Tim McDonnell joined the Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine, where he nurtured his interest in environmental journalism. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
Less than 12 hours after a gunman took the lives of 20 schoolchildren in the tiny, picturesque community of Newtown, Connecticut, locals gathered outside a Methodist Church for a healing vigil. Nearly all were in shock, hardly able to articulate their bewilderment. But many were in agreement on one point: Lax gun laws were partly to blame.
There's no clear view of the burnt wreckage of Breezy Point, Queens, from Judith Rodin's 21st-floor corner office in midtown Manhattan. But she's got locals there on her mind, and wants to make sure their experience teaches the city a lesson: "We don't want to waste that pain," she says.
As president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Rodin is among the corps of urban policy sculptors carving out the shape of the climate-adapted cities of the future. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo handed down her latest assignment: to ensure the nation's biggest city is ready for the next Sandy.
Rodin is co-chair of NYS 2100, a commission Cuomo built after hearing what he described as a "wake-up call" issued by the storm. Its task is to translate the governor's demand for heightened protection from future extreme weather into actionable infrastructure improvements that can start to roll out before the next storm clouds start to roll in, a climate-conscious overhaul of everything from subways and airports to electric transformers and sea walls that the state estimates will ultimately cost $9.1 billion.
Today Barbara Buchner, a market analyst for Climate Policy Initiative, arrived at the UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, not to offer solutions, but to figure out how we're going to pay the tab. In her hand is a new report from CPI adding up just how much money the world is spending on climate change mitigation and adaptation. The good news, she says, is that global climate investment is greater than ever before. The bad news: It still might not be nearly enough.
"The gap really is still large," she says.
Buchner's measuring stick is a report released this summer by the International Energy Agency showing that to stay within the internationally agreed-upon two degree celcius warming limit set in past iterations of the UN's climate talks, humanity will need to spend an additional $1 trillion a year between now and 2050 (on top of what current policies already stipulate) on climate-related investments like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate-proofed infrastructure. Today's CPI report pegs current global climate investment at $364 billion, for 2010-11:
In the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, Utah college student Tim DeChristopher was angry about the ravaging of public lands by drilling companies, so he monkey-wrenched a federal oil lease auction, bidding $1.8 million for drilling rights with no intention of paying. Facing 10 years in federal prison (and ultimately receiving 2), DeChristopher became an overnight cause célèbre. In Bidder 70, a husband-and-wife documentary team delves into DeChristopher's personal history and taps a roster of activists, scientists, lawyers, and politicians to explore how civil disobedience plays into the modern environmental movement.
A bit of good news for fans of renewable energy: Driven by a steady decline in the cost of manufacturing solar panels, the cost of going solar in your home or business is the lowest its ever been, according to a new analysis of project data by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Total installation prices fell 11-14 percent from 2010 to 2011, depending on size, continuing the downward trend of the last decade, which analysts predict will carry forward into 2012:
Courtesy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The study looked at some 150,000 systems installed since 1998 in search of concrete proof to bolster the "quite a bit of anecdotal evidence along the way that prices were falling," said author Galen Barbose. Tech advances and exploding demand have pushed down the cost of the solar modules themselves, the main factor in the overall drop. But Barbose cautioned that that drop could level out if prices for the ancillary aspects of installing solar stay high relative to the cost of the physical panels. That includes permit fees, installation labor, power inverters, and marketing and overhead costs for installation companies.
"There are limits to how much further module prices can drop," he said, and pointed to Germany as an example of a place where hardware costs are comparable to the US, but easier and cheaper permitting practices cut the overall cost for household installations nearly in half. "'Soft' costs could come down significantly in the US, but to really make an impact on a national scale there will need to be efforts on the federal level to spur changes that aren't happening locally."
In other words, solar is in the same boat as wind: Big-time growth will be a pipe dream until the feds can chart a detailed course for renewables.