Cap and Trade’s New Champion May Wear Red #green #energy #election


When Jennifer Hicks, @SB_GreenBiz, editor ofSmartBrief on Sustainability, asked me to submit a brief comment on the election regarding environmental issues for their 17,000 subscribers, I said I would be honored.

Here’s my brief plus the background analysis.

Cap and trade’s new champion may wear red  : While environmentalists have few victories to tout in the election, one major hurdle was crossed. Instead of making every vote a party split, as happened on the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act, cap and trade and other energy measures can be addressed as issues, not political scores. While Democratic votes are nearly assured, Republicans can now lead the way. The success of cap and trade in curbing acid rain, reducing regulations and allowing the free market to work opens the door. If also tied to job creation, climate change may finally have a champion, clothed in red.


What happened, really?

The election sent thirty House Democrats who passed cap and trade (ACES) home on Tuesday, so some claimed these environmental soldiers were doomed by their vote.

However, exit polls showed a different story. Voters overwhelmingly stated that their primary concern was the economy (52%). Energy concerned only 4%. (the deficit was second at 8%). All issues with the exception of the economy held absolutely no sway for the vast majority of the voters.

Plus half the Democrats that voted against ACES were also ousted. This was not a vote against – or for – the Cap and Trade Crew. So long as Dems pushed and GOP said “Hell No,” energy legislation was dead and completely discounted by American voters due to the oppression of economic misery.

This election was clearly about the economy and jobs. Period.


Lost facts and a confused America

Tell me, has any Congress in history registered so many significant wins and conveyed them more poorly to Americans? Erroneous messages have gone viral. If people only hear conflicting narratives with no clear answers, no compelling vision, then they will be confused.

Clearly explaining complicated issues is essential to successful governance in the 21st century. Never in human history have there been better tools for creating or conveying messages. Washington needs drastic new ways to make difficult topics – like climate change and cap and trade – clear enough that we can agree or disagree with them.


A route to victory

If President Clinton’s or President Reagan’s experiences of working with the opposite party are any indicator, we could begin an era of smart legislation and a renewed cycle of prosperity. After woeful beginnings, each of these presidents worked with the other party towards important legislation. And they got re-elected.

Since Reagan’s staff invented cap-and-trade to deal with acid rain from power plant emissions, there is a Republican basis to use this tool. Rather than the huge costs the utility companies predicted, they spend $3 billion a year and save $122 billion! That is enormous financial success in anyone’s book. It worked so well, the Europeans adopted it for their carbon emissions. We are not explaining a new idea; this history is filled with positive facts to tell the story.

Furthermore, while thirty ACES Democrats were ousted this week, far more remained. So did all eight ACES Republicans. If President Obama works with the new Republican House leadership on significant carbon emissions legislation and past ACES supporters and new Democrats sign on, we have the basis for a successful bill.

That’s why I say with a mix of optimism (the GOP is mandated to govern) and realism (the Democrats, esp President Obama, must collaborate, persuade, and stand on real change on GHG’s): Cap and trade’s new champions may wear red.

Thanks SmartBrief on Sustainability

Thank you, Jennifer and SmartBrief for inviting me to comment.

What did you think about Tuesdays elections in terms of environmental issues – energy, rail, smart growth, waste, water, air – green building and green cities? I’d love to hear! 



 We did not come here to fear the future; we came here to shape it. BARACK OBAMA 2009

Images: Obama on CNN; Boehner on ABC News; masthead on UK Guardian; power plant on Smithsonian, carbon emissions from fossil fuels by end-use sector 2002 by Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

What Is Geo-Engineering? Cool, Clear Images

These images complement my last article: How Technology Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Geo-Engineering, which was a bit skimpy on pics, heavy on narrative.  Here are four more illustrations. One diagrams options, two rank them in cost-benefit analyses, and one does both.

The one that both diagrams and analyzes: New Scientist gave the most comprehensive version with a 3D image of options with rankings. Space mirrors (or reflectors, shields) rank highest overall and most expensive. Aerosols, cloud seeding and afforesting are shown as good options for less cost.




A diagram only: The University of East Anglia (on Next Big Future) created a simple illustration of solutions.


A cost-benefit analysis comes from the impressive report by The Royal Society. Aerosols come out best and surface albedo (light, reflective surfaces) either in cities or on the desert rank worst. Space reflectors or shields also rank high in efficacy but are not affordable. (I featured this one in a September post Heres the full report: 




Another ranking of the solutions: As presented at an October symposium at MIT (on CNET), Phillip Boyd of University of Otago rated five categories of climate engineering based on four factors. The researcher considered all options a minefield of social and political factors. The symposium participants voiced a great deal of skepticism and caution, with far more testing and life cycle costs analysis recommended before any action is taken. To which I say, amen!




Geo-engineering is no panacea for climate change; sustainable development and practices plus mitigation efforts are essential, necessary steps now. The conversation and testing on geo-engineered remediation picked up pace this year. We need to be informed and proceed cautiously b/c errors could be devastating. Public debates and global negotiations are beginning, and should be openly transparent. See my original analysis for more detail.

Check out my delicious bookmarks on geo-engineering too.

How Technology Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Geoengineering


In October, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issue that will shape 21st c cities.×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. I addressed megacities, water, robotics, and whole cities in the first four. This article considers a significant new technology: geoengineering.

Science Fiction or Global Mandate?
While climate change and global warming remain controversial, arguments about solutions elevate tensions exponentially. One option under consideration, geoengineering or intentional climate manipulation, makes scientists and engineers sound like science fiction fanatics. Simulated volcanoes? Ocean algae? Flying mirrors? Consequently, people arrive at the negotiating table in polar-opposite camps, lines in the sand, as either evangelists or naysayers.

Yet undeniably, we have been practicing geoengineering unintentionally at least since the birth of industrialization. Now we are faced with engineering the planet’s climate intentionally and cooperatively. As Stewart Brand, environmental pioneer, says: We are as gods; we might as well get good at it. Moreover, we have to get good at it.

We, Not Us Versus Them
Among the most vexing issues is coordination among nations. On geoengineering, we act for the whole planet and everyone is a participant. Already people and nations commonly practice local weather experiments. Last year, China openly seeded clouds to reduce the chance that the Olympics would be interrupted by rain.

None have attempted to implement climate change on a global scale, yet the commotion surrounding options grows daily, which makes action increasingly likely. This week, the US Congress held hearings and undoubtedly similar talks are taking place in every country. In just a few months, geoengineering has moved from a sci-fi fantasy to a necessary global conversation.

Where Does Geoengineering Fit?
Geoengineering necessarily begins with a slate of options surrounding climate change to figure out if we can avoid it all together. Possible solutions focus on three types of intervention, according to Jamais Cascio. We can prevent, mitigate damage, and remediate or reverse global warming.

  1. Prevention in terms of cities and buildings is part of the goal of sustainable, or green, solutions. Reduce use of fossil fuels that emit carbon by switching to alternative energies and by conservation. Conservation involves energy efficient buildings defined by USGBC’s LEED program and the UK’s BREEAM assessment.  Changing the built environment occurs one building and one district at a time and will take decades. More immediately, changing behavior could happen immediately, yet in fact, social change also takes years, if not generations. Consequently, prevention is just a portion of the wedge solutions and other options are needed.
  2. Mitigation refers to reducing catastrophic threats, such as protecting coastlines, (see 21st Century Cities: Water, modifying agricultural practices, and conserving water to decrease resource conflicts. These solutions do nothing to prevent progressively worse problems of an increasingly warm atmosphere.
  3. Remediation attacks climate change head-on by slowing or reversing global warming. Geoengineering is at the heart of remediation and also considered in the menu of wedge options. The effects to temperatures can occur within a year although transforming the planet’s ecology may take decades or longer. Therein lies one of the risks; we won’t know the results in real time.

Prevention is the rallying cry for most environmentalists, me included. Building owners, government agencies, the public and AEC professionals increasingly mandate sustainable development. Regardless of remediation, prevention is an entry point for long-term stability, good design, and healthy lifestyles.

Are We Ready?
Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Indonesian tsunami indicate that most if not all countries have enormous mitigation problems. The massive costs of preemptive change are dwarfed by the images of these destructive events and the loss of life. Yet investing in huge infrastructure projects for future possibilities falls far behind the needs of today’s crises. The question is: how many people and cities are we willing to sacrifice? Close to home most would say, none at all.

Consequently, while geoengineered remediation initially strikes many people as “you have got to be kidding me” and then as, “no way we can control the side-effects,” the fact is that we – or someone – will attempt massive geo-engineering climate change. We need to be experts for protection and most likely for proaction. That essentially is the debate. And it’s a debate that is past due.

Geoengineering Options
The types of geoengineering approaches fall into two categories, according to The Royal Society.

  1. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or long-wave approaches pull CO2 out of atmosphere to slow global warming by capturing and burying or by allowing it to escape the atmosphere. Includes reforestation, bio-char production and storage, air capture or carbon capture at source and carbon disposal, and ocean fertilization e.g. plankton or algae blooms.
  2. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or short-wave increases surface reflectivity (albedo) or blocks sunlight. Options include space shields e.g. giant orbiting mirrors, stratospheric sulfate aerosols, cloud seeding, and cloud brightening with seawater.

Stratospheric aerosols (such as simulated volcanoes or aerosols released from airplanes) are the best investment although it requires continual implementation while urban surface albedo (light colored cities, deserts) is the least effective. In general, CDR/long wave is considerably less effective at quickly altering temperatures than SRM, although has better efficacy over time. (Lenton & Vaughn 2009)

What Will It Mean to Us?
In terms of the built environment, lighter, more reflective surfaces are part of sustainable design, both LEED and BREEAM. Over time, cities should become lighter and greener with less solid, dark surfaces. Some geoengineering solutions may be built into the fabric of the city and highly visible, such as one proposal to create reflective artificial trees along roadways. If that option became as prolific as say power lines, our urban landscapes would be substantially altered.

Environmental changes would also affect us. Dimming sunlight could have massive implications for our experience of place and the effect on plant life. Aerosols will lighten the sky, change sunrises and sunsets, and could damage the ozone layer. Changing deserts or fertilizing oceans could be a difficult if not disastrous ecological option. Reforestation reduces farm land, which affects food production and livelihoods. Yet these options warrant full consideration including open debates about possible consequences.

In addition, unintended consequences could include increased humidity, drought, and possible health implications of various aerosols. All of these risks are potential, not pre-determined.

I considered the ethics of geoengineering and outlined ideas in these posts:  We need to continue with prevention and mitigation full-speed while we fully weigh geo-engineering.

How Do We Choose?
The difficulties of agreeing on the best options, determining risks, and measuring the impact, especially given the 20-30 year time lag for climate change, makes geoengineering thorny. Moreover, the mandate of “do no harm” and allowing reversibility increases our struggle 1000-fold. Implications must be considered in systematic terms, the potential consequences are enormous, and frankly, we still won’t be completely certain.

According to Lenton and Vaughn, our choices depend on how quickly and drastically we act.

By 2050, only stratospheric aerosol injections or sunshades in space have the potential to cool the climate back toward its pre-industrial state, but some land carbon cycle geoengineering options are of comparable magnitude to mitigation “wedges”. Strong mitigation, i.e. large reductions in CO2 emissions, combined with global-scale air capture and storage, deforestation, and bio-char production, i.e. enhanced CO2 sinks, might be able to bring CO2 back to its pre-industrial level by 2100, thus removing the need for other geo-engineering.

A future of a healthy atmosphere will only occur through a combination of changes to behavior, building and city choices, mitigating possible damage, recovery after catastrophes, and, yes, large-scale global engineering solutions – intentional, beneficial, accidental, and sadly, even malicious.

Looking Ahead
In fact, it is possible that only a few of these geo-engineering options will be necessary. Furthermore, the entire budget may be less than $10 billion, a relatively small global investment. The questions are: which options, who pays, who is liable for failures, and the extraordinarily sticky issue of who controls the projects. Furthermore, the risk of geoengineered terrorism is quite likely.

In other words, geoengineering will be part of everyday life and responsibility will fall on every country and individual, just as other security and environmental issues do today. New fields will emerge in geo-engineering, science, business, military, geo-ethics, and if there is to be solutions at all, in global diplomatic security and negotiations.

In the next article, I’ll look at more technological influences on 21st century cities. The goal here is 10 additional city-shaping ideas, and this is the fifth in the series. Thanks for reading and retweeting. Questions, comments, and ideas welcome!



Geoengineering options cost-benefits


The Royal Society created an amazing cost/benefit map of possible geo-engineering solutions to reverse climate change that summarizes an impressive new report. It’s one of the clearest, most succinct diagrams on this topic. Stratospheric aerosols (such as simulated volcanoes) are their winners; in general, isolated, directed solutions are favored over choices that are integrated into existing behaviors or technologies.

For instance regarding surface albedo (reflective surfaces), the Royal Society assumes entirely new costs for recoating every 10 years, rather than recognizing ongoing expenditures for building materials and maintenance. Consequently, lightening urban surfaces is shown to be the most unaffordable option, when in fact, it could be one of the cheapest options. Furthermore, they say it’s rapidly effective once implemented. Well that’s a winner! We can begin on that work today (it’s already part of LEED).

While clearly the Royal Society’s report work is important, it no doubt contains various assumptions. We need to review the options broadly and in terms of ethics, risks, consequences, effectiveness, and our potential to implement solutions.

  1. Get input by both publics and experts from multiple fields, an interdisciplinary approach.
  2. Look inside the assumptions to see what preferences are built in – every field has blind spots – and broaden and build on these solutions.
  3. Consider what we can improve in the built environment now.
  4. Take a systems approach to considering change beyond a narrow set of parameters.
  5. Acknowledge the potential of many people working together - particularly thru mechanisms like green building codes - as well as large-scale top-down solutions.
  6. Openly debate and analyze the ethical and long-term implications of each option.
  7. Ask broad environmental and ethical questions: What sort of earth are we making? How can we let the planet do some of the heavy lifting? What are the minimal interventions that achieve the most favorable results? Who or what is being favored?

To clean up the mess we made unintentionally, I think it’s going to take both/and, not either/or solutions. Geo-engineering is happening now; it’s time to ramp up the debate.

What are the Ethics of Geoengineering Planet Earth?

To reverse climate change, scientist say that we havegone too far to simply change ourbehavior,beyondthe ability to simplyprevent ormitigate further damage. We have torepairproblems that have already occurred and which will emerge in the coming decadesvia a climate lag of 20-30 years.Proposed solutions mimic naturalphenomena such as algae, clouds, and volcanoes. 


Climate change sets us up for some nasty ethical decisions because we must literally operate on ourselves, there are no precedents, and we only have one body – Earth.


Jamais Cascio,Hacking the Earth, defines geoethics as:


The set of guidelines pertaining to humanbehaviors that can affect larger planetary geophysical systems, including atmospheric, oceanic, geological, and plant/animal ecosystems. . . .[and] require a consideration of repercussions and so-called“second-oder effects(that is, the usually-unintended consequences arising from the interaction of the changed system and other connected systems.



The BBC News reported today that the UK Royal Societybelieves such remedies are technically feasible and could be effective.