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Tilting at Windmills

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February 6, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CARBON NEWS....Right now I'm wandering aimlessly around the web looking for news — any news — that's not election related. After all, there's only so much you can say about a day when both Democratic candidates tied and their demographic appeal stayed pretty much the same as it's always been. So how about this item passed along by Kate Sheppard?

Three of the biggest investment banks — Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley — announced this week that they're creating new environmental standards that will make it more difficult for companies to secure investments for new coal-fired power plants. The standards will require utility companies seeking funds to build new plants to demonstrate that the plants will be economically viable under carbon constraints, and mandates that new plants take actions to be more energy-efficient, incorporate renewable energy sources, or put in place carbon capture and storage technology. The fact that major financial institutions are realizing that coal is becoming an expensive, dirty habit is very good news in the battle against climate change.

The downside to this news is that I don't really have anything very insightful to say about it. But it certainly brightened my day. It's nice to know that serious carbon constraints are now such a widely accepted part of our political future that Wall Street is no longer willing to take anyone seriously who thinks otherwise.

Kevin Drum 5:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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It's sound fiscal policy - clean emissions from coal plants will most likely become law sometime within this decade.

If the plants have to shut down and the energy company go bankrupt because they aren't doing carbon capture then the banks will lose their money.

This is a good step forward. Having one industry prod another to move forward technologically.

Posted by: optical weenie on February 6, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Have you been reading Marc Lynch's blog? Looks like the whole Anbar Awakening thing is falling apart, with various parties threatening to go to war with each other, and our paid henchmen ordering Iraqi government forces not to enter the province.

Posted by: Joe Buck on February 6, 2008 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

It's nice to know that serious carbon constraints are now such a widely accepted part of our political future that Wall Street is no longer willing to take anyone seriously who thinks otherwise.

Except when Wall Street CEOs were actively and generously contributing to Bush-Cheney 2000 and 2004, you mean.

Posted by: skimble on February 6, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

This is great news. It's a huge blow to those in Congress who would argue that any legislation that hurts coal hurts investors, because by the time that the big carbon debate happens next year, there won't be any coal investors left to hurt.

Posted by: tom veil on February 6, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, those wacky leftie investment banks, trying to get us to buy into that global warming nonsense....

Posted by: Disputo on February 6, 2008 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if these are the same investment banks that are pushing the homosexual agenda by secretly backing Huckabee. I'm telling you, Michael Savage is a prophet!

Posted by: thersites on February 6, 2008 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

And another thing....

Once the technology to completely scrub carbon from coal plant emissions is developed, Kevin will then have the means to scrub those last bits of black off Inkblot and he will become a shining knight in white armor (Inkblot that is).

Posted by: optical weenie on February 6, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

this is exactly what would have happened years back had Kyoto gone though. Instead there are 30-40 more carbon belchers.
I don't care what the free marketeers say about how smart the markets are they are sure slow to learn what was proposed 20 years ago....

Posted by: chuckchuck on February 6, 2008 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin - time to take off your smog-colored glasses and revisit Peak Oil - esp as Peak Oil is visiting us - a very uninvited guest.

As oil and natural gas production decline, we will go to coal to provide the fossil fuel fix we MUST have. No goo goo banks or anyone else will stop it. US coal use has already grown massively in the last few years. And of course CHINA BIG TIME. Clouds of Chinese coal smog regularly foul our air half a globe away.

OK then, Clean coal, you answer. We will never pay the costs for clean when dirty is so much cheaper. And anyhow, where does all the 'clean coal' ash go? Massive amounts back in the ground polluting our ground water with heavy metal. Coal ash - because it is so concentrated - is more radioactive than radioactive waste. Read the excellent article on coal ash in the new online Washington Independent.

When it comes to coal, we're effed.

Posted by: geo on February 6, 2008 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Optical, are you saying people won't vote for Inkblot because he's partly black? Watch that!

Posted by: thersites on February 6, 2008 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

chuckchuck >"...I don't care what the free marketeers say about how smart the markets are they are sure slow to learn..."

Markets are only "smart" (and actually "clear") in the sense that the appropriate things in a system are measured and accounted for. The current monetary systems used by "the markets" have HUGE externalities (things not taken into consideration) like CO2 generation, health effects, habitat destruction etc. Therefore "the markets", as they currently operate, are inefficent and do NOT "clear" as theory claims & most people believe actually happens.

When the operative currency used by "the markets" has no significant externalities then said markets should behave as expected by all people and theories.

Someday it might even happen...

"Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist" - John Maynard Keynes

Posted by: daCascadian on February 6, 2008 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, Kevin! This is election news.

I'm guessing they're predicting a strong Democratic win in November (with both houses of congress, too?)

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on February 6, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

I'm really interested in that place where capitalism and social consciousness meet. We're starting to see big capital investing itself in green technology (and green rhetoric).

My theory is that the price of gas had to spike upward dramatically to jump-start the process of change in this country.

Posted by: global yokel on February 6, 2008 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

The Fed doesn't want to cut interest rates anymore; Wall St isn't happy about that. There's something you could talk about.

And Peak Oil too. And the giant, growing Sea of Plastic Waste in the middle of the Pacific.

Posted by: Speed on February 6, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

I doubt this is anything more than a recognition that new coal generation contains some "regulation risk" (I am so bold as the invent a term). They will probably still fund them, but will demand a slightly higher interest rate to compensate for the new risk.
They are probably seeing that the new pres, will do something about emissions, be it a dem or even McCain, who claims he will make it an issue. I suspect the D's would do a bit more than McCain, but in either case the change will be too little and too late.

The way they keep kicking the NextGen coal carbon capture and sequester project thingy about, it is looking more and more like clean coal may never be more than a political smokescreen.

Posted by: bigTom on February 6, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

...aimlessly wandering? I wonder if we have crossed digits or whatever? My wandering is the result of too much time on my hands. And I don't get paid for insightful bon mots.

But reading that the same banks that have, um, created [?] the ongoing sub-prime mess, are now going green?

When pigs fly...

Posted by: bobbywally on February 6, 2008 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

"this is exactly what would have happened years back had Kyoto gone though. Instead there are 30-40 more carbon belchers.
I don't care what the free marketeers say about how smart the markets are they are sure slow to learn what was proposed 20 years ago...."

Except that most of those "carbon belchers" are in India and China. Kyoto is fundamentally flawed in that, rather than encouraging the emerging world to chart a better, sustainable path, it encourages them to repeat the worst mistakes of the west.
There are much better ideas around than Kyoto (eg how about large carbon taxes in the west, which are given to India and China to allow them to build sustainable facilities)
The problem with an idea like this, of course, it that it lays bare the fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of Kyoto --- the west admits that it has moral responsibility for the bulk of the mess so far, and pays lip service to the idea of being the ones who will pay for the bulk of the cleanup, but is unwilling to actually write a check.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on February 6, 2008 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

And the giant, growing Sea of Plastic Waste in the middle of the Pacific.

Hey! an undergraduate just proposed that to me as a research project!

Posted by: troglodyte on February 6, 2008 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, there is a ton of important news items that you aren’t picking up on – try this story about Head Spook Michael McConnell testifying that al-Qaeda in Iraq might launch attacks on the United States. Kinda makes Bush’s line about “fighting them over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here” line ring pretty hollow, don’t you think?

Or how about this story, wherein we learn the 9-11 Commission was rigged and manipulated and there was considerable evidence that Condoleeza Rice was warned repeatedly about an al-Qaeda attack, up to a week before the 9-11 attacks and didn’t do shit about it.

Or my favorite - this story of how some asshole billionaire claims he is “not wealthy”.

Sorry, I know it’s your blog, but there is a “target-rich environment” out there, if you just know where to look…..

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 6, 2008 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

"And the giant, growing Sea of Plastic Waste in the middle of the Pacific."

How real is this as an actual problem, as opposed to something that is especially telegenic?
I am extremely cautious about believing any of the claims people make about how indestructible plastic is. It may not be immediately biodegradable, but UV with time does a pretty good job of breaking it down. This is one of those things that becomes immediately obvious if you spend some time picking up trash along a highway in California. What you see from your car is new plastic, but when you try to pick up the old stuff, from a few years ago, it just crumbles to dust in your hands.

I worry that this sort of thing is yet one more distraction from the main event. It is easy to explain and, even more important, take photos of plastic litter and, for that matter, a large variety of other local pollutants. It is not nearly as easy to generate a 30 second TV story about the big issues --- over-population, peak oil, global warming. And so we get all sorts of good-hearted but mushy-brained do-gooders wasting yet another round of political capital on something that simply does not matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on February 6, 2008 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

"And the giant, growing Sea of Plastic Waste in the middle of the Pacific.
Yes, it's more than an aesthetic problem.

It's killing sealife

Posted by: thersites on February 6, 2008 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

We can only be carbon-free if we use solar and wind power. (Warning: middle school math below.)

Sun's Energy at the earth's surface: 1000 Watts /square meter.

Solar Thermal efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity is 30% to 37 %. Lower figure yields 300 Watts per square meter.

1 Sq kilometer = 1000 meters x 1000 meters = 1 million square meters.

Solar electricity = 300 Megawatts per square kilometer.

Assume an average of 5 Hrs of Sun per day.

This is 1500 Megawatt-Hrs per Sq Kilometer per day.

Or 547,500 Megawatt-Hrs per Sq kilometer per year.

Divide by 1000 to get gigawatt-hours. This is 547.5 Gigawatt-Hours per sq kilometer per year.

Total annual US use of electricity is 3,953,407 gigawatt-hours as of December 31, 2004. Use increases approximately 2% per year.

This requires nearly 7300 Sq kilometers. Because one collector shade another, known as the "shading effect" assume 50% of the area can be covered without having one collector shadow another. This requires around 14600 square kilometers.

This is a square around 121 kilometers ( or 75.5 miles) upon a side.

Now lets double the generating capacity to charge up the batteries on all-electric cars, buses and trains.

This is 29,200 sq kilometers or 171 kilometers per side or 107 miles per side.

Cloudy days and seasonal changes will require a larger area. There are a number of areas that have more than 300 days of sun each year.

So let us say we need the equivalent of a square 150 miles on a side. This is less than 0.5% of the total continental US land area. Of course, the solar fields would be widely distributed.

Storage of excess thermal energy in molten salts or high temperature fluid tanks will span the hours of no sunlight.

Electrical transmission losses over several hundred miles are less than 5%.

Thus, we can have a totally solar to electric society with efficient individual mobility, near zero pollution or greenhouse gases. All this is using existing technology. And no need for coal or mythical carbon sequestration.

This existing technology is readily exported to all without fear of misuse(unlike nuclear power), raises the standard of living for everyone, thereby reducing conflicts.

By the way, in 75 years or so, it will take more energy to extract and process usable amounts of uranium (using fossil fuels) than the energy derived from the nuclear reaction. We will run out of easily mined Uranium, too.

The sun will shine and the wind will blow practically forever.

For a working example, see Solar One Nevada on Youtube.

Posted by: deejaayss on February 7, 2008 at 6:23 AM | PERMALINK

The plastic waste breaks down into tiny pieces that look like food to sealife. They eat it, it accumulates inside them, and eventually kills them. And even the ones that survive are carrying the stuff around inside of them so that when you eat some seafood you may be injesting plastic too.

Most plastic is made from fossil fuels (Peak Oil again), and we recycle surprisingly little of it.

Posted by: Speed on February 7, 2008 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Solar isn't some magic replacement for fossil fuels. Go to this link and look for the section called "What about green alternatives":

http://lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/SecondPage.html

Posted by: Speed on February 7, 2008 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

In the not-so-long run, the way we Americans live is pretty much overwith. Solar and other technologies can replace some, but we're in the position of Wile E. Coyote who runs off the end of the cliff, looks around, confused, and then suddenly looks down...
Refusing to look only works for a little while.

Posted by: thersites on February 7, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Maynard,

How real is this as an actual problem, as opposed to something that is especially telegenic?

Telegenic? Because this is occurring outside of shipping lanes (and not just in the Pacific) it is largely ignored.

And plastic does not biodegrade - rot. As you point out it photodegrades. Over time light causes the long chain polymers to break into shorter chains, but they are still plastic, just smaller pieces.

As pointed out above, while bacteria cannot digest plastic (which would actually be helpful) larger sea life such as jellyfish and birds mistake them for food and die from the ingestion. Also the seawater shelters the plastic from much of the UV light, slowly the photodegradation.

Posted by: Tripp on February 7, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Solar is good, and wind is good, and they'll be even better when we create a better way to store electrical energy. The new Toshiba SCiB battery looks promising.

But my prediction is that as we use up the remaining oil the carrying capacity of the Earth will drop to about 2 or 3 billion people.

A whole lot of people will die from disease and famine.

Posted by: Tripp on February 7, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

What's the energy cost of manufacturing and installing 14600 square KM of solar panels?

Posted by: thersites on February 7, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I'd imagine the cost to be pretty high.

What's the cost of not?

Posted by: kenga on February 7, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

thersites:

Solar can replace all of our energy needs with existing technology into the distant future. Do the math presented above.

The cost will require a large portion of our existing easy energy to "tool up" to solar. If we can cover an area the size of Ohio with concrete for roads and parking lots, we can surely build a solar society.

Proven reserves of oil are 1000 billion barrels. This is a 30 year supply at current usage. Better get cracking and build the solar to electrical system with what is left of the easy energy. Times a-wasting.


Posted by: deejaayss on February 7, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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