What Green Tags are For

It was a New York Times article on bourgeois suburban SUVites using carbon offsets to salve their guilt that started it. Now the Conservatron conventional wisdom is that such offsets are the silly currency of preening moneybag moralists, and the Enviro conventional wisdom is that they are a facile delay to real action on global warming.

Although Green Tags are different from Carbon Offsets in nuanced but important ways, the idea behind them is generally the same; therefore, they are framed in the same way. This is a shame because Green Tags are a far more dynamic and interesting tool than either ideology bothers to acknowledge.

Carbon Offsets generally promise to balance carbon emissions via a future equal and opposite reaction. Green Tags, which to the best of my knowledge predate offsets, are an attempt to create value for “green” energy that was already produced – a value that is not reflected in the price of “green” energy.

Say a home or business establishes a solar array. For every megawatt of “green” energy produced by the array a corresponding megawatt was not produced by whatever mix of resources the local utility uses to provide energy to the building, resulting in a certain amount of greenhouse gases that were not emitted.

The Bonneville Environmental Foundation, the creator of this program, pays the owner of the array for each megawatt of power they produced, establishing a price for the green house gases that were not created by use of their array. These are the Green Tags. They are then sold, for a profit, to entities or individuals as a means to be carbon neutral. This helps to correct the market error of having no penalty for polluting the commons, and therefore, ascribing no additional value to energy sources that do not pollute the commons. This also makes small scale “green” power more profitable for the owner, increasing the incentive to invest in such products.

Companies purchasing Green Tags include some obvious suspects such as the crunchy potato chip manufacture Kettle Foods, but also surprises like mining concerns and other heavy industries. These groups probably bought them to prepare for a future where carbon is taxed.

Green Tags are about the best that can be done about global warming through the voluntary methods that the Conservatrons used to push. They will not solve Global warming on their own, but they are much more than a tool for yuppies to buy their way into environmental heaven.

Time for Enviros to Get Real on Renewables and Efficiency

The global warming issue has turned from countering a Conservatron disinformation campaign to a grasp for solutions. The issue is at the Presidential Buffet Table and once the chuckleheaded Bush junta is finally retired in 20 months it seems likely that real policy solutions will get an honest airing. Defelct Ignore & Photo-Op won’t cut it anymore.

Environmentalists are proficient at clanging alarms with a moral purity that is usually more the purview of the right. Once GW is mainstreamed, however, they could quickly lose their voice in the Solutions part of the conversation if they continue to confront difficult questions about energy with the exhausted “we can make up for less {insert name of baseload energy here} generation with energy efficiency and renewables” canard.

This canard is often presented as an implicit criticism, as if entities are refusing to make efforts on these front. In truth, utilities have been running efficiency programs for decades and will continue to do so, but even as the “low-haning fruit”, to use an efficiency cliche for obvious opportunities, continues to be picked demand continues to grow as the population expands and people plug in more gadgets. If energy is a problem then efficiency stops it from being worse. This is valuable, but it is not a solution.

You will not find a bigger booster of renewable energy than myself. I believe that every surface facing the south should have a solar panel and that wind farms should be plentiful. Unfortunately, not all megawatts are created equal. Solar panels could do much to reduce demand side domicile energy use (were they widely distributed), but they will not be able to make up for the energy demands of an AC induced heat-wave demand surge or a cold snap becuase they provide no capacity (or nighttime generation beyond what may have been stored in a battery). Wind is an excellent fuel displacement resource, but even though wind forcasting technology has gotten much better it’s intermittance means that it is only marginally useful as a generation resource. On July 24, 2006 when the WECC (the interconnected grid stretcing from Alberta BC to Northern Mexico and from the West Coast through the Rocky Mountains) faced a record load demand; and low-income elderly people were dying in central California as their ACs failed; and utilities throughout the region were buying energy at whatever price the market could bear, the region’s collective wind farms were generating at less than ten percent of their capacity. Outside of the Northwest wind energy is “firmed” by adding more thermal capacity; insde the Northwest this is not necessary because of the tremendous flexibility of the hydrosystem (hydro generation can be adjusted at almost the flip of a switch whereas thermal energy takes time to “warm up”), but trying to get a Northwestern enviro to admit this inconvenient truth is as impossible as getting a slug to race through a salt flat.

Renewables are a part of the solution, but they are not THE solution. The reasons that they are not the solution are obvious enough that Enviros will lose some hard won credibility if they continue to push them as such as the rest of the American polity begins to address Global Warming seriously.

Frickin Laser Beams Causing Global Warming…

There are some sure signs I should increase my dosage of Paxil. One is spending the last three hours reading the stupidity of the global warming deniers and turning into a ball of misanthropic rage.

So, the (conservative…) Times of London posts the latest in the never ending line of global warming denier rhetoric: cosmic rays are doing it. And the so-called scientists who won’t accept this refutation are not being “scientific” because they are shutting out skepticism.

For the record, I’m going to get a little meta-scientific here. Science is not sheer skepticism. When you get a working theory backed up by tons of evidence, you do not discard it when one bit of contrary evidence appears. That’s what every single global warming denier statement asks to do: discard the weight of tons of evidence based on often preliminary and irrelevant results.

It’s not that they were dumb that, say, Newton’s theory of gravity wasn’t instantly thrown in the garbage when general relativity came along. It’s because it had worked for so much stuff. Then, lo, it was discovered that in 99.9% of the cases subject to human experience, Newton was still correct.

And the comments people trot out. They’re all the same. Crichton or some right wing hack gets parroted. Or they hate “hippies” so they must be wrong. Or it’s going to cripple the economy if we fix it (?) so it’s wrong. etc.etc.etc.etc.

Gawd. We deserve it.

UN Climate Report: We're Fucked!

I started believing in global warming the first time I heard about it, in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, in a chapter entitled “Heaven and Hell” in 1980, which made the eminently reasonable assertion that if Venus turned into a lead-melting furnace due to greenhouse gases, that Earth could too.

Because of that, the barrage of news about it shouldn’t shock me, right? Wrong. Every time I read about it, I’m shocked more. I used to figure that a climate-9/11 would finally snap us into focus on this issue, but it didn’t. Hurricane Katrina’s connection to global warming requires a subtle mind, and in media sound bites all people hear is “indirect” or “inconclusive.”

But all of the effects of global warming are going to be like that. No one is going to die from heat stroke because the weather is 3 degrees warmer. They will die from their homes being inundated by the ocean, or the destruction of their crops, or the spread of tropical diseases, or some unseen consequence we haven’t divined yet.