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Posts tagged ‘Environment’

How big are fossil fuel subsidies?

The short answer is “too big”.

I found this report (via Political Irony), from, of all places, the International Monetary Fund, discussing the size of the gravy train subsidies given to fossil fuel industries. Among its findings:

  • Almost $5 trillion is spent in such subsidies. This is about 6.5% of global gross domestic product.
  • Coal gets the most subsidies. This finding is new to me. It is also the most disturbing, as coal is one of the worst fossil fuels in terms of pollution and global warming.
  • A substantial part of these subsidies are indirect, as in not properly charging for externalities.
  • Eliminating these subsidies would have enormous benefits, including increased government revenue, less pollution, and millions of fewer deaths
  • Global coordination is not necessary, as a country “going it alone” by eliminating subsidies will still reap benefits.

With the above benefits, it is obviously a great idea to end these subsidies now. Energy companies do not need these subsidies. Indeed, the same way those who are doing just fine don’t need an unpaid cheer squad, those who are doing just fine don’t need coddling from the government either.

Why a carbon tax is good

I found a really good article on why BC’s carbon tax is the way to go (links removed and emphasis added):

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That’s apparently because the tax hasn’t just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C. “I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw,” says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. “It made climate action real to people.”

It also saved many of them a lot of money. Sure, the tax may cost you if you drive your car a great deal, or if you have high home gas heating costs. But it also gives you the opportunity to save a lot of money if you change your habits, for instance by driving less or buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. That’s because the tax is designed to be “revenue neutral” — the money it raises goes right back to citizens in the form of tax breaks. Overall, the tax has brought in some $5 billion in revenue so far, and more than $3 billion has then been returned in the form of business tax cuts, along with over $1 billion in personal tax breaks, and nearly $1 billion in low-income tax credits (to protect those for whom rising fuel costs could mean the greatest economic hardship). According to the B.C. Ministry of Finance, for individuals who earn up to $122,000, income tax rates in the province are now Canada’s lowest.

We out to be taxing things we want to discourage (besides carbon, this ought to include things like fast food and sugar, and financial transactions like high–frequency trading) and reducing or eliminating taxes on things we want to encourage (like high–density living and transit use).

And a big thumbs down to Oklahoma for taxing solar energy.

Asleep at the intersection

Today, while waiting to cross the street, I saw something that should never happen.

Here in BC, at many intersections, there are left turn lanes. In some of them, the traffic light will show a green arrow that gives right of way to those turning left. The crosswalk I was at was one such intersection. And as you might expect, the left turn arrows came on in both directions. However, there were no vehicles in either left turn lane.

Is it not obvious that the above situation leads to unnecessary idling, and therefore wastes energy? I see no reason why it is impossible to put a sensor in a left turn lane that, that while the light is red, detects and counts the cars passing over. Perhaps it could detect cars by pushing down slightly when a set of wheels passes over. This will happen twice per car (once per axle). The cars’ weight could press the sensor down. While not perfect (a semi or other long vehicle with more than two axles would result in an incorrect number of vehicles) this will be a good enough approximation to form a sensor system. The number of cars passing into the left turn lane could then be used to decide whether to activate the arrow the next time the light turns green. This system would prevent unnecessary idling due to unneeded turning arrows, and ought to be relatively simple to implement (a computer could probably do it).

Earth Hour 2013

Earth Hour today, but frankly, I don’t think everyone turning off the lights would make much of a difference, for the following reasons:

  • If candles are used to compensate, CO2 emitted by the candles will more than make up for what wasn’t emitted by power plants.
  • It is pure “slacktivism”, which will make people feel like they are making a difference while not actually having much of an effect.
  • At best, Earth Hour raises awareness. While that is important, more substantive action is necessary.

Much better individual things you can do about climate change include:

  • Eat less meat, especially of ruminants. Most people in North America consume way more protein than is necessary to stay alive.
  • Walk more and drive less. Telecommute if possible.
  • Rather than turning up the heat when you’re cold, put on a sweater or blanket instead.
  • Not use air conditioning or use it less. Closing curtains to prevent the sun from shining in can have a substantial cooling effect.
  • Using no–till no–till gardening. Modern soil management practices release CO2 from the soil, while no–dig methods turn soil into a carbon sink.
  • Replace old appliances, lightbulbs, transportation, etc. with more efficient models.
  • Get rid of “heat leaks”, like tiny gaps under doors, around doorknobs, etc. By blocking these you’ll keep more heat in your house, thereby needing to use less energy to heat it.
  • Get rid of “vampire power.” These are things like remote-controlled appliances. When a remote–controlled appliances is “off”, it still draws power to maintain standby mode, so it can detect any on signal. The only way to get rid of this “vampire power” is to unplug them.

Several of these things are good for reasons other than climate change. By walking more, you’ll be physically fit and healthier. If put on a sweater rather than turning up the heat, you’ll save money. Ditto for heat leaks.

The killers in your house

A new study has found that domestic cats are among the most prolific predators in the world:

Domestic cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds and up to 20 billion small rodents each year, according to researchers at the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

The report, published Tuesday, found that cats — particularly strays — are “likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals.”

The study went on to note that feral cats are damaging and threatening to ecosystems.

This study reminds me of an incident with a really friendly cat that used to live in my neighbourhood. Once it made a plaintive meow and wanted to come in. Turned out it had caught a starling. When it came in it released the starling and started chasing after it inside the house. At one point, the starling landed on the kitchen table, and the cat just about pulled off the tablecloth (and dishes) before I managed to stop the tablecloth. Eventually, I managed to grab the cat and put it in another room while I shooed the starling out with a broom.

Link farm and a random thought

In no particular order:

The ultimate in data storage. Scientists have found a way to store digital information in DNA. The storage method is sophisticated enough that all information currently in hard drives could fit into the palm of your hand.


Quote of the day (emphasis added):

“What always interests me about defenders of creationism is how they clearly don’t think of children as people in their own right, but instead property that you use to enact your ideological obsessions.”

I personally would edit that quote to include the entirety of the rotten parental rights movement. Those people really do see their own kids as enemies and who’ll do anything to prevent those children from thinking for themselves and not being a projection or perfect reflection of the parents. Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has emphasized this point multiple times.


Solar power is well on its way to becoming cheaper than coal. It might reach that point before the end of the decade. This is important, as it would eliminate much of the point of burning coal, which is important for climate change mitigation. (It’s still better to start today, however).


I fully agree with these suggestions on how to write a better fantasy story. (Via all these people).


Did you know that (supposedly) the committee of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women supposedly “Told Libya to re-interpret the Koran in the light of CEDAW”? To rational people, this is an excellent reason to support the CEDAW. But, Echidne found out, wingnuts actually use this as a justifiation for opposing the CEDAW. To their credit, at least they’re honest.


Two of the comments on a post on Brute Reason have won awards. You just have to see them.

And yes, I did manage to read and finish what is visible of the first comment. It starts repeating itself part way through Can’t it be all new woo?

This post has been edited since publication.

Perhaps it’s time to start the alternative

The Arbourist has a post about a small company that has a proposal to create liquid fuels out of water and carbon dioxide from the air. While the proposal looks promising, since, as far as I can tell, it takes more energy to create the liquid fuel than is released by burning that fuel, and that any carbon extracted from the atmosphere while creating the fuel will ultimately be re–emitted when that fuel is used, I have difficulty seeing how much of a difference this particular technology would make. (See also my comments at the Arbourist’s post). However, if new evidence or technology emerges that allows this technology to make more of a difference, I will certainly change my mind about it.

And The Arbourist’s post got me thinking. Since there has been much resistance to making more than a token effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps it is time to put geoengineering on the table. That might potentially be the best hope for avoiding disaster. While I am not actively suggesting we start geoengineering, I am suggesting we put it on the table. This is important considering our collective failure to make much effort towards mitigation of global warming and climate change.

Geoengineering is not science fiction. Several of the proposals have analogues that happen naturally. And it is not decades away. As far as I can tell, the following proposals are pretty much shovel ready, and we could start tomorrow if there was a serious effort, and with no significant research yet to be done or technology to be developed:

  • Atmospheric sulphur aerosols
  • Grassland restoration
  • Cool roofs
  • Enhanced weathering

These proposals each have a number of advantages and disadvantages (discussed after the jump):

(more…)

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