31 July 2008

Clean Tech: ZapRoot Picks Apart the Pickens Plan

ZapRoot, which bills itself as "an unconventional bite-sized news show that covers the fast changing world of the modern Green Revolution."

Like other web tv news shows it's a little bit snarky, a little wacky, and treats you to little clips of humor that broadcast news shows could not get away with (see the "documentary footage" in the show below. Host Jessica Williamson is no Lindsay Campbell or Julie Alexandra, but her spunkiness may be infectious. (And oh, that accent...)

Here is Jessica on the Pickens Plan (and rumors that it may be a bait and switch play to get his hands on water):

I'm still picking through the Pickens Plan and Al Gore's latest call to action and will have a post to share my thoughts before the weekend (I hope; it's been a busy few weeks).

Here is the Pickens Plan video; judge for yourself:

29 July 2008

Conservation: Mark Burget Leaves TNC for Climate Works

Mark Burget, Chief Conservation Programs Officer of the Nature Conservancy announced his departure last Friday. It came as a surprise to me, as it may have to others, because, frankly, Mark is one of those people who personifies the Conservancy.

The core values of TNC are integrity beyond reproach, respect for people, community, and culture, and commitment to tangible, lasting results; all of these can be used to describe Mark. Oh, and one other: "One Conservancy," which was John Sawhill's way of saying a collaborative spirit that works for the whole of the organization, not just its parts.

In fact, Mark always kept the whole of conservation in mind when he set strategy, whether as program director for the Upper Colorado River Basin, state director in Colorado and California, or in his more global responsibilities over the past few years.

And I gather it is this consideration of the whole that is once again in his mind as he decided to leave TNC. He is heading to ClimateWorks, a San Francisco-based non-profit that is focused, as Mark put it in his letter to colleagues, "on the most pressing environmental issue of our time: the need to dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten to disrupt and destroy the miracle of life and the human experience on Earth."

TNC will miss Mark's leadership, vision, and sheer brilliance -- he is one of the most thoughtful and strategic thinkers in the field of conservation. But Mark would not have made this decision without a whole lotta soul-searching. I applaud Mark's decision and will look forward to his success at ClimateWorks.

Mark Burget joined the Conservancy in 1992 as the Program Director for the Upper Colorado River Basin. He earned both his J.D. and M.B.A. from the University of Virginia and his BA in Government from Dartmouth College. Since joining the Conservancy, Mark has held several leadership positions including Director of the Colorado Program, Director of the Global Priorities Group, and most recently Director of the California Program. Mark assumed his current position as Chief Conservation Program Officer in 2007 and leads the Conservancy’s eight conservation regions worldwide.
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26 July 2008

Review: Climate Change: What's Your Business Strategy?

No matter what your company does or where it's located Climate Change is going to have an impact on your business.

As CEO, it is imperative you understand the potential impacts and opportunities presented by the issue.

But with the tremendous amount of noise out there, on both sides of the issue, it may be difficult to sift through it to find the right information to inform your business decisions and strategy.

Along comes a slim volume in Harvard Business Press' Memo to the CEO series, Climate Change: What's Your Business Strategy? by Andrew J. Hoffman and John G. Woody.

Short enough to read on your next transcontinental or international flight, this book provides all the background, current thinking about impacts and opportunities, and upcoming policy decisions that will affect your business.

You will also learn how some of the most successful companies are getting ahead of the game. Companies like SwissRe, which has come up with a three-tiered approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), or Duke Energy, which is anticipating regulations to come and making sure they have a seat at the table when they are secured.

Hoffman, associate director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, and Woody, a deal associate at MMA Renewable Ventures, have devised a simple, three-step approach for you to follow to best position your company.

Beginning with understanding your company's carbon footprint and taking action to reduce its size, Hoffman and Woody walk you through assessing the business opportunities and how to influence policy as it's being developed.

"Some business associations and lobbyists still dispute the science of climate change, but their numbers are dwindling," the authors conclude. "And businesses themselves are focusing on the undeniable economics of the problem. While some companies are adapting out of near-term operational necessity, others are acting to mitigate long-term strategic vulnerabilities, and the most forward-thinking are seizing on new business opportunities created by climate change and devising ways to make money from clean energy and efficient technology."

Pick up Climate Change: What's Your Business Strategy? and read it, have your management team read it, and then decide what your company needs to do to stay ahead in the game.

17 July 2008

Review: Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg

I remember the day when I was no longer at the top of the food chain.

I was flying into Lower Talarik Creek in southwestern Alaska with nothing but a fly rod, a note book, a sleeping bag, and hubris. As we circled the lagoon, the float plane pilot pointed out 10 or 12 brown bears that had already secured the fishing hole.

We landed anyway and the bears disappeared. The low brush was barely enough to hide them. They were gone, but they were out there.

Until you've experienced the fear, adrenaline rush, and deep respect you feel in close proximity with a large predator, you haven't really lived.

As a species we have a complex relationship with predators, whether large cats, bears, wolves, sharks, or killer whales. It's a mixture of deep-seated fear and loathing, along with time-honored respect and admiration. Some of it goes back so far in our DNA that it is no longer top-of-mind. Most of us don't have to worry about it, safely ensconced in our cities, towns, and bedroom communities.

But Will Stolzenburg worries about it plenty. So do the biologists, activists, ranchers and others he writes about in Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators, being published this month by Bloomsbury.

Stolzenburg, a former colleague at the Nature Conservancy and a writer for Science News, Conservation, and Nature Conservancy magazine, admits he is biased in favor of big predators. But he also understands the complexity of the psychology around their interaction with Homo sapiens.

"Over the thousands of millennia that our own lineage has spent in the company of killing beasts," Stolzenburg writes. "Competing with them for food and running from them as food -- the great meat-eaters have quite naturally etched themselves into the human persona."

Stolzenburg has written a compelling book, a short history of our relationship with predator species, which uses scientists and their stories to tell the story of that relationship and of the importance of predators on land and sea.

His story starts with an unlikely hero, the starfish (Pisaster ochraceous), which prevents mussels such as Myltilus californianus from crowding other species off rock habitats. Who amongst us would classify the sea star among the big charismatic megafauna? But they play an important role.

As do sea otters, which keep sea urchin populations down and minimizes their destruction of kelp forests. And then there are the usual suspects: wolves, coyotes and big cats that maintain a check on populations of smaller mammals and other species to avoid cascading, sometimes catastrophic changes.

Stolzenburg reviews the arguments surrounding the importance of predators to their habitats as well as the various attempts to extirpate them and to bring them back from the brink.

"The great predators are great barometers of our maturity as a species," he concludes. "If we can live with an animal that could just as soon eat us as an apple, if we can make room for an animal that traverses entire states looking for a mate, how better to define the art of compassion"

He follows the major thought leaders in conservation biology of the past 40 years on their journeys of discovery, enlightenment, and sometimes ridicule. The stories are fascinating and Stolzenburg makes the tales come to life in an almost Scott Turow novel way. (If you think scientist-researchers and field biologists lead boring lives in the academe, Stolzenburg will convince you otherwise.)

Equally fascinating are some of the depictions and explorations of the predators themselves, especially the chapters on killer whales and on "the loneliest predator," man. Fascinating, too, how recent some of the thinking is about species interaction and interdependency, until you realize that conservation biology as a field is relatively young.

Will Stolzenburg knows how to tell a story and his narrative is a good read. Part history, part mystery, part philosophical treatise, Where the Wild Things Were is an important book in the field of conservation, but also as a history of our species and our relationship with the others with which we share the planet.

14 July 2008

Clean Tech: Paulson and Lugar Support Clean Tech Fund

Senator Richard G. Lugar, a Republican from Indiana and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr (left) have come out in support of the Clean Technology Fund (CTF), which was proposed by President Bush last September.

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Paulson and Lugar announce their support, claiming the CTF will "stimulate private-sector investment in existing clean technologies and speed the deployment of emerging technologies once they are market-ready."

Using a mix of loans, grants, equity investment and credit guarantees to finance this incremental cost, the CTF will "help make the choice between clean and dirty technologies economically neutral."

The US will contribute US$2 billion, which will be matched by up to US$8 billion from other donors to the fund, which is to be housed at the World Bank.

"The fund recognizes that addressing climate change presents economic opportunities, not just constraints, and that with advanced technology developing countries can curb emissions growth without limiting economic growth," Lugar and Paulson write in their Op Ed, concluding, "If we do not act immediately to help provide developing countries with the right incentives, their investments today may lock in a legacy of highly polluting, less efficient technologies."

Read the full piece here.

11 July 2008

Energy: Drilling for Oil Offshore and in ANWR; Has the Time Come?

Okay, brace yourself. If you're a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist, you're not going to like what I'm about to write. I'm not sure you'll like it if you're on the other extreme either, but what the hell.

I'm wondering whether it may be time to reconsider drilling offshore, and to take a hard look at whether the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) can be developed for oil in an environmentally favorable way.

I'm not saying we should go ahead with either, but I do think we need to put both considerations on the table, put aside our emotions, look at the real impacts, weigh the options, and then decide.

There are several things we need to factor into our consideration:

1. Our dependence upon fossil fuels is not going away any time soon.

2. There are, according to some sources familiar with the situation, relatively abundant remaining sources of fossil fuels, offshore and on land. Most agree they will take too long to develop to have immediate impact, but they may extend the time-frame for alternatives to replace fossil fuels. And with prices what they are now, it's looking like now may be the time when these sources are actually viable.

3. It is not known whether ANWR is a viable source; there is little baseline data with which to make such a call. Some say the oil industry may be betting on the fact that developing ANWR will allow the life of Alaska's pipeline to extend beyond 2030, and make it more viable to recover smaller pools throughout the region.

4. Developing ANWR is likely to have little impact on today's prices. In a report last May, the Department of Energy estimated that it will result in a reduction of only 75 cents a barrel.

5. A recent study by the federal government's Energy Information Administration projects, in the best-case scenario, developing ANWR will engender a price reduction of around $1.44/barrel by 2027.

The same study claims drilling off the coasts of the US won't affect prices until 2030, as reported in the New York Times.

6. Global consumption of oil reached 85.2 million barrels a day in 2008, up from last year's 76.3 million. Another study, to be released this fall by the International Energy Agency (IEA), projects consumption will rise to 116 million barrels next year.

7. New techniques, such as directional drilling will continue to reduce the footprint per well-head on Alaska's North Slope, but there remains the issue of roads, housing, pipelines, and other facilities needed to bring the oil to market.

Those impacts could still be huge in ANWR, which is used by polar bears, caribou, and other animals as they search for places to give birth. (Birth is the most vulnerable stage in the life-cycle of some species.) Other biologists familiar with the area claim the stated impacts may be overdone.

As for the coasts, there are worthy concerns about impacts on human coastal communities, especially those that rely on fishing or tourism for their livelihoods. Our neighbors to the north and south have increased their off-shore development over the past decade with little or marginal impact on the environment.

8. New off-shore development will also take years to put in place.

9. Finally, there is a shortage of deep water drill-ships for offshore development, which are currently booked for the next five years, and we may be looking at a long time horizon with very little short-term impact.

Still, impact is impact, and while we're looking at alternative energy development, perhaps we need to consider how we will meet demand for fossil fuels while alternatives build momentum.

High demand, low supply rules the day. But if the benefits of off-shore and ANWR development are a long way off, is it worth the risk? Can we do without it? What if it can be demonstrated that the environmental impacts are negligible? What if, as Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska announced last week, we could put revenues in service of alternative energy projects?

I am not advocating a position for or against such development; I'm simply calling for a rational, emotion-free analysis before we move forward or rule it out.

09 July 2008

Clean Tech: Pennsylvania Gets $650M+ Alternative and Renewable Energy Fund

Let's here it for the home state!

When Kathleen McGinty, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, told to me a few weeks ago that Pennsylvania was "actually now leading the country in manufacturing renewable energy technology, housing the world's leading companies in renewables," I remained skeptical, if hopeful.

Secretary McGinty backed up her statement by listing the companies: Gamesa, Iberdrola, Conergy, AE Polysilicon, Solar Power Industries, Axion, and Bionol, among others, have all become PA companies and major investors in the Commonwealth in the last 3 years.

"We are first in the country now in growth in manufacturing and first in job creation in venture-backed enterprises," Katie said. But, she added, there was a still a long way to go.

Key, she thought, was Governor Ed Rendell's Energy Independence Strategy (EIS) to spur further growth and development in the Commonwealth.

Now, Pennsylvania is making a $665.9 million investment to spur the development of alternative and renewable energy technologies and help customers and small businesses take steps to reduce their electricity consumption and save money.

Together the Alternative Energy Investment Fund and the Alternative Fuels Investment Fund will target $237.5 million specifically toward helping consumers conserve electricity and manage higher energy prices, and $428.4 million to spur the development of alternative energy resources and create good-paying, skilled jobs for Pennsylvania’s hard-working men and women.

Included among the new $650 million fund is $500 million that provides:

* $165 million for loans and grants to spur the development of alternative and renewable energy projects (except solar) among businesses and local governments;
* $100 million to provide loans, grants and rebates that cover up to 35 percent of the costs residential consumers and small businesses incur for installing for solar energy technology;
* $80 million in grants and loans for economic development projects in the solar sector;
* $40 million to the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority to support early stage activities, such as incubator support services, translational and early stage research in startup businesses that develop and implement energy efficiency technologies;
* $25 million for wind energy and geothermal projects;
* $25 million for green buildings. Homeowners and small businesses will benefit from grants and loans to build energy efficient structures or renovate an existing building to improve its energy efficiency;
* $40 million ($10 million annually for four years) to support LIHEAP so the commonwealth can help low-income customers manage higher energy prices, severe weather conditions, or disasters; and
* $25 million for pollution control technology to help energy generators meet state and federal standards.

Under the alternative fuels law, every gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel sold in Pennsylvania must contain a percentage of biofuels, ramping up to 20 percent biodiesel and 10 percent ethanol once in-state production reaches certain levels.

"This new investment fund will strategically target new resources to leverage as much as $3.5 billion in private investment and create at least 13,000 new, good-paying jobs in an industry that is sure to be to the 21st century what information technology and biosciences were to the later 20th century," the Governor said in a press statement.

Makes me proud to say I live in Pennsylvania, the State of Independence and perhaps the new green economy.

Congratulations, Governor Rendell and Secretary McGinty -- and all Pennsylvanians.

Watch Governor Rendell's announcement of the Fund here

06 July 2008

Energy: On the Way to $200 Oil?

Just a couple of months ago, I heard T. Boone Pickens, Jr. call for $150 oil by the end of the year, but now that we're approaching that mark by mid-year, it may be time to revise the target.

Is $200 a possibility? Indeed, it may be too late to avoid it, says Jerome a Paris over at The Oil Drum.

Jerome cites an International Energy Agency (IEA) study released last week that claims the "oil market will remain tight during the next five years as production from non-OPEC countries stalls and demand growth remains relatively strong."

"This is one of the most important trends in current oil markets: the depletion of existing fields, and the decline in their production," Jerome adds. "It's long been discussed in specialised sites like this one but it's been ignored in the 'serious' media for too long. and yet, discussions of new fields coming into production cannot paint a correct picture of future production trends if these declines are not deducted to get net production increases.

"And the stark truth is that in most of the world, the declines are bigger than the new capacity additions. This is particularly true in 'friendly' production zones like the North Sea, Mexico or even Russia, where overall decline rates are dizzying and actually impact global production numbers significantly."

The comments are nearly as interesting as the post. In one SamuM makes the following observations after watching the presentation (embedded below):

* No obvious sign speculators behind high prices
* Global oil demand growth still 1.3% in 2007
* Producers operating close to flat out
* Global net decline 5% p.a. (2008-2013 avg?)
* OPEC mature field decline >10% p.a.
* More spare capacity by 2009, but then dip again, recovery by 2013?
* Non-OPEC supply slows to 2012, then picks up in 2013 [???]
* 48% of gobal demand growth in distillate
* Biofuels 2.8 Mb/d by 2013 (max capacity potential 3.3Mbpd), big downside risks remain
* OPEC condensates to grow from c. 3Mbpd to c. 5Mbpd by 2013
* OPEC NGL growth to be used by petrochemical industry
* Remaining GTL insignificant
* Increasing fuel oil demand from Middle East for power generation
* Non-OECD demand to oustrip OECD by 2015

Here is the presentation from the IEA:

Worth a look at the full presentation. (Thanks to Paul Kedrosky of Infectious Greed for the SlideShare link.)

04 July 2008

Reblogging: A Call for "Interdependence Day" from 2005

I'm reblogging an old post today, because it's Independence Day and our last day in Alaska. Back to regular posting after the weekend. Happy 4th! Here is my Independence Day post from 2005:

Today is Independence Day in the U.S. and folks all over this land are wondering if Americans will stand up and declare their energy independence. Where’s the group that will call for a rethink of America’s energy policies?

It turns out a number of groups are calling for adjustments to the Bush energy policy; and one coalition has even created a “Declaration of Energy Independence,” which starts off humorously enough but then just turns into an attack on Ford, one of the US companies that actually has developed a hybrid. That’s where they lose me.

“I know that America can do better than another oil dominated energy policy, and I want real investments in new energy now,” begins the petition to Bush posted by the Apollo Alliance “I call on you to find the courage, vision, and common sense to reject big-oil dominated energy legislation which makes us more dependent on foreign oil.”

Then Apollo asks for an energy policy that commits to investments in energy conservation, new energy industries, and re-tooling for high-performance energy efficiency, and pollution reducing technologies. Okay, I can buy that. Such investments will help fuel our new economy -- one we desperately need.

They also post three speeches by Senators Cantwell, Durban, and Dorgan who came out in support of American Energy Independence. This in the wake of polls indicating, "9 in 10 Americans support a crash effort for reducing dependence on Middle East oil." They are politicians, of course, but make some interesting points.

Finally, “Set America Free” – a coalition of individuals, NGOs, and others have put forth a “Blueprint for U.S. Energy Security” that’s worth a look.

But all this makes me wonder: is it really energy independence we want or energy interdependence? Perhaps, as Pietro Nivola claimed in his 2002 essay in the Brookings Review, "Instead of futile planning to quarantine 'foreign energy providers,' U.S. policy should seek deeper integration with some of them, especially the ones next door."

We aren't going to be able to fill the gaps left by turning off the taps of foreign oil, not immediately at least; and some of our investments overseas are helping people get a leg up rather than fueling resentment towards America. Like it or not, even in the estimates of some of the most progressive economists, we're going to continue to need oil from other nations. In other words, let's be real about energy while asking Bush and the G8 to get real on climate change and poverty.

And this Independence Day, let’s recognize that we’re not alone in the world and call for a new Declaration of Interdependence -– on energy, the environment, and the global economy.