Changing Planet

U.S. Energy Department: Peak Travel Season Could Cost Drivers 6% More

Gasoline prices have edged off the pedal in recent days, but the Energy Information Administration this week released new data showing motorists will pay about a quarter more per gallon during peak travel season—April through September. Prices will top out at $4.01, on average, in May. The last time gasoline spiked to such levels was 2008, causing a much different reaction from motorists in part because prices had shot up 35 percent in just six months.

While escalating gasoline prices are driving some folks to hybrid dealerships, only a few models offer a speedy return on investment. With the exception of the Prius and Lincoln MKZ, and the clean-diesel Volkswagen Jetta TDI, most clean-car technologies take more than a decade to pay owners back.

Rising oil prices are feeding a population boom in North Dakota, with the town of Williston holding the distinction of fastest-growing town after its population rose 8.8 percent in about a year. Economists surveyed by CNNMoney say the economy can handle the current high oil prices of around $100 a barrel, but that a further spike in oil prices triggered by a confrontation with Iran could be one of the biggest threats to the economy.

Smoggy City Makes Strides in Clean Air

Mexico City only a few years ago rivaled Los Angeles and Houston as a smog capital, but thanks to air-scrubbing innovations such as vertical gardens and a popular bicycle sharing program, the city is becoming a leader in green efforts. Although California is slipping in the smog and air toxics categories, the state topped a list ranking states’ preparedness to address such challenges as rising sea levels that a warming world portends. Alaska, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin also ranked high.

Realclimate.org reports that scientists’ predictions about human-caused climate change pushing the mercury up were on target. What’s more, a warming planet may be bad for bunnies threatened by the loss of sagebrush habitat and snow, where they hide from predators. Tennessee, meanwhile, enacted a law that would let teachers challenge climate change and evolution in the classroom.

Energy vs. Environment

A new slate of clean- and renewable-energy initiatives—part of the long-term “Operational Energy Strategy” aimed at reducing the military’s dependence on fossil fuels—was announced this week. The Obama administration aims to build three gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal power capacity on U.S. military installations by 2025. The Army, meanwhile, is building fuel cell and hybrid vehicles.

Actor Matt Damon has signed on to “The Promised Land” a film critical of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Meanwhile, promoters of the pro-fracking film “FrackNation” are raising funds on Kickstarter. Outside of Hollywood, the Department of the Interior is poised to propose guidelines governing fracking on public lands. For those opposed to fracking for fear that natural gas will diminish demand for renewables, the Center for American Progress says that in the long term, the two are not necessarily in opposition, with renewables becoming increasingly competitive as natural gas production nears a peak sooner than some might predict.

A new energy poll says 61 percent of Americans said they’d be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate backing more natural gas. The same study concludes many Americans—six out of 10—are unfamiliar with hydraulic fracturing.

Payouts related to the BP oil spill, the largest in history, have recently increased four-fold. Texas, a recipient of some of the funds, announced plans to spend its money on long-term coastal conservation. Oil drilling in the Gulf is expected to see its biggest year since the 2010 spill, with predictions for eight more oil rigs, even though signs of the disaster’s effect on the environment still remain.

India has forbidden its airlines from complying with a European Union law that went into effect Jan. 1 that charges airlines using European airports for their carbon emissions. Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan called the requirement a “deal-breaker” for global climate change talks.

Scientists have finally extracted sunlight from cucumbers. No, not really, but in a 2011 essay Vaclav Smil used the fictional cukes from Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels to make a point about today’s serial infatuations with “it” technologies—simple solutions to complex energy problems. Bloomberg’s Eric Roston suggests that President Obama’s “all of the above” strategy—which consists of various “it” technologies—would do well to “focus not on our infatuations with particular energy sources but on the market in which they operate.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.
  • […] all witnessed the power of a price signal when the cost of gasoline rises at the local filling station.  Gasoline consumption drops sharply.  High gasoline prices […]

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