Monday, March 31, 2014

   Monday, Mar. 31, 2014

Massachusetts Plugs into Electric Vehicle Rebates

Proterra battery electric bus (Credit: Proterra) Click to enlarge.
Massachusetts has unveiled two new incentive programs designed to help shift its transition to a clean transportation future into the fast lane.

The two new incentives, unveiled last week by Governor Deval Patrick, will provide point-of-sale rebates for plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) as well as grants to help schools and government entities purchase EVs and charging infrastructure.

Both incentives were announced during the unveiling of an all-electric fleet of 6 buses at the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA).  The Proterra plug-ins were purchased with more than $7 million in federal and state grants, will eliminate nearly 800 tons of carbon dioxide annually and cut fuel costs $3 million over 12 years, and can function as energy storage units through vehicle-to-grid technology.  The electric buses are set to be built at Proterra’s Greenville, SC, manufacturing facility.

By committing to help drivers cut their emissions, the Bay State is accelerating clean transportation funding en route to a goal of 300,000 EVs on the road as part of a multi-state compact targeting 3.3 million EVs in the US by 2025.

Massachusetts Plugs into Electric Vehicle Rebates

Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk:  Worst Is Yet to Come - by Justin Gillis, NY Times

Greenland'­s immense ice sheet is melting as a result of climate change. (Credit: Kadir van Lohuizen for The New York Times) Click to enlarge.
A United Nations report warned that climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk:  Worst Is Yet to Come - by Justin Gillis, NY Times

Industry Girds for Potential New Methane Regulations

Annual Methane Emission Reduction from U.S.-Supported Projects, 2005-2012.(Credit: www.epa.gov) Click to enlarge.
U.S. EPA may be regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by the end of 2016 if the steps outlined by the White House last week come to pass.

Industry Girds for Potential New Methane Regulations

Toon of the Week - The Persistence of Procrastination

Toon of the Week: The Persistence of Procrastination (Credit: www.skepticalscience.com) Click to enlarge.

Toon of the Week

Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces ‘Breakdown of Food Systems’ and More Violent Conflict - by Joe Romm

Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S. Click to enlarge.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its second of four planned reports examining the state of climate science.  This one summarizes what the scientific literature says about “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”.  As with every recent IPCC report, it is super-cautious to a fault and yet still incredibly alarming.

It warns that we are doing a bad job of dealing with the climate change we’ve experienced to date:  “Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.”

It warns of the dreaded RFCs (“reasons for concern” — I’m not making this acronym up), such as “breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes.”  You might call them RFAs (“reasons for alarm” or “reasons for action”).  Indeed, in recent years, “several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions indicate a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors.”  So warming-driven drought and extreme weather have already begun to reduce food security.  Now imagine adding another 2 billion people to feed while we are experiencing five times as much warming this century as we did last century!

No surprise, then, that climate change will “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.”  And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence” — though for some reason that doesn’t make the list of RFCs.

Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces ‘Breakdown of Food Systems’ and More Violent Conflict - by Joe Romm

Climate Models Show Remarkable Agreement with Recent Surface Warming

The animation shows the CMIP5 model simulations compared to the HADCRUT4 surface temperature dataset. As allowances are made for better global coverage of temperature observations, El Niño/La Niña, solar radiation, and volcanic aerosols, the simulated surface temperature moves back toward the actual measured temperature over this period. (Credit: www.skepticalscience.com / Animation by Kevin C.) Click to enlarge.
Key points:
  • Despite warming over the last 16 years, global surface temperatures have warmed at a slower rate than the previous 16 years and, at first glance, it appears that the climate models may have overestimated the amount of surface warming over this period.
  • Climate models, however, cannot predict the timing and intensity of La Niña and El Niño, natural cycles that greatly affect global temperature in the short-term by dictating the amount of heat available at the ocean surface.
  • Nor can the climate models predict the timing and duration of volcanic eruptions and industrial pollution, both of which eject light-scattering aerosols into the atmosphere and therefore reduce surface warming.
  • By failing to account for these and other factors, the CMIP5 collection of climate models erroneously simulate more warming of Earth's surface than would be expected.
  • When the input into the climate models is adjusted to take into consideration both the warming and cooling influences on the climate that actually occurred, the models demonstrate remarkable agreement with the observed surface warming in the last 16 years.
Climate Models Show Remarkable Agreement with Recent Surface Warming

Sunday, March 30, 2014

   Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014

Climate Change Already Impacting ‘All Continents’ According to New International Report

(Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
The next big report from an ongoing international effort to nail down the science of climate change will be released on Monday.  According to the Guardian, the report’s language concludes that climate change has already “caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.”

An early draft was actually leaked in November.  The biggest danger it sees is apparently coastal flooding driven by sea level rise — which could shave 10 percent off global economic production by the end of this century, according to previous research.  Climate change also threatens widespread damage to marine life and fish populations worldwide, as both warming seas and ocean acidification throw off ecosystems’ natural balances. 

Much of the report’s language has already been finalized, including a warning that “both warm water coral reef and Arctic ecosystems are already experiencing irreversible regime shifts.”

The report also sees the potential for droughts, floods, and shifting patterns of rainfall to endanger global food production — again, a finding backed by other studies.  Climate change is also cutting down on the globe’s supply of fresh drinking water, and stronger storms pose a danger to human infrastructure.

The latest report is a product of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international project aimed at providing the world a kind of grand summary and assessment of the known science on climate change.  It put out its last big finding — the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) — in 2007.  Now the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is rolling out in a series of stages over the next few months.

Climate Change Already Impacting ‘All Continents’ According to New International Report

Warmer Temperatures Can Lead Warmer Tempers, Worsening Global Security, UN Report to Say

In this Aug. 20, 2013 file photo, Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. In an authoritative report due out Monday, March 31, 2014, a United Nations climate panel for the first time is connecting hotter global temperatures to hotter global tempers. Top scientists are saying that climate change will complicate and worsen existing global security problems, such as civil wars, strife between nations and refugees. (Credit: AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File) Click to enlarge.
In an authoritative report due out Monday a United Nations climate panel for the first time is connecting hotter global temperatures to hotter global tempers. Top scientists are saying that climate change will complicate and worsen existing global security problems, such as civil wars, strife between nations and refugees.

They're not saying it will cause violence, but will be an added factor making things even more dangerous.  Fights over resources, like water and energy, hunger and extreme weather will all go into the mix to destabilize the world a bit more, says the report by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The summary of the report is being finalized this weekend by the panel in Yokohama.

That's a big change from seven years ago, the last time the IPCC addressed how warming affected Earth, said report lead author Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution of Science in California.  The summary that political leaders read in early 2007 didn't mention security issues will, he said, because of advances in research.

Warmer Temperatures Can Lead Warmer Tempers, Worsening Global Security, UN Report to Say

Salem Power Plant Sparks Electric Debate

(Credit: www.boston.com) Click to enlarge.
ISO New England, the agency that operates the regional power grid, has issued repeated warnings that northeast Massachusetts could face electricity shortages if the Salem coal plant is not replaced by another power source by 2016.

“While we ramp up on renewables, natural gas can play an important role in making some additional energy available to the grid and [the Salem plant] can be one of those plants we could rely on for the next several decades,” said Jeff Deyette, assistant energy research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who noted that natural gas generation increased by more than 50 percent since 2008.

Salem Power Plant Sparks Electric Debate

After Sandy, Feds Consider Building Fake Islands off the Coast

This artist rendering provided by WXY/West 8/Stevens Institute of Technology shows a proposed project to create a string of artificial barrier islands off the coast of New Jersey and New York to protect the shoreline from storm surges like the ones that caused billions of dollars? worth of damage during Superstorm Sandy. The ?Blue Dunes? project, conceived by New Jersey?s Stevens Institute of Technology and two architectural firms, would cost $10 billion to $12 billion, and would stretch from central Long Island, N.Y., to the southern tip of Long Beach Island in New Jersey. | Associated Press) Click to enlarge.
A string of artificial islands off the coast of New Jersey and New York could blunt the impact of storm surges that proved so deadly during Superstorm Sandy, according to a proposal vying for attention and funding as the region continues its recovery.

It's a big proposal that would cost $10 billion to $12 billion.  But it's also the kind of innovative idea that federal officials requested as they consider how best to protect the heavily populated region from future storms.

"We've discussed this with the governor's office of Recovery and Resiliency and the Department of Environmental Protection, and they all look at me like, 'Whoa! This is a big deal!" said Alan Blumberg, a professor at New Jersey's Stevens Institute of Technology.  "Yes, it is a big deal.  It can save lives and protect property."

The "Blue Dunes" proposal is part of Rebuild By Design, a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to come up with novel ways to protect against the next big storm.  It is one of 10 projects that will be evaluated and voted on next week, but there's no guarantee any of them will receive funding.  Other ideas include building sea walls around cities, re-establishing oyster colonies in tidal flats to blunt wave action and creating water-absorbent nature and recreational preserves.

After Sandy, Feds Consider Building Fake Islands off the Coast

World's Highest Wind Turbine Will Hover Above Alaska

(Credit: Altaeros Energies) Click to enlarge.
The title for world's largest wind turbine is constantly up for grabs as manufacturers build higher and bigger to capture more energy from the passing air.

One turbine in Alaska, however, will now spin high above the rest. Altaeros Energies will launch its high-altitude floating wind turbine south of Fairbanks to bring more affordable power to a remote community. Ben Glass, CEO of Altaeros told The New York Times that the company expects to provide power at about $0.18 per kilowatt-hour, about half the price of off-grid electricity in Alaska. 

Altaeros says there is a US $17-billion remote power and microgrid market that could benefit from the technology.  Many off-grid sites, including small islands, mining sites or military bases, rely on expensive diesel generators to provide some or all of their power needs.  There are many projects that are trying to develop integrated solutions to tackle this market, particularly microgrids that integrate some type renewable energy.

The Boston-based startup is hardly alone in flying power stations, either.  Last year, Google X purchased Makani Power that makes airborne wind turbines that resemble small airplanes.  At the time, Google told TechCrunch that the appeal of Makani was that "They've turned a technology that today involves hundreds of tons of steel and precious open space into a problem that can be solved with r0eally intelligent software."  Other airborne wind companies include WindLift, SkySails, Sky Windpower, and NTS.

World's Highest Wind Turbine Will Hover Above Alaska

   Saturday, Mar. 29, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

In Calif. and Nev., Energy Storage Hits the Rails

Heavy going: A pilot project in the foothills of California demonstrates how gravity can store excess electricity. (Credit: ARES) Click to enlarge.
What is over 4 miles long, is full of dirt and has a potential power output of 50 megawatts?

If you're stumped, don't worry -- not many people have heard of energy-storage-by-rail, a concept soon to be launched on the southwestern edge of Nevada. But its architects have high ambitions for a project they say could go a long way toward stabilizing the regional power grid.

Compared to the mechanics of chemical batteries, the idea behind rail storage is simple. During periods of low electricity demand, power is dispatched from the nearby grid to pull a chain of weighted train cars uphill. And there they will sit -- losing no power to degradation -- until the grid has a period of high power demand.  Then they are sent rolling downhill.  Their momentum sends electrons back to the grid through a system of regenerative braking that uses the turning power of the wheels to generate electricity.

In Calif. and Nev., Energy Storage Hits the Rails

Here's Why B.C.'s Carbon Tax Is Super Popular -- and Effective

Gasoline Pump Label in Metro Vancouver (Credit: Steven Godfrey) Click to enlarge.
A carbon tax is just what it sounds like:  The B.C. government levies a fee, currently 30 Canadian dollars, for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions resulting from the burning of various fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and, of course, coal.  That amount is then included in the price you pay at the pump -- for gasoline, it's 6.67 cents per liter (about 25 cents per gallon) -- or on your home heating bill, or wherever else the tax applies.  (Most monetary amounts in this piece will be in Canadian dollars, which are currently worth about 89 American cents.)

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa.  That's apparently because the tax hasn't just had an economic effect:  It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C.  "I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw," says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada.  "It made climate action real to people."

It also saved many of them a lot of money.  Sure, the tax may cost you if you drive your car a great deal, or if you have high home gas heating costs.  But it also gives you the opportunity to save a lot of money if you change your habits, for instance by driving less or buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle.  That's because the tax is designed to be "revenue neutral" -- the money it raises goes right back to citizens in the form of tax breaks.

Here's Why B.C.'s Carbon Tax Is Super Popular -- and Effective

At U.N. Climate Talks, Many Seek Sterner Warnings of GDP Losses

(Credit: Vladimir Weiss/Bloomberg) Click to enlarge.
Many governments want sterner warnings of probable economic damage from global warming in a draft U.N. report due on Monday, saying that existing estimates of trillions of dollars in losses are only part of the picture.

A final draft before talks this week among governments and scientists in Japan projected that warming would cut economic output by between 0.2 and 2.0 percent a year by damaging human health, disrupting water supplies and raising sea levels.

But many countries reckon that is an underestimate because it excludes risks of catastrophic changes, such as a runaway melt of Greenland's ice, collapse of coral reefs or a drying of the Amazon rainforest that could cause massive economic losses.

At U.N. Climate Talks, Many Seek Sterner Warnings of GDP Losses

Friday, March 28, 2014

Autumn Ending Later in Northern Hemisphere, Research Shows

Fall foliage in Ontario. (Credit: aiko99ann, Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
On average, the end of autumn is taking place later in the year and spring is starting slightly earlier, according to research.  A team of researchers examined satellite imagery covering the northern hemisphere over a 25 year period (1982 - 2006), and looked for any seasonal changes in vegetation by making a measure of its 'greenness'.  They examined in detail, at daily intervals, the growth cycle of the vegetation - identifying physical changes such as leaf cover, color and growth.

Autumn Ending Later in Northern Hemisphere, Research Shows

   Friday, Mar. 28, 2014

Fracking Boosts U.S. Oil to 10 Percent of Global Supply

Based on fourth quarter 2013 data from U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Click to enlarge.
The U.S. now contributes more than 10 percent of the total global crude oil supply as of the end of 2013, a result of the advances in hydraulic fracturing and drilling technology that are driving the oil and gas boom in Texas, North Dakota and other Western states, new U.S. Energy Information Administration data show.

The drilling frenzy in the West's oil fields is mainly about one thing: "tight" crude. 

Most of the easiest oil to drill in the U.S. has been in decline, so energy companies over the last decade have looked to layers of rock that oil cannot easily flow through called "tight" rock formations to unlock oil and natural gas that was previously too costly to reach. Getting that tight crude requires hydraulical fracturing, or fracking, using high volumes of water, sand and chemicals injected at high pressure to crack open, or frack, the rock, allowing the oil to flow into a well.

Fracking Boosts U.S. Oil to 10 Percent of Global Supply

Everything You Need to Know About the White House’s New Plan to Cut Back on a Powerful Greenhouse Gas

President Barack Obama removes his jacket before speaking about climate change, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at Georgetown University in Washington. (Credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Click to enlarge.
As part of President Barack Obama’s plan to address climate change without legislation from Congress, the White House on Friday announced a new strategy to combat emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide — from landfills, agriculture, and the fossil fuel industry.

The announcement was less a proposal of new, sweeping regulations, and more of a pledge to study methane and set the path for potential regulations.  President Obama’s top energy and climate aide Dan Utech told reporters Friday that the Bureau of Land Management does plan on regulating methane emissions from oil and gas wells on public lands by the end of 2014 by requiring reductions in gas venting and flaring.

Regulating methane emissions from agriculture, landfills, and fossil fuel development on private lands is a bit more complicated, so Utech said the Environmental Protection Agency plans on studying whether broad regulations would be needed for those industries’ methane emissions under the Clean Air Act.  If the research shows that more regulations are needed, those would be completed before the end of 2016, when Obama leaves the White House.

Everything You Need to Know About the White House’s New Plan to Cut Back on a Powerful Greenhouse Gas

Why Exporting Natural Gas Isn’t a Simple Solution to the Russia Problem

A Russian construction worker at the Nord Stream pipeline. (Credit: AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, file) Click to enlarge.
As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues with no end in sight, the search for actions that could weaken Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence in the region has international leaders, members of Congress and numerous editorials calling for the U.S. to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.  The natural gas industry is predictably pleased.  Experts, however, counter that exporting natural gas to Europe would be costly, time-consuming, environmentally risky and, in the end, unlikely to have a significant impact on Russia.

Why Exporting Natural Gas Isn’t a Simple Solution to the Russia Problem

Thursday, March 27, 2014

   Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014

Renewables Aren’t Enough.  Clean Coal Is the Future

Global electricity sources and output (Credit: www.wired.com) Click to enlarge.
Many energy and climate researchers believe that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is vital to avoiding a climate catastrophe. Because it could allow the globe to keep burning its most abundant fuel source while drastically reducing carbon dioxide and soot, it may be more important—though much less publicized—than any renewable-energy technology for decades to come.  No less than Steven Chu, the Nobel-winning physicist who was US secretary of energy until last year, has declared CCS essential.  “I don’t see how we go forward without it,” he says.

Even though most of the basic concepts are well understood, developing reliable, large-scale CCS facilities will be time-consuming, unglamorous, and breathtakingly costly. Engineers will need to lavish time and money on painstaking calculations, minor adjustments, and cautious experiments.  At the end, the world will have several thousand giant edifices that everyone regards as eyesores.  Meanwhile, environmentalists have lobbied hard against the technology, convinced that it represents a sop to the coal industry at the expense of cleaner alternatives like solar and wind.

As a consequence, CCS is widely regarded as both critical to the future and a quagmire. At a 2008 meeting of the Group of Eight, the assembled energy ministers lauded the critical role of carbon capture and storage and “strongly” backed an IEA recommendation to launch “20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects” by 2010.  But the number of such projects around the world is actually falling—except in China, which has a dozen big CCS efforts in planning or production.

It is perhaps appropriate that China should take the lead:  It has the world’s worst coal pollution problem.  In addition, its energy companies are partly state-owned; they can’t readily sue the government to stop its CCS program.  At the same time, they won’t be penalized, either by the government or shareholder advocates, if developing this costly, experimental technology cuts into their profits.  In any case, outsiders should be grateful that China is weighing in, says Fatih Birol, chief economist for the IEA.  Somebody needs to figure out how to capture and store carbon dioxide on a massive scale before it’s too late.

Renewables Aren’t Enough.  Clean Coal Is the Future - by Charles C. Mann / Wired Magazine

Climate Change Acidifying Tropical Pacific Ocean More than Expected

Pacific Ocean near Equator. (Credit: NOAA via Flickr) Click to enlarge.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the tropical Pacific Ocean has increased surprisingly quickly over the past 14 years, according to new research from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington.

Climate Change Acidifying Tropical Pacific Ocean More than Expected -- Study

Major Increase in West Antarctic Glacial Loss

A satellite image of Pine Island Glacier shows an 18-mile-long crack across the glacier. Researchers used cracks and other physical features on the glaciers to calculate glacier acceleration by comparing image data from year to year to see how far the cracks traveled. (Credit: NASA) Click to enlarge.
Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are moving faster than they did 40 years ago, causing more ice to discharge into the ocean and global sea level to rise, according to new research.

The amount of ice draining collectively from those half-dozen glaciers increased by 77 percent from 1973 to 2013, scientists report this month in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.  Half of the increase occurred between 2003 and 2009.


Pine Island Glacier, the most active of the studied glaciers, has accelerated by 75 percent in 40 years, according to the paper. Thwaites Glacier, the widest glacier, started to accelerate in 2006, following a decade of stability.

The study is the first to look at the ice coming off the six most active West Antarctic glaciers over such an extended time period, said Jeremie Mouginot, a glaciologist at University of California-Irvine (UC-Irvine) who co-authored the paper.  Almost 10 percent of the world's sea-level rise per year comes from just these six glaciers, he said.

Major Increase in West Antarctic Glacial Loss

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

   Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2014

Extracting Carbon from Nature Can Aid Climate but Will Be Costly:  U.N.

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant. (Credit: www.neuralenergy.info) Click to enlarge.
A little-known technology that may be able to take the equivalent of China's greenhouse gas emissions out of the carbon cycle could be the radical policy shift needed to slow climate change this century, a draft U.N. report shows.

Using the technology, power plants would burn biomass - wood, wood pellets, or plant waste like from sugar cane - to generate electricity while the carbon dioxide in the biomass is extracted, piped away and buried deep underground.

Among techniques, a chemical process can strip carbon dioxide from the flue gases from combustion.

The process - called bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) - would make the power plants not only carbon-neutral but actively a part of extracting carbon dioxide from a natural cycle of plant growth and decay.

The technology could be twinned in coming decades with planting forests that absorb carbon as they grow, according to the study obtained by Reuters.

It would be a big shift from efforts to fight global warming mainly by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases from mankind's use of fossil fuels in factories, power plants and cars, but may be necessary given the failure so far to cut rising emissions.

"BECCS forms an essential component of the response strategy for climate change in the majority of scenarios in the literature" to keep temperatures low, according to a report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Extracting Carbon from Nature Can Aid Climate but Will Be Costly:  U.N.

How the New Flood Insurance Reforms Make Costly Future Climate Disasters More Likely

(Credit: FLICKR/CLICKERJAC) Click to enlarge.
On Friday, President Obama signed into law the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, very aptly named as it helps homeowners living in flood zones afford their insurance rates.  The only problem is that some homeowners just shouldn’t be living in flood zones, and their rising insurance rates were meant to reflect that.  This is especially true in coastal flooding zones where rising sea levels due to climate change, extreme weather events and human-induced erosion and environmental degradation can make the risks outweigh the benefits, and the costs — for which taxpayers are liable — exceedingly high.

How the New Flood Insurance Reforms Make Costly Future Climate Disasters More Likely

Texans Try to Cope with Lingering Hangover from Record Drought

Farmer Jorge Espinoza is trying out a new solar-powered water pump to cut his costs of irrigation. (Credit: Department of Agriculture) Click to enlarge.
After Texas got hit by a historic drought in 2011 that caused major damage to its agricultural sector, many farmers and ranchers in the state had hoped their dry spell would be over by now.  But moderate to exceptional drought is still affecting 64 percent of the state, hurting farmers' crops and animals and biting deeply into their profits.


Texans Try to Cope with Lingering Hangover from Record Drought

World Unprepared for Threats from Warmer Climate, Oxfam Says

Observed change in average surface temperature 1901-2012.  White blocks indicate insufficient data. (Credit: UN IPCC) Click to enlarge.
The world is “woefully unprepared” for the threat to food security from drought and flooding brought on by a warming climate, the development charity Oxfam said.

In addition to extreme weather patterns, more marginal shifts such as small increases in temperature and changes in rainfall patterns are already harming food production, Oxford, England-based Oxfam said in a report.

“Climate change is the biggest threat to our chances of winning the fight against hunger,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said in a statement.  “It could have grave consequences for what we all eat but the world is woefully under prepared for it.”

World Unprepared for Threats from Warmer Climate, Oxfam Says

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

   Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014

Climate Change Could Delay the Fight Against World Hunger for Decades

This Oct. 4, 2012 photo shows un-harvested corn near Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Credit: Nati Harnik, File | Associated Press) Click to enlarge.
Coffee, almonds and apples are just a few foods whose continued production is under threat due to climate change.  But the implications of a changing climate have a much broader impact on global food supply, according to a new report.

The new report, which Oxfam released Monday, warns that climate change threatens to delay the fight against world hunger for decades.  The threat of climate change on food is much worse than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in their last report in 2007.

Oxfam, a global confederation of 17 organizations fighting poverty and hunger, analyzed whether the world is prepared to meet food demands in a changing climate.  The report's release comes just ahead of the publication of the next portion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report, which will focus on climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

"What Oxfam is discovering more and more in our work to address hunger and poverty globally is that climate change is one of the single biggest threats to winning the fight against hunger," Heather Coleman, Oxfam International's climate change policy manager, told The Huffington Post.  "The reason for that is because of growing food insecurity."

From production to prices, the threats climate change poses to our food supply are significant.  The report cites examples where extreme weather has already affected agriculture, such as the ongoing and historic droughts in Brazil and California.  The latter produces nearly half of all fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S., according to the Oxfam report.

Oxfam also estimates that global food prices could double by 2030, with a shifting climate responsible for half of that rise.  And in the next 35 years, there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five than there would be without climate change affecting food availability, said Coleman.

Climate Change Could Delay the Fight Against World Hunger for Decades:  Report

NJ Court:  Gov. Christie Illegally Repealed Climate Change Pollution Rules

Steam rises from the stack of a scrubber as the primary emission after the cleaning process at a coal-fired power plant outside Baltimore, Maryland, in this 2011 photo. (Credit: Andre Chung/MCT) Click to enlarge.
A New Jersey court ruled this morning that the Christie Administration broke the law when it excused power plants from complying with regulations limiting dangerous climate-changing pollution.

“Today’s court decision—together with the substantial economic, environmental and public health benefits the program has demonstrated in neighboring states—should compel New Jersey to give RGGI another look,” said Dale Bryk, Energy and Transportation Program Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled today in favor of Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a lawsuit the organizations brought against the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2012.  The year before, when the Christie Administration posted a notice on a website that power plants no longer had to comply with pollution limits, it effectively ended New Jersey’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or RGGI), a nine-state program that has been reducing climate-changing pollution from East Coast power plants for the last five years.

“The Christie Administration sidestepped the public process required by law,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey.  “New Jerseyans support action to reduce the impacts of global warming.  We hope that today’s ruling will help their voices be heard.”

“Neither Governor Christie nor the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection can simply repeal state laws by fiat,” said Susan Kraham, Senior Staff Attorney at Columbia University’s Environmental Law Clinic, who represented the environmental groups in court.  “The court gave the administration 60 days to initiate a public process around any changes to the climate change pollution rules.”

NJ Court: Gov. Christie Illegally Repealed Climate Change Pollution Rules

Consumer Products Giants Commit to Deforestation-Free Palm Oil Policies

Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo for oil palm plantations. Click to enlarge.
Two major consumer products companies — General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive — have committed to using palm oil in their products that does not come from lands cleared from tropical forests, adding to the wave of corporations that have pledged measures to protect southeast Asian rainforests.  The consumer giants' new policies go beyond standards set by the industry's main certification body and include provisions to protect wildlife-rich rainforests, carbon-dense peatlands, and the rights of local communities.  Environmental groups are welcoming the commitments, though some believe the companies' pledges should go further. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists questions General Mills' definition of "high carbon stock" forests, while Greenpeace is urging Colgate-Palmolive to move implementation up to 2015 from 2020.  Environmental groups are hopeful that new commitments will pressure Proctor & Gamble, the last remaining consumer products giant without a similar pledge, to adopt deforestation-free palm oil policies.

Consumer Products Giants Commit to Deforestation-Free Palm Oil Policies

Monday, March 24, 2014

   Monday, Mar. 24, 2014

Minnesota Finds Net Metering Undervalues Rooftop Solar

(Credit: iStockphoto) Click to enlarge.
Utilities should be paying more for their customers' surplus solar power generation according to a solar pricing scheme approved by Minnesota's Public Utility Commission last month and expected to be finalized in early April.  Minnesota's move marks the first state-level application of the 'value of solar' approach, which sets a price by accounting for rooftop solar power's net benefits, pioneered by the municipal utility in Austin, TX.

Minnesota is one of 43 U.S. states that requires utilities to pay retail rates for surplus solar power that their customers put on the grid.  Utilities across the U.S. are fighting such net metering rules, arguing that they fail to compensate the utility for services that their grid provides to the distributed generator.  So last year pro-solar activists and politicians in Minnesota called the utilities' bluff, passing legislation tasking the state's Department of Commerce with calculating the true value of rooftop solar power.

Now the verdict is in, and the state's 'value of solar' formula -- affirmed by the PUC -- finds that distributed solar generation is actually worth more than its retail power price according to John Farrell, an economist and senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based economic think tank, and the principal architect of last year's solar legislation.

What put solar's benefits over the top was the state's decision to adopt the U.S. EPA's value for avoided carbon emissions -- the social cost of carbon in EPA's lingo.  At $37 per metric ton of carbon this is worth almost 3 cents for every kilowatt-hour of natural-gas fired generation displaced by rooftop solar power in Minnesota, according to a preliminary analysis of the PUC's formula by Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility.

Minnesota Finds Net Metering Undervalues Rooftop Solar

California Drought:  Central Valley Farmland on Its Last Legs

Jack Mitchell sold about 3,000 acres of his Tulare County ranch a decade ago to federal officials trying to find out whether imperiled farmland could be returned to nature. Studies point to the need to retire more acreage. (Credit: Michael Short, The Chronicle) Click to enlarge.
Even before the drought, the southern San Joaquin Valley was in big trouble.

Decades of irrigation have leached salts and toxic minerals from the soil that have nowhere to go, threatening crops and wildlife.  Aquifers are being drained at an alarming pace.  More than 95 percent of the area's native habitat has been destroyed by cultivation or urban expansion, leaving more endangered bird, mammal and other species in the southern San Joaquin than anywhere in the continental U.S.

Federal studies long ago concluded that the only sensible solution is to retire hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland.  Some farming interests have reached the same conclusion, even as they publicly blamed an endangered minnow to the north, known as the delta smelt, for the water restrictions that have forced them to fallow their fields.

The 600,000-acre Westlands Water District, representing farmers on the west side of the valley, has already removed tens of thousands of acres from irrigation and proposed converting damaged cropland to solar farms.

Many experts said if farmers don't retire the land, nature eventually will do it for them.

California Drought:  Central Valley Farmland on Its Last Legs

13 of 14 Warmest Years on Record Occurred in 21st Century – UN

Children walk near the Folsom Lake, California, US, which is experiencing a historic drought. The lake's edge has receded dramatically. (Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP) Click to enlarge.
Publishing its annual climate report, the UN's World Meteorological Organisation said that last year continued a long-term warming trend, with the hottest year ever in Australia and floods, droughts and extreme weather elsewhere around the world.

Michel Jarraud, the WMO's secretary-general, also said there had been no 'pause' in global warming, as has been alleged by climate change sceptics.  “There is no standstill in global warming,” Jarraud said.

2001-2010 was the warmest decade on record, the WMO noted, and added that the last three decades had been warmer than the previous one.

The WMO reiterated its earlier finding that 2013 was the sixth warmest on record, with temperatures 0.5C above the long-term average (1961-1990).  The southern hemisphere was particularly warm, its report said, with Argentina experiencing its second warmest year on record and New Zealand its third warmest.

Arctic sea ice in 2013 did not reach the record lows seen in 2012 for minimum extent in the summer, but was at the sixth lowest on record.  The WMO noted all seven of the lowest Arctic sea-ice extents took place in the past seven years, starting with 2007, which scientists were "stunned" by at the time.

13 of 14 Warmest Years on Record Occurred in 21st Century – UN

Why Smog-Bound Chinese Cities May Have a Long Wait for Their Next Electric Bus

Two passengers in Zhengzhou, China, watch the launch of hybrid buses. (Credit: Yutong Bus) Click to enlarge.
China's clean vehicle promotion has progressed slowly, even in a sector that has been getting the biggest government push.  The share of alternative-fuel buses in the country's total fleet remains insignificant, accounting for less than 4 percent last year, according to EVhui, a Chinese business information organization.

Why Smog-Bound Chinese Cities May Have a Long Wait for Their Next Electric Bus

Sunday, March 23, 2014

   Sunday, Mar. 23, 2014

Toon of the Week:  The Fried West


                                         Toon of the Week: The Fried West

Bill Nye Responds to 7 Real Arguments Made by Climate Change Deniers

Belief that Rise in Earth's Temperature in Last Century Due Mainly to Human Activities (Credit: Gallup) Click to enlarge.
Climate change is still a politically divisive issue, despite scientists' near unanimous agreement on the issue.  A plurality of Americans, 42%, believe global warming is "generally exaggerated."  Forty percent believe that changes in global temperatures are due more to natural causes than human activities, according to Gallup polling.  There's also a significant difference based on political affiliation.

But let's put aside pundits and polls and look at the data.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has started to release its latest compilation of scientific data, and based on those findings has stated, "Global warming of the climate is unequivocal ... and many of the changes are unprecedented over decades or millennia."

Though there are differences in the models of how rapidly climate change is occurring or what specific factors are contributing to the changes, the scientific community agrees that climate change is happening and it's our fault. 

Below are cringe-worthy comments climate deniers have made that contradict the available information on global warming.

Bill Nye Responds to 7 Real Arguments Made by Climate Change Deniers

Climate Change to Disrupt Food Supplies, Brake Growth:  U.N. Draft

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), briefs the media on the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva June 7, 2012. (Credit: www.reuters.com) Click to enlarge.
Global warming will disrupt food supplies, slow world economic growth and may already be causing irreversible damage to nature, according to a U.N. report due this week that will put pressure on governments to act.

A 29-page draft by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will also outline many ways to adapt to rising temperatures, more heatwaves, floods and rising seas.

"The scientific reasoning for reducing emissions and adapting to climate change is becoming far more compelling," Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, told Reuters in Beijing.

Scientists and more than 100 governments will meet in Japan from March 25-29 to edit and approve the report.  It will guide policies in the run-up to a U.N. summit in Paris in 2015 meant to decide a deal to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change to Disrupt Food Supplies, Brake Growth:  U.N. Draft

Spring Is Arriving Earlier and Earlier in the U.S.

A map showing how many days earlier "first leaf" is occurring in each U.S. state when comparing 1991-2010 with 1961-1980. Click to enlarge.
Parts of the Southwest and Southeast are seeing spring arrive up to a week earlier, while areas in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are experiencing spring five days earlier.  New Mexico is leading the way state-wise, with spring starting an average of eight days earlier.  Ohio, West Virginia, and Florida are the only outliers that have seen barely any change in the start date.

The shift toward an earlier spring is consistent with global patterns of climate change.  Changes in first leaf date don't just pose an issue for gardeners.  They have a trickle-down effect on animals also rely on these cues to lose their winter coats, prepare summer dens, give birth, and many other processes.  While some might welcome a quicker exit from winter, it’s possible that these changes could disrupt delicate balances that have been in place for hundreds and thousands of years.

Spring Is Arriving Earlier and Earlier in the U.S.

Global Solar PV Market Set to Reach 500GW by 2018



Annual Solar PV Module Revenues from 2008 to 2018. (Credit: reneweconomy.com.au) Click to enlarge.
The global solar PV industry is headed into a five-year growth spurt that will put it on track for cumulative installed capacity of 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2018, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz Marketbuzz report.

The report, released on Thursday, predicts a huge 100GW of solar PV deployment will be targeted in 2018 – a boom in end-market growth that is projected to increase annual PV module revenues to $50 billion in that same year.

In January, leading investment house Deutsche Bank also dramatically lifted its near-term demand forecasts for the global solar industry, predicting that 46GW of PV would be installed across the world in 2014, and 56GW in 2015.

Global Solar PV Market Set to Reach 500GW by 2018

   Saturday, Mar. 22, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Solar Industry Defeats ALEC Net Metering Attacks in Utah & Washington

The solar industry – backed by overwhelming public support – claimed victory in all of the 2013 battles by preserving net metering.  The Arizona battle was particularly heated, as Arizona Public Service (APS) funded a multimillion-dollar anti-solar campaign rooted in dirty and ineffective tactics.  APS lied about funding phony grassroots organizations and ads attacking their own customers.  Meanwhile, utility trade association Edison Electric Institute (EEI) aired its own TV and radio ads attacking rooftop solar customers.  Despite spending millions and damaging their own brands, APS and EEI failed. What they did accomplish was dragging down APS’s net approval with its own customers by 13 points.

Solar Industry Defeats ALEC Net Metering Attacks in Utah & Washington

With Virtual Power Purchase Agreements, Companies Go Long on Renewable Energy

Wind turbines in Palm Springs, CA (Credit: Turner) Click to enlarge.
Absent government subsidies or a carbon tax, it may take more than a decade for renewable energy from wind and solar to become cost competitive with cheap natural gas.  Despite years of steady, sometimes precipitous cost declines, the price of renewable power still hovers well above market prices.

With Virtual Power Purchase Agreements, Companies Go Long on Renewable Energy

Oceans Stand to Deliver Abundant Carbon-free Energy



In 2012 Verdant Power installed hefty turbines below the surface of New York City’s East River to turn tidal energy into electrical power. (Credit: Verdant Power, Inc.) Click to enlarge.
Devices now under development in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere generate electricity by tapping the movement of ocean waves and tides or the differences in temperature of water between an ocean’s surface and its depths.  The sector is ripe with promise, but to reach its potential, the engineers, entrepreneurs and policy-makers working to wring carbon-free electricity from moving water and thermal gradients must overcome formidable regulatory and financial barriers.

Proponents of marine hydrokinetics or ocean thermal energy conversion often note that the technologies deliver electricity that is both dependable and in the right place.  After all, waves and tides can be predicted. And humans tend to cluster near water:  Nearly 40 percent of Americans live in counties directly on a shoreline, and more than half the world’s population lives within 125 miles of a coast.

Government and academic estimates project that marine renewable energy could supply a significant share of the electricity used in coastal areas.  Assessments commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy found that “the maximum of theoretical electric generation” that could be produced from waves, tidal and riverine currents, and ocean thermal gradients in U.S. waters is 2,116 terawatt-hours annually, a little over half of the electricity consumed in the country each year.

Oceans Stand to Deliver Abundant Carbon-free Energy

Rich Nations to Start Fund to Help Cut Methane Emissions Abroad

Atmospheric methane concentrations are monitored by MACC using its atmospheric transport model together with observations from the European SCIAMACHY satellite instrument. Click to enlarge.
Nations including the United States and Sweden are advancing plans to launch a new fund this year to pay for methane emission reduction projects in the developing world.

The countries are aiming to set up a so-called Methane Abatement Facility with pledges of $100 million under the auspices of the World Bank to buy and cancel carbon credits, initially from projects that cut emissions at landfill waste sites.

The aim is to deliver fast-acting cuts to greenhouse gas output blamed for climate change ahead of a U.N. pact to bind all nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2020.

All countries have agreed that emission cuts must be scaled up before 2020 because the world is currently on track to emit at least 20 billion metric tons (22.046 billion tons) of carbon dioxide equivalent more by 2020 than scientists say is needed to stand a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Rich Nations to Start Fund to Help Cut Methane Emissions Abroad

China Working on Uranium-Free Nuclear Plants in Attempt to Combat Smog

The Qinshan plant, outside Shanghai, is China's first nuclear power facility. (Credit: Eugene Hoshiko/AP) Click to enlarge.
In an effort to reduce the number of coal-fired plants, the Chinese government has brought forward by 15 years the deadline to develop a nuclear power plant using the radioactive element thorium instead of uranium.  It would be the world's first thorium-fueled facility.

China Working on Uranium-Free Nuclear Plants in Attempt to Combat Smog

Friday, March 21, 2014

   Friday, Mar. 21, 2014

Heat Extremes Threaten Crop Yields

An undersized cob from a failed maize crop in Ghana which has suffered failed rains and rising temperatures (Credit: CIAT (NP Ghana23_lo Uploaded by mrjohncummings), via Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
Rampant climate change driven by ever-rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere poses a serious threat to world food supply, according to a new study in Environmental Research Letters.

The hazard comes not from high average temperatures, but the likelihood of heat extremes at times when crops are most sensitive to stress.  And the message is:  those communities that rely on maize as a staple are more at risk than most.

Heat Extremes Threaten Crop Yields