Wednesday, July 31, 2013

World Solar Power Topped 100,000 Megawatts in 2012

The world installed 31,100 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012—an all-time annual high that pushed global PV capacity above 100,000 megawatts.

There is now enough PV operating to meet the household electricity needs of nearly 70 million people at the European level of use. While PV production has become increasingly concentrated in one country—China—the number of countries installing PV is growing rapidly. In 2006, only a handful of countries could boast solar capacity of 100 megawatts or more. Now 30 countries are on that list, which the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects will more than double by 2018.

PV semiconductor materials convert the sun’s rays directly into clean, carbon-free electricity. Traditional solar cells—made of crystalline silicon—are combined into flat panels or “modules.” While residential rooftop systems are measured in kilowatts, large ground-mounted systems can reach thousands of megawatts of capacity. (One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.)

Today roughly 60 percent of PV is manufactured in China. A decade ago, China produced almost no PV. But in a kind of gold rush spurred by easy bank loans and government tax incentives and subsidies, China hurtled past PV technology pioneers the United States (in 2006) and Japan (in 2008).

The flood of new companies entering the Chinese PV industry over the last several years created a massive oversupply of panels at the global level and accelerated the already fast-paced drop in world PV prices. Many firms in other countries went bankrupt or shut down factories, and now even some Chinese companies are folding as the industry consolidates. Worldwide, PV production in 2012 declined 2 percent from 2011, the first annual drop on record. But this contraction will be short-lived as demand continues to rise. Solar power installations are growing more than 40 percent annually, and falling PV prices are making solar power more affordable.

China, where PV had previously been too expensive to be widely adopted, may soon lead the world in generating electricity from PV. Each year since 2006 China has at least doubled the amount of new PV installed nationwide. After installing 5,000 megawatts in 2012, China is number three in the world with 8,300 megawatts of total PV capacity, trailing only Germany and Italy. And in July 2013, the government officially set a new national PV capacity goal of 35,000 megawatts by 2015.

Depending on China’s 2013 final tally, Japan could well install the most PV this year, perhaps more than 9,000 megawatts. This would give Japan some 16,000 megawatts of solar capacity—over halfway to its official 2020 target of 28,000 megawatts. Historically, Japan has been the world’s leading market for residential rooftop PV; in 2011, some 85 percent of PV capacity added there was residential. After the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, though, the government introduced a generous incentive encouraging larger projects, thus spurring huge investment in utility-scale PV capacity.

The other big Asian solar story comes from India, a country of 1.2 billion people where an estimated 290 million still lack electricity. According to the solar energy consultancy Bridge to India, the country had 1,700 megawatts of PV installed by May 2013, with 80 percent of it in the sun-drenched northwestern states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Bridge to India projects that figure will jump to 12,800 megawatts by 2016. India’s National Solar Mission calls for 22,000 megawatts of solar power nationwide by 2022, including 2,000 megawatts of off-grid PV. Going solar is becoming increasingly attractive in India due to notoriously frequent blackouts and climbing grid power prices—not to mention that solar is now cheaper than diesel for electricity.

Even though Asia’s PV installations are soaring, it will be some years before it can unseat the European Union (EU) in regional PV dominance. The EU boasts 68 percent of world PV capacity. In 2012, for the second year running, the EU added more PV than it did any other electricity-generating technology. EU countries now annually installing hundreds or thousands of megawatts include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Germany remains the world’s solar capital, home to nearly one third of global PV capacity. For the third straight year, Germany added more than 7,000 megawatts of PV in 2012, reaching 32,000 megawatts. Accounting for some 5 percent of national power use, the electricity flowing from Germany’s solar panels in 2012 was enough to supply more than 8 million homes.

After adding a world-record 9,400 megawatts of new PV to the grid in 2011, Italy connected 3,400 megawatts in 2012 to keep its second-place spot in installed PV, with 16,300 megawatts total. Italy got 5.6 percent of its electricity from PV in 2012. (See data.)

The main policy driver that has allowed Germany and Italy to amass their world-leading solar capacity is the feed-in tariff (FIT), which guarantees renewable energy generators a long-term purchase price for the electricity they supply to the grid. As these markets mature and solar system costs decline, FIT incentives are being reduced. But worldwide more than 70 countries—the majority of them now in the developing world—use some form of FIT.

Until recently, the United States lagged badly in PV capacity despite its abundant solar resources. (Nearly every state gets more sun than Germany does.) But annual U.S. solar installations doubled in 2011, and nearly did so again in 2012, when 3,300 megawatts of PV came online. As of mid-2013, U.S. PV capacity had passed the 10,000 megawatt mark.

Renewable portfolio standards (RPS)—laws now in 29 states typically requiring that renewables account for a specified share of the electricity that utilities sell—have historically driven U.S. PV development. In California, the U.S. solar leader, utilities must get one third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Federal tax credits and cash grants are also PV catalysts, as are the increasingly popular arrangements allowing homeowners to lease a system from solar developers like Sunrun and SolarCity rather than footing the entire upfront cost. More than half of U.S. residential systems are now leased.

Another solar-rich country finally starting to seriously ramp up its PV capacity is Australia. Residential rooftops host the majority of its 2,400 megawatts, 42 percent of which were installed in 2012. In the state of South Australia, one in five homes is solar-powered.

Large PV projects are announced seemingly every week in countries with little or no previous solar capacity. For example, in mid-2013 construction finished on an 84-megawatt project in Thailand. The 96-megawatt Jasper Solar Project, financed in part by Google, is under way in South Africa. And two projects of over 100 megawatts gained local approval in Chile.

These large projects illustrate another global PV trend: the rise of the mega-project. Only a few years ago, the 10 largest solar farms were between 30 and 60 megawatts. Now PV parks of 100 megawatts or more are becoming commonplace. Arizona’s Agua Caliente PV project became the world’s largest at 250 megawatts when its fourth phase finished construction in 2012. (It will eventually be 290 megawatts.) Developers have announced a 475-megawatt PV farm in Nagasaki, Japan, due in 2016. Several projects between 500 and 3,000 megawatts are under development in California.

Even as PV deployment moves toward larger applications, it is well worth noting the virtues of smaller-scale solar, especially for developing countries. In rural areas with no grid access, installing solar PV at the home level is often cheaper than building a central power plant and electric grid. Bangladesh, working for over a decade with the World Bank, had installed 1.4 million rural solar home systems as of mid-2012, for example. Peru recently announced that the first phase of its national home electrification program will equip a half-million off-grid homes with PV.

Analysts expect a new PV installation record of 35,000 megawatts in 2013. Even with the possibility that Europe’s annual installations will fall below 10,000 megawatts over the next few years, China, Japan, and the United States, along with the growing number of “newcomer” PV countries, will more than pick up the slack. The IEA estimates, perhaps conservatively, that world PV capacity will more than triple by 2018 to 308,000 megawatts—at peak power, the generating equivalent of 300 large nuclear plants. More

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fossil Fuel Use Pushes Carbon Dioxide Emissions into Dangerous Territory

Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas, are pushing the world into dangerous territory, closing the window of time to avert the worst consequences of higher temperatures, such as melting ice and rising seas.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Despite wide agreement by governments on the need to limit emissions, the rate of increase ratcheted up from less than 1 percent each year in the 1990s to almost 3 percent annually in the first decade of this century. After a short dip in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, emissions from fossil fuels rebounded in 2010 and have since grown 2.6 percent each year, hitting an all-time high of 9.7 billion tons of carbon in 2012.

Carbon emissions would have risen even faster were it not for the 7 percent drop among industrial countries since 2007—a group that includes the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The United States, long the world’s largest emitter until it was eclipsed by China in 2006, cut carbon emissions by 11 percent over the past five years to 1.4 billion tons. The biggest drop was in emissions from coal—which is primarily used to generate electricity—as power plants switched to cheaper natural gas and as the use of carbon-free wind energy more than quadrupled. U.S. emissions from oil, mostly used for transportation, also dipped.

Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in Europe, as a whole the third largest emitter, fell 9 percent from 2007 to 2012. Emissions in Italy and Spain shrank by 17 and 18 percent, respectively. The United Kingdom’s emissions dropped by 11 percent to 126 million tons. Germany’s emissions fell by 4 percent to 200 million tons. These countries have been leaders in either wind or solar energy or both.

Russia and Japan are two industrial countries that did not see an overall decline in carbon emissions over the past five years. Russia had an uptick in oil use, increasing its emissions by 2 percent to 449 million tons. And in Japan, the quick suspension of nuclear power generation after the Fukushima disaster led to more natural gas and oil use, pushing emissions up 1 percent to 336 million tons in 2012.

CO2 emissions in developing countries surpassed those from industrial countries in 2005 and have since continued to soar. China’s carbon emissions grew by 44 percent since 2007 to 2.4 billion tons in 2012. Together the United States and China account for more than 40 percent of worldwide emissions. Emissions in India, home to more than a billion people, overtook those in Russia for the first time in 2008. From 2007 to 2012, India’s emissions grew 43 percent to reach 596 million tons of carbon. Carbon emissions in Indonesia, another fast-growing economy, have exploded, growing 52 percent to hit 146 million tons in 2012.

Although emissions from developing countries now dominate, the industrial countries set the world on its global warming path with over a century’s worth of CO2 emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere. Furthermore, emissions estimates discussed here include only those from fossil fuels burned within a country’s borders, meaning that the tallies do not account for international trade. For example, emissions generated from producing goods in China destined for use in the United States are added to China’s books. When emissions are counted in terms of the final destination of the product, the industrial countries’ carbon bill increases.

On a per person basis, the United States emits 4.4 tons of carbon pollution—twice as much as in China. The highest per capita carbon emissions are in several small oil and gas producing countries. In 2012, Qatar spewed out 11 tons of carbon per person. Trinidad and Tobago is next with 9 tons of carbon per person, and Kuwait follows at 7.5 tons.

Fossil fuels are not the only source of CO2 emissions. Changing the landscape, for example by burning forests, releases roughly 1 billion tons of carbon globally each year. Brazil and Indonesia have high levels of deforestation and are responsible for much of the current carbon emissions from the land.

About half of the CO2 that is released through fossil fuel burning or land use changes stays in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by the oceans or by plants. As more CO2 is absorbed by the world’s oceans, the water becomes more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry can strip away the building blocks of coral reefs, weakening an important link in the oceanic food chain. Scientists warn that the oceans could eventually become saturated with CO2, compromising their capacity to absorb our carbon emissions, with serious consequences for the global thermostat.

For some 800,000 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere did not go above 300 parts per million (ppm). But in the 250 years following the start of the Industrial Revolution, enough CO2 built up to bring the average concentration to nearly 394 ppm in 2012. Throughout each year, the concentration of the gas fluctuates, reaching its annual peak in the spring. In May 2013, the CO2 concentration briefly hit 400 ppm, a grim new milestone on the path of climate disruption. Never in human history has the atmosphere been so full of this odorless and colorless yet powerfully disruptive gas.

CO2 acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat. Since humans began burning fossil fuels on a large scale, the global average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The effects of higher temperatures include rising sea levels, disappearing Arctic sea ice, more heat waves, and declining yields of food crops.

More warming is in the pipeline as the climate system slowly responds to the higher CO2 concentrations. Reports from international institutions, such as the International Energy Agency, based on work by thousands of scientists emphasize that little time remains to cut emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe. The World Bank notes that absent any policy changes, the global average temperature could be 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century, well above what human civilization has ever witnessed. More


Friday, July 12, 2013

Climate change report: Weather, rising seas imperil power plants

WASHINGTON – Power plants across the country are at increased risk of temporary shutdown and reduced power generation as temperatures and sea levels continue to rise and water becomes less available, the Energy Department said Thursday.

By 2030, there will be nearly $1 trillion in energy assets in the Gulf Coast region alone at risk from increasingly costly extreme hurricanes and sea level rises, according to an Energy Department report on the effects of climate change on energy infrastructure.

“As President Obama said in his speech last month, climate change is happening,” spokeswoman April Saylor said in a statement. “As climate change makes the weather more extreme, we have a moral obligation to prepare the country for its effects.”

The report calls on federal, state and local governments to more urgently prepare crucial infrastructure - particularly coal, natural gas and nuclear plants - for the compounded risks posed by floods, storms, wildfires and droughts.

"All of our science goes in one direction: The damages are going to get worse,” Assistant Energy Secretary Jonathan Pershing said. “It will take dozens of actors from government and private sectors planning what to do and how to make it cost-effective.”

The report notes that annual temperatures have increased about 1.5 degrees over the last century. More than 130 extreme weather events costing $1 billion or more in damages have occurred since 1980.

It says that 2012 was the second most expensive year for weather and climate disasters, with $115 billion in damages from Superstorm Sandy and the extended drought. Only 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was more costly.

Higher peak electricity, costing consumers $45 billion, will require an additional 34 gigawatts of new power generation capacity in the western United States by 2050. And as infrastructure ages, storm-related power outages are likely to become increasingly frequent, at an annual cost of $20 billion to $50 billion, the report said.

"More and more communities are analyzing vulnerabilities and their risks, and developing plans in response to those risks,” said Brian Holland of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. He said more state and federal support was needed for communities, who also pursue private funding.

Greenpeace USA spokesman Robert Gardner said the administration's primary focus should be transitioning to wind and solar technology, not relying on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

“The question is why the Department of Energy is really focusing on continuing the problem which has caused this tidal wave of global warming,” Gardner said.

Benjamin Cole of the American Energy Alliance, which lobbies for oil and natural gas, said climate predictions should not be used to justify the “sweeping changes” of Obama's energy proposals. Alternative energy has yet to live up to its promise, he said.



Distant quakes 'can trigger wastewater-site temblors'

Earthquakes can be triggered at the sites of waste water injection by quakes on the other side of the world, research suggests.

Waste water from fracking

The injection of wastewater from underground operations such as oil drilling is known to increase local seismic activity.

Now a study in Science suggests that waves from the most distant temblors can cause quakes at waste water sites.

Researchers suggest this can act as a kind of "stress meter" for the sites.

The notion of natural earthquake triggering is not new; in hydrothermal and volcanic areas, tremors can be triggered by large, distant earthquakes. But the new study suggests what is in effect a new category: natural triggering of seismic events primed by human activity.

Seismic push

Injection of waste water from operations such as drilling, geothermal, or hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") is banned in the UK and many European countries, but it has become increasingly prevalent in the US.

In the state of Texas alone, more than 7,000 such wells are in operation and the link between injection wells and even large seismic events is strengthening.

In March, researchers linked a 5.7-magnitude event in Oklahoma to waste water injection that had been going on for nearly two decades.

"In some cases of induced earthquakes you drill a well, you start pumping, and a week or two later you start having earthquakes on a very nearby fault - we saw this in Arkansas in 2011, and a site in Ohio," explained lead author of the study Nicholas van der Elst of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, New York.

The team scoured the seismic records for three waste water injection sites in the US states of Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas, looking for signs of the smallest earthquakes that could be detected.

"In the sites we looked at, the connection hadn't been quite as straightforward, so we were looking for additional evidence that fluids were bringing these regions to the tipping point," Dr van der Elst told BBC News.

When compared with global records of larger earthquakes, a pattern became clear: there was a pronounced increase in earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater following large events elsewhere in the world, such as the February 2010 event in Chile or the March 2011 Tohoku event off Japan.

"When you have a really big earthquake somewhere else on the planet, this sets up big seismic waves that spread out like ripples over the surface of the Earth. When these seismic waves pass faults that are already very near to failure, these seismic waves can give that additional push that sets off an earthquake."

'Stress meter'

Dr van der Elst said that these correlations of mid-size earthquakes with distant events could be used as a useful test of a site's integrity.

"If you've had a quiet injection site in the past, you'd like to be able to know if that site has transitioned, reached some critical threshold where larger earthquakes are possible," he said.

"If you can use this method as a kind of stress meter to show where the stresses are building, that might be really useful for making policy decisions about whether to keep pumping there or whether to try a different site."

Richard Davies, director of the Durham Energy Institute at the University of Durham, called the paper "an exciting, interesting result".

"Seismologists have known for some time that there are transient stresses from earthquakes that can potentially cause other faults to slip, causing an earthquake," Prof Davies told BBC News.

"But this paper is a very interesting contribution as it proposes that mankind can artificially 'prime the faults' by injecting waste water over long periods under the ground. More


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Climate change threatens nation's energy, DOE report warns

Climate change and extreme weather are disrupting the ways we generate, distribute, and consume energy, according to a report released Thursday by the US Department of Energy. It's part of a growing acknowledgement among officials for a need to adapt to the planet's changing climate.

A nuclear plant shuts down when high temperatures overheat its reactor. A drought-stricken city bans the use of its increasingly scarce water in hydraulic fracturing. More than 8 million customers lose power when winds topple utility poles and a storm surge floods transformers and underground power lines.

Extreme weather and a changing climate are disrupting the ways we generate, distribute, and consume energy, according to a report released Thursday by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

That's not exactly breaking news to anyone who's ever suffered through a blackout in the midst of a storm, but the government report details the extent of energy's vulnerability to weather, from the light bulbs in your kitchen all the way to rigs drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. It's part of a growing recognition among local, state, and federal officials for a need to plan for and adapt to the planet's changing climate.

"When you think about any individual circumstance, it's not a surprise," Jonathan Pershing, who led the development of the DOE report, said in a phone interview. "What was a surprise was putting it all together and seeing how large and pervasive the damage is."

Higher air and water temperatures, scarcer water resources, and more intense and frequent storms routinely disrupt modern energy infrastructure, according to the report. That includes high-profile failures like the outages in the wake of superstorm Sandy, but the report also points to less-visible, more pervasive ways in which energy is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate change.

Last summer's drought, for example, lowered river water levels, disrupting the shipment of petroleum and coal delivered by barges. In 2010, unusually low precipitation in the Columbia River basin deprived hydroelectric dams of water flow needed to meet electricity demand. In the Arctic, thawing permafrost and melting ice can damage oil pipelines and restrict access to resources.

"Climate change is not the only risk, but it piles on a couple of different problems going in the same direction," James Newcomb, program director at theRocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit focused on resource efficiency, said in a phone interview. "Solar storms, cyberattacks, extreme weather all pose the risk of cascading blackouts that can have extraordinary consequences for the economy."

President Obama highlighted these threats in a speech on climate change at Georgetown Universitylast month. With Congress unable to pass a broad climate policy, Mr. Obama directed theEnvironmental Protection Agency to impose carbon limits on both new and existing coal power plants. He called on other federal agencies to take a hard look at their own contribution and vulnerability to a volatile climate.

State and local governments are also looking at ways they can mitigate extreme weather threats to infrastructure. Motivated largely by the devastation from superstorm Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled last month a $20 billion plan to protect New Yorkers from storm surges. Four counties in southern Florida have collaborated on a plan to manage the regions ecosystems and slow the flow of seawater into freshwater.

"[The DOE report} is another indication of the recognition among key actors that climate change is a significant risk to what they’re responsible for taking care of," Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute, said in a phone interview. She added that the evidence of threats to the traditional, carbon-based energy system should play a significant role in the broader debate over America's energy future.

The challenges aren't without solutions. The DOE calls for improved efficiency across the grid and the strengthening of transmission lines, power plants, oil and gas refineries, and other energy equipment. Greater coordination is needed between governments, industry, and civilians to identify risks and vulnerabilities, and protect against them, according to the report. More


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Biggest Criminal Enterprise in History

Terracide and the Terrarists Destroying the Planet for Record Profits

We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.

The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.

In the case of the terrarists -- and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron,ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell -- you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.

It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has putrecord amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intense heat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.

How to Make Staggering Amounts of Money and Do In the Planet

None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while -- thanks in part to the terrarists -- but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.

Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.

The peak oil people hadn’t been wrong when they suggested years ago that we would soon hit a limit in oil production from which decline would follow. The problem was that they were focused on traditional or “conventional” liquid oil reserves obtained from large reservoirs in easy-to-reach locations on land or near to shore. Since then, the big energy companies have invested a remarkable amount of time, money, and (if I can use that word) energy in the development of techniques that would allow them to recover previously unrecoverable reserves (sometimes by processes that themselves burn striking amounts of fossil fuels): fracking, deep-water drilling, and tar-sands production, among others.

They also began to go after huge deposits of what energy expert Michael Klare calls “extreme” or “tough” energy -- oil and natural gas that can only be acquired through the application of extreme force or that requires extensive chemical treatment to be usable as a fuel. In many cases, moreover, the supplies being acquired like heavy oil and tar sands are more carbon-rich than other fuels and emit more greenhouse gases when consumed. These companies have even begun using climate change itself -- in the form of a melting Arctic -- to exploit enormous and previously unreachable energy supplies. With the imprimatur of the Obama administration, Royal Dutch Shell, for example, has been preparing to test out possible drilling techniques in the treacherous waters off Alaska.

Call it irony, if you will, or call it a nightmare, but Big Oil evidently has no qualms about making its next set of profits directly off melting the planet. Its top executives continue to plan their futures (and so ours), knowing that their extremely profitable acts are destroying the very habitat, the very temperature range that for so long made life comfortable for humanity.

Their prior knowledge of the damage they are doing is what should make this a criminal activity. And there are corporate precedents for this, even if on a smaller scale. The lead industry, the asbestos industry, and the tobacco companies all knew the dangers of their products, made efforts to suppress the information or instill doubt about it even as they promoted the glories of what they made, and went right on producing and selling while others suffered and died.

And here’s another similarity: with all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it. Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed. Each used that time-disconnect as protection. One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product. In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it's also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).

If Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 plane hijackings or the Tsarnaev brothers’ homemade bombs constitute terror attacks, why shouldn’t what the energy companies are doing fall into a similar category (even if on a scale that leaves those events in the dust)? And if so, then where is the national security state when we really need it? Shouldn’t its job be to safeguard us from terrarists and terracide as well as terrorists and their destructive plots?

The Alternatives That Weren’t

It didn’t have to be this way.

On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East. “To give us energy security,” he announced,

“I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun... Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”

It’s true that, at a time when the science of climate change was in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of “alternative energy” wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one. Even then, shades of today or possibly tomorrow, he was talking about having “more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.” Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.

Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today? Instead, the media dubbed it the “malaise speech,” though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American “crisis of confidence.” While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long. In the end, the president's energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.

As a symbolic gesture, Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House. (“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”) As it turned out, “a road not taken” was the accurate description. On entering the Oval Office in 1981, Ronald Reagan caught the mood of the era perfectly. One of his first acts was to order the removal of those panels and none were reinstalled for three decades, until Barack Obama was president.

Carter would, in fact, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined. Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: “Let our position be absolutely clear,” he said. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

No one would laugh him out of the room for that. Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough. Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command. More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s “alternative” North America. They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a “new Saudi Arabia.” More