Thursday, September 27, 2007

Attention Nordhaus and Shellenberger: Time to Call A Cease-Fire!

In 2004, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger released their provocative and much-discussed essay, "The Death of Environmentalism," in which they criticized the environmental movements lack of progress towards global warming solutions and argued that a fundamental shift in philosophy, messaging and tactics was necessary to capture the American public's interest and build a successful movement for climate solutions.

Now, the two "bad boys of environmentalism" are back with a new book, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility and they're making waves again with their provocative and arguably inflammatory style.

In my opinion, "The Death of Environmentalism" presented a crucially important and valid critique of the environmental movement's (failing) tactics and messaging, although it tended to present this critique with an essentialist view of environmentalism as a failed and impossible to change ideology.

While I believe that environmentalism is neither dead, nor incapable of evolution (in fact, I'd argue it has evolved considerably since N&S's essay made it's debut), I strongly agree with Nordhaus and Shellenberger that the movement must reexamine it's tactics, strategy, and messaging as it attempts to build a broad, powerful and successful movement to rise to the greatest challenge and seize the greatest opportunity facing us today: the climate crisis.

I've yet to read Nordhaus and Shellenberger's new book, but I've been following the sometimes quite turbulent wake it's made across the blogosphere this past week with much interest. For example, both the Sierra Club's Carl Pope and Step it UP's Bill McKibben reviewed Break Through for GristMill and Nordhaus and Shellenberger responded today with a "rebuttal" piece.

The funny thing is, despite all the "debate" that Break Through has kicked up, I'm struggling to see what all the arguments are about!

Nordhaus and Shellenberger speak of "the environmental community's regulation-only agenda" and critique the regulatory "tool-of-choice," a cap-and-trade system, flat out asserting that "it won't work." They present their essay at GristMill as a rebuttal to environmentalist, the next chapter in some ongoing debate.

On the other side, Bill McKibben describes Nordhaus and Shellenberger as displaying "antipathy" towards cap-and-trade regulations and touting "an investment-centric agenda" as the solution to the climate crisis.

The funny thing is, beneath the aggressive and down-write adversarial tone of Nordhaus and Shellenberger and the understandably defensive tone of folks like McKibben and Pope, there's not much the two supposedly warring sides disagree on!

So here's a question for Nordhaus and Shellenberger: who are you arguing with?!

Nordhaus and Shellenberger and their Breakthrough Institute cohorts keep taking a stridently adversarial tone towards the very people who should be their allies - environmentalists and clean energy/global warming activists (who may or may not consider themselves the same people).

Largely due to this combative manner, I would argue that Nordhaus and Shellenberger have manufactured an argument that doesn't truly exist, a supposed conflict between regulation-centric and investment-centric camps, with "ideologically dead environmentalists" on one side and "courageous new thinkers" like Nordhaus and Shellenberger on the other.

And where is this supposed argument getting us?!

In their essay on GristMill, Nordhaus and Shellenberger get defensive when McKibben characterizes the pair as being opposed to carbon regulation, writing:
"Our proposal, to state it once again, is that Congress pass legislation that either auctions permits or taxes carbon enough to a) establish a price for carbon sufficient to result in inexpensive emissions reductions, b) generate at least $30 billion a year for clean energy investments, and c) creating market conditions for the widespread adoption of these new technologies."
So when you boil it down, the two authors merely consider regulation an incomplete piece of the full puzzle, and the funny thing is, I don't think Nordhaus and Shellenberger will get any argument from those they are supposedly trying to argue with (the "establishment" environmentalists, clean energy advocates, and global warming activists); they'll certainly get no argument from this environmentalist!

And I would argue that it's understandable that folks like McKibben consider Nordhaus and Shellenberger "anti-regulation" when you have to wade past "five reasons why setting a price on carbon dioxide, either through a cap and trade approach or an outright tax, cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere close to what is needed" to get to their more nuanced position: that pricing carbon can't work on it's own.

On the other side, Nordhaus and Shellenberger write about "the environmental community's regulation-only agenda," but where does such an agenda really exist?

Which environmental groups are really putting all their eggs in the regulation basket? Which enviro groups wouldn't support massive investments in a clean energy future?

The reality is, they'd be hard to find.

McKibben himself writes, "The need for new technology is obviously urgent ... The question is how best to mobilize that investment."

Pope writes, "Shellenberger and Nordhaus argue that greatness requires progressives to embrace such investment strategies. I agree."

In fact, the Sierra Club's "Smart Energy Solutions" website prominently displays this message:
"Now is the time for a bold shift to a safer, cleaner energy future built on clean power and energy-saving technology. The Sierra Club believes that we can save our planet while preserving our way of life, that instead of falling into despair, we should look to this challenge as an opportunity."
So here's a few more questions for Nordhaus and Shellenberger:

  • Why do you think there's been so much focus from environmental groups on ensuring the emissions allowances under a cap and trade proposal are auctioned instead of given away for free?
  • Why do you think most enviro groups have been opposed to the mediocre-to-just-plain-crappy proposals of Lieberman and Warner and Bingaman?
  • Why do you think enviro groups have been championing the best aspects of the House and Senate energy packages as a first start towards shifting our public investment from dirty to clean energy sources?

  • What Nordhaus and Shellenberger seem to miss is that environmentalists and global warming activists aren't fighting them on this!

    Status-quo-loving industry interests are. "Government-is-the-problem" conservatives are.

    Yet the two authors present their arguments in such an aggressive manner that they make it out as if they were in some kind of controversial fight with enviros. The problem is, they're not!

    The bigger problem is that, while it might be a great way to get attention for their book and ideas, it's a terrible way to build alliances with the kind of folks who Nordhaus and Shellenberger's "new progressive, solutions-oriented movement" should be building alliances with, the kind of folks who are in actuality already on their side!

    Nordhaus and Shellenberger are probably correct that we as a movement need to strategically emphasize the public investment part (and it's benefits) over the regulation part (we do!). This is a very valid strategic critique and one that I'm grateful the pair have elevated to the fore of discussions.

    But what we should be seizing on is not a supposed schism in the movement, but the fact that we all seem to be in agreement that neither regulation nor investment will work on its own, and the two - cap-and-auction and public investment - are mutually supportive and necessary components of a true solution to the climate crisis.

    Playing one off against the other seems like a really counter-productive way to advance climate solutions, as does hyping up supposed rifts within the movement that don't really exist in the way Nordhaus and Shellenberger seem to want to call attention to.

    For example, I doubt you'd find too many environmentalists who'd argue with the following, nor would Nordhaus and Shellenberger seem to be opposed to any of this basic point:

    Putting a price on carbon is necessary to send the correct market signals and to spur private sector innovation. But this innovation can and must be accelerated by public-sector research and investment, as it should be. We've got to make the transition to a carbon neutral, prosperous America as quickly as possible, and that requires public as well as private investment in our common future. Auctioning emissions allowances or taxing emissions can not only send the right market signals to the private sector, but can also raise the necessary billions in funding for massive public investment to drive down the cost of clean energy technologies, a down-payment on a carbon-neutral, prosperous America.

    It breaks down like this, in my opinion:

    1) We need to put a price on carbon emissions to harness the innovation and power of markets to find solutions to the climate crisis and ensure we reduce global warming pollution to a safe level.

    2) The atmosphere is a common good, owned by all Americans, not just polluters. We should therefore force polluters to pay for the privilege to emit global warming pollution, raising billions of dollars in the process.

    3) Putting a price on carbon is necessary as is forcing polluters to pay for their mess, but doing so will raise energy prices. The good news is, it will also raise a lot of money that can be pumped into making sure average Americans end up better off than before. We can do this in two ways:

    a) we can pump much of that money into accelerating the transformation of our energy economy to a sustainable, low-carbon system. We can provide incentives to lower the costs of clean energy technologies, provide R&D and fund public-private partnerships to accelerate the deployment of the next generation of clean energy technologies and support the innovation fueled by the carbon regulation itself, all the while building a new energy economy and millions of "green collar" jobs.

    b) we can use some of the money to reform our tax structure so that it is more progressive and leaves more money in the pockets of average Americans. These reforms will more than offset the increases (if any) in your energy bill (remember that increased efficiency can offset the effects of increased energy prices too) so in the end, the average American will be better off under a cap-and-auction system than her or she was before.

    That's the recipe for a carbon-neutral, prosperous America in my mind, and it doesn't seem like I'd get much argument from environmentalists or from Nordhaus and Shellenberger on that point.

    This is the platform that we should all be rallying behind, rather than fighting over which is better, regulation or investment. The answer is that neither will solve the climate crisis without the other - and we all seem to be in agreement there too!

    So in closing, where's all the controversy, folks?

    Maybe it's time to call a cease-fire!

    Leading Demand Response Provider ConsumerPowerline raises $17M

    NEW YORK, September 27, 2007 -- ConsumerPowerline, a leading strategic energy asset management firm whose marketplace innovations have produced millions in energy savings for its large industrial, commercial and residential customers, announced the completion of its $17 million Series A Preferred Financing. The round was led by Expansion Capital Partners, LLC, a leading Clean Technology venture capital firm, with co-investors Bessemer Venture Partners, as well as Schneider Electric Ventures, the New York City Investment Fund and Vantania Holdings, advised by Consensus Business Group.
    Diana Propper, partner at Expansion Capital Partners, and Justin Label, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, will join ConsumerPowerline’s board of directors. The placement was facilitated by America’s Growth Capital.
    ConsumerPowerline will use the funds to aggressively expand Demand Response, smart metering technologies, permanent energy efficiency solutions and other products and services designed to pay end-users for the efficiencies that they offer to the national, regional and local energy markets.
    The company continues its record as a pioneer in the creation of the demand response industry. ConsumerPowerline created the first “aligned incentive” model, in which the firm shares in the incremental savings or revenues it generates for clients.
    Demand Response is a kind of electricity “insurance policy” in which large energy users help prevent widespread blackouts, brownouts and voltage reductions by using less power when the local and regional electric grid is under stress and a power outage looms. Energy companies can buy “negative watts” (negawatts), at the same rate as electricity for those peak hours--avoiding the far higher cost of outages, building new power plants or running dirty, uneconomic peaking plants.
    Using a web-based technology platform and an integrated national approach, ConsumerPowerline has become a trusted energy management partner, helping owners and operators of large commercial, residential, institutional and industrial facilities that have significant energy demands, gain greater control over energy expenditures and generate new sources of revenue.
    ConsumerPowerline’s President Mike Gordon said, “The significant investment provided by Expansion Capital Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners, along with our other value-add investors, will allow ConsumerPowerline to grow our team, enhance our products and services and expand our national presence. With this venture funding, ConsumerPowerline will be able to bring attractive and lucrative efficiency products and services to a much wider range of customers.”
    Diana Propper, partner of Expansion Capital Partners stated, “We are excited to be backing ConsumerPowerline’s team. Energy efficiency and demand management have large and expanding markets. The company is strongly positioned in these markets, delivering measurable energy savings to its customers. The US has pressing needs to upgrade the reliability of the power grid and to reduce greenhouse gases -- ConsumerPowerline delivers solutions to both.”
    Justin Label of Bessemer Venture Partners added, “ConsumerPowerline understands both complex energy markets and its customers’ specific needs. The company has a proven track record, providing income from demand response programs and energy efficiency solutions to its loyal customer base. We are very pleased to be teaming up with the company in its next phase of growth.”
    Gordon concluded, “Since our founding, ConsumerPowerline has been committed to building the best platform for our products and services. In the six years of our existence, we have paid our clients well in excess of $20 million, and have helped build an industry that has far and wide reaching positive implications for the greater economy. We have proven that Demand Response is a valuable, vital and growing component in the nation’s broader energy management portfolio. ConsumerPowerline is focused on bringing our services, our products and our commitment to help our clients generate real revenues as well as to help them become better energy stewards. As such, we could not have a better group of investors to partner with. This unique team will enable us to further realize the company’s full potential,” he said.
    ConsumerPowerline was selected for the Inc. 500 list for 2006 and 2007, Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Award, as well as the recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Emerging Business. ConsumerPowerline's client list features notable public and private firms including: CB Richard Ellis, Stanley Works, Sears, Hines Property Management, Forest City Ratner Corporation, Co-op City, Macklowe Properties, RFR Realty, NYU Medical Center, Newmark Properties, Douglas Elliman Property Management, Cooper Square Realty, Wentworth Management and dozens of other substantial end-users of energy.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    $100-a-Barrel Oil, Here We Come! Oil Prices Keep on Soaring

    New York oil future costs soared passed $82/barrel yesterday and Goldman Sachs analysts predict $95/barrel oil by the end of 2008


    LONDON, Sept 19: New York oil prices surged to a record high $82.51 per barrel on Wednesday following news that American crude reserves tumbled last week.

    New York’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in October, hit the historic peak after publication of the US Department of Energy (DoE) weekly report.

    In London, the price of Brent North Sea crude for November delivery jumped to $78.49 per barrel — which was not far off its all-time high of $78.64 that was struck in August 2006.

    The DoE said on Wednesday that US crude inventories plunged by 3.8 million barrels to 318.8 million barrels in the week ending September 14.

    That marked the tenth successive weekly drop and was almost double analysts’ consensus forecasts for a fall of about 2.0 million barrels.

    Prices were “led by the US crude inventories,” said AG Edwards analyst Eric Wittenauer.

    American gasoline or petrol stockpiles rose by 400,000 barrels last week, the DoE added, confounding market expectations for a drop of 1.0 million.

    Distillates, which include diesel and heating fuel, advanced by 1.5 million barrels, which tallied with forecasts for a 1.23-million-barrel gain.

    In later deals, New York crude pulled back to stand at $81.51, unchanged from the close on Tuesday. London Brent meanwhile stood 12 cents higher at $77.71 per barrel.

    In recent days, oil prices in New York have streaked to record highs on concerns about tight global supplies and rising demand.

    Traders are fearful of a supply crunch in the fourth quarter of 2007 as heating fuel demand hits a peak during the cold northern hemisphere winter months.

    New York crude had surged past $82 per barrel on Tuesday after the US Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to boost the flagging United States economy — which is the biggest global market for crude oil.

    For some time, oil market traders have been concerned that an economic slowdown in the US would dampen crude demand and lead to lower prices.

    “Crude oil prices... rose in the wake of the Fed’s decision to cut rates by 50 basis points,” Australia’s Commonwealth Bank said in a market commentary.

    “The rate cut is seen as reducing the risk of a severe slowing of the US economy which may also have impacted on oil demand.”

    Analysts at US investment bank Goldman Sachs have said oil could soar as high as $90 a barrel between now and the end of the year and could reach $95 by the end of 2008.

    Industry analysts argue that a recent Opec decision to boost output by 500,000 barrels a day was insufficient and came too late to meet rising winter-related demand.

    Look Who's Writing Global Warming Legislation (Hint: It's Not Who You Might Want!)

    Hill Heat's the Cunctator takes a look at which 'congress critters' have been writing global warming legislation, and it's probably not who you'd want!

    When it comes to perhaps the most important legislation of the century - legislation to solve the climate crisis - who's holding the pen?

    You would hope it would be people like Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair, Senator Barbara Boxer, or House climate change champion Henry Waxman. Well, while the two have sponsored the best climate change proposals currently floating around Congress, it's unfortunately not the likes of Boxer and Waxman who are drafting the default global warming legislation that will likely be taken up by both the House and Senate this fall/winter.

    According to the Cunctator, it's actually the pro-coal, pro-Detroit, anti-environment type who's got the pen, and that spells trouble for all of us. From the Cunctator's DailyKos journal:
    In the House, jurisdiction over cap-and-trade legislation is under Energy and Commerce chairman John Dingell and Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee chair Rick Boucher.

    In the Senate, Harry Reid and EPW chair Barbara Boxer are letting Joe Lieberman and John Warner write the default global warming bill.

  • Dingell literally represents Detroit. His wife works for General Motors.
  • Boucher is a coal-district representative who supports coal-to-liquids and tried to make California's greenhouse gas emissions law illegal.
  • Lieberman used to be a Democrat.
  • Warner has a 14% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters.

    Unless they're stopped, these people will write polluter-protection legislation.


    Carbon cap-and-trade legislation cannot be progressive if the greenhouse gas emissions credits (the pollution credits) are given to polluters. That protects polluting industries with a subsidizing give-away of a common resource, the atmosphere's capacity for GHG pollution.

    If the credits are auctioned, however, polluters have to pay. Furthermore, this means that the taxpayers of the United States receive the fair market value of privatizing this resource (as long as the government properly allocates the auction revenues).
  • The "bipartisan" Lieberman-Warner climate change proposal currently plans to give away 76% of the emissions allowances under the cap for free. The proposal would amount to a giant wind-fall for polluters, violating the "polluter-pays" principle that's key to effective environmental legislation and essentially giving away a public good - the atmosphere - for free.

    Additionally, the emissions reduction targets in the Lieberman-Warner proposal are mediocre and are a slow start to cleaning up our act. Unlike Boxer and Waxman's proposals, the Lieberman-Warner proposal doesn't put us on a track to a carbon neutral and prosperous America, which should be our ultimate target.

    Lieberman recently indicated he's thinking about reducing the amount of allowances given away for free (and auctioning more of them), but at this point he's just thinking about it. And so far, the mediocre emissions reduction targets haven't budged.

    As Adam Siegel writes, with the likes of Dingell, Boucher, Lieberman and Warner in the drivers seat, "we -- that means you -- should be contacting your representatives to influence the process."
    Start with, if you wish, Congress.ORG, write your representative, send in a letter to the editor [and I would add, send a letter to Lieberman too].

    Action items for today's letter:

    1. Support Citizen, not special interest, Ownership of Pollution Credits -- it is our air that we are seeing polluting, make them pay us for dirtying our air. NO GIVEAWAYS OF POLLUTION CREDITS in Climate Change legislation.

    2. The 2050 target: a Climate Friendly Prosperous Society that will enhance human security for millenia to come. 70% by 2050 is, simply, slowing the onset of catastrophic climate change. 80% is an absolute minimum, 90% becomes reasonable, and Carbon Neutrality (actually carbon negative) should be our target. Let us reach high, for the sky, and protect ourselves and future generations.
    Other people to contact:

    Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee

    * Barbara Boxer (Chairman)
    * Max Baucus
    * Joseph I. Lieberman
    * Thomas R. Carper
    * Hillary Rodham Clinton
    * Frank R. Lautenberg
    * Benjamin L. Cardin
    * Bernard Sanders
    * Amy Klobuchar
    * Sheldon Whitehouse

    Environmental Lobbying Groups (most haven't taken a public position on auctions and targets or on specific proposals)

    * Environmental Defense
    * League of Conservation Voters
    * U.S. PIRG
    * Sierra Club
    * NRDC
    * Union of Concerned Scientists

    As Seigel writes,

    Act ...
    Now ...
    If not us, who?
    If not now, when?

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007 Launches – Offers Free Custom Data and Evaluations for At-Home Wind and Solar Energy Solutions

    ChooseRenewables™ today announced the launch of its Web site at, offering a one-stop destination that helps consumers understand their energy impact and take action to improve it. As global warming continues to generate headlines and energy prices escalate, consumers are increasingly seeking ways to reduce the impact of their energy use and save money. With ChooseRenewables’ free MyEnergy Analyst™ consumers receive a clear picture of their personal energy impact and can implement a simple plan to reduce it with a MyEnergy Makeover™. The one-of-a-kind MyWatts Renewables Estimator™ allows users to simply enter their address and receive a free evaluation of potential solar and wind options they may be eligible to install at their home or business.

    “Our mission is to not only educate consumers, but to empower them to take action by connecting them with realistic, easy-to-implement solutions that can dramatically reduce and diversify their energy use,” said Michael Ford, founder and president of ChooseRenewables. “We encourage our customers to focus on reducing their energy use by adopting energy efficient technologies and changing their own behavior – and then use a portion of the savings reaped by energy conservation to support a clean and independent energy future through on-site renewable energy generation and other means.”

    Personalized Energy Tools and Solutions

    ChooseRenewables offers three main measurement tools that together offer the most comprehensive way for consumers to reduce their energy impact. They include:

    ·The MyEnergy Analyst helps consumers calculate the impact of their annual energy use by pooling statistics and data from the U.S. Department of Energy to measure emissions of carbon, mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and total cost of energy. Once calculated, the MyEnergy Analyst breaks down the energy impact at home, while driving, and while flying and compares the consumer’s impact to that of the average individual with a similarly-sized home in their region.

    ·Users can then create and implement a MyEnergy Makeover to reduce their energy use through conservation, offsets or generation of renewable energy. ChooseRenewables encourages its customers to implement energy saving technology and behavior, and then use a portion of those dollar savings to fund their commitment to renewable energy.

    ·ChooseRenewables’ exclusive MyWatts Renewables Estimator allows users to enter their home or business address and instantly see their on-site wind and solar power potential. The tool provides an estimated payback period for a wind turbine or solar installation based on the magnitude of wind and solar incentives available to them, combined with the average wind speed, solar radiation, state and federal incentives and current electricity cost at that location. An algorithm then examines the viability of an on-site wind or solar power installation, and within seconds provides an intelligent display of the on-site solar and wind power potential coupled with a detailed Google Earth map of the physical location. The tool uses data published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to estimate the average wind speed and solar radiation.

    The U.S. market for small wind solutions is estimated to continue growing at a 14-25% annual rate[1], with solar solutions forecasted to grow 27-32% per year[2]. For consumers with a good site for wind or solar energy generation, ChooseRenewables offers a detailed analysis of their options based on local market data and site-specific wind speed data to arm them with the information they need to make a sound renewable energy investment.

    If consumers discover they have limited wind and solar options for their home, the ChooseRenewables Online Store also offers a variety of products and services to help homeowners conserve as much energy as possible, including an energy conservation kit that contains compact florescent light bulbs, insulation and gap fillers, low-flow shower heads and a programmable thermostat.

    ChooseRenewables also provides options to help consumers offset their conventional energy use through renewable energy credits (RECs). By purchasing RECs, consumers can displace other non-renewable sources from the electric grid.

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    European Energy Venture Fair - Zurich, Sept 17-18

    Emerald Technology Ventures has taken the initiative to organize the European Venture Fair 2007 in order to discuss relevant industry issues and to introduce investment opportunities for energy investors.

    10-15 expansion and early stage energy technology companies (visit again next week to review their profiles) will have the opportunity to present their business at the conference. A screening committee, composed of select partners of the EEVF 2007, will identify the most promising companies.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    Students Video Contest to Promote Environmental Projects

    Be the Change! Share the Story! challenges students in grades 1-12 across the United States and Canada to create and document their social and environmental projects on film. Besides helping to make a difference in the global community, winning schools will receive over $200,000 in cash and educational resources.

    Students will document their progress in two short videos, and then the videos will be voted on by the students themselves, with an entertaining puzzle game woven in to encourage them to learn more about each other’s projects.

    QuantumShift TV already proposes a video channel dedicated to alternative energy:

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    SolarCity Secures $21 Million

    SolarCity, California’s fastest growing solar systems implementation company, today announced it has closed its largest round of fundraising to date with $21 million in new investments. Leading the financing was Draper Fisher Jurvetson, with additional contributions from JP Morgan and Elon Musk, Chairman of SolarCity. The funding will support the company’s growing talent base and extend expansion into new markets.

    As a principal investor, Draper Fisher Jurvetson’s Managing Director, John Fisher, will also take a seat on the SolarCity’s board of directors.

    “SolarCity has distinguished itself as the premier solar systems company in California through market-leading pricing and performance,” said Mr. Fisher. “Their technical understanding and experienced team make them a valuable addition to our clean energy portfolio.”

    “SolarCity’s strength in building a market benefiting business and the environment makes them a worthy participant in our double bottom line investment pool,” said Nancy Pfund, managing partner of JP Morgan’s Bay Area Equity Fund.

    Elon Musk, Chairman of SolarCity and Tesla Motors, two of America’s leading clean tech companies, added that “SolarCity is well on its way to becoming the most trusted and efficient company in America for consumers and businesses that want to implement solar power. What most people don’t realize is that the solar panel itself is less than half the cost of implementing solar power. Therefore, balance-of-system companies like SolarCity are critical to making solar power cost competitive. ”

    “We are proud to have the support of such experienced and well-regarded investors,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. “This substantial round of financing positions us to offer our growing customer base with the highest quality systems at the best possible price. With our strong financial backing and highly skilled team, we can secure our industry leadership for years to come.”

    SolarCity will provide a growing list of metropolitan markets with its unique community-based solar programs, which have proven highly effective in building a market for renewable energy and increasing citywide solar adoptions. By encouraging entire neighborhoods to convert to solar, residents receive guaranteed low price. A recently concluded solar program in Mountain View, for example, increased total solar adoption by 3.3 times the amount compared to the number of systems installed in 2006-2007. SolarCity is also donating installations of 1 kW solar demonstration systems at local schools to further build community awareness and understanding of the potential of solar energy.

    A number of emerging solar services companies have raised venture capital financing earlier this year (Tiaoga Energy from DFJ, NGEN, RockPort Capital, Nth Power - just announced round extension to 14 m$ few days ago; SolarCentury from Zouk Ventures, Good Energies, Foursome Investments - in UK; SolaireDirect from Schneider Electric Ventures, Techfund, Demeter - in France).

    Expansion Capital closes Clean Technology Fund II on $100m

    Expansion Capital Partners has closed its Clean Technology Fund II on above $100m. The original target of the fund was $60m. The fund invests in North American expansion stage clean technology companies that create more economic value with less energy and materials, or less waste and toxicity, with current customer revenues of $2-30m.

    LED Lighting Fixtures Awarded Grand Prize in Worldwide Lighting Competition

    LED Lighting Fixtures, Inc. (LLF) today announced that it has won the Grand Prize for the 2007 Lighting for Tomorrow solid state lighting (SSL) competition. The contest is organized by the American Lighting Association, the U.S. Department of Energy (represented by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) and the Consortium of Energy Efficiency.

    Forty-five fixtures were evaluated by a panel of experts on the basis of energy efficiency, overall lighting quality, aesthetic appearance and innovation. LLF's LR6 product was judged to be the best. All finalists in the competition were tested by independent labs under the direction of the U.S. Department of Energy. LLF's six-inch downlight delivered 600 lumens of light operating at 11 watts, with a color rendering index (CRI) measured at 95.

    Dr. Steve DenBaars, Professor of Materials and Co-Director of the Solid State Lighting & Energy Center at University of California-Santa Barbara and a judge in the 2007 Lighting for Tomorrow competition said, "This competition places a high priority on energy efficiency, but not at the expense of fixture appearance or lighting quality. We were very impressed with the LR6 product as it offers the highest efficacy for any downlight product on the market and has the appearance of incandescent lamps typically used in residential downlights while using less than one-fifth the power consumption. This product platform has the potential to save US consumers billions of dollars in energy costs."

    Magnets Can Boost Production Of Ethanol For Fuel

    In a finding that could reduce the cost of ethanol fuel, researchers in Brazil report success in using low frequency magnetic waves to significantly boost the amount of ethanol produced through the fermentation of sugar.
    While bioethanol (ethanol produced from corn and other plants) is a promising alternative to fossil fuels, it currently is expensive and inefficient to make. An intensive research effort now is underway to improve production methods for this biofuel, which is expected to be the cornerstone of the renewable fuel industry.

    In a new study, Victor Perez and colleagues showed that yeast-based fermentation of sugar cane -- the main source of bioethanol in Brazil -- in the presence of extremely low frequency magnetic waves boosted ethanol production by 17 percent. The scientists also showed that ethanol production was faster, taking two hours less than standard fermentation methods.

    "The results presented in this report suggest that an extremely low frequency magnetic field induces alterations in ethanol production by S. cervisiae [yeast] and that the magnetic field treatment can be easily implemented at an industrial scale," the article states.

    Source: Science Daily

    Monday, September 10, 2007

    Five Questions for Al Franken

    Comedian, satirist, and former talk show host Al Franken is running for U.S. Senate in Minnesota on the DFL ticket (in MN, the Democratic Party is called the "DFL").

    Last month, Franken made an appearance at the Crow Wing County/Morrison County DFL summer picnic. I grew up in Morrison County, so I attended and was impressed with the (relatively) huge turnout. I met Al, but more importantly he took the time to answer some questions I sent him via email about renewable energy and Minnesota’s role in the clean tech revolution.

    Maria Energia:
    What specific renewable energy legislation do you want to see implemented at the federal level?

    Al Franken:
    On a macro level, I'd like to implement a national cap and trade for carbon dioxide. This would make the cleanest renewables cheaper than fossil fuels and reward sequestration of CO2 in the form of planting acreage.

    I'd like to see more federal investment in pilot projects for renewables.
    Representative Collin Peterson has put in several pilot projects for cellulosic ethanol that would be conducted here in Minnesota.

    When I have said I want an Apollo Program for renewable energy, I'm talking about making these kinds of investments in renewables, including things like tidal and wave power. The United States has to go back to investing in research and development. This means identifying promising technologies and investing in them.

    How would you open up Minnesota's markets for renewable energy

    I would refer you to my previous answer.

    What is Minnesota's biggest renewable energy advantage (i.e. what can we capitalize on in a clean energy revolution)?

    First of all, we grow a lot of corn, the number one feedstock for ethanol. We also grow a lot of soy, which is the number one feedstock for biodiesel. So, obviously, we have had years of experience making both, and our state universities have been doing a lot of the research.

    Wind is cleaner, and Minnesota is a very windy state. We’re ninth in the nation. We should really be exploiting that more. Also, I think we should reinvigorate our manufacturing base by building wind turbines in Minnesota. So many of the turbines - the mechanisms that turn the spinning blades into electricity - are made in Europe. Let's make them here.

    Cellulosic is only a few years away and we have prairie grasses, which are perennials and have very deep root systems, making them potentially a very sustainable feedstock.

    Right now gasified biomass is being used as fuel in ethanol plants. We got a lot of biomass in many forms; for example, forests, especially in the northeastern part of the state, where we don't have wind. As cellulosic technology develops, there is great potential in using our forests, managed in a sustainable way, to add to our arsenal of renewable energy sources.

    What is the role of business, government, and consumers in a clean energy future?

    The government has to find ways of encouraging businesses to make clean energy available and attractive to consumers. Government should take the lead in making green buildings, working in partnership with companies that develop green technologies, and by investing in energy-efficient transportation systems - light rail, commuter rail, etc.

    Obviously, tax incentives should encourage businesses to develop technologies and consumers to buy energy-efficient products. This is one of those things where everybody has to work together because it's in everybody's interest.

    What steps have you personally taken to fight global warming or make your life more energy efficient?

    Right now I’m traveling from Duluth to Minneapolis in a hybrid vehicle
    - my family Ford Escape. I bike to work, when I can. Biking, as Jim Oberstar might say, converts a hydrocarbon economy into a carbohydrate economy. Of course, we recycle.

    But the biggest thing I'm doing is running for the
    Senate, so that when I get to Washington, I can make sure that the things I wrote about in the first four answers can come to fruition.

    Crossposted at Maria Energia

    Thursday, September 06, 2007

    Bjorn Lomborg's "Cool It" Spouts More Hot Air

    Like his earlier work, The Skeptical Environmentalist, which prominent Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson called a "sordid mess" and was found to have cherry-picked the facts, Bjorn Lomborg's latest effort, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming is just more hot air.

    Lomborg's basic thesis, that "scare-monger" environmentalists have over-hyped the threat of climate change and that we shouldn't take any serious action to tackle the climate crisis because doing so would harm economic growth that poor people need requires a particularly slanted view of the world and rests on 'facts' selectively picked to support his arguments as he ignores a vast body of science.

    As economist Eban Goodstein's writes in his review of Cool It in Salon:
    "In "Cool It," Lomborg has three messages. First, the planet will warm up no more than 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit this century, and on balance, this will be bad, but not too bad. Second, all benefit-cost models show that serious limits on global warming emissions are too costly, and therefore we should pollute with virtual impunity. And -- surprisingly -- we should invest a decent amount ($25 billion per year) in clean energy technologies now so that, starting in a few decades, we will have tools to slow down global warming just a little bit through 2100."
    While I can't agree more with the third point, his first two messages are quite frankly bull sh!t.

    Lomborg's first argument assumes that global warming will be held to "only" 4.7 degrees F. First off, that's a swing of temperatures halfway to ice age proportions (the last ice age was only 9 degrees F colder than today). Not a big deal, eh?

    Lomborg argues that as the temperatures heat up, deaths from heat waves will be offset by less deaths from cold exposure. This contradicts the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's authoritative Fourth Assessment Report, released earlier this year. The report does agree that cold deaths will decrease with warming, but says that while "climate change is projected to bring some benefits, such as fewer deaths from cold exposure ... overall it is expected that these benefits will be outweighed by the negative health benefits of rising temperatures, especially worldwide" (see pdf).

    So sure, Mr. Lomborg, less people will die of cold exposure in rich countries in Northern climes. But at the same time, the IPCC report warns that literally billions of people will be affected by water and food shortages, droughts, floods, storms, etc. People in poorer developing countries, the people Lomborg supposedly cares so much about, will be most severely affected. For more on the human face of climate change that Lomborg's cold calculus brushes aside, see this post.

    These aren't the made-up scenarios of "fear-mongering environmentalists." They're the warnings of an international body of the world's top climate scientists, literally hundreds of them, and the report they produced is truly a consensus document; every word in the "summary for policymakers" report I referenced above (pdf) has to be approved by representatives of 130+ countries (including representatives of the Bush Administration)! In fact, throughout his book, Lomborg cites the IPCC report like gospel, all the while selectively ignoring much that doesn't serve his arguments.

    For example, in assuming that temperatures will not warm by more than 4.7 degrees, despite the inaction that he advocates, he ignores the fact that the IPCC includes a range of temperature estimates going all the way up to 10.5 degrees.

    The most crucial error in the book - the most glaring oversight that disqualifies the book as a serious examination of the risks and tradeoffs of climate change - is that Lomborg ignores the existence of powerful climate feedback loops hidden within the climate system. As Eban Goodstein writes,:
    "The global warming "alarmism" that Lomborg finds so distasteful is motivated by a serious, science-driven concern that hidden within our global climate system are powerful positive feedback loops. So that as we inch up from 3 to 4 and then 4 to 5 degrees of warming, we may very well cross some temperature threshold that would trigger a couple of degrees of further warming, causing a catastrophic upward spiral in global temperatures.

    For example, if the Amazon heats up and dries out too much, much of it could burn down, flipping to savannah, and releasing tens of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Similarly, as the permafrost in the Arctic melts, a huge pulse of methane may be released. The science is clear that, interacting, these and other biophysical and socioeconomic factors could drive planetary temperatures far beyond the range that Lomborg addresses. By ignoring the vast uncertainty underlying these forecasts, and every alternative outcome except his preferred "moderate" warming scenario, "Cool It" reduces to an uninteresting discussion of why folks alive today should choose 4.7 degrees of warming rather than 4.4 as the optimal outcome for our grandkids."
    But there is no sound scientific reason to assume that as we sit inactively, following Lomborg's advice, that temperatures will stop rising at 4.7 degrees. In fact, there is every reason to worry that if we don't begin a proactive, concerted effort to halt warming temperatures within the next few years, we will lock ourselves in to a degree of warming that will push us past what America's top climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, calls 'the Tipping Point' where temperatures and greenhouse gas levels will have increased enough to set off a chain reaction of these feedback loops that will push global warming beyond our control.

    Once we pass the Tipping Point, warming will simply spin out of control and no matter what we do, we won't be able to halt or reverse the changing climate. We could stop using all fossil fuels entirely, but if we did it one day after crossing the Tipping Point - think of it as the Point of No Return - it wouldn't do a damn bit of good.

    But don't take my word for it. Let's hear what Dr. Hansen has to say:

    "In my opinion," he testified in 2006, "there is no significant doubt (probability > 99%)" that projections for warming in a business-as-usual future (one that Lomborg advocates) "would push the Earth beyond the tipping point and cause dramatic climate impacts including eventual sea level rise of at least several meters, extermination of a substantial fraction of the animal and plant species on the planet, and major regional climate disruptions."

    Translation: unless we act soon to change course and avoid this business as usual future, we will almost certainly pass the Point of No Return.

    By ignoring this fundamental and critical characteristic of climate systems, Lomborg's thesis that waiting to tackle climate change until technology develops is fundamentally flawed.

    In a supposed 'rational discussion' of risks, trade-offs and benefits of climate change, Lomborg ignores the biggest risk of all: that in sitting idle, we will cross the Tipping Point. As a result, Lomborg advocates for delayed action against climate change, essentially arguing that we play Russian roulette with our lives and the fate of all future inhabitants of the planet.

    There are other flaws with Lomborg's book, and I'd encourage you to read Goodstein's review for more, but I'll leave it at that for now.

    Don't pick up Lomborg's book unless you're looking for more misleading, heel-dragging hot air.

    Wednesday, September 05, 2007

    GoingGreen 2007: Sept 10-12, UC Davis

    Over seven hundred greentech professionals, venture capital and private-equity investors, and leading members of the press and blogging community will convene at University of California, CA from September 10 12 for the inaugural AlwaysOn GoingGreen 2007 event. Thousands more worldwide attendees are expected to participate virtually as GoingGreen 2007 will be simulcast live from This two-and-a-half-day executive event will features CEO presentations and high-level debates on the most promising emerging green technologies and new entrepreneurial opportunities. The purpose of this event is to identify and debate emerging trends, build high-level relationships and create new business opportunities for all greentech professionals.

    Tuesday, September 04, 2007

    The Human Face of Climate Change (Or Why I'm Fasting Today)

    When you think about the climate crisis, which of these two images stands out as the face of climate change?

    Chances are, the polar bear cub is more closely associated with global warming in your mind than the two Sudanese children on the right. Global warming may threaten one quarter to one half of all species on the planet with extinction if left unchecked, and the unprecedented human-caused loss of so many of our cousins on this small blue globe certainly conjures up images of one of the most charismatic species threatened by our warming planet: the polar bear.

    But what about the human face of climate change?

    Global warming certainly poses an unprecedented environmental and ecological catastrophe and preserving the habitats and species threatened by the climate crisis may be motivation enough to tackle the challenge. But the climate crisis doesn't just threaten cute and cuddly animals and their less charismatic cousins. I would argue that the real face of climate change is, or should be, a human face.

    The second of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's reports released this year detailed the human impacts and vulnerabilities of climate change and it painted a bleak picture of starvation, thirst and extreme weather impacts (see pdf).

    Today, I join over eleven hundred others in the Climate Emergency Fast to raise awareness of these human impacts of climate change. Today, as Congress returns from recess and Americans return to work after a long Labor Day weekend, hundreds of us will make a small sacrifice to send a message: It’s time for our leaders, at all levels of government, to take action to solve the climate crisis!

    Today, will feel hunger and remember that as global warming intensifies, it will bring with it much more extensive hunger worldwide, especially in poorer countries, as drought, intense storms, glacial melting and sea level rise take their toll. Many are begin fasts today that will last much longer than one day.

    Join me today in taking a closer look at the human face of climate change.

    Hunger, Thirst, Floods and Disease: the Human Impacts of Climate Change

    "As the world gets hotter by degrees, millions of poor people will suffer from hunger, thirst, floods and disease unless drastic action is taken."

    That was the Associated Press's summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) second working group report, entitled Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (pdf). The report, released in April by the IPCC, a UN network of thousands of climate scientists, details the impacts of climate change, particularly those affecting human populations. The report is a true consensus document assembled by literally thousands of scientists and unanimously approved by the 120-plus governments that participate, including representatives of the Bush Administration.

    Despite the high level of consensus required of the document, and a deadline-busting contentious final editing session described by the AP article, the IPCC report was nonetheless the strongest authoritative warning that all the world's nations must take concrete actions to address the climate crisis or hundreds of millions of human lives will be impacted, impoverished or lost.

    The picture the report paints is bleak, yet preventable, and we should use it to help keep in mind the human face of climate change.

    Here's what the report warns is in store if we do not rise to the climate challenge:

  • Water shortages: water is the stuff of life, yet climate change will mean water shortages and reduced water supplies for literally billions of people. The IPCC reports that while total annual water availability may increase in higher latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, water supplies will likely decrease in already dryer and water-stressed regions. Drought-stricken areas will increase and droughts are projected to become more severe.

    Additionally, warming temperatures will mean less precipitation falls as snow, being captured in snowpack and glaciers. This will make river flows more seasonal and make summer months - when snow and glacier melt traditionally keeps rivers flowing - more prone to drought while increasing the incidence of winter and spring flooding. According to the IPCC, water supplies stored in glaciers and snow cover will decline, reducing water availability in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges including the Himalayas in Asia, the Andes in South America and the Cascades/Sierras and Rockies in North America. This could affect areas home to one-sixth of the total world population!

    The IPCC projects that between 75 and 250 million Africans will face increased water shortages due to climate change and more than a billion people in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia will be adversely affected by reduced freshwater availability. Water security problems in Australia, already a consistent problem, are projected to intensify by 2030 and areas in the United States' Dessert Southwest will face more frequent and severe drought.

    When coupled with growing populations and increasing standards of living, demand for clean, fresh water will clearly increase, putting further stress on water supplies reduced by climate change.

  • Food and Famine: Reduced water supplies not only threaten drinking water availability, but also present a clear problem for agriculture. The IPCC projects that while on average, worldwide crop productivity may increase slightly with the first couple degrees of warming, further warming will mean crop yields will likely plummet and regional yields, especially in seasonally dry equatorial areas, are projected to decrease even with small temperature increases.

    As would be expected, more frequent and severe droughts and floods (see above) are projected to ravage local agricultural activities.

    Agricultural production in many African countries is projected to be "severely compromised by climate variability and change," the IPCC reports, which would "further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition on the continent." In some countries, agricultural yields may be cut in half, the IPCC reports.

    Crop yields may increase by up to 20% in East and Southeast Asia while falling up to 30% in Central and South Asia by mid-century, the IPCC reports. "Taken together," the report says, "and considering the influence of rapid population growth and urbanization, the risk of hunger is projected to remain very high in several developing countries" in Asia.

    Productivity from agriculture is projected to decline over much of Australia's southern and eastern regions, home to the large bulk of the country's population and it's major breadbasket. This summer, Australians got a sneak preview of what's to come, as their Prime Minister told them to pray for rain as prolonged drought forced Australians to consider cutting off water for irrigation in order to supply drinking water for urban areas. This year, just enough rain fell in June and July to forestall this dire outcome, but will Australian's be so lucky in years to come?

  • Rising seas: The IPCC report predicts that coastal areas will be exposed to increased coastal erosion due to climate change and the resulting sea-level rise and the effect will be exacerbated by increased population pressures along coastal areas. Coastal wetlands, important flood and storm protection barriers, will be lost to rising seas at the same time they are being lost to human development activities, making coastal populations more vulnerable to hurricanes, tsunamis and monsoons.

    "Many millions more" people are expected to be flooded every year due to sea level rise, the report projects. Densely-populated low-lying areas like the 'mega-delta' areas of Asia and African including broad areas of Bangladesh, India and China will b particularly vulnerable, as will small, low-lying islands. Whole island nations may be lost and their populations relocated.

    As usual, adaptation in poorer, developing countries will be more difficult, placing these populations at higher risk.

  • Spreading diseases and death: Climate change is expected to negatively affect the health of millions of people, particularly in poorer countries through:
    -increased malnutrition;
    -increased death, disease and injury from heat waves, floods, storms, fires, droughts and other extreme weather events;
    -increases in diarrhoeal disease;
    -increased heart and respiratory diseases due to high concentrations of ground-level ozone and smog due to rising temperatures;
    -several infectious diseases, including malaria, will be wider spread due to increased habitable areas of important vectors like mosquitoes.
    The report does note that climate change will likely bring fewer deaths from cold exposure, but these benefits will be "outweighed by the negative health effects of rising temperatures worldwide, especially in developing countries."

  • Flood, fire, heatwaves and storms: Extreme weather events including floods, forest fires, heatwaves and hurricanes are all expected to become either more frequent or more intense as the planet warms.

  • So we've got thirst, famine, disease, floods, droughts, and storms - all some pretty Biblical stuff with millions of human lives caught in the cross hairs.

    I don't write all of this to depress us - the good news is that much of this is still avoidable, including the worst affects of climate change, if we act now.

    I write this to remind us that the face of climate change is a very human face indeed. Literally billions of humans will be negatively affected by the climate crisis, with those in poorer, developing countries feeling the brunt of the warming world's effects.

    So next time you think about climate change, don't just think about the loss of countless species, some even as cute and cuddly as penguins and polar bears. Their loss is a tragedy, one that climate change activist and economist Eban Goodstein eloquently argues will impoverish our economy, our lives and our very spirit. Massive species extinction presents a clear moral imperative and a primary motivation for tackling the climate change.

    But remember that their is also another, very human face to the climate crisis. If left unchecked, climate change will takes its toll on billions of our fellow humans, devastating the lives of many millions.

    I fast today to remember this human face of the climate crisis and to urge our leaders to take this crisis as seriously as I do, to take action now, and to rise to the challenge and seize the tremendous opportunity the climate crisis presents.

    The dark future described in the IPCC report hangs over us, but another future is possible, a brighter future where the climate crisis is the catalyst for a sustainable, just energy future. It is up to each one of us to decide which future we want to live in, and make that future a reality.

    Warnings From a Warming World: Hurricane Felix Makes Landfall as Second Category 5 Hurricane in Two Weeks

    Making landfall today as a devastating Category 5 storm, Hurricane Felix is the second Cat 5 Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in as many weeks, carving a path of destruction across Central America.

    As Chris Mooney points out at the Daily Green, "Nature isn't messing around this year in the Atlantic hurricane basin."

    So far, we've already seen six named storms and two hurricanes, both making landfall as devastating Category 5 storms, shattering records and making landfall within two weeks of each other. And there's still a long way to go until the 2007 hurricane season has subsided.

    Like Hurricane Dean, which ripped across Mexico's Yucatan Penninsula on August 21st (see previous post), Hurricane Felix hit the coast of Nicaragua with Category 5 strength (Hurricane Katrina was made landfall near New Orleans as a Category 4 storm, for comparison), shattering several records. Also like Hurricane Dean, the appearance of a second, record-breaking storm in as many weeks must give us pause to not only acknowledge the destruction it has wrought as it cuts a swathe across Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, but also to worry about what else this year's hurricane season might have in store as we ponder the connection between global warming and a disturbing trend of intensifying hurricanes.

    2007 Hurricane Season Just Heating Up

    Offical estimates call for an "above-normal" Atlantic hurricane season and predict 13-16 named storms (Felix is just the sixth so far this season). The peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season are August through October, so the season has just begun in earnest.

    Chris Mooney worries that "we might be seeing intense hurricane clustering in the Carribean. Sometimes the winds and water just set up in such a way that a particular stretch of ocean gest repeated Category 4 and 5 storms," Mooney explains. "The phenomenon occurence in the Cook Islands in 2005, with four intense hurricanes in just over a month, and similarly off the coast of the Phillipeans in 2006." Could a similar phenomenon be occurring in the Caribbean this year? Only time will tell.

    Additionally, if a storm enters the Gulf of Mexico this year, there is a disturbing arrow of hot sea surface temperatures currently pointing directly at Louisiana. Hurricane intensity is fueled by warm water temps and the current map of sea surface temps means that if winds and other conditions line up, sea temps could fuel another intense storm making landfall on the Gulf Coast.

    [Image source: NOAA]

    Hurricane Felix Sets Records

    Like Hurricane Dean, Hurricane Felix has set, or led to the adjustment, of several records, some of them very disturbing. Chris Mooney has a list:
    1. Fastest intensification from a tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane — around 51 hours. (This is apparently an Atlantic record only.) [Note: storms normally take weeks to intensify from a tropical depression to a Category 1 hurricane]

    2. Second-fastest pressure fall in 12 hours (50 millibars), third-fastest in 24 hours (63 millibars). Again, apparently this is an Atlantic-only record.

    3. 13th full Category 5 hurricane landfall in the Atlantic region. Others include 1935’s “Labor Day” storm, 1969’s Camille, 1992’s Andrew, and 2007’s Dean.

    4. Felix makes 2007 only the fourth known Atlantic hurricane season to have more than one Category 5 hurricane. The others are 1960, 1961, and 2005.

    5. Felix makes 2007 the only known Atlantic hurricane season to have two full Category 5 landfalls.

    6. Felix makes 2007 the only known Atlantic hurricane season in which the first two storms to reach hurricane status (Dean, Felix) have also reached Category 5 status and gone on to Category 5 landfalls.

    Making the Global Warming Connection

    As with Hurricane Dean, we cannot blame global warming for Hurricane Felix, nor for any single extreme weather event. However, hurricane intensity is fueled by warm ocean temperatures, and the recent up-tick in intense Category 4 and 5 storms is consistent with scientific predictions based on basic thermodynamics and higher ocean temperatures due to global warming.

    In his typical cautious fashion, Chris Mooney points out that "No single storm tells us anything, but on the other hand, both of these storms fit a troubling pattern. To be more specific:
  • After not having one since Andrew in 1992, we are now expected to see two Category 5 Atlantic basin hurricane landfalls in the space of 2 weeks.
  • There have now been eight Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes in the past five years (Isabel, Ivan, Emily, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Dean, Felix)
  • There have been two Atlantic Category 5s so far this year; only three other seasons have had more than one (1960, 1961, 2005)
  • There have been eight Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes so far in the 2000s; no other decade has had so many. The closest runner up is the 1960s with six (Donna, Ethel, Carla, Hattie, Beulah, Camille).
  • Mooney goes on to caution that it is likely that we failed to record at least a few Category 5 storms in earlier decades due to poorer instrumentation and observation systems. However, even with that caveat, we've got to recognize that this decade has been clearly anomalous when compared to previous decades (and it's far from over yet).

    Is it fair for us to point the finger at global warming for this disturbing trend? Well, it will take more time to demonstrate that this trend of intensifying storms holds true, and a lot more work to show conclusively that this trend is due to global warming.

    However, climate scientists clearly predict global warming will bring higher sea surface temperatures and the resulting intensification of hurricanes and tropical storms, and the recent monster storms we've seen in the Atlantic and around the world have fit predictions to a T.

    As Chris Mooney writes, "at some point, it seems to me that people will simply have to throw up their hands and say: We are in a new place now."

    Interested in learning more about what we can and can't say about extreme weather events and global warming? Pick up Chris Mooney's new book, Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming.

    [Image source: top right - Weather Underground; second right - Wikipedia]