Category Archives: analysis

The Cost of Coal

Yesterday, Jess noted a new paper in the American Economic Review: “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy.” Brad Johnson has a longer summary here. I want to emphasize the paper’s conclusions and make a few related points. But mostly I want to beg everyone: spread this around. Coal’s net economic effects on the U.S. are poorly understood, to say the least, and this paper’s findings are stunning.

Once you strip away the econ jargon, the paper finds that electricity from coal imposes more damages on the U.S. economy than the electricity is worth. That’s right: Coal-fired power is a net value-subtracting industry. A parasite, you might say. A gigantic, blood-sucking parasite that’s enriching a few executives and shareholders at the public’s expense. #read the story

PopSci’s Top 50 Greenest US Cities


I am a little behind the times, but at the beginning of February Popular Science Magazine came out with their list of America’s 50 Greenest Cities. They compiled the list based on four criteria – electricity (10 points), transportation (10 points), green living (5 points) and recycling & green perspective (5 points). Here are the top 20:

1. Portland, Ore. 23.1
2. San Francisco, Calif. 23.0
3. Boston, Mass. 22.7
4. Oakland, Calif. 22.5
5. Eugene, Ore. 22.4
6. Cambridge, Mass. 22.2
7. Berkeley, Calif. 22.2
8. Seattle, Wash. 22.1
9. Chicago, Ill. 21.3
10. Austin, Tex. 21.0
11. Minneapolis, Minn. 20.3
12. St. Paul, Minn. 20.2
13. Sunnyvale, Calif. 19.9
14. Honolulu, Hawaii 19.9
15. Fort Worth, Tex. 19.7
16. Albuquerque, N.M. 19.1
17. Syracuse, N.Y. 18.9
18. Huntsville, Ala. 18.4
19. Denver, Colo. 18.2
20. New York, N.Y. 18.2

Check the PopSci site for the full list and all the details. They also highlight 6 case studies of cities making concerted efforts to green themselves.

Oakland: Zero Emission Bus

Chicago: Make Power, Save the Heat

San Francisco: Sunroofs in Fog City

Santa Rosa: Tapping Geysers for Watts

Salt Lake City: Heating Homes from Waste

New York City: Turning the Tides into Electricity

Another interesting analysis of green spots in the US was listed by a PopSci reader in the comments. Check the site for an interesting interactive state-by-state look at green stat’s across the country.



Obama for the Planet


Last Wednesday the MNP Group officially proclaimed our endorsement of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. We here at green.mnp would like to follow suit and endorse Obama as the best candidate to lead the country into a future of sound environmental policy and action. Obama has made it clear that climate change and energy policy will be one of the ‘defining issues’ of his presidential campaign. While he is not perfect on every green issue (no candidate is or was) we are confident that he will seek advice from the right minds and engage people across the country and across the globe in reducing our impact. Grist has great resources for determining how green each candidate is, as well as interviews with each of them. Here are some pertinent excerpts from an interview with Obama:

question You’ve consistently emphasized consensus and putting aside partisan battles. Many argue that, when it comes to climate change, the maximum of what’s politically possible falls short of the minimum we need to do to solve the problem. In other words, consensus won’t get us where we need to go. Will you fight the political battles needed to move the consensus on this issue, even if that means aggravating partisan rifts?

answer I am the cosponsor of the most aggressive climate-change legislation in the Senate, along with Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.] and Bernie Sanders [I-Vt.], which would reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. We are going to have to make some big decisions to meet those goals. Consensus doesn’t mean 100 percent consensus — there is undoubtedly going to be resistance from certain parts of the energy sector, and there may be ideological resistance within the Republican Party, and we are going to have to attend to the regional differences in terms of how people get energy. But I believe that we can put together a strong majority to move forward, as long as we are thoughtful about the potential losers in any big piece of energy legislation.

question Do you believe that we can achieve political consensus on this goal of 80 percent reductions by 2050?

answer I think with presidential leadership we can meet this goal, and it will be one of my top priorities. But it is going to require a thoughtful approach that accounts for the possibility that electricity prices will go up, and that low-income people may need to be compensated. We’ll have to deal with the fact that many of our power plants are coal burning, and consider what investments we’re willing to make in coal sequestration. If we make sure that the burdens and benefits of a strong environmental policy are evenly spread across the economy, then people will want to see us take on this problem in an aggressive way.

question Some argue that we should only commit to a global climate treaty if China and India do as well. Do you agree? How would you bring China and India to the table?

answer We shouldn’t look at it as a single tit-for-tat exchange. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the largest single source of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, so it is our responsibility to take the first step. We cannot expect China and India, with a billion people each, to take the lead on this if we do not — but we can expect them to join us if we demonstrate leadership. If we must take the first step, our second and third steps must be conditioned on meaningful participation by all countries. This is also an enormous opportunity for us to provide our technological expertise to these nations so they can leapfrog to cleaner technologies.

Really though, this is just a shameless excuse to post this adorable and exploitive photo of my niece (who will turn 1 in exactly one month!). I say exploitive because she is a young impressionable mind and should be free decide for herself who she wants to endorse politically. But, I predict that young Skyler will grow up to be a fierce advocate for the planet and its people, and thus will not mind if her cuteness is taken advantage of for the cause:


Suprise, Suprise, Humans Are Impacting the Oceans

So, I was looking for an uploadable version of this BBC ‘fly-over’ video of some work that has been done by researchers on the severity of human impact on the oceans. This map illustrates the areas of impact in the oceans – scary.

Only about 4% of the world’s oceans remain undamaged by human activity, according to the first detailed global map of human impacts on the seas.

However, I got distracted by this series of videos from the 2003 BBC Horizon show The Big Chill. This is basically all old (and at times prophetic) news by now, talking about the infamous ocean conveyor belt and the dire consequences that may ensue if it shuts off. But it gives a good bit of perspective on how little we still know and how much can happen in 5 years. Think about all the craziness that has gone down since 2003 concerning climate change – climatically, politically, intellectually, technologically.

Oh, and watch out for the endearingly geeky clone of a certain red-bearded ninja.






Post Carbon Institute


Post Carbon Institute was established in 2003 as an initiative of MetaFoundation, an organization created in the year 2000 by Julian Darley and Celine Rich. The purpose of MetaFoundation was to serve as an umbrella or parent organization, to help develop and support new organizations focused on innovative and unique methods of providing environmental solutions. The creation of MetaFoundation stemmed from an interest in- and concern for how difficult it is to cover complex environmental issues in current affairs. It was decided that new methods of discussing and addressing the complexity of environmental issues needed to be developed, and MetaFoundation was born.

The first initiative of Meta-Foundation was GlobalPublicMedia, an internet broadcasting station streaming long format audio and video interviews. This media service was established in 2001 in response to the tendency of mainstream news media to primarily focus on making a profit, increasing ratings and developing news as entertainment. Alternatively, the goal of Global Public Media is to offers news and analysis on complex environmental issues provided by world experts from a wide variety of different fields.

During the time GlobalPublicMedia was being developed, Julian was advised by a local bookseller to read Jeremy Rifkin’s book entitled ‘The Hydrogen Economy’. The last chapter of this book introduced the concept of ‘Peak Oil’ to Julian, leading to a profound shift in the focus and work of MetaFoundation.


After visiting Colin Campbell, a prominent petroleum geologist and founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO) in Cork County Ireland, Julian and Celine embarked on a process of information gathering about Peak Oil. The expertise and comprehensive knowledge they attained during this time led them to establish the Post Carbon Institute, an environmental organization focusing on Peak Oil related issues.

With a keen interest base and their base of support coming out of the United States, it was decided that Meta-Foundation would be established as a nonprofit entity operating out of Eugene, Oregon. MetaFoundation was incorporated in 2003 with GlobalPubicMedia and Post Carbon Institute operating as affiliated initiatives, under the umbrella organizational format of MetaFoundation.

Over the next few years, with a growing public interest in the initiatives of Meta-Foundation, Post Carbon Institute was successful in establishing a reputable board of directors, featuring the most prominent experts working in the field of Peak Oil. With this new board with an increase in public interest, it was decided that Post Carbon Institute would replace MetaFoundation as the main umbrella organization. Today, Post Carbon Institute serves as the parent organization to many other initiatives and ideas, while MetaFoundation now operates as a legal entity only.

The blurb above is from their history page. We heard about them through Erin who heard about them on Public Radio in New Mexico. They also run a program called Post Carbon Cities. Visit the Post Carbon Institute and Post Carbon Cities by clickin’ them lanks.

COP13 – What Happens When Kyoto Expires?

The rumors are true: From Dec. 3 to Dec. 14, more than 15,000 people from 190 nations will gather in Bali, Indonesia: politicians, bureaucrats, nosy reporters, earnest activists — the usual party-hearty crowd. They’ll give due respect to the “global” in global warming, and discuss what to do about it — in particular, what should be done after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The goal is to come up with a framework for a brand-new global climate treaty.


The Bali meeting will be the 13th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP13) — and the 13th time is the charm, right? The targets set by the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012, and as most folks are finally catching on that climate change ain’t just gonna go away, many politicos are eager to whip up an effective successor.

Read the whole article at

British Petroleum on Staff at UC Berkeley


Oil giant BP has been in negotiations with UC Berkeley since February on a partnership to research renewable energy technologies, specifically biofuels. BP will provide the university with $500 million over 10 years. The contract was signed a couple of weeks ago on November 14, but the deal remains a controversial one. Two days before the contract was signed Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! hosted an interesting discussion between two UC Berkeley professors with opposing views on the debate. Miguel Altieri is a Professor of Entomology and a renowned expert in agroecology, or sustainable agriculture. He is opposed to the deal between BP and UC Berkeley. Daniel Kammen is a professor in the Energy and Resources Group, as well as professor of public policy and nuclear engineering. He directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and is on the executive committee of the Energy Biosciences Institute, which will carry out much of the research under the deal. Kammen is generally supportive of the deal. I highly suggest you read the entire transcript of the interview, but here are some excerpts that highlight views on both sides of the story:

Critics at UC Berkeley point to the corporatization of academic research, the ecological dangers of biofuels, and BP’s long history of environmental irresponsibility, they say. They call this an act of greenwashing by BP and have been protesting the deal since it was announced in February of this year. But supporters claim that the corporate – academic partnership allows the university to realize its renewable energy research agenda and provides the most effective and economical means of addressing the looming environmental crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the issue of BP giving this enormous sum of money, $500 million over the next ten years, is this of concern to you, the issue of the privatization of a public institution?

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, I think that the size of the grant can be a concern, but not for the reasons that you’re raising. I actually think that this amount of money is relatively small change, both for the oil industries around the world and, in fact, for the amount of money it takes to bring new products to market. New cars and new drugs frequently take that much money — half a billion dollars — to bring them to market. And as a research pot of money to start with, I actually don’t regard it as that much money.

The chance, though, that this amount of money would alter what a university does is a concern to me, and the degree to which a university might see grants like this as a reason or as an excuse or as a mechanism to alter what they would work on — say, move away from some areas and move into others — is a concern if it was being done in a way that I thought that the company had that driving force.
MIGUEL ALTIERI: Well, my concerns is that, first of all, Professor Kammen is saying, it’s very little money, and eventually it’s little money for BP, but a lot of money for UC Berkeley. And what they’re going to do with this money is basically skim off what 200 years of public investment has done. It would be very expensive for BP to build a university and a research facility. They will come with $500 million. They skim off what the public university has built over years, and then they bring fifty scientists from BP that are going to have access to students, and so therefore what they’re going to do is influence the research agenda of the public university. And it’s already happening.

And anybody that has protested — faculty — have been basically dismissed and disregarded as a colorful — as part of the colorful character of the campus. You know, we have to have these people that are always protesting.

And what worries me is that, on the one side, they’re promoting the wrong technology: biofuels is the wrong way to go. There’s no discussion, for example, in this proposal about alternative transportation systems, how to curb consumption patterns of petroleum and how to promote other alternatives that are much more viable. And biofuels are going to cause tremendous problems not only in the United States, but in third world countries especially, because if we devoted all the corn that is in this country, 125,000 square miles, we would only satisfy 12% of the gas needs. So obviously what’s going to happen is that it’s going to be grown in the third world, and basically the people in the third world are going to be paying the price for the over-consumption and the old-based style of living of Europe and the United States.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, I think there’s a couple really good points in what Miguel just said. The first one is I’m actually, as well, concerned, that I thought that the debate on campus is not one that has been as open as it could be. And you’re right, there has been sort of high-profile protests, but protests and actually having sit-downs between the sides has been somewhat lacking. And I actually really view that as a feature that the campus is responsible for the lack of that, not BP so far, and the campus needs to do a better job in that regard.

In terms of the fuel issues around the world, I actually take quite a different view than that by Miguel. It is true that if we devoted all of our corn to making ethanol in the US, we would only reach about 10% or 12%, so it wouldn’t be a significant effort, and you wouldn’t want to give up all that corn use for ethanol. But an interesting and, I think, a critical feature of the BP proposal is that, in fact, corn ethanol is excluded. Everyone who works on ethanol and biofuels worldwide recognizes that alternate fuels are available that are far better, the so-called cellulosic crops, that even include using garbage and using the waste carbon dioxide that comes out of power plants on just the land sitting next to those power plants. Those are areas for research in this proposal, not corn.

And so, if there was to be an approach that would look at alternatives that did not make the tension between food and fuel worse, it’s a project like this. In fact, in many parts of the developing world, the potential to grow crops that are useful for farmers locally at much higher efficiencies than they draw today — for food stocks, again, not corn — is an option that this proposal should be looking at. And the degree to which we do a good job there, I think, is very much due to the sort of things that Miguel said, and that is having this broader discussion and analysis not only of what we should be doing, but also how it goes on.

MIGUEL ALTIERI: I think what we need is, first of all, is to call again for an open debate, which has been suppressed, because basically the people that were questioning this have been accused of attempting against academic freedom. And basically what academic freedom now means in Berkeley is just that you cannot question the financial associations of faculty.

I mean, we need to look at the record of BP. We cannot associate with BP. It has a horrible record in terms of environment, in terms of human rights, and so on. And they have been, you know, destroying the environment for many years, and now they come as the doves of ecology.

We need to also put in place people that are going to be looking critically at the social, ecological impacts. We cannot leave in charge climate change and ecological questions to a bunch of engineers and chemists and genetic engineering people. We need to bring ecologists, social scientists, but also that are critical and are independent, that are not associated with this proposal and therefore open to debate, and also bring the public of California to question their public university that is being funded by them. They need to reclaim their university, their public university.

My question is: How many universities is BP trying to infiltrate? They have also recently teamed up with researchers at the Biodidesign Institute at Arizona State University to learn more about using cyanobacteria as a biofuel feed stock. Don’t get me wrong, it is nothing new for companies to be teaming up with universities to do research, but the sheer scale and influence of a mega-company like BP changes the dynamic of the game. It may be inevitable that the oil giants will take over the biofuels industry, if only by brute force, but is it necessary, or even allowable, that they take over our universities and intellectual freedom as well?


Get ‘em When They’re Old, Too

Grandma vs. the Oil-Sands Mine


Eighty-five-year-old grandmothers aren’t typically subject to censorship, but Liz Moore is no ordinary grandma. After touring an oil-sands operation in Canada, Moore returned to her home in Colorado and began researching the mining process. Eventually, she spent $3,600 on a website that chronicles the destructive environmental impacts of oil-sands mining.

“I was appalled at what I saw—the devastation of the land,” she says of her visit to a Syncrude mine in Fort McMurray, Alberta. “I came home and decided people in the U.S. needed to hear about this, because we’ll be buying more and more oil from Canada.”

Soon legal threats arrived. The mining giant Syncrude Canada Ltd. and a branch of the Alberta government threatened legal action if Moore did not remove certain photos from the website, she says.

“It made me angry at a very deep level,” Moore says. “I don’t like censorship, and if it’s done to me, I like it even less.” Moore later learned that a release she signed before her tour gave the company the right to limit the use of her photos.

Excerpts from Moore’s presentation:oilsand72.jpg

















To see the entire presentation, check grandma Moore’s website,


Combatting Climate Skepticism for Dummies


Do you get frustrated when your friends/family/peers/superiors/strangers tell you that global warming is a hoax, but you don’t have enough factual ammunition to convince them otherwise? You are not alone. Are you a skeptic yourself? Grist has a seriously extensive guide to talking to climate skeptics. The guide is so extensive it borders on overwhelming, but it is laid out in an easily navigable way so that you can skip around to topics that interest you. It is divided into four different taxonomies, as they call them – Stages of Denial, Scientific Topics, Types of Argument and Levels of Sophistication. Here’s the outline to get your wheels turning:

Stages of Denial
1. There’s nothing happening
a. Inadequate evidence
b. Contradictory evidence
c. No consensus
2. We don’t know why it’s happening
a. Models don’t work
b. Prediction is impossible
c. We can’t be sure
3. Climate change is natural
a. It happened before
b. It’s part of a natural change
c. It’s not caused by CO2
4. Climate change is not bad
a. The effects are good
b. The effects are minor
c. Change is normal
5. Climate change can’t be stopped
a. Too late
b. It’s someone else’s problem
c. Economically infeasible
Scientific Topics
1. Temperature
2. Atmosphere
3. Extreme events
a. Temperature records
b. Storms
c. Droughts
4. Cryosphere
a. Glaciers
b. Sea ice
c. Ice sheets
5. Oceans
6. Modeling
a. Scenarios
b. Uncertainties
7. Climate forcings
a. Solar influences
b. Greenhouse gases
c. Aerosols
8. Paleo climate
a. Holocene
b. Ice ages
c. Geologic history
9. Scientific process
Types of Argument
1. Uninformed
2. Misinformed
3. Cherry Picking
4. Urban Myths
5. FUD
6. Non Scientific
7. Underdog Theories
8. Crackpottery
Levels of Sophistication
1. Silly
2. Naive
3. Specious
4. Scientific

Go get informed!!


The Africa Biogas Initiative

In May 2007 at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya an initiative was launched to begin an African biogas development program with the goal of installing two million biogas plants throughout Africa by 2020. The initiative was made official only after careful consideration of the technical and cost-benefit potentials for biogas in Africa. Sudies found that the technical potential is especially high in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and most East African countries except Somalia and Djibouti. A cost-benefit analysis of an integrated domestic biogas, latrine and hygiene program done by Winrock International shows that there is a potential 7.5% financial rate of return and a potential 178% economic rate of return. The difference between the two is significant because the start-up of an integrated biogas and latrine program requires hefty financial capital investment and expenditure, while the economic benefit to the African society would be great, in terms of “improved health, increased availability of potent organic fertilisers, time savings through the reduced drudgery associated with fuel collection, and environmental benefits.” These benefits would especially impact African women and children, because they “disproportionately endure the drudgery of fuel collection and the negative health effects associated with spending hours breathing highly polluted air just to prepare food for their families.”

At the conference Mr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra of Mali and Ms Hauwa Ibrahim of Nigeria were named the Biogas Ambassadors for Africa. The initiative sees the implementation as a business partnership between governments, private sectors, civil society agents and international development partners. The $2 billion investment required will depend greatly on public funding from donors and the sale of carbon credits.

The specific goals of the Biogas Initiative are these:

* two million biogas plants installed (90% operation rate)
* 10 million Africans benefiting in daily life from the plants
* 800 private biogas companies and 200 biogas appliance manufacturing workshops involved or established
* 100,000 new jobs created
* comprehensive quality standards and quality control systems developed and in use
* one million toilets constructed and attached to the biogas plant
* 80% of the bio-slurry used as organic fertilizer
* agricultural production raised by up to 25%
* health and living conditions of women and children improved, and the deaths of women and children reduced by 5000 each year
* drudgery reduced by saving 2-3 hours per household each day in fetching wood, cooking and cleaning the pots
* health costs saved of up to US$80-125 per family, per year
* 3-4 million tonnes of wood saved per year
* greenhouse gas emissions annually reduced by 10 Mtonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Rwanda has already begun a national biogas program and 11 other countries including Ethiopia, Senegal, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana have taken the first steps to starting their own. The next Biogas Initiative conference will be held in West Africa in 2008.




To read the full article from Renewable Energy Access and get more sources for info on biogas, click the REW link below. Also, check out Africa Biogas’ official website, linked below.
[Renewable Energy World; Biogas Africa]