Month 10, Day 12: Make It Better. Just A Little Bit Better.

Just got this in my inbox. That saved me some time looking for a theme for my letter tonight.

TAKE ACTION! How to Tap Abundant, Clean, and Cheap Energy: Strengthen Energy Efficiency Standards Now!

Energy efficiency is our cheapest, most abundant, and least tapped source of energy. Help make sure manufacturers actually follow the energy efficiency standards set by DOE: Submit your comment before 10/18!

Dear Warren,

“Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit that is lying on the ground,” wrote Secretary of Energy Steven Chu shortly after taking office.

As leader of the Department of Energy, Sec. Chu has made energy efficiency—our cheapest, most abundant, and least tapped source of energy right now—a priority. Under Chu’s command, DOE has undertaken a massive project: to strengthen energy efficiency standards for dozens of household and commercial appliances.

But here’s the catch: Once those standards are set, we need to work hard to make sure manufacturers actually follow them. And we need your help.

DOE has found that raising the low bar of efficiency for these products will save consumers billions of dollars and save an enormous amount of energy, reducing our dependence on dirty and harmful fossil fuels.

Even just one stronger standard for one appliance can make a difference. Taken all together, a house—or nation—full of more efficient appliances means America is saving energy, saving money, and driving innovation in the marketplace.

Because strong standards are meaningless without effective enforcement, DOE is taking steps to put some real teeth into these. In the past, enforcement has been lax, meaning that manufacturers could routinely violate efficiency standards without fear of punishment. DOE is proposing new rules to make sure manufacturers’ efficiency claims are backed up by rigorous testing and to hold the bad actors, those manufacturers who aren’t meeting the bare minimum in efficiency standards, accountable.

DOE is on the right path. But in order for this rule to be effective in securing huge energy and cost savings for America, it needs to be stronger and some loopholes need to be closed.

Please write Sec. Chu now and tell him now is the time to get serious about picking up that fruit on the ground by holding manufacturers to the standards we are setting for them. Link.

— Earthjustice.

Earthjustice is a good group of people. I went to the DOE comment submission site and edited the boilerplate they provided, eventually sending the letter below to Secretary Chu:

Dear Secretary Chu,

While a significant number of Americans recognize the urgency of the climate crisis, the sad truth is that there are still a great many people in our country who remain in denial of what is certainly going to be the gravest threat humanity has yet faced. Consequently, truly robust legislation to tackle the major problems consequent to fossil fuel combustion is unlikely to pass our Senate in the near future.

We have two options. One is to abandon hope; the other is to solve the parts of the problem that can be solved, while working to build public awareness and consensus on the need for larger-scale action. Energy efficiency in appliances is one such area — huge amounts of energy are wasted every day by pieces of equipment that are poorly designed, poorly insulated or poorly maintained. We need to strengthen enforcement of federal energy efficiency standards in residential and commercial applications.

It is obvious that equipment that uses less energy to run represents a cost savings for the consumer; less self-evident is that reducing waste is a positive step in our treatment of our environment. With fossil fuel consumption already overburdening our atmosphere with greenhouse gas emissions, there is no excuse for inefficiency and wastefulness.

If the manufacturing sector is merely giving lip service to efficiency standards, we are doomed to fail. The Department of energy must adopt a robust and aggressive system of enforcement that will ensure compliance with energy efficiency regulations. The American people need a guarantee that the Departmen will hold companies accountable for their failures.

I like the plan you’ve proposed. However, I would like to see it include some of the following:

Ongoing product testing, including regular follow-up assessment and verification, preferably conducted by independent labs. The stronger the testing, the more meaningful the results, and the greater the benefit to the consumer. The labs carrying out the testing must have proven integrity and must be insulated from any possibility of corruption.

The process of assessment must be made as transparent as possible. The public should be able to access test results easily and without expense; an informed citizenry is perhaps the best defense against corporate malfeasance. The Department’s proposal to make the information it receives regarding product compliance available to the public on an easily accessible website is an important and necessary initiative.

Thank you for your attention to my comments. I hope that your proposal is strengthened further and can be implemented without difficulty. It will be a significant step in our struggle to take meaningful action on climate change, and to educate our fellow citizens that tackling this problem can actually lead to improvements in our lives rather than deprivations.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 28: You Can’t Keep a Bad Gas Down

Posts like this one at DK allow me to sound like an expert. I am an expert — at sounding like an expert. If the US Government were to develop policies about Hindustani music, I’d be speaking from a genuine base of experience…but here? I’m just passing along what I read, rephrased and polished.

To the Secretary of Energy, with a cc to President Obama:

Dear Secretary Chu,

I was surprised and disappointed when you made public statements last year touting the possibility of “clean coal” as part of our nation’s energy strategy; your previous remarks characterizing coal as a “nightmare” were obviously unacceptable to the coal industry’s representatives, and it must have been an unpleasant experience having to sacrifice scientific integrity for the sake of political expediency.

A recent paper published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering significantly strengthens the case against carbon sequestration. Christine Ehlig-Economides and Michael Economides carried out simulation studies indicating that a closed underground reservoir may not be able to hold even 1% of its volume in injected carbon dioxide (CO2). They write:

“Published reports on the potential for sequestration fail to address the necessity of storing CO2 in a closed system. Our calculations suggest that the volume of liquid or supercritical CO2 to be disposed cannot exceed more than about 1% of pore space. This will require from 5 to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions.

The authors further discuss Sleipner, a CCS project in the North Sea, noting that it has achieved only a fraction of the CO2 injection volumes required for a single 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant, and further more has experienced “significant leakage to overlying layers.” That is to say, the North Sea project isn’t holding what its proponents said it would hold — and it’s leaking.

Of course, CO2 leakage kind of defeats the purpose of carbon sequestration, doesn’t it?

But let’s say we could solve the leakage problem. Each year, a single coal plant makes about 3 million tonnes of CO2. Three decades adds up to ninety million tonnes, which, stored underground at 1,000 psi, would require an aquifer just slightly smaller than Rhode Island. The United States is a big country, but I don’t feel sanguine about finding six hundred or so storage locations of that size. Do you?

Ehlig-Economides and Economides conclude their paper by stating that geological CO2 sequestration is “…not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others.”

Can we please stop pretending that “clean coal” is likely to happen anytime soon? I strongly favor R&D funding of carbon sequestration technologies for the simple reason that research in this area is reasonably likely to turn up other approaches that may be useful in our fight against potentially devastating effects of high levels of atmospheric CO2. But it is increasingly obvious that the only way to safely sequester the carbon in coal is the simplest: don’t burn it.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 21: Good Work!

I read about a gathering of representatives from all over Latin America that took place in Washington, the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Ministerial, hosted by Dr. Steven Chu. Hillary Clinton’s statement to the group are worth reading in their entirety…and it’s worth watching Secretary Chu’s opening remarks:

So I wrote him a letter of support.

Dear Secretary Chu,

It was with great pleasure that I read about the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) Ministerial which you hosted recently in Washington. It is crucial to the long-term health of the planet that the USA embrace new energy technologies, making sure that they are made available to nations across the world. The ECPA is a vital element in this process.

The actions of governments and communities throughout South America demonstrate what can happen when sustainability is taken seriously by people at all levels, from ordinary citizens to the highest reaches of government. The use of indigenous energy sources is not only a stimulus for local economies, but an essential element in the fight against global climate change.

But there are massive economic forces allied against energy localization — forces whose profits are threatened by any move away from fossil fuels. As our government moves closer to passing climate and energy legislation, the oil and coal interests will disseminate ever more misinformation, making a robust bill less and less likely. Please use the power of your position to convey to the President and to members of Congress that the United States needs to lead the world on this issue; if we cannot lead, we must at least support energy sustainability initiatives in Latin America and the rest of the world. Right now, the Carbon Lobby is doing all it can to make sure that no one gets free from the deadly addiction to fossil energy — and our lawmakers are enabling them.

This can’t go on. The eyes of the world are upon us; what we do in the next few years will determine whether future generations inherit a sustainable and beautiful planet, or an economic and environmental catastrophe.

The Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas is a great start. We need to do more; there is so much more to do.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 2, Day 1: Energy Secretary Chu

Go and read this post from DK Greenroots’ A Siegel, all about how Business Week practices gross deception on their readership with misleading reporting on climate-change issues. It made me pretty mad. Tomorrow’s letter may go to Business Week itself; tonight I wanted to write to them, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around all the facts in Siegel’s piece sufficiently to compose a letter that would make any sense.

So instead I thought I’d write to Energy Secretary Chu, and tell him that he and his Department would have to find some ways to edumacate the media about how to do accurate reporting.

I swear, if we could harness the Idiot Wind, all our problems would be solved.

This letter was pretty long and kind of sprawling. I was too tired to write concisely.

Dear Secretary Chu,

I write as a concerned citizen. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where the threat of environmental devastation on a planetary scale no longer hangs over humanity’s head.

I am not a climatologist, or even any kind of scientist. But I am scientifically literate to the point where it is obvious to me that the difficult truths of global climate change are constantly overwhelmed by corporate-funded denialism and misdirection. The steady rise of atmospheric CO2, the acidification of our oceans, and the newest and most troubling trend of melting Arctic methane all suggest that the most profound existential crisis humanity has ever faced is at hand — and is being resolutely ignored.

Obviously we need concrete and practical solutions, and equally obviously they have to pass political muster. I do not envy your job, for it is self-evident that you (as an administrator) have had to approve initiatives which you (as a scientist) know are foolish and almost certainly a waste of time. So-called “Clean Coal” is one such notion; the idea that capture and sequestration of carbon emissions from burning coal could ever be cost-effective is absurd.

What can you and your colleagues in the Department of Energy do to promote scientific literacy in the media? Perhaps you could announce a regular series of awards from the DoE for the highest-quality scientific reporting in print and broadcast areas — with a special “bottom-of-the-bucket” category to highlight the worst deceptions perpetrated on an uninformed public by our corporatized media establishment. Awards announcements could be made with great fanfare, providing positive reinforcement for journalists and media figures who actually make the effort to explain complex subjects without lapsing into caricature.

I recognize that this type of action would normally fall outside your purview as a working scientist. Alas, by accepting a Cabinet position in the Obama Administration, you have also accepted responsibility for making your department’s work make sense to the general population — a task which is all but impossible in today’s corrupt informational environment. You and your Department need to take the initiative strongly, and give the media what it needs: a circus. If you can give our ADD-affected punditocracy a better circus than that provided by corporate flacks, your message will have a chance of changing the minds of Americans.

Right now, with an increasing number of my compatriots believing that global climate change is illusory, it seems the voices funded by Big Oil and Big Coal are winning the battle. If the Venusian worst-case projections of Dr. James Hansen are accurate, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the energy companies, for within a few centuries there won’t be a human customer base for them to lie to.

Good luck.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

Here’s how to reach the Department of Energy.