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September 15 2011

16:53

Pennies to Clean Energy, Billions to Big Oil -- Mainstream Media Missing the Real Story on Solyndra

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday on the ongoing and growing scandal in the wake of the bankruptcy of Solyndra Corporation.

Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after laying off over 1,000 workers, is facing a barrage of attacks by both politicians and the media. The GOP and its right wing media echo chamber in particular have sought to condemn the entire U.S. clean energy sector as a result of an FBI raid of Solyndra's offices.

Things have spun so far out of control inside the Beltway that Rep. David Vitter (R-La.) is disseminating a bill that would, "require an inspector general investigation into any company that receives federal money for renewable energy development and then goes bankrupt."

But Vitter's so-called Federal Accountability of Renewable Energy (FARE) Act is hardly a fair assessment of accountability across the entire energy subsidies spectrum.

Besides serving as an opportunistic moment to dance on the grave of a solar company, in the wake of Solyndra's economic downfall, we're witnessing a true disdain among Republicans for a clean energy technology that was invented here at home, and possesses the potential to help wean the U.S. from deep reliance on foreign energy. In the currently toxic political environment, the GOP seems more interested in ceding that job-rich opportunity to China.

Explaining the bill further, The Hill's Andrew Restuccia wrote,

Co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the bill would require that federal agencies conduct a full audit of any renewable energy projects that have received taxpayer money from fiscal years 2009 to 2011.

The audit must determine how successful the project is, including how many jobs it has created and what its profits are. In addition, agencies would be required to identify which venture capital firms helped finance the project.

Any companies that declare bankruptcy or fail to meet the objectives required by the federal government would be subject to an inspector general investigation under the legislation. 

In other words, the clean energy sector would be held to a completely different standard than is the all-powerful fossil fuel sector. Why don't we hear even more outrage from these same supposedly budget-conscious politicians about the hundreds of billions of dollars dumped by American taxpayers into fully-mature polluting energy sources that we know are harming our health, our climate and our security? How could anyone consider solar power the enemy?

A Lack of Perspective From the Media on Clout of Fossil Fuel Industry

​Solyndra has received a vast amount of media attention since the beginning of September, but very few outlets have conveyed the real story - that the fossil fuel industry receives billions of dollars in government subsidies on an annual basis, and leaves solar and other renewables manufacturers far and away in the dust.

According to a March 2011 story by the Christian Science Monitor, gas and oil interests receive a steep $41 billion per year in subsidies.  Also, according to a July 2010 article in the New York Times​, the fossil fuel industry at-large benefits from tens of billions of dollars in government subsidies on an annual basis.

Honing in on the oil industry specifically, the Times​ discovered that Big Oil receives over $4 billion in tax breaks each year, as shown by an October 2005 Congressional Budget Office report.

In addition, the fossil fuel industry maintains a powerful armada of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. The Los Angeles Times covered the depths of the industry's influence in a May 2010 article,

All told, the oil and gas industry spent $174.7 million and registered 788 lobbyists to influence lawmakers and regulators last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization. Since 1998, the industry has spent $966.8 million on lobbying, making it the sixth-biggest-spending interest group in Washington, the center found.

Furthermore, in a well-researched article today, the Center for American Progress' Brad Johnson revealed that the members who hosted this morning's hearing were the recipients of a lump sum of over $11 million in campaign contributions from the gas and oil industry. Johnson closed his article by pointing out the core flawed premise of this phony scandal. 

The solar industry is truly dependent on subsidies,” subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) said at the conclusion of the hearing. Stearns did not express similar outrage about the hundreds of billions of dollars that have gone into subsidizing the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries. None of the Republican members of the panel worried about the $11 million in subsidies they have received from the fossil fuel and nuclear industries in campaign contributions.

Rather than examine the dirty energy subsidy implications of this story, opportunistic politicians and media have focused on the *tiny by comparison* $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra initiated by former President George W. Bush and approved by current President Barack Obama. The bulk of the media have instead flocked to the "alternative energy must not be viable" narrative.  

Solyndra Loan was Pennies By Comparison — Were they Set Up to Fail?

It is no wonder then, that handed a loan that was pennies by comparison to what the fossil fuel industry receives in subsidies and tax breaks on an annual basis from the government, Solyndra was bound to fail. The Chinese government, for one, recently handed $20 billion to solar panel corporations.  

Given no tax cuts, no extra subsidies after the initial loans, and handed an astronomical handicap in an energy industry dominated by oil and coal, journalists have yet to ask government officials the crucial question:

With members of both parties finger-pointing and laying the blame on Solyndra, was Solydra, all along, set up to fail by the federal government? Is that what's really going on here?

Dave Roberts of Grist may have hit the nail on the head

For a mix of financial and ideological reasons, U.S. conservative movement activists, operators, and politicos hate clean energy. They don't believe in climate change, they love fossil fuels and fossil-fuel campaign donations, and they think, or want the U.S. public to think, that clean energy is weak, unreliable, marginal, and dependent on government subsidies. They have been trying to make that case for a long while.

What Solyndra gives them is a symbol, something to use as a stand-in to discredit not just the DOE loan program, but all government support for clean energy and indeed clean energy itself. 

One can only hope the terms of the debate change, and quickly. 

July 27 2011

18:16

Feeling the Heat of Global Warming


Record-breaking and intense heat waves are indicative of the trend of a warmer worldFor more than a decade there has been increasing evidence of a pronounced warming trend around the globe. Last year we saw a new record for the second highest average global temperature over a 12 month period. This year, the U.S. has experienced widespread record breaking heat waves.

Although hot summers are to be expected in the U.S., this year is different. As explained by Christopher Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, “this heat wave is exceptional not only for its strength, but also for its breadth and duration.”

According to NOAA data, July 2011 has broken many heat records. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology for the Weather Underground, indicated that “July 2011 is on pace to be one of the five hottest months in U.S. history.” Masters added that high humidity make this year’s heat wave feel even hotter.

Despite the record-breaking summer temperatures, the vast majority of climatologists know that you can’t extrapolate a long-term climate trend from a single weather event or finite period. As reviewed in a 2010 article edited by Joe Romm, it all comes down to the distinction between weather and climate. As NASA explains:

“The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time.”

However, as Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, told the Christian Science Monitor, weather is itself a variable that is at least partially a result of an overall climate. “You can’t say any one heat wave is caused by global warming,” Leiserowitz said. “But you can say that what global warming does is make events just like this more likely.”

In 2010, we saw record breaking temperatures all around the world. There was a “Hellish heatwave” in Pakistan which set records, including a temperature of 53.5°C (128.3°F), the hottest temperature ever recorded in Asia. The Great Russian drought of 2010 prompted fires and destroyed 25 million acres of crops. Thousands died around the globe as many parts of the world suffered under the record breaking heat.

For the globe as a whole, 2010 ranks as one of the hottest on record. China recorded the second highest temperatures it had ever seen, and India recorded its warmest year ever. Many heat records were also set in the U.S. in 2010. According to NASA, 2010 was tied for the hottest year ever in the U.S. and NASA’s temperature record showed that it was the hottest January to April in U.S. history.

Canada reported the warmest winter and warmest spring on record, 2010 was also the year with the highest average temperature in the nation’s history.

Even before 2010, the evidence for a warming trend was building. Researchers have been pointing to a link between weather and climate for decades. Eight years ago, a study published in the journal Nature indicated that global warming was partially responsible for the deadly heat wave that scorched Europe in 2003.

A 2009 study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed that there is an increasing trend of record breaking heat in the U.S. According to measurements at 1,800 weather stations located across the U.S from January 1950 through September 2009, there has been a substantial increase in the number of record daily highs. More than 4000 heat records were set in the U.S. in the spring of 2010 alone and in the last 30 years, record highs have increasingly predominated.

An article from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) titled Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S. presents some of the findings from a climate study by NCAR, Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

“Spurred by a warming climate, daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade across the continental United States, new research shows. The ratio of record highs to lows is likely to increase dramatically in coming decades if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to climb.

Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States,” says Gerald Meehl, the lead author and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “The ways these records are being broken show how our climate is already shifting.”

The NCAR study predicted that it will keep getting warmer. ”The modeling results indicate that if nations continue to increase their emissions of greenhouse gases in a ‘business as usual’ scenario, the U.S. ratio of daily record high to record low temperatures would increase to about 20-to-1 by mid-century and 50-to-1 by 2100.” The 2009 NOAA led report on U.S. climate impacts indicated that we can expect that it will get much hotter. The report predicted a 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090.

In America, states from Texas to Maine suffered from extreme heat this July. More than half of the 50 US states were under extreme heat warnings with the record temperatures and high humidity reportedly claiming dozens of lives in July alone.

As many as 34 U.S. states were under heat advisories at the same time during the month of July. This year, Detroit experienced what could be the worst heat wave in more than 20 years in what may prove to be the hottest July on record in that city.  Many other cities also reported record temperatures across the U.S. including Newark, New Jersey which saw an air temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 Celsius), the highest ever recorded in the city since records began there in 1931, and the hottest reported by the National Weather Service on the East Coast. At Dulles Airport near Washington, temperatures hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 Celsius), the highest since the facility opened in 1962. Two cities in Connecticut, Hartford and Bridgeport, also set all-time temperature records as the mercury hit 103 Fahrenheit (39 Celsius).

Triple-digit temperatures were also recorded in Long Island, Philadelphia, Allentown, Georgetown, Boston, Atlantic City, Manhattan and Baltimore. In Washington, the mercury climbed to 101 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). With humidity, it felt like 116 Fahrenheit (47 Celsius).

As reviewed in an ENN article titled, “Extreme Heat the New Norm,” a study published in the journal Climate Change in late July predicts increased global warming:

“According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years…Within the next 20 to 60 years, if greenhouse gas levels continue to rise, summer temperatures are likely to rise irreversibly around the globe, with the tropics feeling the heat first, and parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas suffering unprecedented summer heat within the next two decades.”

Although we should not draw conclusions about the climate from any single weather event, statistical analyses across large regions are a scientifically valid approach to understanding what is happening to our climate. When we look at the data we see that seventeen of the warmest years in recorded history have occurred over the last twenty years and the warmest years on record occurred in the most recent decade.

On its own, a single weather event does not constitute evidence of climate change, nor does a month of record breaking heat. However we have a growing pool of data that is making it increasingly clear that our climate is getting warmer.

——————–

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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January 24 2011

19:33

Environmental News Wrap: Colorado Uranium Rush; Climate Change Quickens: Expanding Solar Power, and more…


The latest environmental news headlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

I want to hear from you! Do you have any great sources for environmental news on the internet? If you do you please leave a comment and share. Thank You.

November 15 2010

19:12

Environmental News Wrap: Fossil vs. Renewable-The True Cost of Energy, and more…


The latest environmental headlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • The cheaper fossil fuels are for consumers the more slowly we will move towards renewable energy. The New York Times takes the perspective that renewable energy is too expensive in this piece about the renewable energy market.
  • The Economist reports on the would be effects if the world reduced subsidies for fossil fuels.
  • The Christian Science Monitor provides a special report on “New Energy.” My only criticism is that they do not mention the solar lease which is now popular and makes solar affordable for many homeowners (full disclosure: I work for a solar company).

19:12

Environmental News Wrap: Fossil vs. Renewable-The True Cost of Energy, and more…


The latest environmental headlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • The cheaper fossil fuels are for consumers the more slowly we will move towards renewable energy. The New York Times takes the perspective that renewable energy is too expensive in this piece about the renewable energy market.
  • The Economist reports on the would be effects if the world reduced subsidies for fossil fuels.
  • The Christian Science Monitor provides a special report on “New Energy.” My only criticism is that they do not mention the solar lease which is now popular and makes solar affordable for many homeowners (full disclosure: I work for a solar company).

August 12 2010

09:57

Enviro News Wrap: New Rules on Mercury, Nuclear Energy Renaissance, Environmentalism Can't Address Climate Change, and more…


The latest environmental news headlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency will soon enforce new rules on the industrial use of mercury. This will greatly reduce the amount of mercury being spewed into our environment. This is an environmental and public health victory, but some are unhappy with the negative financial impact it will have on the cement and coal industry.
  • Portugal has transformed its energy infrastructure by investing in hydro, solar and wind power. Residential power in Portugal is more expensive than in the US because of this heavy focus on green energy. But, paying the costs of energy production upfront is a less environmental destructive way to operate an economy.
  • When vast fields of GMO crops are created they infiltrate the environment. Monsanto Canola is flourishing in the wild and near agricultural lands in some US states. GMO Canola will affect the environment just as any invasive species does by pushing out native species and changing local ecological cycles.
  • The Guardian provides a short article about how some people are housing themselves with alternatives to our normal wood frame and brick houses.
  • The Christian Science Monitor reports that this US hurricane season may be among the most extreme in recent history. Some argue that global climate change is causing more severe and frequent hurricanes, and some disagree. No matter how the argument plays out, we still have to respond to real and occurring events, like an increase in the severity of hurricane seasons around the world.
  • The nuclear industry in the US is jumping on the environmental inertia against coal and gas power generation. Before deciding that you are against nuclear energy, please research the facts about modern nuclear energy, it has come a long way since the 1970s.
  • A Grist contributor explores the claim that the movement known as “‘environmentalism’ can never address climate change.” He makes the argument that revamping our energy and resource infrastructure in the US is too large of an undertaking for environmental do-gooders. Only a full movement of the entire US public could bring about an adequate response to the challenges created by climate change.
  • Another advancement in solar energy allows a solar module to create energy from heat as well as light, greatly increasing the efficiency of a solar module. Technology Review reports.
  • A new process decreases the financial and time cost of testing certain newly developed batteries for longevity and performance. This is greatly needed for renewable energy as batteries are an essential component of some green energy industries like solar and electric cars. Technology Review reports.
  • The New York Times reports on making butter into fuel. Many possibilities are available to us besides conventional fuels.

July 26 2010

14:20

Weekly Environmental News Wrap: July 20-27: Oceans and Arctic Ice Melt, Deforestation, Obama's Environmental Record, and more…


GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Canada’s CBC news covers the melting of the arctic ice cap. Some scientists originally thought that the melting of the ice cap would create vast areas of water that would absorb CO2, slowing atmospheric global warming. Now, some scientists think that the new open water will only absorb CO2 in surface level water. This would be good for the ocean as it will acidify less, but bad for the atmosphere as it will heat more. The solution? Stop emitting so much CO2.
  • The Brazilian government has made efforts to better monitor its forested lands to slow deforestation. The government claims its efforts have decreased deforestation, yet the global recession could be reducing demand for cattle and lumber which would reduce deforestation as well.
  • Shale natural gas extraction could bring a lot of money to some eastern states, but politicians are looking at these opportunities with more scrutiny now. While, upfront, the government and industry could make a lot of money, the project could cost society greatly through the massive use and contamination of fresh water, the overuse of roads, air pollution and surges in local demand for goods that quickly drop away after the bulk of the natural gas deposit is gone in five years. The Christian Science Monitor reports.
  • Harpers magazine provides a short article explaining that dirty energy lobbyists have the highest rate of turnover from being employed by the federal government; 75%.
  • India unveils a $35 computer. Out of necessity a country is bringing technology to the world’s poor. Without a globally educated and connected poor population, our world will never overcome the challenges of creating a society harmonious with nature.
  • Some environmentalists are not happy with Obama’s environmental record thus far. Neither am I.
    But, do you really think anyone can do better in a political climate dominated by dirty corporations? Obama is doing great, if only politicians that are elected off of oil money would get voted out of office by us, the people.
  • Obama releases a new plan to protect US oceans that would create a structure for collaborative resource management. This would force local resource decisions to be based off of negotiations between many local stakeholders and would force that process to be science and fact based. This process is what many environmental academics have been fighting for in the last two decades.
  • A Californian company has found a way to make carbon capture (grabbing CO2 out of the air) cheaper than current technologies. Current technology increases the cost of operating a coal plant by 80%, while this new technology would only increase the cost by 35%. This is good because now more carbon capture will happen. But, the new technology makes the dirty energy industry cheaper for the consumer which will prolong public support for coal, natural gas and petroleum. Making the use of these energy sources cleaner does not erase the damage done from extraction and refining.
  • Technology Review covers another advance in the designing of solar panels.

June 28 2010

14:17

Environmental News Wrap: June 22-27


GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

Environmental News Pick of the Week:

May 24 2010

17:11

Environmental News Wrap: Week of May 17-23


GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • The Obama Administration recently threatened BP that if they did not invoke confidence that they have the Gulf of Mexico situation controlled soon the government will step in to clean up and stop the oil spill.
  • Obama raised the small vehicle fuel efficiency standards and now is looking to regulate the large trucks that drive our goods all over the country every day. This is a much needed, and long awaited, correction to our short-sighted market.
  • A new environmental bill in the US Congress would regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It is gaining political clout because it could be an alternative to regulation from the EPA, which has been mandated by the Supreme Court to do so.
  • The Christian Science Monitor explains the Pros and Cons of some climate-engineering ideas.
  • Obama’s stimulus bill has had some time to take affect now. Technology Review provides some analysis of what it has done so far for Clean Energy.
  • Biodiversity is decreasing and the Guardian highlights a recent economic analysis of its monetary effects.

Technology Review has several articles on its website right now about the advancement of solar technology:

  1. Thin Films are being developed as a better way to store energy than traditional batteries.
  2. The CEO of an Italian energy firm is funding development for solar energy so his company can one day make a switch over from hydrocarbons.
  3. A new material is being developed for solar panels to replace Silicon. Silicon is expensive, limited in reserves and has low efficiency when compared to upcoming technologies.
  4. Caltech offers advancement in solar technology.

December 16 2009

14:44

Emails: The "decline" comes out of hiding

For people who really want to understand the details of the emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the Christian Science Monitor has an excellent analysis of the tree ring "divergence" phenomenon that gave rise to the now-infamous line: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” <!--break-->

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