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Is There Still a Ray of Hope On Climate Change? 462

Posted by Soulskill
from the let-the-kids-deal-with-it dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times that even as the U.S. endures its warmest year on record (the 13 warmest years for the entire planet have all occurred since 1998), the country seems to be moving further away from doing something about climate change, with the issue having all but fallen out of the national debate. But behind the scenes, a different story is emerging that offers reason for optimism: the world's largest economies may be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. Despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, clean-energy investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing. 'The price of solar and wind power have both fallen sharply in the last few years. This country's largest wind farm, sprawling across eastern Oregon, is scheduled to open next month. Already, the world uses vastly more alternative energy than experts predicted only a decade ago,' writes Leonhardt. Natural gas, the use of which has jumped 25 percent since 2008 while prices have fallen more than 80 percent, now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago. Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible which, while far from perfectly clean, is less carbon-intensive than coal use. The clean-energy push has been successful enough to leave many climate advocates believing it is the single best hope for preventing even hotter summers, concludes Leonhardt, adding that while a cap-and-trade program faces an uphill political battle, an investment program that aims to make alternative energy less expensive is more politically feasible. 'Our best hope,' says Benjamin H. Strauss, 'is some kind of disruptive technology that takes off on its own, the way the Internet and the fax took off.'"
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Is There Still a Ray of Hope On Climate Change?

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  • by guanxi (216397) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @04:50PM (#40769179)

    Natural gas is not clean energy. I seem to remember that the greenhouse gasses emitted during extraction and processing of shale gas, which is the source of most of our current boom IIRC, offsets any benefits. Does anyone know?

    • Jury's still out on that one. The data is very mixed. Some wells leak methane, some don't, and the oil industry giants try very hard to keep it under wraps whether they drill high-quality wells or not, so it's hard to get an average.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hentes (2461350)

      Neither is ethanol. As many of the simple minded radical greens, the author can't tell the difference between clean (as in less pollution/harmful environmental effects), renewable and low greenhouse gas emitting.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by guanxi (216397)

        Why do so many critics of climate change mainstream resort to name calling? I think it's a rhetorical tactic, to appear uncompromising and intimidating. But at the same time, it undermines credibility -- it seems like you have nothing to say and are falling back on tactics.

    • by operagost (62405)
      It's far cleaner (and greener) than coal, which is what we call "compromise" and taking "baby steps". These are things that the climate alarmists don't understand. It also creates greenhouse gases to build solar panels and wing generators.
      • by guanxi (216397) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @05:54PM (#40769995)

        It's far cleaner (and greener) than coal, which is what we call "compromise" and taking "baby steps". These are things that the climate alarmists don't understand

        Unlike many issues, it's meaningless whether we find a compromise that meets everyone's political preferences. We need a solution that meets the hard requirements of nature. Climate change won't negotiate with us.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Natural gas is not clean energy.

      The point is that it's better than coal, there's no such thing as clean coal, and if you can't get people on nuclear, and solar and wind aren't economically viable the natural gas is at least less bad than whatever else we're doing.

      The big thing missing from this discussion is that there *are* government investments in alternative energy, not so much US investment (some though), but it doesn't matter if the tech is developed in Finland or Philadelphia it can still be used, and that matters a lot. Once you

  • That's an easy one:
    "No."
    Next question please.

  • by OakDragon (885217) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @04:54PM (#40769237) Journal
    It seems to me ... and I cannot provide references ... that it's been "too late to do anything" for ten years or more. This always seemed to be a counter-productive way to evangelize. If it really is too late, we need to put resources more toward mitigation (which I suspect will be the case anyway).
  • Hold on so what this article is saying is that once again the free market is taking care of us where the government has failed miserably? But thats not what the democrats tell me. The liberals keep telling me how bad the free market is at responding to, well, anything.
    • by operagost (62405)
      It's free market and a tad bit of conscience, which leftists tell me I can only exercise as "collective salvation" through government.
      • by Bodhammer (559311)
        I believe the term is "Enlightened Self-Interest".

        Man’s unique reward, however, is that while animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his background to himself. If a drought strikes them, animals perish — man builds irrigation canals; if a flood strikes them, animals perish — man builds dams; if a carnivorous pack attacks them animals perish — man writes the Constitution of the United States. But one does not obtain food, safety or fr
    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      I am a liberal and I have never heard that at all.

      What I have heard is a ton of conservative saying that government never solved anything. If you check what you wrote, soemthing pretty close is in it.

      In other words, the claim you just made against the liberals? The opposite claim is what I hear from the conservatives.

      Both are entirely ridiculous. Any sane person recognizes that if something always does bad, it gets replaced with something better.

      You are clearly a hypocrite. People that live i

  • I've always thought an excellent common ground, regardless of opinion on AGW, is that the carbon based stuff in the ground is not inexhaustible. You can even disagree on how long it's going to last, but why not plan for the inevitable and really invest in alternatives? It addresses long term supply concerns, reduces pollution, and, if you're of a certain mindset, helps keep the planet from melting. Win, win, win.

    • Coal and natural gas, which also produce CO2 in plentiful quantities when burned, both exist in multi-century supplies. We can't use them for that long without finding some way to seriously recycle the carbon dioxide, which in turn means we need SOME kind of solar power capable of overcoming the chemical potential gap of super-stable carbon dioxide. It can be algae, but fundamentally, we're using the sun to deal with the problem, and man-made solar power is more efficient than organic.

    • Prices are determined by the law of supply vs. demand. As supply of fossil fuel decreases the costs will rise and that will leave people very hungry for energy. People are already complaining about rising energy costs and fossil fuel is still relatively extremely cheap.

      So long as "we all agree" that fossil fuel is not inexhaustible, then it's pretty much common sense that there is going to be a massive market for alternatives in the future.

      I have nothing at all against investing in those alternatives. I jus

  • Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ocean_soul (1019086)
    Even on /. this kind of hyperbole gets credit? I'm disappointed in the scientific standards. Now this site has stooped to the level of mass media. As an actual scientist (partially involved in research concerning atmospheric processes, by the way) I find this very sad...
    • You're either so focused on one part of the summary I didn't read or you so dead set on some political belief that you're willing to cast any discussion of climate change as hyperbole. Please clarify your concern.

  • A ray of hope? Quick! Trap it in the greenhouse before it radiates away!
  • by guanxi (216397) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @04:56PM (#40769283)

    There is a very straightforward solution: Sensible policies.

    I know what you are thinking: 'That's politically impossible'. That's what obstructionists want you to think, that nothing can get done. Don't be so easily intimidated and demoralized. If you want it done, it will happen. Every other advanced economy manages it; we can too.

    The obstructionists are out of steam; their tactics are obvious and they have little left to say. I think Churchill said, 'America always does the right thing, after exhausting all other possibilities'. I think we're just about at that point.

  • Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible ...

    ... The Wall Street Journal will attribute this solely to corporate innovation -- probably Xerox :-) -- like it did for the Internet [slashdot.org].

  • to save mankind.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @05:07PM (#40769429) Homepage Journal

    Our best hope is a radical alteration using chemical means?

    Are you kidding me?

    We still use HALF the energy in the US and Canada heating and cooling mostly empty buildings. We could easily just change zoning and tax laws to encourage buildings to have green roofs, provide their own power, use half the energy to heat and cool, and build them for barely more than we pay for buildings nowadays. Practically the entire campus here is built using such buildings now.

    We still have massive untapped energy sources of hydro, mini-hydro, micro-hydro, geothermal, wind, urban wind, tidal and other energy sources that would dramatically impact GHG impacts. In America.

    We still use cars that only get - and this is from an ad last nite - only 36 mpg when we can easily crank out 60 mpg cars today. Or replace 15 mpg vehicles with 30 mpg versions that function THE SAME using technology we HAVE TODAY. Heck, we could replace them in areas where electricity is mostly green (e.g. populated coastal areas) with plug-in electric cars. Or people could bike or walk more.

    There are a lot of very simple things we could do today.

    But ... we're lazy whiners. Period.

    • by Vaphell (1489021)

      We still use cars that only get - and this is from an ad last nite - only 36 mpg when we can easily crank out 60 mpg cars today. Or replace 15 mpg vehicles with 30 mpg versions that function THE SAME using technology we HAVE TODAY. Heck, we could replace them in areas where electricity is mostly green (e.g. populated coastal areas) with plug-in electric cars.

      - energy cost - replacing perfectly fine 36mpg car with brand new 60mpg one is a net loss for the environment. It is estimated that the half of total car-related energy expediture is during its production. In other words even doubling the efficiency doesn't make you break even, and that's not counting additional polution (mining for resources, junking old cars)
      old car: X production, X exploatation
      new car replacing old car: old car already produced X, X production of the new one, 0.5X exploatation
      2X < X +

  • by geekymachoman (1261484) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @05:10PM (#40769463)

    Stop being greedy self-centered asshole that main purpose in life is consumation. And it is main purpose in life for many of people. All those that, like George Carlin say, buy things they "DON'T NEED" with money they don't have.

    I don't own a freaking iPod or iPad or 50 pairs of shoes and pants and big screen TV, and don't have a need to "get one" as soon as it starts hitting the media... if there's a practical need for me to get one, I'll get one. I'm not gonna go blindly buy everything. You may think this isn't related, but it is. 90 % of stuff you can buy/posses is BS. More worse, stupid BS. But as long as it's fancy and flashy ... it's alright eh ?

    When you stop simply consuming without thinking, all those factories will gonna close down. Lost jobs ? Oh well, you can't sit with one ass on two chairs.
    Stop bloody complaining, and do something about it.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @05:16PM (#40769529)

    Natural gas, the use of which has jumped 25 percent since 2008 while prices have fallen more than 80 percent, now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago.

    That's nice, but while natural gas is "cleaner burning" than some other fossil fuels in ways that are very significant to a number of other environmental concerns (particulates, sulfur emissions, etc.), its only very slightly better in terms of greenhouse gas emissions for the energy produced, and even completely replacing all coal power generation overnight wouldn't do much for climate change. In the context of climate change, natural gas is red herring, not an alternative.

    • by vlm (69642)

      its only very slightly better in terms of greenhouse gas emissions for the energy produced, and even completely replacing all coal power generation overnight wouldn't do much for climate change. In the context of climate change, natural gas is red herring, not an alternative.

      To inject a little science and engineering into it beyond DragonWriter says so, you can't transport natgas by shoveling chunks of it into a barge, and you can't store it by merely creating a pile of it out in the open. Yes it takes more energy to dig coal out of the ground than natgas, but it turns out to be pretty cheap compared to the transport and storage energy costs. The mine vs well thing is pretty much a non-starter WRT to EROEI ratios.

      The real tragedy of burning natgas as a primary energy source i

    • Yes, natural gas as it is currently processed is greenhouse neutral and not a benefit as is currently supposed by just examining the combustion step.

      However a lot of the current technology is just flat out sloppy and definitely could be improved pretty easily. Some efforts are in progress.

      http://www.epa.gov/gasstar/basic-information/index.html [epa.gov]

      By including methane in greenhouse gas amelioration efforts quite a bit can be done more cost-effectively than by tackling CO2 alone.

  • by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @05:22PM (#40769607)

    Natural Gas == Fracking == Destruction Of Dwindling Clean Drinking Water.

    Not much of an improvement

  • Please read "2052" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DaPhil (811162) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @05:26PM (#40769645)

    I recommend reading "2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years" (http://www.amazon.com/2052-Global-Forecast-Forty-Years/dp/1603584218).

    It is written by the same guy who co-wrote the 1972 report "The Limits Of Growth" and deals with what humanity will likely do (globally) in the next 40 years (not what we SHOULD do, but what we will most likely do).

    It is very interesting (and actually quite easy) to read and deals among other things with the expected results of climate change.

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @05:37PM (#40769769)

    I remember twenty years ago or so when Al Gore was stumping for more public transportation. Even then I thought what a ridiculous, old-school, political-suicide-inducing idea that was. Why the hell are we commuting in the first place, when so many of us could do what we do perfectly well from home (or some other location)? Instead of forcing people to ride buses like a bunch of proles, the government could create telecommuting initiatives. At least it would be a lot cheaper and bound to be more popular.

     

    • A lot of jobs *cannot* be telecommuted to. In fact, I'd venture to say that *most* people can't telecommute to their jobs... only white-collar computer jobs. Construction, menial, farm/agriculture, and in-person services can't ... which, I dare say, probably accounts for more jobs than white-collar/tech jobs.

      That said, our internet infrastructure has problems. I'm 10 minutes from 35,000 pop town and 20 minutes from 1,000,000 town and the best I can get is satellite or line of sight wireless.

  • by hort_wort (1401963) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @06:04PM (#40770107)

    Every time I read one of these climate change stories and the comments shouting "hoax!", I think back to a story. A professor was asked to study the atomic bomb yields and say whether or not it would ignite all the oxygen in the atmosphere and destroy the Earth. He came back a short time later and said, "No, of course not!"

    After the test, his colleagues asked him how he arrived at his answer so quickly. He said, "Well, if I was wrong, who would've known?"

    Ahem. Global warming and the self-destruction of mankind is a hoax!

    Also, if a scientist came along with conclusive evidence that there was no such thing as global warming, he'd get a *LOT* more money. Think about it. How much would the oil companies pay for such information? There's no selfish reason to lie about this.

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