Salon Policy Experts on Pickens Plan, Mitigation & Adaptation- October 2008

On October 8, 2008 we had a Spheres of Influence Salon teleconference conversation with Betsy Taylor, founder of 1Sky, on climate policy.  We were joined in that conversation by Prof. Richard Rood of University of Michigan who weighed in on what the science suggests about the need to adapt to climate change, and by Suzanne Farver, Board member of Rocky Mountain Institute who has done research at Harvard on framing climate change. And actress Nora Dunn took away some challenging questions to pose to her presidential candidate of choice.

Before the call with Betsy Taylor, Melissa O’Mara, who works in sustainability at IBM, posed several great thought-provoking questions that we did not get to on the call regarding Pickens’ Plan–which is in clear evidence in both presidential candidates’ energy platforms– and about where we are on energy options. After the call, I posed Melissa’s questions on line to our Salon experts on climate policy which prompted the following responses from both Rob Harmon, inventor of the REC ( and Richard Rood ( . Richard Rood invites comments and responses to a piece that he has written at .

Listen to that conversation at:

Read the subsequent email exchange in full below. Their responses are worthy of reviewing in their entirety.

Here is what Prof. Richard Rood says about Pickens’ Plan and our various sources of energy:

“I have listened to him a couple of times.  I think that he speaks a lot of sense.
His plan is very focused on energy security, with little direct concern about climate change.
In general, I think that it is critical to consider the approach to energy and climate and economic growth and consumption problem in both the near term and the long term.  It is clearly impossible to just abandon fossil fuels.  For climate protection we have to find a way to break the correlation between energy use, economic success, and CO2 emission.  Wind farms as in the Pickens portfolio is one of the best tools we have for doing this.  Hence, a diversification to wind and solar etc. is an important piece of the puzzle.  One issue with wind, geothermal, etc. if you add up the possible energy from the source and compare it energy consumption, it does not match.  Plus there are potential environmental impacts from massive wind and solar farms.  Of the “alternative” energy sources solar has the potential to scale to be large enough to become a primary source.  But there are a number of technological issues that need to be addressed.  Hence, a bridge is an important concept.  Of the other “alternatives” nuclear is the most straightforward to make wholesale replacement in say, electrical generation, but there are many techno-emotional issues involved.  Coal looms there as accessible and cheap, but without sequestration is climate disaster.  So again, we need some bridging strategy.

To be clear.  By far the biggest and best tool in the tool box in the short term is efficiency.  But we have to have some sort valuation of efficiency so that we don’t just use more energy because of our efficiency savings.

So … Pickens is a voice that makes sense.  But it is in terms of energy security, not climate change.  His help to climate change is a side product, which is fine.  But energy security can trump climate change.

Might be interested in this piece I published recently with one of my business students, who is now a carbon management director in the corporate world.

Would be interested in the comments of others.


Richard B. Rood
Professor: Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences
University of Michigan

Rood AOSS Web Page <;
Rood Weather Underground Climate Blog <;
Rood AMS <>  Blog <;


Here is Rob Harmon on our energy options, including his response to Pickens on natural gas for cars:

” 1. We can reduce energy consumption in US buildings by at least 50% and put the country back to work by improving the energy productivity in buildings.  That requires a major push.  We could start with neighborhood pilots where we do everything that is cost-effective over the life of the measure.  (A 5 year payback on weather stripping that lasts 1 year is a bad investment, but a 20 year payback on attic insulation that lasts 30 years is a good investment.)  We have to keep our eye on 2050, here.
2. If we do this, we don’t need to build any nukes.  Lovins has a great piece on nukes here:
The notion that solving the problem with solar would use up too much land is misplaced.  First, you start with the rooftops we already have.
3. We need a smart grid.  We currently have a really dumb grid.  Because electricity is tough to store, you have to use it in real time.  That is an information management problem.  We need to get the IT geniuses working on this problem.  If demand and supply can’t “talk” to each other, you need much more infrastructure.  We need more brains and less brawn for this problem.
4. We need to move from changing light bulbs, to changing laws.  Without good policy, none of this is going to happen.  Right now the incentives are to pollute.  We need to make it profitable to save the planet, rather than trash it.  Until we do that, we are fighting ourselves.
5. On the transportation side, only 8% of the energy in a gallon of gas is used to move the passenger forward (Lovins).  The rest is lost to inefficiencies.   Again, application of brains would really help here.  It makes no sense to me to build an entire natural gas infrastructure for transportation when it does not solve the climate problem, it is inferior to electricity, and the cars are unbelievably inefficient.  Plug in hybrids make way more sense.  Public transportation would help too.”


Robert Harmon
Chief Innovation Officer &
Senior Vice President
Bonneville Environmental Foundation

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