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News & Views Curation

June 30, 2008

It's Better In Chicago

Chicago ranks as the the #1 sustainable design city in the nation. Wake up NYC

It's Better In Chicago

Chicago ranks as the the #1 sustainable design city in the nation. Wake up NYC

Rivals Clash On Energy

Presidential candidates Obama and McCain differ on how to break the nation's addition to oil while combating climate change. Read on

Atomic Futures?

Nations at the Tokyo G-8 meeting call for new nuclear power as a tool to combat climate change and decrease reliance on fossil fuels. Look into it

A More Perfect Union

When Congress gets down to business on climate change, the experience of twenty-seven states could lead the way. Look ahead

June 27, 2008

Urban Developments

With California and Texas cities at the opposite ends of the sustainability spectrum, northeast cities like Boston fall midway, with more differences between the center city and the suburbs. What are the policy implications? ABC's here

Green v. Green

The installation of solar power plants on federal land is halted pending environmental reviews. Freeze

June 26, 2008

Can't Wait

2008 will be a landmark year in American politics, but not for federal climate legislation. The springtime follies in the Senate will mean we must wait until next year, or perhaps longer, for any comprehensive national law. Until then, cities will remain the leaders and the laboratories in fighting climate change.

So, where do we stand today? Along with the deeply divisive conflicts within the political establishment and among industries and interest groups over national climate legislation, self-described "libertarian paternalist" behavioral economists like Thaler and Sunstein (the latter also a self-described "informal occasional advisor" to Barack Obama)i maintain that inertia, overconfidence and loss aversion, make change, whether personal or political, hard to do. From this vantage point, ambitious action on climate change, or indeed almost any action at all in Washington, could remain beyond our immediate grasp, regardless of who wins the Presidential race. In light of such prospects, Thaler and Sunstein recommend policies that can "nudge" us in the right direction.ii At the same moment, climate scientists are sounding the alarm about how fast the world is warming and the oceans are rising. They tell us that we cannot wait — and that's where thoughtful and thought — through climate policy action at an urban level could be the nudge we need now.

Out of this ferment progress will emerge - and some errors too - while we learn how to cut our carbon footprint, to measure our successes and calculate the costs. By acting methodically and starting now, cities, scholars and professionals could amass real time, real world numbers on both the cost of energy and the cost of using less of it. In turn, this information could be deployed as a front line tool in the national climate policy arena. In this precise way, urban initiatives could silence the paralyzing mantra of climate protection versus economic growth and the savage attacks of politicians like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe who protest that climate legislation is a "tax on the poor", and the biggest government burden since FDR's New Deal.iii

Today, plaNYC 2030 is more than one year old and several of its key climate components are taking their first steps.iv The Mayor has pledged to shrink the city government carbon footprint 30% by the year 2017 and the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability is looking into how to get there; it's more than changing light bulbs. Consider the Energy Efficiency Program, a product of plaNYC development. The City estimates that by improving the energy efficiency of its own buildings its CO2 emissions could be cut by 50-60%. In December 2007, the administration announced several short terms actions and promised to issue a long-term plan by the end of June 2008. It has pledged to conduct base-line energy audits of ten municipal buildings as a pilot for a larger audit program. Audit findings could be invaluable both for the efforts of municipal government as well as the advancement of LEED standards for existing buildings and other high performance building projects outside the LEED protocol. That's the kind of potential impact Mayor Bloomberg calls "leading by example". In September 2008, expect an update on the City's 2007 carbon footprint report. And not to be overlooked, if the City issues an in-depth annual report this fall about Local Law 86, its two-year old green building statute, we'd have an opportunity to learn from the laws on the books.

Don't expect all the findings to be upbeat either in terms of performance or cost. There remains much to be learned about high-performance building design, construction and operations. A 2008 New Buildings Institute report found a disturbingly wide range of energy performance for new LEED-rated projects around the US. While on average, LEED buildings are 25-30% more energy efficient than non-LEED construction, of the 121 buildings in the study, 30% performed better than expected, 25% performed worse than expected, and a few had serious energy consumption problems.

What to make of this? As the Sallan Snapshot "Sustainability In Commercial Buildings-Bridging The Gap From Design To Operations" argued,

As more actual energy performance data on high-performing buildings becomes available, clearer and more realistic expectations will help to establish confidence within the building design and construction industry about costs and savings. Especially because energy cost savings are often cited as offsetting additional first costs of green buildings, it is important to narrow the gap between the predicted energy benefits and actual measured, savings. Accurate reporting of the actual performance of green buildings is important will help the industry to calibrate its expectations and move towards more consistent results and confidence in projections. Sharing operating results and lessons learned earlier rather than later can avoid repeating potential mistakes as the green buildings movement proceeds.

plaNYC 2030, of course, is more than a directive to our building stock. Trees have been planted, schoolyards are open for play after 3 pm and congestion pricing has gone down to defeat. But these developments cannot predict the degree to which the Plan will succeed because, as Tom Angotti writes, "The real test is whether the ambitious goals of creating a greener and healthier New York will be achieved. That just defies quick fixes and short-term solutions. Essential to Angotti's long-term vision is ramping up grass roots citizen involvement in the elaboration and execution of plaNYC 2030. He urges the City's fifty-nine community boards to host meetings to capture and focus citizen attention and bottom up ideas. At a recent Sallan-sponsored panel on how to shrink New York's carbon footprint, an audience member from Manhattan's Community Board 7 proposed that City government organize a climate competition, with the winning community board achieving the best cuts to its carbon footprint. What a clever idea for capturing bottom up ideas! In addition, as others have argued, plaNYC 2030 and the City's overall economic growth would benefit from adding focus and resources on education and job training for all the work that's entailed in making New York a sustainable city.

plaNYC 2030 is a work in progress and we should expect obstacles, disagreements and some stumbles as it matures. That’s standard operating procedure, not an occasion for despair. Shortly, we will post a Sallan Foundation-sponsored research report by the CUNY Building Performance Lab, Decoding the Code. It will tackle this question: how can the 2007 City Building Code help meet plaNYC 2030 carbon/energy reduction goals.


i John Cassidy, "Economics: Which Way for Obama?", New York Review of Books, June 12 2008
ii Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008
iii James Inhofe, "We Don't Need a Climate Tax on the Poor", Wall Street Journal June 3, 2008
ivFor a full summary of its first year's efforts, see plaNYC Progress Report 2008

Needed: A Newer, Faster Industrial Revolution

The world needs a fast-acting 21st Century Industrial Revolution to slash GHG emissions and ensure economic growth. Not impossible

Solar Power Economics

By 2020, a McKinsey study predicts that the price of solar power in several big markets will be close to the price of electricity from fossil fuels. Still, solar power will be just 3-6% of total generation capacity. See more

Down To Business

California's Air Resources Board issues a 'scoping plan' for meeting the state's legal goal to cut GHG emissions 25% by 2020. The agency sees its plan an economic stimulus. The heat's on

June 25, 2008

Beyond Neon

In Beijing, a solar-powered, building-tall LED screen displays videos at night. Peek in

Seeking Carbon Confidence

Climate change expert Lord Nicholas Stern opens the first credit agency to rank market-worthy carbon credits. Green works

Magic Thinking

The White House refused to open EPA's e-mails calling for controls on GHG emissions in the wake of a 2007 Supreme Court decision. Shazaam!

What To Do With Carbon Revenues

The Congressional Budget Office offers options for using projected revenues from the sale of carbon emissions permits, with an emphasis on household tax incentives to keep affordable housing affordable. Read up

June 24, 2008

German Power Politics

Although energy-intensive German industries oppose Chancellor Merkel's plan for selling carbon emissions allowances instead of giving them away, she could prevail. Hang tough

Catch The Updraft

Here's a vision of a Solar City Air Filtre that would be a carbon negative power generator. See?

Green Bragging Rights

German engineering giant Siemens claims its green revenues are greater than those of its rival, General Electric. But what counts as a green product? Look into it

The Greens Get Competitive

Green consumer products are hitting price parity with conventional goods. Sometimes they're the bargain. WSJ

Coding Faster

Architecture 2030 devise an 'interim' energy efficiency guidance for use until local building codes can catch up. Get guided

NY Plugs Into Energy Efficiency

Aiming to cut New York's energy consumption 15% by 2015, the Public Service Commissions rolls out its Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. On here

June 23, 2008

You (Can't) Send Me

The lack of transmission lines stifles access to green power. Connect

Mass Movement

Americans are demanding mass transit, but the supply side is coming up short. WSJ

J'Accuse

Leading climate scientist James Hansen urges that oil executives stand trial for their knowing role in global warming. Judge that

June 21, 2008

Clean Cars

Mobile car washes than use just a quarter of a gallon of water-instead of 90 gallons-will open in NYC this summer. Read on

Don't Ask, Won't Tell

The White House refuses to give Congress documents about its rejection of California's effort to improve auto efficiency standards. Always no

June 20, 2008

Bangladesh Is Drowning

20 million Bangladeshis are at grave risk from climate change-related storms, surges and rising oceans. SOS

Consumers Willing To Pay More

A survey of US electric utility customers found that 62% were willing to pay more to combat climate change. Utilities surveyed too. Find out more

Extreme Weather-It's Here

Scientists find that trends toward extreme weather conditions due to climate change change are already here. Ready?

Waterworld

Scientists find that since 1961 sea levels have risen 2 inches, 50% greater than estimated. Wade in [6.4MB]

June 19, 2008

Too Darn Hot!

Get immersed in the science of measuring oceanic temperatures. Plunge

Germany Sets Higher Climate Bar

Under a new German law, truck tolls will be linked to pollution and home energy efficiency standards will be boosted. It's a must

China: Gas Goes Up

China is raising prices on gasoline and diesel fuel by almost 18%. Next?

UK Power Industries

A Greenpeace study reports that waste heat from existing UK industrial plants could generate as much electricity as 10 nuclear power plants. Connect

Rising Fast(er)

Scientists find that since 1961 sea levels have risen 2 inches, 50% greater than estimated. Wade in and Further in[6.4MB]

June 18, 2008

Exceedingly Green

The World Conservation Union building in Geneva will expand the high performance envelope into new territory. Step up

Climate Off G8 Agenda

Host-country Japan scrubs post-Kyoto targets from the G8 meeting agenda because of US refusal to consider GHG emissions reduction goals. Gee

NIMBY

Macro-scale climate modeling tools aren't designed to predict the weather in your backyard. Expand your mind

June 17, 2008

Changing Global Energy Prices

If the US joins the EU/ETS, the price impact on carbon, oil, gas, electricity and more will be big, very big. To market? To market!

June 16, 2008

China Warms To US Climate

A top Chinese official favors develop of joint tax and trade policies with the US to foster research and development on energy efficient technologies. Details later

Oil Prices Up, Airline Industry Down

Sky high oil prices are shrinking airline ridership and deferring new plane orders. Get grounded

EJ Group Calls For Carbon Tax

The Climate Justice Leadership slams climate cap and trade schemes; endorses an equitable carbon tax. Tax advocate Komanoff comments.

The Times Opines

The New York Times weighs in with an editorial urging the Senate to extend about-to-expire tax breaks for alternate power producers. Stay tuned

Mothers Of Invention

Small businesses are finding ways to cut their energy use while glass makers reuse their heat.

June 13, 2008

Making Climate Policy In A Federal System

With one federal government and 50 states, forging climate change policies isn't simple. Pew reviews

Energy Elder Nixes Nukes

New nuclear power plant proposals are sharply criticized by former TVA Chair, David Freeman. Here's why

Green Cities Gear Up

Urban climate change pros link up city planning and development, human health and the environment. Energy efficient building retrofits and more are on the way. Go now

Warming At Walden Pond

With 155 years of observations at Walden Pond, signs of climate change are detected. WSJ

June 12, 2008

The New Green Eyeshade

Traditional economic accounts like GDP don't account for the environment. How can these metrics be greened? Mother Nature counts

PV $ For SF?

A solar installation subsidy of $3,000-$6,000 for homeowners and $10,000 for businesses awaits the Mayor's ok. That's bright

GAO Climate Policy Survey

A GAO survey finds that experts agree on the urgent need for a price on carbon emissions, but differ on how to set it. Dig in

Wedge Writer Weighs In

We wanted to stop the political stalling on climate change and the proposals for blue sky technology grants. Stephen Pacala

June 11, 2008

Congress Cuts Tax Cut

Congress won't to extend a clean energy tax credit program. Why?

RGGI Come Lately?

A NY official concedes that the State may miss the September deadline for its first CO2 auction and have to wait until December to collect an estimated $144 million in revenues for energy efficiency programs. Stay tuned

Just Map It

California offers an on-line map of its green, high performance buildings. Find out more

Cap It!

Denis Hayes takes a dim view of the Warner-Lieberman cap & trade scheme. Urges producer level caps, not emitter level caps on GHG emissions. Use permit revenues for smart infrastructure and tax equity. And more

Nearing The Electron Ceiling

During the first heat wave of 2008 New Yorkers consumed a record 12,987 megawatts of electricity. By law, 80% of peak power demand must be suppled by capacity available in-City. Do the math

Atlas Of Africa Changes

Using before and after photos, the UN's Environment Programme maps the impact of climate and other changes throughout Africa. Get oriented

June 10, 2008

Experimental Coal Plant Coming To NY

New York's Governor Paterson announces $6.4 million for an experimental "clean coal"-fired power plant in upstate New York. Reactions mixed

Dethroning Old King Coal

The World Resources Institute foresees huge challenges to creating a national carbon capture and storage system. The pre-condition for success is putting a price on carbon emissions. Look into it [1.2MB]

Euro Handshake on Auto Emissions

France and Germany agree on new auto emissions goals as part of the EU 20x20 plan. Stay tuned

PlaNYC 2030: Year One

PlaNYC 2030's green goals will defy 'quick fixes and short term solutions' argues city planner Tom Angotti. Read on

June 09, 2008

Japan Looks To 2050

Japanese PM Fukuda pledges to cut GHG emissions 80% by 2050, but fails to set interim targets. Leap forward

Rethinking Inertia

An auto industry insider thinks high gas prices will both jump start profitable new technologies and a saner US foreign policy. Start here

French Nukes For UK?

Areva, the French nuclear reactor maker, targets the UK market. Go on

June 06, 2008

What's Your Size?

The Brookings Institute finds metropolitan America 'poised' for climate leadership and sizes the carbon footprint of America's 100 biggest cities. Get metric

Thinkng About Walking

Even Dallas Texas is feeling gas pains. Local government considers new zoning rules for walkable neighborhoods. Keep going

Invest Now Or Pay Later

The International Energy Agency finds billions needed for global investment in green technology to slash GHG emissions. Details here. And here

SUV Sales Down, Minis Up

The UK and Europe are seeing SUV sales drop while the purchase of the smallest mini cars in the UK is up as much as 147%. That's trendy

Wade In The Water

River Pool opens this month in Beacon, NY, now that much of the Hudson River is clean enough for bathing. Dip in

June 05, 2008

Looking Beyond Kyoto

Consider these ideas for structuring the next global climate agreement. Fine print

Money & Politics

A university study of the EU-ETS finds that politics sways carbon market investment decisions, but additionality standards have improved. Oh

Climbing The Times

A spiderman with a climate message scales the walls of the New York Times building. Adhere here

You Bet

Will the authors of a scientific paper on 'decadal' temperature fluctuations accept a €2500 bet about their predictions? Stay tuned

Oklahoma Greenin'

Could the environmental vote in Oklahoma unseat Senator Inhofe, arch-climate skeptic? True blue

Together At Last!

A European-based green consumer campaign, Together, launches in NYC. Easier does it

June 04, 2008

Spanish Utility Proposes NY Wind Power

Navigating State approval to buy two power plants, Ibedrola, S.A. wants to build hundreds of wind turbines in New York. Hola!

Great Expectations

China's wind power capacity is beating expectations while domestic turbine technology grows too. Whoosh!

No Can Do

As usual, US climate negotiators will tell the world that it cannot meet GHG reduction goals. No!

Protecting NYC's Liquid Assets

Find out if NYC's ambitious watershed protection program is succeeding. Watch the video

Going Their Way

States have been leading the way on climate action so federal action won't be a shot in the dark Watch the film! Use the links! Get energized

June 02, 2008

Squelching Science

Charges by Jim Hansen and others of sustained political interference in NASA's climate science work are corroborated by the agency's Inspector General. Take that!

Too Cheap To Meter No More

The capital cost of constructing new nuclear power plants may be the best reason not to build them. Compute that

Free Transit

Looking ahead to the '09 Mayoral race, a reminder about the proposal for free mass transit. Hop on

Keeping Up With Dingell

While the media focuses on Senate climate hearings, John Dingell's the man to watch in the House. Here's the latest. Click

Solar: Storm Clouds With Silver Lining?

A drop in prices for solar power could either spell trouble or become an opportunity for market growth. Look into it

June 01, 2008

Thermodynamics 101

Converting fuel into energy involves significant heat and distribution losses. With climate concerns and high fuel prices, the value of greater efficiency climbs. Start here