Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
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.
This summer, James West and I hopped in our mud-caked rental sedan and followed the oil tankers out of Williston, ND. On my notepad was a scribbled address, a spot deep in the North Dakota prairie, just off the shores of serpentine Lake Sakakawea, twenty miles from the nearest town. As we drove oil rigs cropped up in every direction, each indistinguishable from the last. But somewhere out there was the one we were after: the one with my name on it.
In the most recent issue of Mother Jones, we reported on the explosive growth happening in North Dakota as a result of fracking. The drilling technique has unlocked massive deposits of oil from the Bakken Shale, which translate directly to massive deposits of cash for everyone from truck drivers to rig operators to local strippers to the Big Oil kingpins of Houston and Oklahoma City. And in the interest of full journalistic disclosure, I think it's about time I came clean: A few of those dirty fracked dollars are in my family's greasy little pocket.
A couple weeks ago, my grandma, a wise and exacting matriarch with a bone-dry wit, cashed in her latest fat paycheck from ConocoPhillips. She claims to have "already forgotten" how she spent the money, a cool $27.82.
"Your mother said, 'You're supposed to split it with us'," Cynthia Marty, "Nana" to my siblings and me, says with a wry chuckle. "She can go to hell."
That's right: In the last several years, as fracking has grown into one of the most divisive environmental issues of our time, my family has profited from it to the tune of nearly $200. It goes back to a fateful day in 2008, shortly after George, Nana's husband, "Papa" to me, passed away. Sorting through papers in his gargantuan old rolltop desk, Nana, 82, came across a yellowed, official-looking document with the imprimatur of the State of North Dakota. It dated from the early 1930s, and conferred mineral rights—that is, a claim on anything sucked up from under the ground, but not the surface itself—to a plot of land identified only by an obscure numbered code.
"I didn't know what to file it under," Nana says. "In fact, I was tempted to throw it away."
A few phone calls to distant relatives and estate lawyers later, Nana found that the rights were originally purchased by her uncle Stewart Kelley, who lived in Omaha at the time but had grown up in the early twentieth century in Lakota, North Dakota, across the state from the plot he eventually staked. A succession of deaths and wills led the document to Papa, and now it was in Nana's hands.
Since Hurricane Sandy, the historic Belle Harbor Yacht Club in the Rockaways—one of New York City's hardest-hit neighborhoods—has become an indispensable hub for supplies, volunteers, and a much-needed round of drinks. Three weeks after the storm, the oft-maligned Long Island Power Authority still hasn't re-connected this building, not to mention its neighbors, back to the grid, leaving locals to face the prospect of a cold, dark Thanksgiving.
But outside, the sun is shining, and a trio of local solar power companies have seen an opportunity to bridge the gap left open by the electric utility. The yacht club, among several area buildings, is now plugged into a portable solar power generator, which frees volunteers from the endless gas lines that plague those dependent on traditional generators and leaves them ready to dish out hot plates of turkey and stuffing to the beleaguered community.