California Adopts Cap-and-Trade System, Serves as Greenhouse Guinea Pig
27 Oct 2011
After a unanimous vote by the California Air Resources Board, the state adopted the most comprehensive cap-and-trade system in the country, a key part of a 2006 global warming law that had yet to be implemented. The system will cover 85 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and allows businesses to counterbalance up to 8 percent of their emissions by buying offset credits.
The state is making itself a guinea pig for climate legislation and hopes to inspire other states to follow suit—a precedent the state has set with other environmental legislation.
At first, most of the emissions credits will be given out free, but it’s expected by 2016 to be a $10 billion market.
After the economic crash of 2008, the growth of clean energy slowed—and the outlook for the rest of the decade is single-digit growth, according to analyses by IHS Emerging Energy Research and others. A major factor has been that cash-strapped governments have cut back on subsidies that helped drive the growth in renewables.
The U.K. reshuffled its renewable subsidies, taking away from onshore wind and hydro power, and giving more to tidal and biomass power plants. Scotland—which sets its subsidies separately from the rest of the U.K., and which boasts some of the world’s best wind and tidal resources—also made subsidy support adjustments.
Industry experts fear the U.K. may soon slash solar subsidies by half—after already cutting them earlier this year—so they are encouraging people to install solar systems now.
But the World Wildlife Fund argues that high growth of renewables is still possible, and the U.K. could get nearly all of its energy from renewables by 2030.
In the U.S., solar industry jobs grew about 7 percent in the past year—much faster than job growth in the whole economy, but only about a quarter of the rate that the industry had expected, according to the Solar Foundation’s newly released National Jobs Census.
In Europe, “business as usual will not be an option for most energy utilities,” according to McKinsey analysts who argued that energy demand is reaching a peak, and existing technologies could drastically cut consumption. In response, utilities should look to other services to keep their revenue up, such as selling solar panels, insulation, or central control units that track and manage a building’s electricity consumption.
One company is already trying to make such products cool. Nest Labs, a well funded start up founded by former Apple employees, have created a thermostat that studies your habits to help adjust the temperature to save energy.
Climate Change Conundrum
Climate change could exceed dangerous levels in some parts of the world during the lifetime of many people alive today, according to research papers published in the journal Nature.
University of Washington Professor of Philosophy Stephen Gardiner argued in Yale Environment 360 that humanity’s institutions aren’t up to the ethical challenge presented by environmental change. As these problems get worse, he argues, we might see a push for technological fixes such as geoengineering.
Some scientists are looking into such methods, and a U.K. group had planned a test flight of a balloon tethered to a hose—the kind that could shoot reflective aerosols into the atmosphere, scatter sunlight and potentially cool the planet. But that group postponed its test until spring to allow “more engagement with stakeholders”—which New Scientist argued is crucial.
Skeptic Changes Mind
A study led by a self-described climate change skeptic—physicist Richard Muller of the University of California, Berkeley—released results from a re-analysis of temperature records. The “biggest surprise,” Muller said, was how closely his study matched earlier assessments, such as those by NASA and the U.K.’s Hadley Centre. Muller’s study had been hailed by climate change skeptics since it took seriously many of their criticisms.
But in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Muller said “global warming is real,” and argued no one should be a skeptic about this warming any longer.