Good news! Check out ClimateCast: The Week in Clean Energy Solutions

December 9, 2014

Hey, need a great weekly climate news digest, with an emphasis on solutions?  Check this one out, edited by Seth Zuckerman at Climate Solutions:

ClimateCast:  The Week in Clean Energy Solutionsclimate cast 3

Seth and team have a great approach to this – a good survey of the week’s news, crunched into a few strong themes, and served up with some pop.   It’s a super-economical way to scan the scene, and there’s a refreshing sense of motion to it!


BC motto: “Splendour without diminishment.*” BC policy: No free carbon dumping

March 12, 2014

The price of gasoline should be higher.  There, I said it.

I will be shunned (again) by the school of political “pragmatists” who believe we must never ask anyone to do anything hard about climate disruption.  But everyone who’s thinking in practical terms about climate solutions knows it’s true.

We’re just not going to do climate solutions right, at scale, in a market economy as long as the exorbitant costs of climate disruption remain external to the price of fossil fuels — that is, as long as we keep foisting those costs off on our kids and grandkids.

Freeloading is not good economics, and it’s even worse ancestoring.  It’s particularly galling when it poses as an answer to poverty, since it is the world’s poor who do the least to cause climate disruption and are slammed hardest by its consequences.

And remember, the point of higher fossil fuel prices is not to pay for more fossil fuels.  On the contrary, it’s to avoid them altogether.  It’s to free ourselves from their lethal grip….Sightline bc carbon tax chart

This graph shows how British Columbia’s carbon tax is helping the province do just that.  Six years in to the BC carbon tax experience, Alan Durning and Yoram Bauman are reviewing the promise, pitfalls, and progress to date (having planted the seeds in the first place).  Read the first installment of their analysis here, and sign up for the whole series while you’re at the Sightline site.  Heck, sign up for everything; their stuff is the best.

Climate solutions are many, varied, and complex.  But this part is super simple:  without responsible limits on climate pollution and an end to free carbon dumping, we’re not going to get those solutions done well and soon enough.

It’s time.

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* No.  Seriously.  That’s the translation of:  Splendor sine occasu


Here comes…: solar was second largest source of new electric capacity in 2013

March 5, 2014

It’s on.  The clean energy revolution, that is.

In a preview of a big report due out tomorrow, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports that solar electricity was the second largest source of new electric capacity in the U.S. in 2013.  In 6 states in DC, solar accounted for 100% of new capacity.

solar states SEIA

Check here for the big news tomorrow.


Yes and No for climate solutions: no ambivalence necessary

June 11, 2012

David Roberts at Grist and Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress kicked off a good discussion last week about the roles of “Yes” and “No” in climate work.  This would-be schism dominates Climate Solutions’ strategy sessions, so I must weigh in.

Climate Solutions is a Yes outfit.  Roberts nailed our MO:   We’re all about “forging of opportunistic coalitions.”  We accept “compromise, tedium, and endless setbacks.”  Roberts says “it’s just more fun to rage against The Man,” but we’re actually to the point where we revel in “the boring of hard boards.”  Our mission statement even makes it sound romantic, adventurous:  “….galvanizing leadership, growing investment, and bridging divides”!

Here’s the thing though:  With no meaningful climate policy commitment – no binding emission limits, no carbon pricing, not even a clean energy standard – the awesome work of building a clean energy economy is proceeding in parallel to the unfolding disaster of climate disruption, rather preventing it.  We can say “Yes” ‘til we’re blue in the face, but we can’t call it “climate solutions” unless we stop the beast.

A local example:  Here in Seattle, we made a commitment in 2000 to power our community with zero net carbon emissions.  We sold our share of a big coal plant (which is now on its way to retirement).  We let our gas combustion turbine contract expire.  We doubled down on efficiency.  We made the anchor investment in the region’s first big wind project.  For the little remnant of emissions we couldn’t eliminate (utility maintenance vehicles, spot market purchases, etc.), we bought high-quality offsets.  Saying “No” to carbon in our power supply was a launching pad for saying “Yes” to a clean energy economy.

By selling our share in that coal plant, we scrubbed about 400,000 tons of coal a year out of our energy footprint.  Sweet.  But if the current coal export proposals in the Northwest are fully developed, we would ship over 400,000 tons of coal A DAY through our communities to be burned in Asia (a third of it right through the middle of our iconic Olympic Sculpture Park on Seattle’s waterfront).  Our clean energy economy, as my colleague Ross Macfarlane colorfully says, would be but “a hood ornament on the Hummer of fossil fuel addiction.” Our brave local “Yes” would be a joke.

The point here is not just that the bad stuff will overwhelm us if we fail to stop it (though that point alone is plenty to justify No).  It’s that unchecked expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure undermines the credibility of solutions.  “Yes” to climate solutions without “No” to these “game-ending” investments comes off as silly, sentimental, tokenistic.

We work with a lot of state and local elected officials who take on climate commitments.  Almost invariably, skeptical reporters ask them something to the effect of, “C’mon, what difference will it make?  Our emissions are a miniscule fraction of the problem.  We could reduce our carbon footprint to zero and we’ll still have the same climate impacts.  Isn’t this local action just symbolic?”

A good answer goes something like, “We’re not fighting climate change alone.  Our city is joining with umpty-ump other communities, nations, and businesses around the world to deliver solutions.  We’re doing our part and pressing our national leaders for stronger action.  We’re proving up solutions that can work everywhere.   And we’re making this a better place to live and work by [fill in co-benefits here].”

This is a beautiful story and we’ve done much to make it true.  But nobody is going to hear it over the din of coal trains rumbling through town all day.  If we take all the coal we don’t burn, and a couple of orders magnitude more, and ship it through our communities to promote global fossil fuel dependence, how can we say with a straight face that we’re serious about solutionsYes is bunk without No.

Yes also feeds No.   It’s like an immune system booster – building resilience and increasing our capacity to resist fossil fuel development.  In Bellingham Washington, for example, the largest and most powerful business association is not the Chamber of Commerce but Sustainable Connections.  This community has such a strong investment in “Yes” that the idea of becoming a coal export hub seems like an alien invasion.  In a terrific NPR story, Julie Trimingham of Coal Train Facts says movingly:  “It’s almost inconceivable that there would be a plan afoot to change this part of the world to a coal export facility. It seems ironic or cruel, or misguided at best.”

Even in Longview, Washington, an industrial port community targeted for coal export, “Yes” holds a powerful allure.  The vision statement in “Turning Point,” their local Economic Development Strategic Plan, says the community “will transition from a natural resource dependent economy, embrace higher value projects, and raise its profile within a broader regional market.”  The coal export battle there will test the resolve and hope in that community for the Yes they’ve imagined.  If they believe in it, they’ll say No to coal export, which is roughly the exact opposite of their vision statement.

Yes and No are interdependent, but they are not symmetrical with respect to the pace and scale of the climate challenge.  The climate “game” must be won over the long haul.  The winning strategy is a zillion Yeses, driving an inherently slow transition.  But the game can be lost very quickly – Jim Hansen’s point in “Game Over for the Climate,” and the bright bottom line in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook.   Yes is a patient, incremental thing.  But the No we need to muster on tar sands and coal export is immediate and uncompromising.

Yet, while their roles and applications differ, Yes and No aren’t competing philosophies or alternative psychographics.   Our political culture drives us toward niches, pressuring us to identify as Yes or No types.  But if you want to be an effective climate advocate (or parent), you have to wield both.  Yes and No are the interdependent and mutually reinforcing faces of responsible action.

The more successfully we say No to fossil fuels, the more we open space for the growth of the clean energy economy we envision.   And as we open it, we need to fill it.  We have a better idea than Peabody and ExxonMobil about what a good future is, and we have to keep delivering on it.

When we affirm and invest in our vision, we fortify our defense against the fossil fuel onslaught.  The more “Yes” we say and do, the more credibly we can fight fossil fuel development with the claim:  “We can do better” – a core message in the coal export campaign.

Yes without No is lame.  No one will believe in the power of our clean energy vision if we let the fossil fuel juggernaut mow us down and wreck the climate.

And No without Yes is adolescence.  The only way to prove we can do better is to….do better.


With Ruckelshaus: Politics should stop at reality’s edge

June 7, 2012

Former EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus has been one of reality’s wisest proponents for my whole lifetime.

I’m honored that he teamed up with me to write this piece welcoming Lisa Jackson to Seattle for the Climate Solutions breakfast tomorrow.

“Climate change should be the subject of a robust dialogue about the best strategies for solutions. But the existence and urgency of human-caused climate change is no longer a legitimate subject of disagreement. Politics should stop at reality’s edge.”

It’s in the Seattle Times at:

We must do more to accelerate solutions to climate change


Velkommen to solutions: Going all the way in Copenhagen

June 7, 2012

Was it the end of a world hopelessly tangled in geopolitical futility?  Or the beginning of a world that might heal as a distributed, connected organism?  The logo for the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit (enhanced here with bike love) was prophetic, because it evoked both.

COP-15 may well be remembered as humanity’s big missed chance.  But the Danes aren’t just hanging around crying in their Tuborgs.

They’re riding their bikes on “cycle superhighways.”  They’re retrofitting their buildings.   They’re building wind turbines and mounting solar panels.

Copenhagen has already reduced its carbon emissions 40% since 1990, on their way to zero net carbon by 2025.  Here’s the plan, and a good Climate Wire piece in Scientific American on how it’s being implemented.

Hopenhagen lives!


Dad, seriously, WTF is up with “Game Over”?!

June 1, 2012

….because adults won’t say it, and kids can’t afford to leave it unsaid…..

Dad, isn’t Jim Hansen that NASA mega-whiz you call “America’s pre-eminent climate scientist,” which is like geezerese for the smartest guy in the room?  And what is brain dude thinking when he says “Game over for the Climate”?

“Game”?  You call this a game?  When losing it means “billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilization will collapse”K. Ceee, I know you’re super-busy but I need you to pay attention. 

Which part of this sounds like a game to you?  The billions?  The people?  The poverty?  The civilization?  The collapseDaaad, back away from the smartphone.  I mean it.  Focus!  You can’t just go “game over for the climate…  New game!”… like there’s an app for what happens after you lose this one.

Dad, dude, Angry Birds is a game.  Climate disruption is just dumping on your kids’ head.  Are you laughing?  Because if you’re laughing, I can find an assisted living facility in Siberia.  Don’t push me.

Maybe it feels like a game, since you’ll probably kick the bucket before all this collapsing goes down. You’re kinda playing with other people’s money, huh?  But when it’s your kids’ money, aren’t you at least supposed to act serious?

And even if it were a game, y’oldsters have a lot of nerve calling it “over.”  Dad, you’ve been lacing up your shoes and picking your noses for decades.  Did I miss the part where you actually got in there and started playing?  ‘Cause sitting here thinking about the horror show of a future you’re cookin up, I’m seeing zero game. 

What I do hear is a lot of yap:  “It’s not happening.”  “It’s happening but we’re not causing it.” “We’re causing it but soon it will be China’s fault.”  “It’s too big, too complicated.”  “Somebody’s gonna screw the future so we might as well get the jobs.” All kind o’ of bob and weave and shuck and jive.  But “game”?  You got some game Pops?.  Well bring it then!  Cuz “game over” just sounds like the beginning of your next lame excuse for failing to deal.

OK, yeah, I get it.  Jim Hansen is warning about “game over” for the right reason – to kick your sagging kiesters into gear before it’s too late.  ‘Preciate that.

But listen, Pop, you don’t have a cane to lean on when you start croaking “game over.”  It’s no game, and it is never over.  Whatever you do now to improve the situation is crap I don’t have to shovel later.  So quit crying in your beer and DO STUFF.

Get in the game Dadddyyy, ’cause when it’s “over” for you, it’s on for me.