For the last six years, the Obama administration has been mulling a controversial plan to open up the Atlantic coast for oil and gas exploration. It seemed inevitable that some sort of drilling would eventually occur in this previously untouched region.
For the last two years, global oil prices have been in free-fall, and no one seems to know when the bungee cord will catch. In June 2014, you had to plunk down $110 to purchase a barrel of Brent crude. By early 2015, that had dropped to $60. Today, it costs less than $30 to buy a barrel of oil — a level not seen since 2004. It's a breathtaking decline.
Here's a capsule summary of the big UN climate talks this year: 1) The good news: Every country is submitting a detailed pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 2) The bad: Those pledges, added together, aren't enough to keep us below 2°C of global warming. Without drastic changes, we're in for some serious shit.
On Monday, the Obama administration is releasing its Clean Power Plan, a major new EPA rule that aims to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation's electric power plants. A number of media outlets have been referring to this as "Obama's climate plan." But that's not quite right. More precisely, this rule is just one component of a much broader Obama agenda to reduce US greenhouse-gas emissions over the next decade. The Clean Power Plan is certainly a significant piece here, but it won't even account for a majority of the cuts Obama is envisioning. So keep an eye on all those other rules, as well.
Over the past three years, President Obama has quietly made global warming a major focus of his second term. And just about everything he's done has had to go through Gina McCarthy. McCarthy is the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has lately proposed a barrage of rules and regulations designed to curb US greenhouse gas emissions. That includes new rules on power plants. New rules on trucks. New rules on methane leaks from fracking. None of this has gone through Congress — it's all being done under authority the Supreme Court granted the EPA back in 2007.
Back in 2007, energy companies first began to realize that the United States contained vast supplies of natural gas trapped in underground shale-rock formations, which they could unlock through new fracking and horizontal drilling techniques. At the time, some environmentalists hailed this as a major green breakthrough. After all, natural gas is much cleaner than coal, which had been America's dominant power source for decades. Burning gas for electricity instead of coal led to fewer particulates in the air, less smog, and less planet-warming carbon dioxide. Robert F. Kennedy touted shale gas as key to ending the nation's "deadly coal addiction."
In the future, solar power won't just come from bulky blue panels on rooftops. The solar panels of tomorrow will be transparent, lightweight, flexible, and ultra-efficient. We'll be able to coat shingles or skylights or windows with them — and it'll all be as cheap as putting up wallpaper.
California saw this drought coming. Even if people in the state didn't know it would be this bad — now the worst in recorded history — they've known that dry years are inevitable and had all sorts of ideas for how to deal with them. But for all that planning, California's current drought has been a total disaster. Reservoirs are drying up. Crops are wilting in the fields. For the first time ever, towns and cities will face a mandatory 25 percent cut in their water use. The problem isn't that no one foresaw the drought. The problem is that no one has been able to solve an underlying issue that is simultaneously less scary and also much harder than a dry spell: California's convoluted water system and intractable water politics.