Friday, February 28, 2014

   Friday, Feb. 28, 2014

Climate Change 'Very Evident,' So Let's Deal With It, World Panel Says

In this Aug 3, 2011, file photo, Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake, in San Angelo, Texas. A new report from the IPCC due out next month looks at the risks that climate change poses to natural and human systems. (Credit: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File | Associated Press) Click to enlarge.
The next report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of scientists and government policymakers, will focus on managing the risks of a warming planet, according to the report's co-chair.

"The impacts of climate change that have already occurred are very evident, they're widespread, they have consequences," Chris Field, a professor in the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University and the co-chair of the IPCC working group drafting the report, said in a meeting with reporters Monday.

The fifth assessment report from the IPCC's Working Group II focuses on climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.  The final version of the report is due to be released on March 31, though reporters have already published a leaked early draft.  The draft states that, within this century, effects of climate change "will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security and trigger new poverty traps."

Field said the report will emphasize the need to minimize and manage the consequences. "The essence of dealing with climate change is really not so much about identifying specific impacts that will occur at specific times in the future, but about managing risks," he said.

Climate Change 'Very Evident,' So Let's Deal With It, World Panel Says

New Satellite Will Improve Climate and Weather Forecasts

A Japanese H-IIA rocket with the NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory onboard, is seen launching from the Tanegashima Space Center in Tanegashima, Japan. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls) Click to enlarge.
The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), thundered into space Thursday, Feb. 27 from Japan.

While the data current satellites provide are crucial, they don’t show how much precipitation falls in all locations or how storms evolve and move.  By filling in those gaps with the improved data, scientists can improve weather and seasonal climate forecasts.  The satellite could also provide valuable real-time information about the intensity and track of large storms like Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines last year.  That information would be a boon to disaster managers trying to make accurate and timely decisions.

Climate change predictions will also get an upgrade as scientists will be able to better monitor how the water cycle is shifting.  Precipitation patterns are already shifting around the globe and scientists will be better able to track those changes and improve climate models.

New Satellite Will Improve Climate and Weather Forecasts

Climate Change ‘Raises Extinction Risk’

A weather eye for possible risks: Climate change will make extinction likelier for many species (Credit: Ren West via Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
Climate change doesn’t pose a unique threat of extinction to a species, scientists say. It just makes the risk more likely to become a reality.

The researchers examined all the information available on salamanders, turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards and concluded that, overall, there was a 28% chance of extinction by 2100.  But without climate change, this risk dwindled to 1%.

“Surprisingly, we found that the most important factors – such as having a small range or low population size – are already used in conservation assessments,” said Dr Pearson.  “The new results indicate that current systems may be able to better identify species vulnerability to climate change than previously thought.”

Climate Change ‘Raises Extinction Risk’

Climate Change Puts Wheat Crops at Risk of Disease

Fusarium ear blight on wheat crop. (Credit: Professor Jon West, Rothamsted Research) Click to enlarge.
There is a risk that severity of epidemics of some wheat diseases may increase within the next ten to twenty years due to the impacts of climate change according to a study by international researchers.  The researchers carried out a survey in China to establish a link between weather and the severity of epidemics of fusarium ear blight on the wheat crops.  This weather-based model was then used to predict the impact on severity of the disease of future weather scenarios for the period from 2020 to 2050.

Climate Change Puts Wheat Crops at Risk of Disease

Thursday, February 27, 2014

   Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014

Legislation to Control Climate Change Begins to Circle the Globe

Laws attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have proliferated since 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was created. (Credit: Globe International) Click to enlarge.
A global groundswell is rising from Beijing to Berlin, according to a new study Senate Democrats will release today that indicates nations are establishing domestic climate legislation at a rapid pace.

The analysis of 66 countries, including E.U. member states, accounting for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions finds that 61 have passed climate and clean energy laws.  All told, there are now more than 500 laws addressing climate change worldwide -- compared to less than 40 when the Kyoto Protocol, the world's first global warming treaty, went into effect nearly two decades ago.

It's also up significantly from 2009, when President Obama met with the leaders of China, India and other countries in Copenhagen, Denmark, where they were unsuccessful in crafting a new legally binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol.  With an attempt at yet another new deal on the horizon in Paris in 2015, leaders say domestic action is finally starting to drive the global negotiations.

Legislation to Control Climate Change Begins to Circle the Globe

As Climate Change Speeds Up, the Number of Extremely Hot Days Is Soaring

Thermometer at 120 degrees F. (Credit: thinkprogress.org) Click to enlarge.
The number of very hot days have soared in the past 15 years, a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change reports.  Based on observations, the authors conclude that “the term pause, as applied to the recent evolution of global annual mean temperatures, is ill-chosen and even misleading in the context of climate change.”

As Climate Progress has repeatedly reported, mean surface temperatures have slowed only a little in recent years, the factors causing that are well understood, and when they reverse, warming will accelerate.  But the authors of this new study reject the term “pause” entirely:
… it is land-based changes in extreme temperatures, particularly those in hot extremes in inhabited areas, that have the most relevance for impacts.  It seems only justifiable to discuss a possible pause in the Earth’s temperature increase if this term applies to a general behaviour of the climate system, and thus also to temperature extremes.

However, we show that analyses based on observational data reveal no pause in the evolution of hot extremes over land since 1997.
As Climate Change Speeds Up, the Number of Extremely Hot Days Is Soaring

Senators Call for Study on Keystone Health Effects After Doctor Cites Cancer Near Tar Sands

Sen. Barbara Boxer speaks to reporters at a Feb. 26 news conference on the health impacts of tar sands oil. (Credit: Emily Atkin) Click to enlarge.
Two Democratic Senators are calling for a comprehensive study on how public health would be affected by the extraction and processing of tar sands — the type of fuel that would be transported through the Keystone XL pipeline — citing increased cancer rates in patients who live downstream of the fuel reservoirs.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told reporters at news conference on Wednesday that they will send a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking for the study.  The conference was brought on by what Boxer called “dramatic” new information from Alberta, Canada — where the tar sands are extracted — and where a rare type of cancer has increased by 30 percent since the extraction of the tar sands began.

Senators Call for Study on Keystone Health Effects After Doctor Cites Cancer Near Tar Sands

Funds and New Timetable for Offshore Wind Farm in Massachusetts

Jim Gordon, the president of Cape Wind, last fall in Boston. He said Wednesday that the company had received a $600 million loan commitment from a Danish investment agency. (Credit: Evan McGlinn for The New York Times) Click to enlarge.
Cape Wind, the much-delayed offshore wind farm project proposed for Nantucket Sound, said Wednesday that it had received a new loan commitment that would allow it to finish its financing this fall and begin producing power by 2016.

“We expect to complete project financing in Q3,” Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, wrote in an email, referring to the third quarter.  “We will begin construction (on land) shortly thereafter.  We will begin ocean construction in 2015 and commission the project in 2016.”

Funds and New Timetable for Offshore Wind Farm in Massachusetts

U.S. Orders Tests on Rail Shipments of Crude Oil

Firefighters look at the smouldering remains of a derailed train in the town of Lac-Megantic, Canada. (Credit: Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
U.S. energy companies using railroads to carry crude must conduct tests to help ensure the oil cargoes won’t explode or eat holes through tank cars after rising train derailments spurred new emergency rules.

An order issued Tuesday by the U.S. Transportation Department requires oil explorers, including Continental Resources and EOG Resources, to test the chemical composition of all crude intended for shipment by rail.  While the new rules are focused on volatile Bakken crude, they also require more robust tank cars for transport of material that’s designated lower risk, such as bitumen from Canada’s oil sands.

U.S. Orders Tests on Rail Shipments of Crude Oil

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

   Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

Sugarcane Into Diesel — Cold-Tolerant, Highly Productive, Oil-Producing Crop Developed for US

Researchers are engineering sugarcane into a more productive, oil-producing plant that can grow in cooler climes. If their work proceeds as expected, growers will be able to meet 147% of the US mandate for renewable fuels with the modified sugarcane, the team reports. This crop could grow on abandoned land in the southeastern United States (about 20% of the green zone on the map). (Credit: Stephen P. Long) Click to enlarge.
A new type of sugarcane possessing a photosynthetic rate that’s been increased by 30%, boosted oil production, and improved cold-tolerance has been developed by a multi-institutional research team.  The new sugarcane was developed with the intention of allowing large-scale biodiesel production to be undertaken in the US, using the new crop.

With the improved cold-tolerance — and the accompanying increase in growing range — sugarcane biodiesel production could supply up to 147% of the US mandate for renewable fuels, according to the researchers.  They also note that the crop could be (relatively) easily grown on the abandoned land that’s somewhat common throughout the Southeast.

Sugarcane Into Diesel — Cold-Tolerant, Highly Productive, Oil-Producing Crop Developed for US

NY State Expects All Utilities to Prep for Climate Change

ConEdison and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) employees at a temporary ConEdison substation in 2013.  (Credit: MTA/flickr) Click to enlarge.
In a major settlement that could have far-reaching implications nationwide, New York's largest utility is now responsible for preparing for a future of extreme weather, including the impacts of climate change.

The state now expects all of the utilities it regulates to consider how sea level rise, extreme weather and other possible effects related to climate change will affect their operations and reliability as they make future construction plans and budgets.  It's a model that experts say other states could use to address the ravages of climate change.

NY State Expects All Utilities to Prep for Climate Change

Offshore Wind Farms Could Tame Hurricanes Before They Reach Land

New research shows that an offshore wind farm could have weakened Hurricane Sandy, shown here on Oct. 28, 2012. [Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided by Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS)] Click to enlarge.
Computer simulations have shown that offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped the power of three real-life hurricanes, significantly decreasing their winds and accompanying storm surge, and possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages.  In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the computer model revealed that an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast of New Orleans would have significantly weakened the hurricane well before it made landfall.

Offshore Wind Farms Could Tame Hurricanes Before They Reach Land

Supreme Court Gives Qualified Support for EPA to Set Emissions Limits

The majority of justices seemed to support the US government’s broad role in setting emissions limits. (Credit: Bei Feng/EPA) Click to enlarge.
Environmental campaigners drew solace from a Supreme Court hearing on greenhouse gas controls on Monday that left justices appearing to support the US government’s broad role in setting emissions limits for power stations.

The case, brought by power companies and 13 states including Texas, argued that the Environmental Protection Agency was overstepping its powers by using air quality rules to tackle climate change.

But a majority of court justices who spoke during Monday’s 90 minute oral arguments did not appear willing to re-open a 2007 Massachusetts case upholding the broad power of the EPA, according to experts following the case.

Supreme Court Gives Qualified Support for EPA to Set Emissions Limits

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

   Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014

New Power Lines Will Make Texas the World's 5th-Largest Wind Power Producer

A new network of new transmission lines solved the "chicken or egg" problem that once blocked more wind power from reaching major population centers in Texas. (Credit: Texas State Energy Conservation Office) Click to enlarge.
The next big Texas energy boom does not involve tight gas formations in the Barnett Shale, or deepwater oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. While fossil resources continue to draw high interest from energy developers and investors in the Lone Star State, Texas' hottest energy prospect is wind power in West Texas and the Panhandle.

New Power Lines Will Make Texas the World's 5th-Largest Wind Power Producer

Climate Boomerang: Small Volcanoes Restraining a Much Faster Warming Planet, for Now

Big volcanoes cool the planet, we’ve long known. A new study finds the cumulative effect of smaller volcanoes, like this one in Papua New Guinea, can also slow global warming. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
How much faster would surface temperatures be warming if not for various (mostly) natural cooling factors? That’s a question raised by the umpteenth study revealing climate models have been under-representing key factors — in this case small volcanic eruptions since 2000 — that appear to slow the rate of surface temperature warming.

We know from a major December study by Cowtan and Way that surface temperatures have not in fact slowed down.  The apparent slowdown is largely due to the fact that we don’t have permanent weather stations in the Arctic Ocean — the place where global warming has been the greatest.  So the UK’s Met Office decision to use date that excludes this area has led to a lowballing of actual temperature rise.

The recent reanalysis using satellite data to fill the gaps finds little slowdown in warming.

Climate Boomerang: Small Volcanoes Restraining a Much Faster Warming Planet, for Now

India Announces 2 GW Worth of New Large-Scale Solar Projects

Solar panel array (Credit: Solectria Renewables) Click to enlarge.
Two gigawatts (GW) worth of new large-scale solar energy projects will soon be constructed in the nation of India, according to the country’s finance minister Shri Chidambaram.

During his interim budget speech earlier this week, Chidambaram stated that, given the success of India’s JNNSM national solar mission so far, the government was now aiming to see the development of four more large-scale solar energy projects during 2014–2015 — each with a capacity of over 500 MW.

India Announces 2 GW Worth of New Large-Scale Solar Projects

   Monday, Feb. 24, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

Maps Show Extent of Oil and Gas Drilling in Southwest Wyoming

The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative identified nearly 17,000 oil and gas well pad scars, shown in blue and green, in southwest Wyoming. The scars date from around 1900 to 2009. (Map credit: U.S. Geological Survey) Click to enlarge.
Oil and gas wells, including those involved in hydraulic fracturing operations, scar a major portion of southwest Wyoming, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Nearly 17,000 well pads and former drilling areas associated with oil and natural gas production were identified in satellite images across a 30,000-square-mile region.  The maps include well scars dating from around 1900, when oil drilling started in the region, up to 2009, at which point natural gas extraction far outweighed oil production.  Since then, production has only intensified in Wyoming, a leading state in the U.S.'s unconventional oil and gas boom.

The mapping effort, a first step in determining how oil and gas drilling operations impact wildlife and ecosystems, focused on southwestern Wyoming because it not only has some of the nation's largest natural gas reserves, but also because the region has high-quality wildlife habitat and encompasses a major portion of the country's remaining intact sagebrush steppe.

Maps Show Extent of Oil and Gas Drilling in Southwest Wyoming

Colorado First State to Clamp Down on Fracking Methane Pollution

Pumps at an Encana Oil & Gas Inc. hydraulic fracturing and extraction site, outside Rifle, in western Colorado, on March 29, 2013. (Credit: Brennan Linsley/AP Photo) Click to enlarge.
Colorado regulators approved groundbreaking controls on emissions from oil and natural gas operations after an unusual coalition of energy companies and environmentalists agreed on measures to counter worsening smog.

Emissions from oil and gas operations contribute to thickening smog that exceeds federal ozone guidelines along Denver’s picturesque backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Such pollution includes methane, a source of climate-changing greenhouse gas.


Colorado First State to Clamp Down on Fracking Methane Pollution

Is Weird Winter Weather Related to Climate Change?

The polar jet stream may be driving a "hemispheric pattern of severe weather." (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) Click to enlarge.
This winter’s weather has been weird across much of the Northern Hemisphere.  Record storms in Europe; record drought in California; record heat in parts of the Arctic, including Alaska and parts of Scandinavia; but record freezes too, as polar air blew south over Canada and the U.S., causing near-record ice cover on the Great Lakes, sending the mercury as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius in Minnesota, and bringing sharp chills to Texas.

Everyone is blaming the jet stream, which drives most weather in mid-latitudes.  That would be a significant development.  For what happens to the jet stream in the coming decades looks likely to be the key link between the abstractions of climate change and real weather we all experience.  So, is our recent strange weather a sign of things to come?  Are we, as British opposition leader Ed Milliband put it this month while surveying a flooded nation, "sleepwalking to a climate crisis"? 

The story gets tangled because trying to identify long-term trends amid the noise of daily weather is hard.

Is Weird Winter Weather Related to Climate Change?

Enbridge Line 9: Canadian Program Unearths Unreported Spills, Alarming Communities Along Route

Enbridge Line 9 pipeline in Canada. Click to enlarge.
An aging Enbridge pipeline that runs across Ontario has had at least 35 spills—far more than reported to federal regulators—but many municipalities along its route have never been informed of the incidents, a CTV W5 investigation reveals.

The National Energy Board, which regulates pipelines in Canada, has records of seven spills, while Enbridge told the investigative program there had been 13.

But W5's analysis of information from the energy board, the company and Ontario's Ministry of the Environment showed 35 spills associated with the 830-kilometer Line 9. (The Quebec government refused to provide W5 with any information).

The company is seeking federal approval to increase and reverse flow on the 38-year-old pipeline and use it to transport, in part, diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands.

Enbridge Line 9: Canadian Program Unearths Unreported Spills, Alarming Communities Along Route

Sunday, February 23, 2014

   Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014

Obama to Propose Changes to Wildfire Funding in Upcoming Budget

A wildfire burns in the hills just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora, Calif. on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. (Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut) Click to enlarge.
President Barack Obama's upcoming budget will include a proposal to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires, a White House official said Saturday.

The proposal is part of the White House's effort to ramp up its focus on what officials say are the growing impacts of climate change.  The president will discuss the proposal Monday during a meeting with Western governors from states impacted by wildfires and drought.  Obama wants the Interior and Agriculture Departments, the two agencies tasked with fighting wildfires, to be able to draw funds from a special disaster account when the cost of tackling fires exceeds their annual budget.  That's the same approach the federal government currently takes when responding to hurricanes and tornadoes.

The official said the new approach was aimed at providing more certainty for agencies fighting fires.

Obama to Propose Changes to Wildfire Funding in Upcoming Budget

Why You Shouldn’t Hope for an Early Spring

Unusually early warming, known as “false spring,” is becoming increasingly common as climate changes. (Credit: Brenda Anderson/flickr) Click to enlarge.
Unusually early warming, known as “false spring,” is becoming increasingly common as climate changes. Its effects are also prompting increasing concern. For when warm temperatures awaken dormant plants and animals prematurely, they can throw the timing of seasonal events crucial to an entire ecological food web off kilter.  The results can cause devastating harm to both wild and cultivated species.  False spring events have caused enormous losses in U.S. fruit crops, damaged large swaths of forest and decimated sensitive California butterfly populations.

While occasional false springs are not new, what is new in recent years is the combination of increasingly warmer springs and extreme temperature swings, overall shorter times throughout fall and winter of below-freezing temperatures, and the altered precipitation patterns associated with global climate change.

Why You Shouldn’t Hope for an Early Spring

Five Striking Concepts for Harnessing the Sea's Power

A mechanical "carpet" along the seafloor, shown in this illustration from University of California, Berkeley, is designed to absorb wave energy and convert it to electricity. The concept is just one of many being tested to capture the ocean's energy. (Credit: Theoretical and Applied Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at the University of California) Click to enlarge.
The constantly churning oceans that cover most of the Earth offer an inexhaustible source of clean energy.  The amount of recoverable energy embedded along the continental shelf of the United States, for example, amounts to almost a third of all the electricity the country uses in one year, according to estimates from the Electric Power Research Institute,

"It's emission-free power and it's located close to where most of the population lives," said Sean O'Neill, president of the Gaithersburg, M-based Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition (OREC).

But the process of harnessing all of that energy, still in its infancy, isn't an easy one.  "At this stage, putting equipment in the sea and getting it to work reliably, consistently, during severe storms, is a huge challenge," said Aquamarine Power CEO Martin McAdam. "If anyone tells you otherwise, they haven't done it yet."

Five Striking Concepts for Harnessing the Sea's Power

BNSF Buying 5,000 Safer Railroad Cars

Rail cars (Credit: columbian.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com) Click to enlarge.
The railroad BNSF said on Thursday that it intended to buy 5,000 strengthened tank cars to haul oil and ethanol in a move that would set a higher safety standard for a fleet that has experienced multiple major accidents.

The voluntary step by the railroad company, based in Fort Worth, Tex., comes as railroads in the United States and Canada are under intense pressure to improve safety for hazardous-materials shipments.  There has been a string of recent train accidents involving oil and ethanol, including a derailment in Quebec last July that killed 47 people.

A boom in domestic oil drilling and rising ethanol production have spurred a sharp increase in shipments of those materials by rail.  Much of it is being hauled by an old fleet of some 78,000 tank cars that are prone to split during accidents.

BNSF Buying 5,000 Safer Railroad Cars

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Los Angeles

Residents of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, one of the Los Angeles buildings at risk from sea level rise (Credit: Jllm06 via Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
Los Angeles, City of the Angels in southern California, sits on a flat shelf of the Pacific coast of America, with a view of the sea.  And if climate scientists are right, it could soon have an even closer view of the sea.

The city of more than 12 million people occupies 12,000 square kilometres of land, much of it no more than three metres above sea level.  By 2050 rising sea levels could pose a threat to the infrastructure, museums and historic buildings of this great capital of entertainment, education, business, tourism and international trade, according to a new study by the University of Southern California.

“Some low-lying areas within the city’s jurisdiction, such as Venice Beach and some areas of Wilmington and San Pedro, are already vulnerable to flooding”, says Phyllis Grifman, lead author of the report, commissioned by the city and the USC Sea Grant Program.

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Los Angeles

A Historical Perspective on Arctic Warming

Arctic annual surface air temperature changes from ~1900 to ~2013 relative to the 1901-2000 baseline. (Top Panel) Combined Land & Ocean air temperatures; (Bottom Panel) Land only air temperatures. (Credit: skepticalscience.com) Click to enlarge.
During her most recent Senate testimony, Dr. Judith Curry (Georgia Tech) repeated one of the most common misconceptions found in the blogosphere, that the Arctic was warmer than present during the 1940s.  This period - known as the Early Century Warm Period (ECWP) - coincides with observations of reduced Arctic sea ice cover and allowed for more widespread ship navigation than during the late 1800s and early 1900s (Johanessen et al. 2004).

Based on the data presented above there is virtually no evidence that Arctic air temperatures were greater than present during any previous period of the last century. This is clearly a case where the IPCC should consider amending its text to provide a more accurate picture of Arctic temperature changes.

A Historical Perspective on Arctic Warming

Saturday, February 22, 2014

   Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014

It Will Be Too Late Before Natural Gas Provides a Net Climate Benefit - by Joe Romm

Unfinished bridge.
The evidence is mounting that natural gas has no net climate benefit in any timescale that matters to humanity.  In the real world, natural gas is not a “bridge” fuel to a carbon-free economy for two key reasons.

First, natural gas is mostly methane, (CH4), a super-potent greenhouse gas, which traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period.  So even small leaks in the natural gas production and delivery system can have a large climate impact — enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas.

Second, natural gas doesn’t just displace coal — it also displaces carbon-free sources of power such as renewable energy, nuclear power, and energy efficiency.  A recent analysis finds that effect has been large enough recently to wipe out almost the entire climate benefit from increasing natural gas use in the utility sector if the leakage rate is only 1.2 percent (comparable to the EPA’s now discredited new lowball estimate).

It Will Be Too Late Before Natural Gas Provides a Net Climate Benefit - by Joe Romm

Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo:  Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions? - by James E. Hansen

How can we run this world on renewable power sources? Naturally, the problem raises quite a few fears and concerns. (Credit: Jeremy Woodhouse/Digital Vision/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
Here I present climate and energy data to help expose popular misconceptions about energy.  These misconceptions have a greater impact on prospects for stabilizing climate and preserving the remarkable life on our planet than fossil fuel lobbyists and climate change deniers will ever have.  First I must present data for what I call the “carbon math” and the “energy math.”

Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions? - by James E. Hansen

U.S. Approves Two Huge Solar Projects on Public Lands in California

Solar panel installation (Credit: AP Photo/Bob Leverone) Click to enlarge.
The Obama administration on Wednesday announced that it has given final approval to two sizable solar projects on public lands near the Nevada-California border, which when operational are expected to provide a combined 550 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power about 170,000 homes and create 700 jobs.

The announcement represents a milestone for President Obama’s renewable energy efforts.  With the approval of both projects, there now are currently 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects either currently generating energy or slated to be generating energy on public lands.  This is a huge number compared to the amount of renewable energy projects had been approved on public lands before Obama took office.

There were none.

U.S. Approves Two Huge Solar Projects on Public Lands in California

Report Describes the Unfathomable Cost of Inaction on Rising Seas

Flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area in 2005. The global economic damages of failing to build dikes, levees, sea walls and other flood protections could be almost beyond comprehension as seas rise from global warming, a new scientific study has found. (Credit: Paul Morse) Click to enlarge.
The world needs to invest tens of billions of dollars a year in beefing up shoreline defenses against rising oceans or it will face mind-boggling costs in the decades to come, according to new research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Report Describes the Unfathomable Cost of Inaction on Rising Seas

Friday, February 21, 2014

   Friday, Feb. 21, 2014

Keystone XL Decision Could Drag Past November after Pushback in Neb.

Proposed Keystone XL pipeline route through Nebraska.  Click to enlarge.
It's beginning to look a lot like 2012 all over again as resistance in Nebraska points to a months-long delay in President Obama's ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline, possibly until after the next election.

Keystone XL Decision Could Drag Past November after Pushback in Neb.

Big Antarctic Glacier to Keep Raising Seas, Even Without Warming

An iceberg which was part of the Pine Island Glacier is shown separating from the Antarctica continent in this MODIS image taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on November 10, 2013 and released by NASA November 14, 2013. (Credit: reuters/nasa/handout via Reuters) Click to enlarge.
A thawing Antarctic glacier that is the biggest contributor to rising sea levels is likely to continue shrinking for decades, even without an extra spur from global warming, a study showed on Thursday.

Big Antarctic Glacier to Keep Raising Seas, Even Without Warming

Warmer World May Wreak Havoc with the Atlantic

The giant oceanic salt and heat pump known as the Thermohaline Circulation. [Credit: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2001 Report] Click to enlarge.
A warming world could slow the circulation of the Atlantic Ocean, potentially triggering African droughts and more rapid sea level rise around Europe.  If it happens, it won't be the first time the Atlantic has been disrupted during a warm period.

Warmer World May Wreak Havoc with the Atlantic

Thursday, February 20, 2014

   Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014

Massachusetts Approves a Gas Power Plant with an Expiration Date

A plan by Footprint Power would replace power from oil and coal generators at Salem Harbor in Massachusetts with natural gas, adding to a downward trend in greenhouse gas emissions as gas power plants have taken off in New England. Photo courtesy of the Conservation Law Foundation. Click to enlarge.
For years, proponents of natural gas, including President Obama, have promoted it as a “bridge fuel,” cleaner than coal but not clean enough to solve the climate problem.  On Thursday, regulators in Massachusetts, in an unusual vote, put that theory into practice when it approved a new gas-fired power plant with only a limited life span.

In a hearing in Boston, a state siting board voted 5 to 0 to accept a proposal by a major New England environmental group and a company that wants to build the plant that would allow the plant to open, but require it to emit less and less carbon dioxide until it closed by 2050.

The Conservation Law Foundation and Footprint Power reached an agreement over a proposed $800 million plant to be built in Salem Harbor, at the site of a coal plant that will shut this year.  The new plant would generate 630 megawatts — although in later years, it would either have to limit its hours of operation, install carbon capture or make investments in renewable energy to stay under the declining emissions cap.

The agreement for progressively lower output and a definite retirement date is a first, according to Jonathan Peress, a vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation.  Gas cuts carbon dioxide emissions by about half compared to coal, but it is still far too high in carbon to meet the ultimate climate emissions requirements, he said.

Massachusetts Approves a Gas Power Plant with an Expiration Date

Vision Prize: Scientists Are Worried the IPCC Is Underestimating Sea Level Rise

Graph by Stefan Rahmstorf comparing measured sea level rise (red and blue) to previous IPCC estimates (grey and dashed lines), showing sea level rise is happening faster than expected. Click to enlarge. `
The Vision Prize is an online survey of scientists about climate risk.  It's an impartial and independent research platform for incentivized polling of experts on important scientific issues that are relevant to policymakers.

In its latest survey, the Vision Prize results revealed that, despite the much higher sea level rise estimates this time around, the survey participants are worried that the IPCC is still underestimating future sea level rise.  41 percent responded that it's likely or very likely that sea level rise will exceed the IPCC highest estimate, and 71 percent answering that it's at least as likely as not.  Conversely, only 5 percent responded that it's likely sea level rise will be less than the IPCC lowest estimate, and 83 percent called this scenario unlikely.

These results broadly agree with a recent survey carried out by scientists in Germany and the US.  In this survey, 90 researchers who'd published sea level research in the last 5 years concluded that sea level rise by 2100 is likely to be between 0.7 and 1.2 meters if we continue on a business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions path.  Two-thirds of the experts responded that sea level could rise more than the upper end of the IPCC's projected range by 2100, consistent with the Vision Prize survey results.

On the other hand, if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced strongly, the experts expected sea level rise to be between 0.4 and 0.6 meters by 2100.  These results suggest that the Vision Prize participants may be pessimistic that we'll transition away from a business-as-usual emissions path.

Vision Prize: Scientists Are Worried the IPCC Is Underestimating Sea Level Rise

Earth's Green Canopy Gets an Online Protector

Forest loss (pink) and oil palm expansion (orange) near Tesso Nilo Protected Area in Sumatra, Indonesia. (Credit: Global Forest Watch via Mongabay.com)  Click to enlarge.
A new online tool called Global Forest Watch employs a trove of high-resolution NASA satellite imagery and large amounts of computing power to help governments, conservation organizations, and concerned citizens monitor deforestation in "near-real time."  Organized by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Global Forest Watch uses satellite data to track changes in forest cover since 2000. It's the first tool with the capability of monitoring forests on a monthly basis, potentially allowing groups to take action against deforestation while it's in progress.  Businesses committed to eliminating deforestation from supply chains can also use the tool to verify that vendors are not engaging in practices that harm forests.

Earth's Green Canopy Gets an Online Protector

As Obama Vows to Act on Climate Change, Justices Weigh His Approach

Supreme Court (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
President Obama in recent days has been announcing muscular executive actions to address climate change, making good on his promise to act on pressing problems “with or without Congress.”  On Monday, the Supreme Court will consider the limits of that approach, in a case on greenhouse gas emissions.

The justices are poised to decide whether the Obama administration went too far in trying to regulate emissions from stationary sources like power plants.  In the process, they are likely to weigh in on a central Republican critique of Mr. Obama: that he is misusing his executive authority.

Amanda C. Leiter, a law professor at American University, said the case might have only a modest impact, because the administration would retain other regulatory tools should its approach be rejected.

“It is far more important as a matter of optics than of actual legal consequences,” she said.  If the government loses, she said, “it would be painted as another situation in which the Obama administration has overreached against the public will.”

As Obama Vows to Act on Climate Change, Justices Weigh His Approach

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

   Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014

DOE Set to Back Ga. Reactors with Billions in Loan Guarantees

In this Sept. 18, 2013 file photo, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Energy Department is poised to approve $6.5 billion in lending for two nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is expected to announce the deal at a speech in Washington on Wednesday, a day before he visits the $14 billion Vogtle nuclear plant being built by Southern Co. and several partners about 30 miles southeast of Augusta. (Credit: Cliff Owen — AP Photo) Click to enlarge.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz plans to announce the closing of $6.5 billion in loan guarantees for Southern Co.'s Plant Vogtle nuclear project at the National Press Club today, according to a source familiar with the details.

DOE will close on two of three of the $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for Vogtle.  A third one is pending.

 DOE Set to Back Ga. Reactors with Billions in Loan Guarantees

Duke Energy Issues Request for 300 MW of New Solar PV Proposals

(Credit: cleantechnica.com) Click to enlarge.
Duke Energy, the biggest electric holding power company in America, just issued a new Request for Proposals for 300 MW worth of solar PV.

Issued on February 14th, the request is for projects to be located in the company’s “Carolinas and Progress territories” — this includes North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida.  Another stipulation is that all projects, in order to be accepted, will need to be operational by the year 2015, and need to be over 5 MW in capacity.

The new proposals will nearly double current solar capacity for Duke Energy, according to Rob Caldwell, the vice president of renewable generation development at Duke Energy. “It gives developers the opportunity to pursue projects for the long term, or to negotiate for Duke Energy to acquire ownership of the new facilities once they are operational.”

Duke Energy Issues Request for 300 MW of New Solar PV Proposals

Melting Ice Makes the Arctic a Much Worse Heat-Magnet Than Scientists Feared

Sea ice extent on September 9, 2011, the date of minimum extent for the year. Ice-covered areas range in color from white (highest concentration) to light blue (lowest concentration). Areas where the ice cover was less than 15 percent, including open water, are dark blue, and land masses are gray. The gold outline shows the median minimum ice extent for 1979-2000; that is, areas that were at least 15 percent ice-covered in at least half the years between 1979 and 2000. Based on sea ice concentration data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. (Credit: climate.gov) Click to enlarge.
Dwindling sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is creating large areas of relatively dark ocean surface that reduce the albedo, or reflectivity, of the polar region.  More open water causes the Earth to absorb more of the sun's solar energy rather than reflect it back into the atmosphere.  A new study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, has found that the impact this phenomenon is having on global warming has likely been substantially underestimated.

"It's fairly intuitive to expect that replacing white, reflective sea ice with a dark ocean surface would increase the amount of solar heating," Kristina Pistone, a graduate student at Scripps who participated in the research, said in a statement.

However, the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used direct satellite measurements for the first time rather than computer models to determine that the magnitude of surface darkening has been two to three times as large as found in previous studies.

Melting Ice Makes the Arctic a Much Worse Heat-Magnet Than Scientists Feared

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

   Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014

As Fracking Booms, Growing Concerns about Wastewater

This mobile water recycling facility treats wastewater so it can be reused in other wells. (Credit: Roger Drouin)
With hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas continuing to proliferate across the U.S., scientists and environmental activists are raising questions about whether millions of gallons of contaminated drilling fluids could be threatening water supplies and human health.

As Fracking Booms, Growing Concerns about Wastewater

Obama Set to Order New Fuel Standards for U.S. Trucks

A massive tire for one of Shell Oil's sand oil hauling trucks in Canada. Large trucks in the United States will be facing stricter fuel efficiency standards under a new initiative by President Obama. (Credit: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post) Click to enlarge.
President Obama will announce Tuesday that the federal government will further tighten fuel efficiency for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to a White House official, as part of the president's ongoing effort to use his executive authority to address climate change.

Obama's directive to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, which he will announce at the Safeway distribution center in Upper Marlboro, Md., marks the second time he has mandated a cut in fuel consumption and carbon emissions from larger trucks.  This category, which encompasses all vehicles weighing more than 8,500 pounds, ranges from large pick-up trucks and school buses to massive 18-wheel tractor-trailers.

Obama to Tighten Fuel Efficiency Standards for Big Trucks

Kerry's State Department Ignored Obama's Climate Action Plan

USA CO2 Emissions. Click to enlarge.
In 2009, President Obama made a commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020.  The Obama administration put this forward as the U.S. share of a global effort to limit climate change to no more than two degrees Celsius - the target scientists tell us may be safe. Achieving this target, which has been unanimously agreed on a global level, is central to the success of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, announced in June of last year.

It is therefore shocking to realize that the State Department completely failed to take this target into account when evaluating the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (FSEIS) of the Keystone XL pipeline used three future U.S. energy scenarios developed by the Department of Energy.  None of these scenarios modeled a world in which the United States meets its stated goal of limiting climate change to less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 F), despite the fact that even these flawed models revealed that the carbon impact of the pipeline could equal as much as 5.7 million cars each year.

In fact, all of the scenarios used by the State Department result in emissions that put us on a path to 6 degrees C (11 F) of global warming according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).  IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol described 6 degrees as nothing short of "a catastrophe for all of us."

Kerry's State Department Ignored Obama's Climate Action Plan

A Canadian Company Will Soon Be One of the First to Extract U.S. Tar Sands Oil

Tar Sands (Credit: Suncor Energy Inc., BLM) Click to enlarge.
The controversial oil extraction process made famous by Canada — deemed the world’s “dirtiest type of liquid fuel” — is coming to America.

According to a Sunday report in DeSmogBlog, a Canadian company called "U.S. Oil Sands" has received all the necessary permits to open the nation’s second commercial-scale tar sands mine, which will soon begin producing tar sands oil — a thick, hard-to-extract mixture of heavy oil, sand, and water.  The Utah Unitah Basin project will be allowed to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day.  Some scientists say the unique and energy-intensive extraction process produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil.

In Canada, tar sands are booming.  The third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, rapid production there has caused new pipeline proposals to pop up like daisies — most notably the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta all the way to Texas.

America, however, has not yet attempted to extract its tar sands oil.  According to the Bureau of Land Management there are 12 to 19 billion barrels of tar sands oil in Utah, though not all of it is recoverable.  And recovering it is not easy.

A Canadian Company Is About to Become One of the First to Extract U.S. Tar Sands Oil

Monday, February 17, 2014

   Monday, Feb. 17, 2014

John Kerry Calls Climate Change a 'Weapon of Mass Destruction'

Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during a speech on climate change on Sunday, Feb. 16, in Jakarta. Climate change may be the world's 'most fearsome' weapon of mass destruction and urgent global action is needed to combat it, Kerry said on Sunday, comparing those who deny its existence or question its causes to people who insist the Earth is flat. (Credit: Evan Vucci/AP) Click to enlarge.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said global warming is as big a threat as terrorism in a speech in Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of coal for power plants, seeking to burnish his credential as a climate champion before deciding on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.

Speaking Saturday in the capital of Jakarta, the last stop on his three-nation Asia tour, Kerry called on the international community -- nations and individuals -- to do more now as addressing climate change required a global solution. ...

“We’ve seen here in Asia how extreme weather events can disrupt world trade,” Kerry said to an audience of Indonesian students and business leaders.  “In today’s globalized economy, the entire world feels it.”

John Kerry Calls Climate Change a 'Weapon of Mass Destruction'

EPA Has Underestimated Methane Emissions, Including Those from Gas Leaks -- Study

Coal seam gas drill rig. Drilling for natural gas (methane) in coal country can be a leaky business. (Credit: Max Phillips, courtesy of Beyond Coal and Gas) Click to enlarge.
In recent years, as the natural gas boom has led to the fuel playing an increasing role in the U.S. energy mix, a debate has been raging over its climate benefits.

A number of studies measuring emissions of methane, a key component of natural gas with 30 times the warming potential of CO2, have measured significant leakages of the gas.

If such leaks are common, the climate benefits of burning natural gas rather than coal diminish.

"Methane is a potent greenhouse gas," said Adam Brandt, a Stanford University professor who studies methane leaks.  "So relatively small leaks can have a significant impact on the overall greenhouse gas intensity of using natural gas."

EPA Has Underestimated Methane Emissions, Including Those from Gas Leaks -- Study