Friday, January 31, 2014

   Friday, Jan. 31, 2014

Leading Scientists Explain How Climate Change Is Worsening California’s Epic Drought - by Joe Romm

(Credit: Click to enlarge.
Scientists have long predicted that climate change would bring on ever-worsening droughts, especially in semi-arid regions like the U.S. Southwest.  As climatologist James Hansen, who co-authored one of the earliest studies on this subject back in 1990, told me this week, “Increasingly intense droughts in California, all of the Southwest, and even into the Midwest have everything to do with human-made climate change.”

Why does it matter if climate change is playing a role in the Western drought?  As one top researcher on the climate-drought link reconfirmed with me this week, “The U.S. may never again return to the relatively wet conditions experienced from 1977 to 1999.”  If his and other projections are correct, then there may be no greater tasks facing humanity than 1) working to slash carbon pollution and avoid the worst climate impact scenarios and 2) figuring out how to feed nine billion people by mid-century in a Dust-Bowl-ifying world.

Remarkably, climate scientists specifically predicted a decade ago that Arctic ice loss would bring on worse droughts in the West, especially California.  As it turns out, Arctic ice loss has been much faster than the researchers — and indeed all climate modelers — expected.

And, of course, California is now in the death-grip of a brutal, record-breaking drought, driven by the very change in the jet stream that scientists had anticipated.  Is this just an amazing coincidence — or were the scientists right?  And what would that mean for the future?  Building on my post from last summer, I talked to the lead researcher and several other of the world’s leading climatologists and drought experts.

Leading Scientists Explain How Climate Change Is Worsening California’s Epic Drought - by Joe Romm

Keystone Report Said Likely to Disappoint Foes on Climate

The Hardisty tank farm, which includes the TransCanada Corp. Hardisty Terminal 1, stands in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada. (Credit: Brett Gundlock/Bloomberg) Click to enlarge.
The U.S. State Department is preparing a report that will probably disappoint environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone pipeline, according to people who have been briefed on the draft of the document.

While the report will deviate from a March draft in some ways to the liking of environmentalists, the changes won’t be as sweeping as they had sought, several people familiar with the government’s deliberations over the review told Bloomberg News.  Changes could still be made to the report before its release, which may come tomorrow.

The March report concluded that the Canada-U.S. oil pipeline would have only a minimal impact on carbon emissions, because the oil sands in Alberta will be developed anyway.  Several people briefed on the findings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said they expect the final report will track that conclusion.

Keystone XL Report Said Likely to Disappoint Pipeline Opponents

India to Set Up Ultra Mega Solar Power Plant — 4,000 MW Capacity

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nabarunsadhya) Click to enlarge.
The Indian government, in partnership with state-owned companies, is planning to set up the largest solar power plant in the world.  The planned power project will have an installed capacity of 4,000 MW and will be located in the western state of Rajasthan.

The capacity of 4,000 MW is very significant in the Indian context.  Earlier this year a private utility, Tata Power, commissioned the first coal-fired Ultra Mega Power Plant (UMPP) of installed capacity 4,000 MW.  Another three such projects of capacity 3,960 MW each are at various stages of construction.

India to Set Up Ultra Mega Solar Power Plant — 4,000 MW Capacity

Corrections to Curry's Erroneous Comments on Ocean Heating

Warming reported as heat flux applied to Earth's entire surface area (in W m-2). This table illustrates that according to observational data, ocean heat content has indeed accumulated rapidly in the deep oceans in recent years. (Credit: Lyman and Johnson, NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory) Click to enlarge.
Recently, Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry, along with Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler, testified before a US Senate committee on the subject of climate change.  While Dessler's testimony was ... well-supported by the body of scientific evidence, Curry's contained a number of errors.

Curry's main and most flawed argument was that information in the latest IPCC report should decrease our confidence in human-caused global warming; an argument she based in large part on the supposed global warming 'pause', which is itself a fictional creation.  While the warming of average global surface temperatures has slowed (though not nearly as much as previously believed), the overall amount of heat accumulated by the global climate has not, with over 90 percent being absorbed by the oceans.

A few days after her Senate testimony, Curry took to her blog to dispute these data, essentially arguing that the amount of heat absorbed by the oceans has also 'paused', which would then support her arguments.  However, in evaluating the ocean heat content data and scientific literature, Curry made a number of mistakes.  This gives us an excellent opportunity to properly evaluate the science on rising ocean heat content and see what it tells us.  The key points are:
  • The deep oceans are warming rapidly in every data set that measures them (including those referenced by Curry).
  • Sea levels are rising consistent with rapid ocean warming.
  • The rate of ocean warming is consistent with the global energy imbalance.
  • The geographic distribution of ocean warming is consistent with natural variability superimposed on a warming background state forced by the increased greenhouse effect.
  • The global warming 'pause' is a fictional product of wishful thinking.
Corrections to Curry's Erroneous Comments on Ocean Heating

   Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Industry in North Dakota to Cut Flared Natural Gas

Flares burning waste gas at a well in McKenzie County, N.D., in the Bakken shale oil field. (Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times) Click to enlarge.
Faced with growing criticism and lawsuits, an oil industry task force representing hundreds of companies in North Dakota pledged on Wednesday to make an all-out effort to capture almost all the natural gas that is being flared in the Bakken shale oil field by the end of the decade.

The gas being flared as a byproduct of a rush of oil drilling releases roughly six million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, roughly equivalent to three medium-sized coal plants.  Because of a lack of gas-gathering lines connecting oil wells to processing plants, nearly 30 percent of the gas flowing out of the wells has been burned as waste in recent months.

Industry in North Dakota to Cut Flared Natural Gas

Shell Suspends 2014 Offshore Drilling Plans in Arctic

One of Shell's drill ships, the Kulluk, ran aground last year. (Credit: AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard) Click to enlarge.
Shell Oil announced Thursday that it is suspending efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean in 2014.  The announcement came as the company’s new CEO Ben van Beurden addressed investors to confirm that the company’s fourth-quarter profits had dropped by 71 percent to $2.1 billion.

Shell’s decision to suspend its Arctic offshore operations comes after a federal appeals court ruled last week that the U.S. government had not properly assessed the risks of drilling in the Arctic before it sold leases for exploration drilling back in 2008.  The environmental impacts considered were for the extraction of one billion barrels of oil — a number which the court ruled was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Shell’s Arctic ambitions have, so far, been thwarted at every turn.  The company also suspended drilling off Alaska altogether in 2013, after a disastrous first year in 2012.  Late permits, dangerous ice conditions and embarrassing equipment failures, all forced Shell out of the Arctic before a single well had been completed.  Even as the company was moving equipment to warmer waters, one of its drill ships, the Kulluk, ran aground.  Shell also had to pay $1.1 million in fines for air quality violations.

To date, Shell has invested well over $5 billion in its Arctic drilling projects and spent six years fighting legal challenges from environmental groups worried about the fragile Arctic ecosystem, as well as the climate consequences of burning what Shell has referred to as its “multibillion barrel prize.”

Shell Suspends 2014 Offshore Drilling Plans in Arctic

Mayors from 10 Major Cities Unite to Cut Climate Pollution from Buildings

10 mayors of American cities commit to City Energy Project. (Credit: NRDC) Click to enlarge.
The mayors from 10 major U.S. cities Wednesday announced they will undertake a united effort to significantly boost energy efficiency in their buildings, a move that combined could cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1 million to 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year, and lower energy bills by nearly $1 billion annually.

Buildings are the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions, representing 40 percent nationwide – more than either the transportation or industrial sectors.  That number is even more dramatic at the city level, with more than half of carbon emissions in most U.S. cities coming from buildings.  Much of the energy these buildings use is wasted. Improved efficiency would reduce costs and pollution.

The Kresge Foundation is supporting the multiyear City Energy Project in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.  The project is an initiative of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation.

Mayors from 10 Major Cities Unite to Cut Climate Pollution from Buildings

Warming Oceans Consistent with Rising Sea Level & Global Energy Imbalance

Black carbon over northern India. Some estimates state that 18% of global warming is caused by black carbon. (Credit: NASA) Click to enlarge.
Key Points:
  • The ocean is quickly accumulating heat and is doing so at an increased rate at depth during the so-called “hiatus” – a period over the last 16 years during which average global surface temperatures have risen at a slower rate than previous years.
  • This continued accumulation of heat is apparent in ocean temperature observations, as well as reanalysis and modeling experiments, and is now supported by up-to-date assessments of Earth's energy imbalance.
  • Another key piece of evidence is rising global sea level.  The expansion of the oceans (as they warm) has contributed to 35–40% of sea level rise over the last two decades - providing independent corroboration of the increase in ocean temperatures.
Warming Oceans Consistent with Rising Sea Level & Global Energy Imbalance

   Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Climate Impacts Could Lead to Drastic Increases in Food Prices over Coming Decades - Report

Desert land (Credit: Flickr CC) Click to enlarge.
Climate impacts are likely to lead to drastic increases in the prices of common food-stuffs over the next few decades, according to a series of new studies from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The studies strongly suggest that the agricultural industry won’t be able to adapt fast enough to the shifting climatic patterns to prevent a decrease in production — hence rising prices.

While a rise due to expanding biofuel production is quite significant, it is absolutely dwarfed by the rise that is now expected to be caused by climate change.  The new research predicts increases in food prices as high as 25% by the year 2050 as a result of climate impacts.  That means up to 25% higher without even including important secondary effects, such as increased war/conflict, increasing levels of disease/plant diseases, increasing populations of common pests, etc.

Climate Impacts Could Lead to Drastic Increases in Food Prices over Coming Decades - Report

Australian Open Heat Was a Climate-Change Preview, but At Least Nobody Died

Black carbon over northern India. Some estimates state that 18% of global warming is caused by black carbon. (Credit: NASA) Click to enlarge.
The Australian Open ended in Melbourne on Sunday, when a Swiss man wearing a sweat-drenched shirt with yellow and red stripes won in four sets.  It was bloody hot, and his nose burned red as he smooched a silver trophy.

In fact, the sweltering heat captivated the world’s media and arguably stole the show.  One player burned her bum when she sat down on a chair; another’s plastic water bottle melted on the court’s artificial surface. 
Athletes collapsed left and right, and one of them hallucinated. Emergency rules designed to help players survive the scorching heat slowed down play.

January is Melbourne’s hottest month, where temperatures routinely break triple digits. And summertime temperatures in this capital of the southeastern state of Victoria will only keep rising as the globe keeps warming.  “In Melbourne we are seeing an increase in the amount of extreme heat,” one scientist told The Guardian.  Victoria’s profile as a fire-whipped example of the global climate crisis can only go up from here.

Australian Open Heat Was a Climate-Change Preview, but At Least Nobody Died

Black Carbon Pollution Is Two to Three Times Worse in India and China Than Previously Thought

Black carbon over northern India. Some estimates state that 18% of global warming is caused by black carbon. (Credit: NASA) Click to enlarge.
A new study has found that global estimates of black carbon emissions in certain areas of India and China could be two to three more times concentrated than previously thought.  Black carbon, a major element of soot, is a particle that is generated by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel or biomass.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers from France and China developed a new model for discerning the amount of black carbon pollution in the air.  Previous models had failed to take into account regional differences, and instead provided information at the country level.  By mapping regions rather than countries, the study indicated that parts of India and China could have as much as 130 percent higher black carbon concentrations than shown in standard country models.

An article in Monday’s New York Times pointed out that while Beijing may be sending out warnings, the situation in Indian cities like Delhi would seem to be even worse. 
“But for the first three weeks of this year, New Delhi’s average daily peak reading of fine particulate matter from Punjabi Bagh, a monitor whose readings are often below those of other city and independent monitors, was 473, more than twice as high as the average of 227 in Beijing.  By the time pollution breached 500 in Beijing for the first time on the night of Jan. 15, Delhi had already had eight such days.  Indeed, only once in three weeks did New Delhi’s daily peak value of fine particles fall below 300, a level more than 12 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.“
Black Carbon Pollution Is Two to Three Times Worse in India and China Than Previously Thought

Free Trade Deal on Solar and Wind Could Hurt the Environment

(Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
Continuing to limit such trade would help green-collar jobs flourish closer to where the environmental goods are actually used.  That would help communities everywhere embrace their own renewables revolutions, while also reducing carbon emissions from shipping and trucking.

But the problems go deeper than that.  The protectionist government of India sees the agreement as a straight-up ruse — an effort to boost free trade that’s masquerading as environmental do-goodism.  India’s position starts to make sense once you consider the broad list of products that would be included under the agreement.

Free Trade Deal on Solar and Wind Could Hurt the Environment

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

   Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014

The Hockey Stick Lives:  Canadian Arctic Warming Unprecedented in 120,000 Years

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming this century on humanity's current emissions path (in red, via recent literature). Click to enlarge.
A new study led by UC Boulder Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research Associate Director Gifford Miller takes things way, way back:
Average summer temperatures in the Eastern Canadian Arctic during the last 100 years are higher now than during any century in the past 44,000 years….

Since radiocarbon dating is only accurate to about 50,000 years and because Earth’s geological record shows it was in a glaciation stage prior to that time, the indications are that Canadian Arctic temperatures today have not been matched or exceeded for roughly 120,000 years, Miller said.

“The key piece here is just how unprecedented the warming of Arctic Canada is,” said Miller…. “This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
The Hockey Stick Lives:  Canadian Arctic Warming Unprecedented in 120,000 Years

Negotiators Release Final Farm Bill with Wins for Conservation, Renewable Energy

Farm Bill (Credit: Click to enlarge.
House and Senate negotiators yesterday evening released a long-awaited farm bill agreement that would extend agriculture programs for the next five years. The bill significantly modifies the federal agricultural subsidy system and cuts food stamp spending, in addition to including a number of environmental and energy provisions. In a major win for conservationists, the bill would tie conservation requirements to federal crop insurance subsidies, while also limiting subsidies on newly tilled land. The legislation would also provide nearly $900 million in mandatory funding to renewable energy and biofuels initiatives over the next five years and extend incentives to renewable chemical manufacturers.

Negotiators Release Final Farm Bill with Wins for Conservation, Renewable Energy

   Monday, Jan. 27, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Forget Intermittency:  NREL Says Wind Energy Can Boost Grid Reliability

Wind Farm (Credit: Click to enlarge.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports in the new study Active Power Controls from Wind Power: Bridging the Gaps

Analysts studied multiple power system simulations, control simulations, and field tests at NREL’s National Wind Technology Center to determine how if wind could provide ancillary services in wholesale electricity markets, how wind farms affect system frequency in the Western U.S. grid system, and if using wind farms to actively provide power control to the grid affects turbine performance and structural integrity.

And the outcome of all these studies?  Wind energy can not only support the grid by ramping power output up and down to enhance system reliability, but that using wind farms to provide active power control is economically beneficial, all with negligible damage to the turbines themselves.

These are potentially game-changing findings.  “The study’s key takeaway is that wind energy can act in an equal or superior manner to conventional generation when providing active power control, supporting the system frequency response, and improving reliability,” said Erik Ela, NREL analyst.

Forget Intermittency:  NREL Says Wind Energy Can Boost Grid Reliability

Rain Falling on Mountains Speeds Soil Creation and CO2 Removal

Rain is making molehills out of mountains with significant implications for carbon in the atmosphere. (Credit: Flickr/DragonWoman) Click to enlarge.
U.S. scientists have measured the rate at which mountains make the raw material for molehills – and found that if the climate is rainy enough, soil gets made at an astonishing speed.  And in the course of this natural conversion of rock to fertile farmland and forest loam, carbon is naturally removed from the atmosphere.

On the ridge tops of the New Zealand mountains, soil was being manufactured by chemical weathering (which is scientific shorthand for rain splashing on rock) at the rate of up to 2.5 mm a year.

“A couple of millimeters a year sounds pretty slow to anyone but a geologist,” said David R. Montgomery, one of the study authors.  “Isaac measured two millimeters of soil production a year, so it would take just a dozen years to make an inch of soil.  That’s shockingly fast for a geologist, because the conventional wisdom is it takes centuries.”

Rain Falling on Mountains Speeds Soil Creation and CO2 Removal

Sunday, January 26, 2014

   Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014

Desert Plants and Green Diesel: Meet the Jet Fuels of the Future

Etihad Airways' 45-minute demonstration flight in Abu Dhabi on Saturday was the first ever to be powered with U.A.E.-produced biofuel. (Credit: Click to enlarge.
In little over a week, Boeing has announced three new developments in its quest to produce sustainable aviation biofuel.

Last week, the company identified "green diesel" as a new biofuel that would emit at least 50% less carbon dioxide than fossil fuel over its lifecycle.

On Saturday, a new initiative to build a biofuel supply chain in the United Arab Emirates was unveiled using another type of fuel.  It was celebrated with a 45-minute demonstration flight by an Etihad Airways 777 plane powered by U.A.E.-produced biofuel.

On Wednesday, also out of Abu Dhabi, Boeing and partners said they had made breakthroughs in researching a shrub-like plant called halophytes, which feeds off seawater in desert terrain.

According to the findings, the desert plant can be made into biofuel more effectively than many other feedstocks.

Desert Plants and Green Diesel: Meet the Jet Fuels of the Future

This Is President Obama’s Plan to Get the World on Board the Fight Against Climate Change

President Obama (Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)
On its own, President Obama’s climate action plan is far too little to curb global warming, and he knows it.  But that’s not the point, Obama told reporter David Remnick in a recent interview for the New Yorker.  The point is to show good faith on the issue to China and the rest of the world, and thus build cooperation for a much bigger international push.

“This is why I’m putting a big priority on our carbon action plan here,” Obama explained, when asked about what needs to be done about China’s booming greenhouse gas emissions.  “It’s not because I’m ignorant of the fact that these emerging countries are going to be a bigger problem than us.  It’s because it’s very hard for me to get in that conversation if we’re making no effort.  And it’s not an answer for us to say, ‘Well, since the Chinese and the Indians are the bigger problem, we might as well not even bother.’”

Between China and India, Asia is now the world’s biggest carbon emitting territory, with North America coming in second, and Europe third.  Though in terms of carbon dioxide emitted per person, North America still beats both by a wide margin.  That’s because, as rapidly as China and India are developing, the scale of their emissions still comes primarily from the enormous size of their populations.  America’s emissions result from the size of its economy and its enormous capacity to produce wealth.  That the advanced western economies of Europe have such lower per capita emissions lays bare what a poor job the United States is doing when in comes to reducing the carbon intensity of how it produces that wealth.

This Is President Obama’s Plan to Get the World on Board the Fight Against Climate Change

Who Pays for Grid Expansions When Homeowners Generate Their Own Electricity?

Powerline tower (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
Grid operators have met their match and it's a growing number of distributed generators—erstwhile electricity consumers who've ended their reliance on the grid because their needs are met by rooftop solar panels.  But this exodus from the grid is occurring just as transmission systems are being expanded to prevent congestion and to handle more centrally-generated renewable energy.  The utilities say the cost of these upgrades is the financial responsibility of everyone, including those who've become energy independent. 

Now state regulators are trying to find solutions.  Northeast Utilities, which serves 3.6 million electric and natural gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, wants to add transmission infrastructure throughout its area and plans to spend $4 billion doing just that.  It needs to make up for capacity shortfalls and to replace 2700 megawatts that will be lost by 2017 as several coal and nuclear power plants are retired.  Meanwhile, new wind power generated in Maine is expected to come online and be transported into the utility's load centers in Boston.

The proposed expansions in Texas and in the Northeast coincide with a conflicting trend—residential customers who detach from the local utility to become self-sufficient by generating their own power.  Those distributed systems would reduce the number of customers linked to the grid and could erode the ability of other grid operators or utilities to widen their networks; such expansions require billions of dollars, which would be harder to come by if substantial numbers of customers thumb their noses at their utilities.

The outcome will largely depend on how the states configure their net metering laws, which establish the amount of money that distributed energy generators should get relative to retail electricity prices.  Utilities generally want to offer the wholesale rate, while former power customers who now feed electricity into the grid want the retail rate. Regulators are thus challenged to find a middle ground whereby utilities can afford to maintain their systems and homeowners are motivated to go green.  So, state regulators are trying to formulate how the cost of maintaining and expanding the network will be shared.

Who Pays for Grid Expansions When Homeowners Generate Their Own Electricity?

Climate Change Threatens Future Winter Olympics Venues

Global warming is progressing at such a rate that scientists say many previous sites of Winter Olympics would be too warm to host a Winter Games by the last half of this century. (Credit: Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters) Click to enlarge.
Memorable host cities for the Winter Olympics wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of reliably hosting a Games in the next few decades amid climate change, according to a new report.

At the rate the Earth continues to heat up, only six of the last 19 Winter Olympics locations would be cold enough by the end of this century to stage the Games, the joint Canadian-Austrian study says.

Sochi, which hosts next month's Games in Russia, would not have made the cut by around 2050.               

“We went from all 19 cities being ‘climate reliable’ today, even Vancouver and Sochi, to going down to 11 of them,” said Waterloo Prof. Daniel Scott, lead author of the study and Canada Research Chair in Change and Global Tourism.  “The number was almost cut in half by mid-century.”

Climate Change Threatens Future Winter Olympics Venues

Investors See Green in Clean Energy

In the last two years, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley have announced goals to finance and invest in renewable energy projects.(Credit: Erik Martensson/AFP/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
Last week saw the Investor Summit on Climate Risk, a forum of about 500 people sponsored by the UN and Ceres, the Boston-based coalition of investors, industries, and environmental groups that has sought for 25 years to engage big business in environmental protection and the climate change battle.

There’s just one problem:  Investment is on the decline for the second year in a row, according to new statistics released yesterday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Analysts here insisted the numbers mask a more optimistic story of growing concern about climate change on Wall Street.  One important factor behind the investment decline is the falling cost of renewable energy installations, meaning investors get more bang for fewer bucks.  Just in the last 18 months, the cost of a typical solar panel system dropped 45 percent; from 2012 through 2013, the total number of installed systems worldwide grew 20 percent.

In other words, the volume of renewables on the grid is growing even though less is being spent on them.

Investors See Green in Clean Energy

Saturday, January 25, 2014

   Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014

Toon of the Week

Cold (Credit:

Toon of the Week

Big Oil, Small Jobs:  A Look at the Oil Industry’s Dubious Job Claims

BP workers, in the background, remove insulation from an oil transit pipeline at the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska's North Slope, August 18, 2006, as other workers use ultrasound to test for weakness in the pipe due to corrosion. (Credit:  AP/Al Grillo) Click to enlarge.
The oil and gas industry is one of the most lucrative industries in the United States.  Its five largest companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell—have earned more than $1 trillion in profits over the past decade. Yet this industry still fights tooth and nail to cling to its special tax provisions, worth at least $40 billion per decade. One of Big Oil’s most repeated rationales for keeping its exceedingly generous tax breaks, despite oil companies’ enormous profits, is its contribution to the U.S. employment numbers. 

However, a close look at Big Oil’s claims finds that this employment effect is greatly exaggerated.  In fact, our analysis of government employment data identified far fewer direct jobs than the numbers hyped by the oil and gas industry.  Furthermore, gas station employees—low-paid workers who sell convenience store goods and petroleum products—make up nearly half of the direct jobs.

Big Oil, Small Jobs:  A Look at the Oil Industry’s Dubious Job Claims

Tricks of the Trade:  How Big Polluters Hide Climate Lobbying Behind Trade Groups

The Union of Concerned Scientists report, Tricks of the Trade: How Companies Influence Climate Policy Through Business and Trade Associations (Credit: The Union of Concerned Scientists) Click to enlarge.
What do large companies do when they want to lobby against climate change and carbon mitigation measures without looking publicly like they're pro-pollution?  According to a new analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, they hide behind trade groups.

Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have essentially become puppets for the positions of the ventriloquist corporations they serve.  Companies often position themselves publicly to suggest they support action to address climate change.  But those promises are regularly contradicted by the lobbying activities of trade groups they are part of, such as the chamber, that fight against such policy action.

The Union of Concerned Scientists report, Tricks of the Trade: How Companies Influence Climate Policy Through Business and Trade Associations, doesn’t introduce this concept — organizations like have been calling out companies for their membership in the anti-science U.S. Chamber for years now — but its authors Gretchen Goldman and Christina Carlson take a deep, analytical look at the memberships of various trade orgs and dig into survey data from the companies to find some glaring contradictions.

Tricks of the Trade:  How Big Polluters Hide Climate Lobbying Behind Trade Groups

Keystone XL Could Boost Global Oil Consumption by 500K Barrels a Year

Tail pipe exhaust. (Credit: Shutterstock)
A new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) focuses on a greenhouse gas impact of the Keystone XL pipeline that hasn’t received much attention: how the pipeline could affect the global oil market by increasing supply, decreasing prices and therefore driving up global oil consumption.

Even if those effects are small in global terms, they could be significant in relationship to Keystone XL and U.S. climate policy, argue Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, senior scientists in SEI’s U.S. Center, in a new paper, Greenhouse gas emissions implications of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The more suppliers there are in the market for oil, the more they compete and that drives down prices for consumers,” Erickson said.

Keystone XL Could Boost Global Oil Consumption by 500K Barrels a Year

Friday, January 24, 2014

   Friday, Jan. 24, 2014

NASA Announces 5 New Missions to Study Earth From Orbit in 2014

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, set to launch in July, will make precise, global measurements of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is the largest human-generated contributor to global warming. (Credit: NASA) Click to enlarge.
NASA announced on Wednesday that it has five missions planned for 2014 that are designed to collect much needed data on Earth’s vital signs, from the water cycle, to wind patterns and pollution.  The missions consist of three satellites and two instruments that will join the massive floating laboratory that is the International Space Station.

In just over a month, the first of the satellite missions will launch from Japan’s space center.  The satellite, the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory is a joint mission with Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency and will collect detailed observations of global rain and snowfall patterns.

In July, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 will also be launched into Earth’s orbit. The “2” is because the original satellite intended to gather this data, which made a launch attempt back in February 2009, failed to reach orbit and was destroyed as it fell back to Earth.  Once safely up in orbit, OCO-2 will start collecting the most precise measurements of atmospheric CO2 ever made from space.  The satellite will help characterize both artificial and natural sources and sinks at a regional scale, of the greenhouse gas.

The last of the satellites NASA has planned for launch in 2014 is the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, which will monitor the water content in Earth’s soil.  The high-resolution maps of soil moisture the collected data will produce will help researchers studying flooding and droughts as well as help predict area of high plant productivity and agricultural potential.

NASA Announces 5 New Missions to Study Earth From Orbit in 2014

Major Trade Powers Pledge Free Trade in Green Goods

Francine Lacqua, anchor for Bloomberg Television, left, listens as Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, speaks during a session on day two of the World Economic Forum. (Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg) Click to enlarge.
The world's biggest trading powers committed on Thursday to achieving global free trade in environmental goods, though they gave no timeline for a deal they said would boost the fight against climate change.

Major Trade Powers Pledge Free Trade in Green Goods

California Governor Says Drought Is a “Stark Warning” of What Is to Come with a Changing Climate

California in January 2014 (top image) has almost no snowpack compared to January 2013 (bottom image). The Central Valley is also a vast swath of brown this year, in contrast to January 2013, when it was green with growing crops. The state is in the worst drought of its 163-year history. Under such record dry conditions, California may be prone to water shortages, crop loss and the loss of farm jobs, and increased wildfires. (Credit: NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team) Click to enlarge.
In his annual State-of-the-State Address, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a call to action for California to “do everything possible to mitigate the effects of the drought” and prepare for future water shortages in the midst of a changing climate.

“We do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gasses, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come,” the governor said. 

“The United Nations Panel on Climate Change says – with 95 percent confidence – that human beings are changing our climate.  This means more droughts and more extreme weather events, and, in California, more forest fires and less snow pack.”

California Governor Says Drought Is a “Stark Warning” of What Is to Come with a Changing Climate

Ancient Forests Stabilized Earth’s CO2 and Climate

Mineral weathering by fungi. (Credit: Joe Quirk) Click to enlarge.
Researchers have identified a biological mechanism that could explain how the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate were stabilized over the past 24 million years.  When CO2 levels became too low for plants to grow properly, forests appear to have kept the climate in check by slowing down the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Ancient Forests Stabilized Earth’s CO2 and Climate

Thursday, January 23, 2014

   Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014

What Is the Most Dangerous Impact of Climate Change?

NOAA concluded in 2011 that “human-caused climate change [is now] a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.” Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010. (Credit: Click to enlarge.
What is the most dangerous climate change impact?  That is a question Tom Friedman begins to get at in his NY Times column, “WikiLeaks, Drought and Syria.” The piece is about a “WikiLeaks cable that brilliantly foreshadowed how environmental stresses would fuel the uprising” in Syria.

One of Friedman’s key arguments is that “Syria’s government couldn’t respond to a prolonged drought when there was a Syrian government.  So imagine what could happen if Syria is faced by another drought after much of its infrastructure has been ravaged by civil war.” Thanks to human-caused climate change, that is all but inevitable.

What Is the Most Dangerous Impact of Climate Change?

Dirty Tar Sands Fuel Is Headed for the East Coast - Natural Resources Defense Council

A 60-foot section of pipe is lowered into a trench during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Prague, Okla. on Monday, March 11, 2013. (Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
Motorists from Maine to Maryland will soon be filling their tanks with gas increasingly derived from dirty Canadian tar sands oil, a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council says.

A flood of dirty fuel into these East Coast states would undercut their efforts to reduce carbon pollution.  The NRDC report found that under current plans, tar sands-derived gasoline supplies in eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (plus the District of Columbia) will soar from less than one percent in 2012 to 11.5 percent of the total by 2020, due to increased imports from Canadian refineries, fresh supplies of refined tar sands products from the Gulf Coast, and production from East Coast refineries that would obtain tar sands crude via rail and barge.

An influx of carbon-intensive fuels into the region, which in 2012 was virtually tar sands-free, will hurt the efforts to combat climate change, which has already caused billions of dollars in damage in those states, according to the report, “What’s in Your Tank? Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States Need to Reject Tar Sands and Support Clean Fuels.”

“Dirty gasoline supplies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are set to rise significantly, unless states take steps to keep out high-carbon fuel,” said Danielle Droitsch, Director of the NRDC Canada Project.  “By 2015 the volume of tar sands-derived fuel in the Northeast could grow six-fold, compared to 2012. Unless these states move as quickly as possible to clean energy, their efforts to combat climate change will suffer.”

Dirty Tar Sands Fuel Is Headed for the East Coast - Natural Resources Defense Council

Shell’s Arctic Offshore Drilling Ambitions Stymied in Appeals Court

Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk aground off a small island near Kodiak Island. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard) Click to enlarge.
Shell’s ambitions to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska received another blow Wednesday, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Interior Department had failed to adequately assess the scale of oil production that could result from the 2008 sale of leases in the Chukchi Sea.

The court challenge — brought by a group of some of the nation’s most prominent environmental organizations — was based in part on an estimate by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) that 1 billion barrels of oil was “economically recoverable” from the Chukchi Sea leases.  The environmental review of the lease sale was based on that number.

“In the case before us, BOEM was fully aware from the very beginning that if one billion barrels could be economically produced, many more barrels could also be economically produced,” the opinion said.  The appeals court called the estimate “arbitrary and capricious,” and said that under the National Environmental Policy Act, the government must “base its analysis on the full range of likely production if oil production were to occur. It did not do so here.”  The case was sent back to U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline in Alaska for additional review.

Shell’s Arctic Offshore Drilling Ambitions Stymied in Appeals Court

Large Animals at More Risk From Climate Change

Elk.  A new study by CU-Boulder researchers indicates larger mammals in North America, including elk, are 27 times more likely to respond to climate change than small mammals. (Credit: Christy McCain, University of Colorado) Click to enlarge.
Large mammals are responding more to human-caused climate change than small mammals, according to a new assessment.

Christy McCain of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department said she and King were surprised by some of the findings.  "Overall the study suggests our large, charismatic fauna -- animals like foxes, elk, reindeer and bighorn sheep -- may be at more risk from climate change," she said.  "The thinking that all animals will respond similarly and uniformly to temperature change is clearly not the case."

"I think the most fascinating thing about our study is that there may be certain traits like body size and activity behaviors that allow some smaller mammals to expand the range of temperature and humidity available to them," said McCain, also a curator of vertebrate zoology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.  "These areas and conditions are not available to bigger mammals that live above the vegetation and experience only ambient temperatures."

Large Animals at More Risk From Climate Change

   Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wall Street Journal Investigation:  High-Tech Oil Pipeline Monitors Catch Less Than 20 Percent of Leaks

Leaking pipeline (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
Last September, a farmer harvesting wheat in North Dakota smelled crude oil in his fields.  That was the first indication anyone had that a Tesoro pipeline had ruptured and spewed some 20,000 barrels of oil into the environment.

Tesoro says it has beefed up its monitoring of the pipeline, as the pressure sensors it had installed before the spill did not detect the slow seep of oil, even though it had soaked a surrounding area the size of six football fields.

This may sound like an outlier case, but as it turns out, it is pretty much the industry standard.  According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, it is all too common that oil companies are the last to know when their pipelines spring a leak.

Wall Street Journal Investigation:  High-Tech Oil Pipeline Monitors Catch Less Than 20 Percent of Leaks

EU Calls for 40% Reduction in Greenhouse-Gas Output by 2030

The European Commission outlined a strategy to cut pollution and curb rising energy costs. The region’s executive arm will call for an overhaul of the bloc’s policies in the next decade. (Credit:  HJ Morrill/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
The European Union proposed cutting the region’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent in 2030, accelerating its efforts to fight climate change.

The European Commission’s strategy to reduce pollution, curb rising energy costs and overhaul renewable-energy policies in the next decade would require an average annual investment of 38 billion euros ($52 billion) in the 28-nation bloc, the region’s executive arm said today in a statement.  The current goal is to cut emissions by 20 percent in 2020 from 1990 levels, a pace that would lead the EU to a 32 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030.

“The 40 percent greenhouse-gas target is probably the maximum of what can be achievable if you want to unite all these forces,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in an interview in Brussels.  “This is the common denominator that we’ve been looking for for years.” 

The strategy is the start of a debate among member states, which may lead to a draft law in early 2015.  It also includes an EU-wide target to boost the share of renewables in energy consumption to 27 percent by 2030 and may include a pledge to boost energy efficiency later this year, the commission said.

EU Calls for 40% Reduction in Greenhouse-Gas Output by 2030

Changes for Obama Climate Goals Do Not Need Congressional OK

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during his his year-end news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, December 20, 2013. (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst) Click to enlarge.
A group of business leaders, energy experts and former government leaders believes that the Obama administration could tackle climate change by taking measures that do not require congressional approval, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The 207-page report contained about 200 recommendations on how President Barack Obama can use executive authority to advance the climate change action plan he announced in June. It was released by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, who briefed U.S. cabinet officials and senior policy staff focused on energy and climate policy last week.

The recommendations focus on five areas:

  1. doubling energy efficiency;
  2. financing renewable energy;
  3. producing natural gas more responsibly;
  4. developing alternative fuels and vehicles; and
  5. helping utilities adapt to the country's changed energy landscape.
Changes for Obama Climate Goals Do Not Need Congressional OK:  Report

NOAA:  World in 2013 Was 4th Hottest on Record

August 8, 2013 shows people gathering to cool off on a beach in Qingdao, east China's Shandong province, as a record-setting summer heat wave hit much of China. (Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
Last year was tied for the fourth-warmest year on record around the world.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday released its global temperature figures for 2013.  The average world temperature was 58.12F (14.52C) tying with 2003 for the fourth-warmest since 1880.

NASA, which calculates records in a different manner, said Tuesday that 2013 was the seventh-warmest on record, with an average temperature of 58.3F (14.6C).

Both agencies said nine of the 10th warmest years on record have happened in the 21st century.  The hottest year was 2010.

NOAA:  World in 2013 Was 4th Hottest on Record

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

   Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014

More Crude Oil Spilled by U.S. Trains in 2013 Than in Previous 40 Years

In this Dec. 30, 2013 file photo, a fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D. (Credit: AP / Bruce Crummy) Click to enlarge.
U.S. trains spilled 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013 — more than was spilled in the nearly 40 years since officials began tracking such accidents, federal data show.  The majority of that volume came from two major derailments: a November incident in Alabama that spilled 750,000 gallons and a December incident in North Dakota that officials estimate spilled 400,000 gallons. Those incidents, as well as smaller spills, have added to growing concerns over the safety of using railways to transport crude as U.S. oil production surges in the upper Midwest.

From 1975 to 2012, a total of 800,000 gallons of crude were spilled during rail transport. Excluding the two major derailments from the 2013 total, 11,000 gallons of crude were spilled last year — more than the previous two years combined.  The data do not include a 1.5 million-gallon spill that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July.

More Crude Oil Spilled by U.S. Trains in 2013 Than in Previous 40 Years

Climate Scientist to US Senate: 'Climate Change Is a Clear and Present Danger'

Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, light green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange), Wigley and Santer 2012 (WS12, dark green), and Jones et al. 2013 (J13, pink). Click to enlarge.
Last Thursday, the US Senate committee on environment & public works held a four-hour hearing to review President Obama's Climate Action Plan.

Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist from Texas A&M University, pointed out that our actions today will determine whether we proceed on a dangerous path of continued rapid climate change over the second half of the 21st century, or stabilize global temperatures and minimize the threat posed by climate change.  Dessler concluded:
"The scientific community has been working on understanding the climate system for nearly 200 years.  In that time, a robust understanding of it has emerged.  We know the climate is warming.  We know that humans are now in the driver's seat of the climate system.  We know that, over the next century, if nothing is done to rein in emissions, temperatures will likely increase enough to profoundly change the planet.  I wish this weren't true, but it is what the science tells us."
Climate Scientist to US Senate: 'Climate Change Is a Clear and Present Danger'

Climate Proofing of Farms Seen Too Slow as Industry Faces Havoc

A laborer carries crates of chard at J.R. Organics Farm in Escondido, California, U.S. (Credit: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg) Click to enlarge.
Climate change will play havoc with farming, and policy makers and researchers aren’t fully aware of the significance on food supply, according to the World Bank.

Earth will warm by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) “in your lifetime,” Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice-president for climate change, said at a meeting of agriculture ministers in Berlin over the weekend.  That will make farming untenable in some areas, she said.

“Significant damage and destruction is already happening,” Kyte said.  “It isn’t a benign and slightly warmer world.  It will be a volatile warming of the planet, with unpredictable impact.”

Adapting agriculture to withstand a world with a changed climate and depleting resources isn’t happening fast enough, according to Achim Steiner, the director general of the UN’s Environment Programme.

Climate Proofing of Farms Seen Too Slow as Industry Faces Havoc

Richest Countries Failing to Combat Climate Change

The growth in vehicle numbers has outweighed the benefits of better engine efficiency. (Credit: Ji-Elle, Wikimedia Commons via Climate News Network) Click to enlarge.
The world’s richest countries have made some progress since the 1990s in limiting environmental damage.  But they have not done enough to prevent catastrophic climate change, according to the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Scientists say that carbon dioxide emissions need to start going down in the next decade to prevent global temperatures reaching dangerous levels. But the OECD predicts that levels of carbon dioxide will continue to rise and by 2050 will be 50 percent higher than today.

The 34 OECD countries in the survey are mainly the older mature economies which in the 1970s produced well over half the world’s CO2 emissions from their factories and transport.  Now the OECD share of total world emissions has dropped to 30 percent, but only because of the vast increase in the energy use of China and other high-growth countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and South Africa.  These now account for 40 percent of global emissions on their own.

Richest Countries Failing to Combat Climate Change

Monday, January 20, 2014

   Monday, Jan. 20, 2014

Get Used to Heat Waves: Extreme El Nino Events to Double

A massive dust storm advances on Melbourne, Australia, in February 1983. The dust storm was due to devastating droughts caused by the extreme El Niño of 1982-83. (Credit: Trevor Farrar/Australia Bureau of Meteorology) Click to enlarge.
Some of the worst El Niños, the infamous climate patterns that shake up weather around the world, could double in frequency in upcoming decades due to global warming, says a new study out Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

During an El Niño, water temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean tend to be warmer-than-average for an extended period of time – typically at least three to five months.  This warm water brings about significant changes in global weather patterns.

The most powerful El Niños – such as the ones that developed in 1982-83 and 1997-98 – are forecast to occur once every 10 years throughout the rest of this century, according to study lead author Wenju Cai of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's national science agency.  Over the past 100 years or so, however these "extreme" El Niños occurred only once every 20 years, he said.

This means that the extreme weather events fueled by El Niños – such as droughts and wildfires in Australia, floods in South America and powerful rainstorms along the U.S. West Coast – will occur more often.

"The question of how global warming will change the frequency of extreme El Niño events has challenged scientists for more than 20 years," said co-author Dr Mike McPhaden of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This research is the first comprehensive examination of the issue to produce robust and convincing results," said Dr McPhaden.

The impacts of extreme El Niño events extend to every continent across the globe.

Climate Change Could Spawn More Frequent El Ninos