsidizing the sale of every Volt to the tune of $7,500 in taxpayer money.” The right-leaning Drudge Report recently highlighted an Edmunds/Inside Line news story on the Volt’s involvement in a Texas “smart home” project as an example of wasteful government spending. The story drew more than 200 comments, many of them politically charged.

Volt owners like Muse are finding themselves caught in such crossfire. Some have reported acts of vandalism — tires slashed, expletives on the windshield — and one even found himself being intentionally run off the road. General Motors spokesperson Michelle Malcho says she is not familiar with these stories, but notes that “the car isn’t political” and urges people to drive one before making strong judgments against it.

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Right wing news site News Now:

A prominent climate-change skeptic remains “very concerned” about the possibility of the U.S. having a carbon tax.

Marc Morano of Climate Depot says this is a serious problem.

“I’m very concerned right now, because there [were] a lot of advisors that were to Mitt Romney — people like Arthur Laffer, people like George Shultz — and other … liberal Republicans who have been touting the idea of a carbon tax,” Morano reports. “On top of that, Speaker [John] Boehner came out and said that they were going to be looking at — quote — ‘revenue neutral’ — unquote — ideas for tax reform.”

The Climate Depot correspondent also notes publications like The Washington Post and The New York Times are pushing for a carbon tax in the wake of President Obama’s re-election. Former vice president and global warming alarmist Al Gore has made similar calls.

Last week, during his first White House press conference in eight months, President Obama said that he wanted to have a “national conversation” about climate change. Morano finds that disturbing.

“We are facing the prospect of a carbon tax being on the table in any talk of tax reform, fiscal cliff negotiations,” Morano warns. “The GOP House is very unlikely to allow this any time soon, but the problem is when you have Republican leadership, which looks to be very weak at the moment, standing up to President Obama, anything’s possible.”


Something is terribly wrong with our climate, and it’s past time to face that reality.

Sandy was not an isolated event. We have seen many more freak storms, wildfires, landslides and droughts. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. All this is exactly what climate scientists warned us about.

Yet somehow, this issue got caught up in an ideological debate about the size and role of government when it should have focused on the science. The lives lost and billions of dollars in damage is the price we pay for that.

Barton Hinkle in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

But why institute a carbon tax, if not to raise revenue? In brief: Because it would reduce harm in the future and compensate for harm in the past.

You don’t have to take anything Al Gore says as gospel to recognize that today’s climate-change skeptics resemble the anti-anti-communists of decades past, who displayed what Alexander Solzhenitsyn correctly described as “a desire not to know.” American leftists infatuated with the fantasy of egalitarian utopia did not want to believe those on the right who exposed the savage reality of Communist totalitarianism. Climate-change skeptics today do not want to believe climate-change alarmists, who propose big-government solutions. So the doubters refuse to concede the problem.

But intellectually honest skeptics cannot ignore facts they do not like. Hence more and more former deniers are concluding as physicist Richard Muller has: “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming,” he wrote in The New York Times this summer. “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” Tellingly, climate-change conversions all seem to go in one direction. If evidence were mounting that global warming is fake, then some believers would become debunkers.


Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) joined Unilever NV (UNA) and more than 100 companies calling for lawmakers worldwide to put a “clear” price on carbon emissions in order to contain global warming.

Companies invest trillions of dollars in energy and infrastructure projects, and, in most cases, don’t consider goals to cut greenhouse gases, the companies said today in a statement that’s due to be presented to European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard in Brussels.

“A clear, stable, ambitious and cost-effective policy framework is essential to underpin the investment needed to deliver substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions by mid- century,” the companies said in the e-mailed statement. “Putting a clear, transparent and unambiguous price on carbon emissions must be a core policy objective.”

The clarity is needed to channel spending into projects that reduce emissions and help the world meet the United Nations goal of containing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the note. Climate envoys from more than 190 nations are due to gather next week in Doha for two weeks of UN negotiations on the issue.


Dave Roberts had a useful interview with Al Gore, concurrent with the “24 Hours of Reality” event last week.  As always, thoughtful, well informed, and big picture.


Q. Did you see Obama’s press conference the other day?

A. I heard the excerpts on climate, and [laughs] … oh …

Q. Go ahead!

A. No, I’m not going to go ahead! We have conflicting interests here! [laughs]

Well, I think it’s too early to put a definitive interpretation on where he left it with that comment. I was genuinely encouraged that he said, in the first half of his answer, that he was going to conduct a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, etc. Many urged him to do it in the first term and I’m glad that he’s pledging to do that now. That could take on a life of its own and have an impact how he thinks about it. And … as I say, I really do believe it’s premature to put a definitive interpretation on what it means about his intentions.

Q. Did you hear [White House press secretary] Jay Carney this morning?

A. No, God help us, what’d he say?

Q. He said, “We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one.”

A. I don’t think that comes as a big surprise to anyone. Those of us that hold out some hope that we will find a way to get a price on carbon, and know there are multiple ways to do it, have felt that the convergence of the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff could produce some surprising results. And there have been some private comments by some Republicans to that effect. But certainly that’s something you wouldn’t wanna bet money on in Vegas.

Q. What do you think of this idea of a revenue-neutral carbon tax?

A. I have proposed a revenue-neutral carbon tax for a long time, 30 years. I proposed it in my first book, Earth in the Balance.

I supported cap-and-trade because a lot of folks felt that it offered the opportunity for bipartisan consensus. And by the way, it may yet gain altitude globally — China, as you know, is implementing it in five provinces and two cities. They have indicated that they intend to use these pilots as a model for the nationwide program. Many are skeptical, but they often do follow through with what they say they’re going to do. And [cap-and-trade] just started in California yesterday. Australia is now linking theirs to the E.U. system. South Korea’s moving, British Columbia, Quebec — there are a lot of parallel developments that could converge, particularly if China does follow through. It’s premature to write [cap-and-trade] off, even thought it’s has been demonized and so many people are afraid to talk about it.

But from the very beginning, I preferred a carbon tax. (And by the way, I’d be in favor of both; I don’t think they’re inconsistent at all.) And yet, the political environment in the U.S. has not changed to the point where it’s something you’d wanna bet on. But look, we’ve got to solve this. It’s an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, and something’s gotta give. I have enough faith in humanity to believe, against a lot of evidence, that we’re going to solve this.

Q. Does this idea of a carbon/income tax swap make you nervous? The income tax is one of the only places we have progressivity in the U.S. tax code.

A. I have not proposed doing it on the income tax, I have proposed doing it on the payroll tax. I am also friendly to the notion of a rebate scheme, though I doubt they’ll do that. It needs to be progressive — the rising inequality in the country is too serious to run the risk of worsening that.

Q. Do you worry that you getting out in front of this might brand it in a certain way —

A. Well, they come after anybody who speaks up in favor of doing something on climate. It’s not going to surprise any of them that I’m in favor of it. I’ve said it on practically a daily basis for years and years.

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Disturbing revelation the other day – one that I am glad has been getting a lot of exposure – GOP future hope Marco Rubio answered a science based question with a disturbingly familiar cave to the most ignorant lowest common denominator of the GOP anti-science base.

I’ve excerpted the conversation above from Chris Mathew’s Hardball program where the incident came up. This does not bode well for the future of the GOP, and for a fact based conversation in the US. Mathews discusses with former PA Governor Ed Rendell, and Tea Party operative Matt Kibbe.


Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who many political observers think has a strong shot to be a 2016 Presidential candidate, just finished a lengthy interview with GQ that you can read here. One thing that struck my interest here, as someone who often reports on science, was Rubio’s answer when he was asked the question, “How old do you think the Earth is.”

In response, Rubio told GQ that, “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

If the Earth is really 9,000 years old, as Paul Broun believes and Rubio is willing to remain ignorant about,  it becomes imperative to shut down our nuclear plants and dismantle our nuclear stockpiles now until such time as scientists are able to ascertain what circumstances exist that could cause deadly acceleration of radioactive decay and determine how to prevent it from happening.

The bottom line is that this economy, at its root, is built on  a web of scientific knowledge from physics to chemistry to biology. It’s impossible to just cherry pick out parts we don’t like. If the Earth is 9,000 years old, then virtually the entire construct of modern science is simply wrong. Not only that, most of the technology that we rely on most likely wouldn’t work – as they’re dependent on science that operates on the same physical laws that demonstrate the age of the universe.

Now, this doesn’t mean that our representatives to the Congress and to the Senate should be scientific experts. But if they hold ideas about the world around us that are fundamentally at odds with scientific evidence, then that will ultimately infringe on their ability to make reasoned judgments about a host of issues where the economy touches technology. And that could end up harming the economy as a whole.

It’s been said that we won’t begin to see action on climate change until its effects reach beyond the poor, the vulnerable, and those in the developing world. The concern has been that by the time those effects are obvious to the elite, we will be too far along the road to make much of a difference.

Could it be that Superstorm Sandy has pushed the time clock forward on that?

The Atlantic:

All signs are pointing to a slow-but-steady (if uneven) U.S. housing market recovery. But the worst may be yet to come for one valuable slice of the pie: waterfront properties.

Sea level is generally expected to rise three to seven feet by the end of this century. But it could be long before that seaside property values plummet. Oceanographer John Englander puts it this way in his new book, High Tide On Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis: “Property values will go underwater long before property actually goes underwater.”

The effect, Englander’s writes, “may begin to be felt within a decade.”

One week after Englander’s book went on sale, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast coastline, inundating the nation with surreal images of a flooded lower Manhattan and pulverized neighborhoods across coastal Long Island and New Jersey. He now says he’s revised his within-a-decade estimate.

“I think it happened two weeks ago.”

Englander’s only half joking. He’s a respected authority in his field — so much so that in 1997, legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau asked him to take the helm of The Cousteau Society. “I dare say that if you went to go buy coastal real estate in New Jersey right now, you could buy it for a lot less than you could a month ago,” he says. “People are nervous. They know it’s been storm damaged, and when will it happen next?”

Markets turn, at least in part, on big shifts in public thinking. The last few weeks have put the visible effects of climate change on the front page of every major newspaper, despite the fact that the topic didn’t come up once in this year’s three presidential debates.

Not long after the Sandy wrecking ball, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued his surprise endorsement of President Obama, citing the superstorm and noting that even if it wasn’t surely caused by climate change, “the risk that it might be” should compel action.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo remarked that The Empire State “has a 100-year flood every two years now” — a perception echoed in public by at least half-a-dozen Congressional leaders over the last year-and-a-half in the hearings over last year’s epic Mississippi River floods.

No discussion of the issue would be complete without the priceless video cap from Fox News’ discussion of the flood insurance issue with over-the-top hypocrite and hyper-libertarian John “I hate government programs but hell yeah I’ll take the flood insurance money for my beach house” Stossel.

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A common refrain from the climate denial and delay community is that acknowledging climate change would require astronomical, and they say, unnecessary investments in changing energy infrastructure.  The real story? Making those investments is not an option, unless we think we can compete in a 21st century world with a 19th century grid. The electrical grid we have would be instantly recognizable to Thomas Edison, who flipped the switch on the first working model in lower manhattan in 1882.

You don’t need a superstorm to bring down the grid. In the 2003 blackout, the east coast went famously dark due to the apocryphal tree branch in Ohio. The lesson is not lost on those who would wish to make it happen again.

News Latitude:

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit the coast, thousands of people still don’t have power. Many are living in shelters because their homes lack heat, hot water and electricity, while thousands more have completely lost their homes. The storm took over 100 lives.

But as utility workers repair an aging American grid — and as climate change promises to bring stronger storms more frequently — Latitude News wonders what the U.S. can learn from the Netherlands’ modern, disaster-resistant power grid.

I asked Wessel Bakker what would happen to power supplies if a storm like Sandy hit the Dutch coast, a storm that comes ashore with 30-foot waves and 80-mile-per-hour winds.

He paused for a long moment, then said: “In the worst case scenario, I think nothing will happen.”

When Hurricane Sandy barreled through New Jersey and New York, strong winds ravaged local distribution grids — tree limbs became projectiles, power lines snapped and utility poles were uprooted.

It is physically impossible for this kind of damage to happen to the Netherlands’ distribution grid. The wind may blow, but the power lines are safe underground.

Much of the U.S. grid is designed in star patterns, meaning power lines fan out in straight lines toward homes and communities. That means if a power line connecting a community to the bulk grid goes down, the power won’t come back on until that line is repaired.

But in the Netherlands, the grid is laid out in a circular formation. If you lose power from one direction, you can quickly receive it from the other direction. And, increasingly, the Dutch grid is interconnected with neighboring Germany, Norway, Belgium and the UK. Inter-connectivity improves reliability.

All of these factors — a massive infrastructure designed to resist floods, an extensive network of underground power lines, and a highly interconnected grid — make the Dutch grid far more reliable than the American grid.

“In 2011,” said Bakker, “the average annual outage time for a [Dutch] user was 23 minutes.” Bakker said in 2008, the best U.S. states had an average outage time of 90 minutes. “The worst had about 230 minutes.”

I asked Bakker when was the last time the Netherlands experienced a big power outage. Again, he paused for a long moment: “It depends what you call ‘big.’ There was a large one in the western region about 15 years ago. That outage lasted about two hours.”

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If I didn’t curb myself, I’d post nothing but John Prine in these music breaks.

I’ve posted many times about the German experiment in renewables. They keep charging ahead while we dither. Thanks Tea Party!


The nuclear industry and its supporters pounced on Merkel’s decision. They predicted blackouts on a scale Germany hadn’t experienced since World War II and skyrocketing electricity prices that would wreck the nation’s heavy manufacturing sector, the bedrock of the German economy. They warned that Germany would cease to be an energy exporter and be forced to import electricity from, of all places, French nuclear power plants. Utilities would have to burn more coal to make up for the lost nuclear power, they said, pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The British weekly The Economist branded Merkel’s action “a lunatic gamble.”

More than a year and a half later, however, those dire predictions haven’t materialized.

There have been no blackouts since Merkel’s announcement. On the contrary, Germany’s grid, which was already the most reliable in Europe, experienced a total of just 15 minutes and 31 seconds of brownouts in 2011, an improvement over 2010. (The comparable figure for the United States is measured in hours.) The wholesale price of electricity has gone down, not up. The electricity-intensive German manufacturing sector is still thriving. And Germany finished 2011 as a net exporter of energy, while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent.

How did the critics get it so wrong? According to many German energy experts, the naysayers couldn’t envision how the new energy economy would work. Rainer Baake, who brokered the original plan to phase out nuclear, said the critics didn’t understand that while a single source of renewable energy can’t match the constant power of a coal or nuclear plant, a mix of renewable sources can achieve a similar result. For example, solar power produces a predictable range of energy during the day, while winds blow primarily at night. Getting the mix right isn’t easy. But so far, Baake argued, Germany’s experience suggests that it is possible.

Still, more needs to be done to make a smooth transition to a renewable energy economy. The antiquated power system must become more flexible and nimble, able to respond quickly to demand, something the old system wasn’t designed to do, Rainer Baake stressed. For all practical purposes, coal and nuclear power have only two settings: off and on. Supporters of the Energiewende argue that this limitation is another reason to stop using coal and nuclear. “The Big Four were right about one thing,” Baake admitted. “You have to choose between the old system and the new one. And we have chosen renewables.”

Kadner seemed especially proud of one achievement—a comprehensive “lifecycle analysis” establishing how much CO2 each energy source produces from manufacturing to disposal. Using the largest data set ever compiled, researchers determined that, compared to fossil fuels, renewables sources such as wind and solar power released 10 to 100 times less CO2 per unit of energy.

In practical terms, Kadner said, “What we found was that if you want to mitigate climate change, first, renewable energies can play a role. And second, they have to play a role.”

Kadner and her colleagues calculated that of the 300 gigawatts of new electrical generating capacity built throughout the world between 2008 and 2009, 140 gigawatts—nearly half the total—came from renewables. (An average size nuclear reactor produces one gigawatt of electricity)

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The Hidden Costs of a Big Mac

November 16, 2012


Sierra Club:

Let’s start with hard reality: The grid is never coming to rural India. No matter what ‘very serious policy-makers’ want to believe, decades of attempts and huge gains in supply have yielded little increase in electrification. More importantly, off-grid solar installations have been dramatically cheaper than grid extensionfor a while because they compete with the huge costs of extending the grid and the huge costs of diesel and heavily polluting kerosene. That’s why the future ofrural electrification is decentralized clean energy something even the very serious IEA recognizes.

But it’s not just the IEA that gets this; politicians are catching on as well. Take Nitish Kumar the chief minister of Bihar whose sole political platform is delivering energy access to the 100 million people of Bihar. To achieve this lofty goal (only 18% of the population currently has access) Bihar’s going to need a distributed clean energy revolution because coal-gate has deepened the already immense problems of the coal sector making the possibility of a coal-fired future impossible. If Kumar wants to remain in office, he has to rely on distributed solar.

And, of course, distributed grid tied installations reduce peak load which can help avoid blackouts. You know, like the historic one India just suffered. In short, distributed is the way to go.

The US finally got around to totaling our solar installations and we were surprised at what we found. All those small scale distributed installations financed by third parties like Sungevity have added up to something really big — 2.5 GW, which represents about 70% of all US installations. So here’s a lesson for all those who love ‘scale’: Small is big.