Scott Sklar

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Burning the Future

In Burning the Future: Coal in America, writer/director David Novack examines the explosive forces that have set in motion a groundswell of conflict between the coal industry and residents of West Virginia.

Burning The Future: Coal in America
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Climate Change: Answers Within Reach
Written by Scott Sklar   
December 19, 2007

With the international report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released earlier this year, reaffirming that human activity is changing our global climate - once again humanity is confronted on ‘what to do’. For many of the long-time clean energy advocates, the answers were obvious way before the threat of climate change was on the political horizon.

Before the very first IPCC report, humanity was confronted with some other very sobering issues regarding the global energy use - emissions including mercury and carcinogens and other air and soil pollution, demands on water supply, propensity for interruptions or funding unscrupulous governments and regimes, energy price swings beyond anyone’s control, and exposure of energy - fuels and electricity infrastructure to terrorism, intense weather patterns, and geological events.

For those policymakers and business leaders who were unsure of the science or economic pain to addressing climate change - we intoned the “no regrets” solutions of supporting an aggressive utilization of energy efficiency and renewable energy as a way to address the aforementioned challenges in addition to responding to green house gas emissions -- and with the added benefit of creating jobs and fostering economic growth.

But many believed the energy efficiency/renewable energy gambit was too good to be true, while receiving whispers from the conventional energy industries and suppliers that these approaches were ‘too little, too late”. That is until now, as two national organizations simultaneously address the impact of an aggressive push towards energy efficiency and renewable energy.

During the last week of January, Greenpeace released “Energy (r)evolution” along with the European Renewable Energy Council, both enlisted Germany’s Aerospace Centre (DLR) (equivalent to NASA) to provide the “hard look” as to what carbon offset targets could be realistically met by 2030 and 2050 with aggressive adoptions of renewables and energy efficiency. The conclusions were striking, “renewables could provide as much as 35% of the world’s energy by 2030 ..”.. “ and that it’s economically feasible to cut global CO2 emissions by almost 50% within the next43 years”. The report makes clear this would require a massive uptake of renewable energy and adoption of very aggressive policies to drive “high value energy efficiency first, as well as renewables. The study is repleat with excellent charts and graphs.

According to the report, half of the energy the world needs would be achieved through savings from efficiency applications in ALL sectors, and the remaining half via biomass/biofuels, hydropower/wind/photovoltaics, and solar thermal, geothermal, and ocean energy(s).

During the first week of February, the American Solar Energy Society with support of the Sierra Club, released “Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.” which covers potential carbon emissions reductions from energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2030. This compilation evisioned by ASES Board member and NREL scientist Charles Kuscher, is a compilation of 10 papers covering overall energy efficiency, buildings, plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, concentrating solar power, photovoltaics, wind power, biomass, biofuels, geothermal, and the scientific and global challenge in regard to global warming. The papers are thorough and excellent.

The ASES compendium matches the Greenpeace/DLR study precisely. The ASES study concludes that energy efficiency/renewable energy carbon offets by 2030 (in MtC/yr by 2030, based in the middle range of carbon conversions) are: energy efficiency (688), concentrating solar power (63), photovoltaics (63), wind (181) biofuels (58), biomass (75) and geothermal (83). Again, 50% coming from energy efficiency applications in ALL sectors, and the remaining from a portfolio of renewables.

Both studies acknowledge that there are not enough policies now in place to achieve these projections. But shining examples of feed-in tariffs in Europe, building requirements in Japan, and tax credits, renewable energy portfolio standards, and system benefit funds in the States are definitely making progress.

What’s also noted in both studies is the flexibility of efficiency and renewables to meet ALL segments of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions: Sources of Anthropogenic GHG Emissions -- Waste Disposal     02%, Residential & Commercial     12%, Transportation 14%, Agriculture     20%, Electric Power 20%, and Industrial Processes 32%. And both papers have forewards and endorsements of global climate and energy notables from Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the Greenpeace study to Dr. James Hansen, Director of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies for the ASES Study.  The good news is both organizations and their contributors have put together some of the best detailed information yet on how important energy efficiency and renewable energy is to address the changing of our global climate. And “once and for all” they address the issues that we can grow economically while meeting these challenges. Now, will the policymakers take this information seriously?

In the Energy Bill passed by the US Congress in 2005, most f the tax incentives went to the traditional energy industries, and because of incentives for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and lack of any provisions to require increased fuel economy in new vehicles - US energy imports have actually increased since passage of the Bill. Now Congress has been deliberating on a new Energy Bill in which both Houses of Congress have tipped the incentives to favor energy efficiency and renewable energy. Only time will tell the outcome.
Last Updated ( January 02, 2008 )
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Energy Star is the national program that rates appliances and promotes energy savings activities. Experts at the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Energy have also sorts of programs and tips. Here are three sites: