Despite the relentless series of heat waves that has scorched much of the US this month, for many people, sultry summers are a thing of the past: If you can't stand the heat, just trot over to the thermostat and crank the central air. But as journalist Stan Cox reports in Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air Conditioned World (And Finding New Ways To Get Through the Summer), our heat intolerance comes at a price: Air conditioning currently accounts for almost a fifth of total electricity use in the US, and it creates considerable greenhouse gas emissions—ironically, in making our homes and offices cooler, we're also making the weather warmer. Cox, who recently imagined what Washington, DC., might be like sans air conditioning in an article he wrote for the Washington Post, believes A/C takes a toll on our social lives, too, and he blames it for the decline of the grand southern tradition of evening porch-sitting. "There's an estrangement from neighbors and nature as people move their lives indoors," he says. So what's a sweltering A/C addict to do? Here are some of Cox's top tips for going easy on the air:

Tip #1: Switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Not only will you save on your electricity bill, you'll keep your house cooler. Cox writes that CFLs produce "30 percent as much heat for a given amount of illumination" as their incandescent counterparts.

Tip #2: Make sure your appliances vent outdoors. If your dryer, dishwasher, stove, and other heat-producing appliances expel hot air inside your home instead of funneling it outdoors, your A/C will have to work harder to get rid of that extra heat. If you really want to save, Cox recommends ditching your dryer completely. "Most clothes dryers expel much of their heat to the outdoors," he writes, "but no indoor heat at all is generated when solar clothes line 'technology' is employed."

Tip #3: Downsize your central air. Some people buy giant central A/C systems, thinking they'll do the job quicker and more efficiently than smaller versions. That's not necessarily true, says Cox, so you should make sure your system is the right size for the space you want to cool. Your best bet, though, is to buy a system "that can behave as if it's large or small, depending on cooling demand." Smart systems like these have been shown to use 25 percent less energy than traditional central air.

Tip #4: Plant a rooftop garden. As I reported in a previous Econundrum, research has shown that in cities, white roofs can deflect the sun's rays and lessen the "urban heat-island effect." But "if you have just an individual house with a white roof in an area with a lot of heat absorbing stuff around it, a white roof is not going to be that effective," Cox told me. If you live in an area where drought isn't a problem, Cox believes green roofs are a better bet, since they "have greater cooling potential in the summer, and unlike white roofs, in the winter they don’t reflect heat back."

Tip #5: Practice being hot. "There is plenty of evidence that exposure to heat increases your physical heat tolerance," says Cox. "When people spend time under warmer conditions, they become more tolerant. If they are in an A/C bubble all summer they are not as tolerant, mentally or physically." A recent study of officeworkers in Thailand compared one group of workers in air-conditioned offices to another group who worked without A/C. The ones who were used to A/C were comfortable only in offices between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. "The ones who worked without A/C, it got up to 89 degrees and they said it was fine," says Cox.

The race is on to develop sustainable solutions to climate change. From clean coal technology in Tianjin to the construction of Masdar City—a self-contained metropolis in the United Arab Emirates designed to be carbon neutral—countries around the world are devising new ways to reduce global dependency on fossil fuels. But as places like China and the U.A.E. move ahead with large scale green initiatives, is the U.S. lagging behind?

Need to Know’s Alison Stewart runs that question by Professor Bill Chameides, Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Professor Chameides writes about environmental issues and options for a more sustainable future on his blog, The Green Grok.

This podcast was produced by Need to Know for the Climate Desk collaboration.

Water Supply Sustainability by 2050 With Climate Change


A new report from Natural Resources Defense Council predicts that a third of all counties in the Lower 48 will face a higher risk of water shortages in 2050 due to climate change. More than ten percent of counties will face an "extremely high" risk of shortages. "The only way to truly manage the risks exposed in this report is for Congress to pass meaningful legislation that cuts global warming pollution," NRDC climate director Dan Lashof said in a press release. Good luck with that.

For a more detailed look at how global warming will parch the American West, check out these Mother Jones stories.

H/T San Antonio Current.


As Jon noted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has officially announced that there will be no climate bill this year. But Jon's post doesn't fully convey the extent of the capitulation. What's happened is total and complete surrender. There's no silver lining in this cloud.

Not only will the bill not contain any restrictions on greenhouse gases—not even a watered-down utility-only cap—it won't even contain the two other key policies that would have moved clean energy forward: the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and the energy efficiency standards.

Basically, Reid canvassed his caucus and figured out what they could pay for (without a carbon price for funding) and what already had 60 votes. This is it:

  • Some response to the Gulf oil spill, in the form of tighter restrictions on offshore drilling.
  • Some pork for natural gas vehicles. (T-Boone gets his money.)
  • Home Star.
  • Some money for land and water conservation. (Baucus demanded $5 billion for this, leaving other, much more worthy clean energy programs begging.)

Home Star is good, but as an energy bill? This is f*cking pathetic. It's little better than what the Republican Congress produced under George Bush.

The Senate on Thursday officially gave up on trying to pass a climate bill in the foreseeable future—so what's plan B? Leadership from states and federal agencies.

A mishmash of state plans and existing laws doesn't sound like much. Climate experts have long preferred a national, economy-wide approach to cutting carbon pollution. But existing and announced state plans would do more good than you might assume.

Ten northeastern states already run a functional cap-and-trade system, and 11 Western states and Canadian provinces are planning to start their own, the Western Climate Initiative, in 2012. And the Environmental Protection Agency continues its own march toward regulating climate pollution—which the Supreme Court directed it to do.

Today in climate news:

The New York Times editorial page calls out Obama for the Senate's climate failure.

John Kerry (D-Mass.) tells Bloomberg that the Senate might take up climate in a lame-duck session, however.

And in oil disaster news:

Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician on the Deepwater Horizon, told a federal panel this morning that the alarm system on the rig that should have warned workers prior to the explosion had been disabled, the Times-Picayune reports.

A report on conditions aboard the rig conducted a month before the explosions found that Transocean employees had entered fake data in order to circumvent safety systems, CNN reports. The report also found that employees were afraid to report possible safety concerns to superiors.

Two BP managers on the Deepwater Horizon have been listed as potential targets in the Department of Justice investigation.

The Interior Department Inspector General is looking into allegations that the agency may have altered the report used to justify the offshore drilling moratorium.

Tropical storm Bonnie has forced BP to suspend drilling operations on the relief wells in the Gulf.

The spill may cost $22.7 billion in lost tourism income alone.

BP posted the originals of those photos it admitted to doctoring.

About 630 gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline in Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge run by Chevron.

Not much environmental news from our other blogs this week, but here's what you missed.

Lucky Puppy: You'd think a bill supporting better conditions for puppies would be a no-brainer, right?

Punching Holes: Bloggers put holes into an "Obamacare" op-ed by WaPo's Robert Samuelson.

Desert Sons: AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio makes a new "tent city" for prisoners in the desert.

Gulf Wrestling: Drunken, cash-rich BP workers are causing chaos in small Gulf towns.

Corporate Perks: The secret BP hotline people in power call for free tickets.


Just got confirmation from several Senate offices about what is actually going to be in the package Democrats put forward next week. In a nutshell, this is going to be a very tiny package, with little in the way of energy measures. I'm not even sure you can call it an energy package at this point.

Here's what we know is going to be in the package:

1. Oil spill response measures, including elimination of the liability cap for damages and granting the power of subpoena to the presidential oil spill commission.

2. Reforms to the Department of Interior division charged with overseeing oil and gas development, likely similar to the package Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has proposed.

3. $5 billion to spur the development of a natural gas truck fleet.

4. $5 billion to fund the HomeStar program, which will encourage construction of energy-efficient homes.

5. $5 billion for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

And that's it. Obviously, there's no carbon cap, that much we already knew. But there's also no other major energy efficiency standards, and, perhaps most importantly, no renewable electricity standard –not even the weak one included in the energy bill last year.

A Senate Democratic aide tells me that leadership backed off including a cap, which they thought would become the focus of Republican opposition in the absence of the much-demonized carbon cap.

Senate aides hoping to put a positive spin on the package note that it at least does not include any of the really bad measures that progressive senators were worried about, including major incentives for coal and nuclear power and the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases. It is also a package that Democrats are expected to support uniformly.

But, one aid added, "I don't think anyone around here is thrilled."

Read More: Josh Harkinson on Obama's role in the demise of the climate bill.

Update: Kate Sheppard reports on what actually made it into the  Senate's energy package.

The Senate's climate bill is officially dead. And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon. Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm, and Tim Dickinson place a fair share of the blame on Obama. From Dickinson's widely-quoted Rolling Stone piece yesterday:

Handled correctly, the BP spill should have been to climate legislation what September 11th was to the Patriot Act, or the financial collapse was to the bank bailout. Disasters drive sweeping legislation, and precedent was on the side of a great leap forward in environmental progress. In 1969, an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California – of only 100,000 barrels, less than the two-day output of the BP gusher – prompted Richard Nixon to create the EPA and sign the Clean Air Act. But the Obama administration let the opportunity slip away.

Early on, Obama failed to challenge blowhards such as Senator Jim Inhofe who distorted the science of global warming. Revkin points out that the president has not invited researchers and climate analysts to the White House (as even Bush did). And after BP's well blew out, Obama's infamously milquetoast address from the Oval Office never connected the disaster with the need for a cap on carbon. All of this wasn't for a lack of pressure from his allies. Nine high-profile environmental groups wrote a letter to the president pleading that "nothing less than your direct personal involvement" will break the logjam in the Senate. Al Gore ultimately said what Obama wouldn't:

Placing a limit on global-warming pollution and accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies is the only truly effective long-term solution to this crisis. Now it is time for the Senate to act. In the midst of the greatest environmental disaster in our history, there is no excuse to do otherwise.

Of course, there's always an excuse in Washington. Voting for a climate bill might hurt the reelection prospects of swing-state Democrats. The Senate, exhausted in the wake of its tough votes heath care and financial reform, might have never overcome a filibuster. And, to be fair, Obama has already done more for the climate than any president before him. But no matter: The confluence of a huge Democratic congressional majority and a huge ecological catastrophe wrought by the fossil fuel industry could have presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rewrite the rules of climate politics. With a little bit of leadership. Unfortunately, a little bit of leadership on the climate is more than we've got right now.

Update: What's in the package, plus Josh Harkinson on Obama's role in the demise of the climate bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has officially ruled out the possibility that a carbon cap, even a scaled back version, might make it into the energy package that he plans to bring to the floor next week.

"It's easy to count to 60," Reid told reporters Thursday. "I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade. My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don't have the votes."

It's not like we didn't see this coming; it's been clear for quite some time now that there wasn't an appetite for the measure, even among Democrats. But there remained some hope that a less-ambitious carbon reduction plan could make it in the package, which is also expected to include a renewable energy standard, oil-use reduction measure, and new regulations on the oil industry. But Reid's comments are the final death blow for climate legislation, at least for this Congress.

In remarks following the announcement, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the biggest champion of this issue in the Senate, tried to put a hopeful spin on the situation, pledging to try to push a carbon cap at a later date. While the bill Democrats will bring to the floor next week is an "admittedly narrow, limited bill," Kerry said his work on climate will continue.

"Even this morning, Senator Lieberman and I had a meeting with one Republican who has indicated a willingness to begin working towards something," Kerry said. "Harry Reid, today, is committed to giving us that opportunity, that open door over the next weeks, days, months, whatever it takes to find those 60 votes. The work will continue every single day."

I'll have more on what actually made it into Reid's package soon.

Update on contents of the package here