Energy & Environment

A Super-Nerdy Insurance Plan Could Save Poor Countries from Damage Caused by Climate Change

Quartz: “CCRIF was, according to its CEO Isaac Anthony, the world’s first ‘multinational parametric insurance company.’ In layman’s terms: it’s insurance for acts of God, designed to help countries rebound quickly after disaster.”

“Parametric insurance makes payments not based on assessed loss, but on the intensity of an event. With a hurricane like Tomas, for instance, CCRIF measures the volume of rainfall and wind speeds. They then compare these factors to models of how much damage the disaster was likely to inflict, taking into account the regions and cities affected. Member countries take out policies with different levels of protection, and within two weeks of a disaster, CCRIF determines what, if any, payment they will make.”

“Parametric insurance makes payments not based on assessed loss, but on the intensity of an event. With a hurricane like Tomas, for instance, CCRIF measures the volume of rainfall and wind speeds. They then compare these factors to models of how much damage the disaster was likely to inflict, taking into account the regions and cities affected. Member countries take out policies with different levels of protection, and within two weeks of a disaster, CCRIF determines what, if any, payment they will make.”

Why Climate Progress Is Still Possible During the Trump Presidency

Mark Muro: “Without minimizing the gravity of the current moment, there are several solid (and not just wishful) reasons for maintaining some hope that progress can be maintained on the path of decarbonizing the economy and reducing the most devastating consequences of global warming. In this regard, many of the forces that have been most strongly shaping emissions outcomes in recent years remain beyond Trump’s reach and beyond the rules and stances of the U.S. federal government.”

“In keeping with that, here are three solid truths about where progress has been coming from thus far that point to genuine sources of consolation about further progress and priorities for the next stage:”

“States and cities will continue to lead… Technology change and market forces will continue to drive gains… Private finance will continue to drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Donald Trump Wants to Dismantle Obama’s Climate Rules. Can Anyone Stop Him?

Vox: “Donald Trump has made it perfectly clear that one of his top priorities is to dismantle the climate change regulations that President Obama has put in place over the past eight years. But the details of how he tries to do this matter enormously, and anyone interested in climate policy should pay close attention to the nuances here.”

“Trump will have a lot of power, on his own, to stall, weaken, or take apart Obama’s key climate rules, particularly the Clean Power Plan that regulates CO2 from power plants. It’s not easy, but he has a ton of leeway here.”

“The more pressing question, though, is whether Trump and the GOP Congress will pass a bill that will prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from ever regulating carbon dioxide again. If they did that, they wouldn’t just kill the Clean Power Plan — they would prevent any future presidents from tackling climate change the way Obama did.”

Tesla’s Stunning New Solar Roof Tiles for Homes

Tech Crunch: “Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk wasn’t kidding when he said that the new Tesla solar roof product was better looking than an ordinary roof: the roofing replacement with solar energy gathering powers does indeed look great. It’s a far cry from the obvious and somewhat weird aftermarket panels you see applied to roofs after the fact today.”

“Of course, there’s the matter of price: Tesla’s roof cost less than the full cost of a roof and electricity will be competitive or better than the cost of a traditional roof combined with the cost of electricity from the grid, Musk said. Tesla declined to provide specific pricing at the moment, since it will depend on a number of factor including installation specifics on a per home basis.”

Jay Faison’s Expensive, Maddening Quest to Save the Planet (And the GOP)

Bloomberg Politics: “The year before, Faison had arrived in Washington as a political nobody, flush with cash from the sale of his Charlotte-based electronics company. He hoped that, by dedicating his time and $175 million to the cause, he could show Republicans they had a role to play in saving the planet. Others have attempted this mission, but few have been as determined as Faison — and no one has invested as much money. Yet he’s encountered such indifference and hostility that he’s been forced to scale back his ambitions and shift sharply to the right. It’s been a lesson in what happens in politics when the irresistible force of cash meets the immovable object of dogma.”

Can We Capture Energy From a Hurricane?

Smithsonian: “In terms of energy stored and released, hurricanes pack a huge punch. Your ‘average’ tropical cyclone might release the equivalent of 600 terawatts of energy, with a quarter of a percent of that as wind; the vast majority of the energy in a hurricane is in the form of heat stored and released as water vapor condenses into rain.”

“So while wind is only a small part of the overall energy output of a hurricane, it still generates vast amounts of power: around 1.5 terawatts, or just over a quarter of the world’s current total electrical generating capacity of 5.25 terawatts. The wind from just one storm is a gold mine of clean energy.”

New A.I. Traffic Signals Could Be a Game Changer

IEEE Spectrum: “Traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy $121 billion a year, mostly due to lost productivity, and produces about 25 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, Carnegie Mellon University professor of robotics Stephen Smith told the audience at a White House Frontiers Conference last week. In urban areas, drivers spend 40 percent of their time idling in traffic, he added.”

“The big reason is that today’s traffic signals are dumb. Smith is developing smart artificial-intelligence-fueled traffic signals that adapt to changing traffic conditions on the fly. His startup Surtrac is commercializing the technology.”

“In pilot tests in Pittsburgh, the smart traffic-management system has gotten impressive results. It reduced travel time by 25 percent and idling time by over 40 percent.”

The Left vs. A Carbon Tax

Vox: “This is not an election year in which it is easy to get attention, unless your name rhymes with Gump. Nevertheless, it’s worth taking note of a colorful, contentious, and counterintuitive political drama playing out in the top left corner of the country.”

“Here’s the situation. There’s a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington this November, meant not just to put the state on the path to its climate targets but to serve as an example to other states.”

“The measure, called Initiative 732, isn’t just any carbon tax, either. It’s a big one. It would be the first carbon tax in the US, the biggest in North America, and one of the most ambitious in the world.”

“And yet the left opposes it. The Democratic Party, community-of-color groups, organized labor, big liberal donors, and even most big environmental groups have come out against it.”

Another Casualty of Climate Change: Endangered Languages

Grist: “Though it’s not a perfect measure, language is one of the best ways we know to gauge cultural diversity. And that diversity is in danger. Linguists predict in the next 100 years, half of the 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world will vanish.”

“If you’re well versed in the effects of climate change, that list will sound familiar. As the world heats up, we’re on track to see more intense storms, rising seas, prolonged droughts, and the spread of infectious diseases — all of which can, in turn, lead to chaos, armed conflicts, and migration. And when people settle in a new place, they begin a new life, complete with new surroundings, new traditions, and, yes, a new language.”

Could America’s Smallest State Lead the Way Toward the Next Energy Age?

Brookings Institution: “The tiny state of Rhode Island is at a crossroad, facing major decisions on investing in fossil fuel infrastructure or turning sharply to renewable energy.”

“The contrast between two major projects—a huge natural gas-fired power plant and towering offshore wind turbines—could not be greater, and the long-term implications of the decisions for the state and the country are far-reaching. Depending upon which road it takes, tiny Rhode Island could be a leader of a new energy age for the U.S., or a middling actor locked into fossil fuel infrastructure for decades.”

Russians and Saudis Pledge Joint Effort to Limit Oil Production

Bloomberg Markets: “Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s two largest crude oil producers, said they’re ready to cooperate to limit output, helping send prices to a one-year high in London.”

“Coordinated output curbs by Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, who together pump about half the world’s oil, could boost fuel prices for consumers and revive the fortunes of a battered energy industry. While Putin’s comments are the firmest indication yet that such an agreement is possible, Russia is still pumping at record levels and has stopped short of a commitment to pull back. OPEC members also have many hurdles to overcome before implementing their first cuts in eight years.”

To Fight Climate Change, Institute a Four-Day Workweek

Quartz: “A reduction in working hours generally correlates with marked reductions in energy consumption, as economists David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot have argued. In fact, if Americans simply followed European levels of working hours, for example, they would see an estimated 20% reduction in energy use—and hence in carbon emissions.”

“With a four-day week, huge amounts of commuting to and from work could be avoided, and electricity used running an office could be saved. At a point when we need to massively cut back our carbon outputs, instituting a three-day weekend could be the simplest and most elegant way to make our economy more environmentally friendly.”

How to Fulfill the Promise of the Paris Climate Deal

Carter Roberts and Ray Offenheiser: “By the end of this week, the United States, China, India, the European Union, Canada and more than 50 other countries will have legally joined the agreement, crossing the thresholds that brings the pact into full legal force. Under its terms, the agreement comes into force 30 days after 55 nations, representing 55% of global greenhouse emissions, legally join. These dual thresholds were chosen to ensure that the new deal becomes binding only when both the biggest polluting nations, and a large share of all countries, large and small, are on board.”

“As we look ahead to this new chapter, the choice is between cooperation or division. The Paris Agreement happened because leaders worked together, sometimes at great political risk. And more is needed. The reality is that no single country can solve this problem alone. Our success here in the U.S. relies on success in places like India and Mexico. We need to invest in those places too if we hope to meet our goal.”