Environment and Energy

Michael A. Livermore is the executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law. He is the author, along with Richard L. Revesz, of Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and Our Health. The Washington Post ran an interesting editorial yesterday on regulating carbon—interesting, but ultimately wrong. The Post is correct that putting a price on carbon is the surest way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and that it would be preferable for Congress to do this through legislation.

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Okay, it's not exactly the most pressing scientific question of our age, but Josh McDermott, a neuroscientist at NYU, explains why we find fingernails on a blackboard so singularly painful to hear: "Probably a couple of factors combine to make such sounds unpleasant. The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the presence of high frequencies. The range between two and four kilohertz—approximately that covered by the highest octave of a standard piano—seems to contribute the most to the nastiness of the sound.

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What Would Jesus Drive?

This Saturday afternoon, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, the time for ideological issue training had arrived, and a breakout session on climate change was packed.

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Over in the Financial Times today, Fiona Harvey gets a sneak peek at a new International Energy Agency report, which finds that worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions have undergone a "significant decline" this year—shrinking 2.6 percent, the steepest CO2 drop in the last four decades. Steeper even than the drop after the OPEC oil crisis in the late '70s. Okay, well, no kidding, there's a severe recession going on. Industrial output is declining.

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The conventional wisdom about the politics of climate-change legislation is that cap-and-trade is grossly, horribly unpopular and that Democrats in conservative districts ought to be blanching with terror over getting behind it. What's more (says the c.w.), those conservative Dems who did vote for the Waxman-Markey bill in the House probably signed their own political death warrants. But is this really true?

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On Wednesday, the Interior Department finally terminated a program few people had ever heard of: the royalty-in-kind (RIK) system, which allowed oil and gas companies to drill in public lands and pay the government in oil, rather than cash. Over the past decade, the program, run out of an office in suburban Denver, had allowed companies to underpay the government by $10 million.

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Is it really possible to suck out thousands of tons of carbon-dioxide from the air simply by stirring some charcoal into the soil? Or is so-called "biochar" just a crazy idea that's too good to be true? The Economist recently reported from the North American Biochar Conference in Boulder, Colorado, and the research sounded pretty promising, though there were some heavy caveats thrown in. The basic concept behind biochar is pretty simple. Plants, as every eighth-grader knows, absorb carbon-dioxide as they grow and then release it back into the air when they die and decompose.

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As we've discussed before, the EPA does have the authority to regulate carbon-dioxide under the Clean Air Act. Actually, it's required by law to do so. Details are still being hashed out, but if the Senate fails to pass a climate bill either this year or next, that's a possible Plan B for dealing with U.S. greenhouse gases. But what, exactly, would EPA regulation look like? Dave Roberts has a good, clear piece walking through the specifics.

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Earlier this week, Thomas Wire of the London School of Economics published a study concluding that improved family planning is one of the most effective methods of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions we’ve got.

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The food community in Washington, D.C., has been abuzz over the Michelle Obama-backed plan to open a farmers' market near the White House, starting Thursday. Powerful imagery, that: Think of the photos, with mounds of rosy tomatoes and peaches against that alabaster abode! Certainly a symbol of this administration’s commitment to sustainable agriculture, building off FLOTUS’s veggie garden on the lawn. Hang on, though. Other than the Obamas, pretty much nobody lives around Lafayette Park, where the new market is slated to open.

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