Energy: September 2008 Archives


A terrorist couldn't have planned it any better.

Hurricane Ike and its record expected 10-27 foot storm surge is headed directly for the Houston Ship Channel and the region that provides the nation's chemicals, oil refining and natural gas pipeline operational centers, it also is a major port for Midwest grain transport.

Expect gas prices to rise for weeks or months, and don't be surprised to experience gas shortages or even gas outages in parts of the country. Gas prices surged to $5 a gallon at the pump in some locations this morning already.

Though "only" a Category 2 hurricane, Ike covers a freakishly large area, with tropical storm winds extending 550 miles and hurricane force winds covering 240 miles. This will bring a forecast storm surge up to 30 feet in parts of the Texas coast, with the highest surge taking dead aim for Galveston Bay and near La Port and Baytown where the Houston Ship Channel begins.

Dr. Jeff Masters, one of the nation's leading experts, called it this morning, "poised to become one of the most damaging hurricanes of all time."  

Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff in today's Wall Street Journal called Ike's directly hitting the Houston Ship Channel "one of the nightmare scenarios in the world of hurricane watching." He said it could damage "a lot of the energy and chemcial resources we depend on in this country."


Besides the national economic damage Ike will inflict, expect massive human health and environmental consequences from the pending disaster. The region of southeast Houston and southeast Texas is home to hundreds of chemical plants and dozens of refineries, with 89 percent handling hazardous waste. The neighborhoods surrounding the channel are largely Hispanic, some by more than 90 percent.

I wonder if local Texas officials have reached out to Hispanics through media and other ways, so that they can be evacuated from what may become the equivalent of the Ninth Ward during Katrina in New Orleans. In coastal Freeport, no special outreach was made to "undocumented" communities, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

This event portends to reshape the US energy economy, disaster preparedness and the implications of climate change adaptation (see my blog entries from earlier this week).

My hope is that people make it out of there safely while there is still time.

Ed: Click images above for full-size, updated versions.

The 5th Annual Conference on Climate Change in California wrapped up yesterday, and speakers took on the hard questions that follow on the heels of the scientific acknowledgement that at least some global man-made climate change is now occurring thorughout the world, and that includes California.

Greenhouse gases have "lifetimes of decades if not centuries," according to Scripps Institute of Oceanography's Dan Cayan, and there is likely to be ongoing impacts at every level of culture, society and the economy.

The so-called "wicked problems" the state faces--the term taken from Dan Cayan's label of "problems that are all tangled up in different processes"--are rife.

  • Water allocation, with Sierra snowpack forecast to decrease 30-90 percent from 2020 through 2090, creating a scramble for water among users. UC Berkeley's Michael Hanemann noted that the state was not measuring current diversions of water or groundwater use.
  • The costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation: How expensive will it be? Who will pay and will there be a way to allocate costs equitably? 
  • Communcation of both the nature and scale of the problem to the American populace, media and policy makers is a challenge since scientific data can be misinterpreted, misunderstood or downright ignored. "We're not good entertainers," Dr. Cayan ad-libbed to the amusement of the large audience of mainly scientists.
  • More and more data and information is needed, according to the California Department of Water Resources director Lester Snow, to better forecast and prepare for damage to human settlements and ecosystems through climate change induced flood, drought and wildfires.

So what were some of the best ideas that came forth during the Sacramento event once the caveats cleared?

Economics professor Hanemann suggested that the state come up with climate change adaptation plans similar to existing urban water management plans. Just as the water management plans do for extreme drought, climate change adaptation plans could scope what could be done by state, regional and local government to prepare for worst-case scenarios (drought, flood, heat stroms, wildfires) in land use, transportation and public health.

ICLEI's Gary Cook outlined how that international member-based organization is leading assessments and actions plans for climate resilient communities in four US locations: Keene, NH; Homer, AK; Miami-Dade County, FL; and Ft. Collins, CO.

Art Rosenfeld, longtime commissioner of conference host the California Energy Commission, spoke on day one about how cool roofs--a very low cost or even no extra cost technology--reduces cooling use by 20 percent in homes and businesses, while reducing overall urban heat islands.

This one step taken in all new construction in the world's largest 100 cities, which at the CEC's behest California is mandating for all new and rebuilt homes next year, would save 400 billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to more than the greenhouse gas emissions of all nations for an entire year.

And people would pay less on their energy bills, providing a net positive financial impact immediately for all homes that use air conditioning.

In addition to state policies like AB 32, which would reduce overall emissions by 70 percent come 2050 with myriad such policies to reduce building, transportation, government and industry carbon emissions, there is no one silver bullet. 

California is beginning to demonstrate that such wicked problems must be attacked with an almost endless arsenal of research, policy, programatic, product and management innovation. 





About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Energy category from September 2008.

Energy: August 2008 is the previous archive.

Energy: October 2008 is the next archive.

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