Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ahead of Power Plant Push, Obama Ties Climate Change to Health Hazards

President Obama (Credit: U.S. President Barack Obama announces the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki after meeting with Shinseki at the White House in Washington, May 30, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing) Click to enlarge.
President Barack Obama kicked off a campaign to promote new restrictions on U.S. power plant emissions on Saturday by tying the fight against climate change with efforts to promote better health for children and the elderly.

In his weekly radio address, Obama said the United States had to do more to reduce carbon emissions so that children suffering from asthma and other related ailments did not face further problems as a result of polluted air.

His argument was a preview of the case that his administration will make in the coming weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday unveils new rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing U.S. power plants across the country.

Although the rules are intended to help Washington meet international obligations to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, the White House's focus on human health benefits is part of a sales pitch to drum up support from the American public.

Ahead of Power Plant Push, Obama Ties Climate Change to Health Hazards

Here’s Why the Carbon Regulations EPA Will Announce Monday Are So Important

Coal plant chimneys (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency will release a first-ever set of regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the country’s existing fleet of power plants.  The agency recently issued similar rules for new power plants, which will be finalized next year after a public comment period.  The rules for existing plants will undergo a similar process.

But before the political storm around the rules begins in earnest, here are the basic points everyone needs to know about why EPA’s carbon rules are so important.
  • It’s the First Step Towards a Global Solution
  • Climate Change Is a Threat to America and the World
  • U.S. Carbon Emissions Are a Sizable Part of the Problem
  • Congress Isn’t Going to Do It Anytime Soon
Here’s Why the Carbon Regulations EPA Will Announce Monday Are So Important

Regulations 101 -- A Primer on EPA's Upcoming Power Plant Rule

Where power plant emissions are the highest. (Credit: www.eenews.net) Click to enlarge.
The next step in Obama's regulatory plan for climate change will land Monday morning.  Unlike the rule for future power plants, this proposal will be much further-reaching, an effort to scale down the source of 40 percent of the country's climate warming gases by regulating the plants that are in operation today.  According to the schedule set last year in the Climate Action Plan, EPA must release a final rule by June 2015.  Once that happens, states have a year to submit plans to EPA for how they will comply with the rule.

It may force some states to overhaul their energy policies and could favor others that have taken a head start to establish climate policies.  It could cause electricity prices to rise but could also change how the electric sector -- from the power plant to the grid to the home or business -- operates. One of the few certainties of this regulation:  It will bring a lot of lawsuits.

Here is a look at the essential elements of Monday's proposed rule.

Regulations 101 -- A Primer on EPA's Upcoming Power Plant Rule

Eight States Release Plan to Put 3.3 Million Electric Vehicles on the Road by 2025

Electric vehicles charging (Credit: blog.ucsusa.org) Click to enlarge.
At the heart of the plan are 11 key actions that cover three main areas: (1) building the market for EVs, (2) providing consistent codes, standards and tracking for EV development, and (3) improving the experience of EV drivers.  The plan also includes steps individual states may take, as well as examples of successful existing state programs that have already improved the experience of EV drivers and owners. Some states have already gotten off to a strong start.  Maryland, for example, is investing in a network of fast charging stations, Connecticut is beginning to recognize auto dealerships who sell the most EVs, and Vermont’s State Infrastructure Bank is providing loans to municipalities and businesses to build public-use charging stations at a fixed interest rate of 1 percent.

We have several types of electric vehicles (EVs) that can operate nearly emission-free when powered by clean electricity or hydrogen.  UCS analysis estimates that electricity could power more than 40 percent of all new vehicles sold in 2035, reducing our oil use and avoiding millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

I was, therefore, encouraged to see governors of eight states release a plan to “develop infrastructure, coordinated policies, codes and standards and a consumer market” to encourage EV sales in the states that comprise about a quarter of the nation’s new car sales.  This collaboration began with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in October 2013 with the goal of putting 3.3 million electric drive vehicles on the road by 2025.  Since the MOU signing, state regulators, the auto industry and infrastructure developers have shared information and best practices to help move this groundbreaking effort forward, and we’re now seeing this plan begin to take shape.

At the heart of the plan are 11 key actions that cover three main areas: (1) building the market for EVs, (2) providing consistent codes, standards and tracking for EV development, and (3) improving the experience of EV drivers. The plan also includes steps individual states may take, as well as examples of successful existing state programs that have already improved the experience of EV drivers and owners.  Some states have already gotten off to a strong start.  Maryland, for example, is investing in a network of fast charging stations, Connecticut is beginning to recognize auto dealerships who sell the most EVs, and Vermont’s State Infrastructure Bank is providing loans to municipalities and businesses to build public-use charging stations at a fixed interest rate of 1 percent.

Eight States Release Plan to Put 3.3 Million Electric Vehicles on the Road by 2025

A Pushback on Green Power

Wind turbines that collect renewable energy, set in a pasture in Van Wert County, Ohio, are visible for miles. (Credit: Laura J. Gardner/The Journal Gazette, via Associated Press) Click to enlarge.
As renewable energy production has surged in recent years, opponents of government policies that have helped spur its growth have pushed to roll back those incentives and mandates in state after state.

On Wednesday, they claimed their first victory, when Ohio lawmakers voted to freeze the phasing-in of power that utilities must buy from renewable energy sources.

The bill, which passed the Ohio House of Representatives, 54 to 38, was expected to be signed into law by Gov. John R. Kasich, who helped negotiate its final draft.

It stands in marked contrast to the broad consensus behind the original law in 2008, when it was approved with virtually no opposition, and comes after considerable disagreement among lawmakers, energy executives and public interest groups.

Opponents of the mandates argued, in part, that wind and solar power, whose costs have plunged in recent years, should compete on their own with traditional fossil fuels.  But the debate has taken on a broader, more political tone as well, analysts say, with disagreements over the role of government, the economic needs of the state and the debate over climate change.

Since 2013, more than a dozen states have taken up proposals to weaken or eliminate green energy mandates and incentives, often helped by conservative and libertarian policy or advocacy groups like the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

In Kansas, for example, lawmakers recently defeated a bill that would have phased out the state’s renewable energy mandates, but its backers have vowed to propose it again.

A Pushback on Green Power

CO2 Monitoring Could Be “Space-Based” in Future

NASA's rendering of its Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. (Credit: JPL/NASA) Click to enlarge.
The measurement of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources could be on its way to entering the space age.

Using satellites to measure atmospheric concentrations of climate change-fueling carbon dioxide originating from coal-fired power plants could help verify other countries’ claims about their emissions of greenhouse gases, helping regulators in the U.S. and abroad to enforce current and future international greenhouse gas emissions regulations, a new Los Alamos National Laboratory study shows. The study also showed the extent to which the plants, soon to be subject to new EPA emissions rules, pollute the local atmospere.

CO2 Monitoring Could Be “Space-Based” in Future

   Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Majority of Americans Want Obama’s Carbon Rules for Power Plants, Poll Finds

Coal Poll (Credit: Yale.edu) Click to enlarge.
Americans as a whole support putting strict regulations on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from existing coal-fired power plants in order to fight global warming and improve public health, a Yale University poll released Thursday showed.

According to the poll conducted in April, 64 percent of the 1,013 Americans surveyed said they support a strict policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants, while 35 percent said they opposed it — a support ratio of nearly two to one.  However, the country is divided on the issue by political party, with 80 percent of Democrats in favor of such rules and 56 percent of Republicans against.

The poll’s results come just days before the Obama administration will release what are expected to be strong limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted from existing coal plants, its most sweeping policy yet to address global warming.

Majority of Americans Want Obama’s Carbon Rules for Power Plants, Poll Finds

A Price Tag on Carbon as a Climate Rescue Plan - by Justin Gillis, NY Times

Grates are the first step in capturing cow manure to remove methane, a greenhouse gas, and use it generate electricity, keeping the gas out of the air. (Credit: Sally Ryan / The New York Times) Click to enlarge.
California’s program is the latest incarnation of an increasingly popular — and much debated — mechanism that has emerged as one of the primary weapons against global warming.  From China to Norway, Kazakhstan to the Northeastern United States, governments are requiring industries to buy permits allowing them to emit set levels of greenhouse gases.  Under these plans, the allowable levels of pollution are steadily reduced and the cost of permits rises, creating an economic incentive for companies to cut emissions.

The system encourages companies to find the least expensive ways to make the cuts, either by adopting cleaner energy technology or by investing in outside emission-control projects, like the Pagels’ methane digester.

Congress rejected a national plan of this type during President Obama’s first term, but 10 states, including most of those in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, have developed their own programs.  And the approach is expected to get a huge lift on Monday when Mr. Obama unveils a long-awaited national plan requiring states to lower their power plant emissions.  One likely effect will be to encourage more states to adopt systems like California’s.

Already, the approach is spreading worldwide, with the number of people living in places that have such a system nearing one billion, or 14 percent of the world’s population, including about 80 million Americans.

“The point now is to say, look, this can work, it can be scaled, and please join,” said Frank A. Wolak, an economist at Stanford University.

A Price Tag on Carbon as a Climate Rescue Plan - by Justin Gillis, NY Times

Kolbert:  Stop Writing ‘Scientists Say’ Before Phrase ‘GHGs Are Chief Cause of Global Warming’

Cigarette in ash tray(Credit: thinkprogress.org) Click to enlarge.
We are as certain that humans are dramatically changing the planet’s climate as we are that smoking causes cancer.  So nothing justifies this lame phrasing in a New York Times article on Obama’s forthcoming carbon pollution rule:
Coal plants are the nation’s largest source of the greenhouse gases that scientists say are the chief cause of global warming.
Elizabeth Kolbert, one of the country’s top climate reporters, slammed the Times in a tweet:  #ScientistsSay

One of the country’s top climatologists, Michael Mann, tweeted back some sarcasm: “Scientists say plants photosynthesize … gravity exists.”

Given how many articles will be written on greenhouse gases and climate change in the coming weeks, it’s important to underscore why the “scientists say” formulation is wrong.

First off, it’s been decades since the New York Times qualified its statements about the dangers of smoking with phrases like “scientists say.”

Kolbert: Stop Writing ‘Scientists Say’ Before Phrase ‘GHGs Are Chief Cause of Global Warming’

Heavy Rain Pummels Southeast, and It Might Not Even Stop the Drought

Massive flooding causes caskets to float away from graves. (Credit: WAFB) Click to enlarge.
Clusters of severe storms rolling through the South since Memorial Day have caused widespread flash flooding in Texas and Louisiana.  Cars stalled out and were abandoned on flooded highways in Houston and in a single day, rainfall deficits for parched southeast Texas were eliminated.  Flights were grounded throughout area airports.  According to measurements taken at Houston’s Hobby Airport, this is now the fifth-wettest May on record thanks to the last three days of rain.

In Louisiana more than a foot of rain in just a few hours on Wednesday caused a dozen caskets to float away from their graves in Belle Rose.  About 50 houses and apartments were flooded in St. Landry Parish, while In Ascension Parish, near Baton Rouge, at least 29 homes, three schools and two businesses were inundated.  At least one man has drowned in the floods in Louisiana, after police believe he was swept under his car by powerful rising waters in a parking lot.  In Lafayette, Louisiana, more rain fell on Wednesday than had fallen in the past three months combined.

In the latest National Climate Assessment, scientists listed an increase in heavy rainfall events as one of the most visible consequences the country will encounter as the climate changes.  The southeast is expected to see a 27 percent increase in the amount of precipitation that falls in very heavy rainfall events — the heaviest one percent of events. These rainfall events often cause flash flooding as drainage systems are overwhelmed, and do little to alleviate drought, as soils are unable to absorb large quantities of water all at once.

Heavy Rain Pummels Southeast, and It Might Not Even Stop the Drought

The Fishing Industry Is Poised to Lose Billions Due to Climate Change

A worker harvests oysters for Taylor Shellfish in Washington, another company grappling with the effects of ocean acidification. (Credit: AP/Ted S. Warren, file) Click to enlarge.
The global fishing industry is poised to lose $17 to $41 billion by 2050 due to climate change’s effects on the marine environment, according to a new report.

The report (pdf), published by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and the University of Cambridge, outlines the range of challenges that increasing ocean temperatures and acidification will bring to the seafood industry, based on findings from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.  The authors found that climate change puts the 400 million people who depend heavily on fish for food at risk, especially small-scale fishermen in the Tropics.  That’s because yields are expected to fall by 40 to 60 percent in the Tropics and Antarctica — in the high latitudes, however, the report said yields are likely to increase 30 to 70 percent.

Some fish stocks will be able to migrate to cooler or more food- or oxygen-rich waters, which is good news for those fish populations but can lead to conflicts among countries as to which nations are entitled to the displaced stocks, and also could lead to more illegal fishing.  The report singles out the recent shift of Atlantic mackerel to Icelandic waters over the last few summers as one example — with these new fish stocks, Iceland and the Faroe Islands have been fishing mackerel outside of international agreements.  Top predators like tuna are some of the most likely to move, putting economic strain on small island nations in particular.

“This report is a wake up call for the seafood industry to recognize the scale of the threat to ocean resources from climate change and acidification,” Blake Lee-Harwood of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership said in a statement.

The Fishing Industry Is Poised to Lose Billions Due to Climate Change, Report Finds

   Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

U.S. Solar Power Rises 79% as Home Panels Beat Warehouses

Solar Panel Installation on Roof (Credit: www.energyvoice.com) Click to enlarge.
Homeowners and developers installed 1.33 gigawatts of solar panels in the first quarter, the second-largest total on record, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Installation increased 79 percent from the same quarter a year earlier with utility-scale projects making up almost two-thirds of the total and homeowner demand surging, the Washington-based trade group said today in a statement.

Total installations may reach 6.6 gigawatts this year, driven by residential rooftop systems and more than 12 gigawatts of utility projects under development, said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at Boston-based GTM Research, which publishes the quarterly market reports with SEIA.  This was the first quarter when residential systems exceeded commercial and government solar.

U.S. Solar Power Rises 79% as Home Panels Beat Warehouses

The Wall Street Journal Denies the 97% Scientific Consensus on Human-Caused Global Warming - by John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli

Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal is providing the media coverage for climate contrarian damage control. (Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA) Click to enlarge.
Rupert Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal editorial page has long published op-eds denying basic climate science.  This week, they published an editorial denying the 97% expert scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.  The editorial may have been published as a damage control effort in the wake of John Oliver’s hilarious global warming debate viral video, which has now surpassed 3 million views.  After all, fossil fuel interests and Republican political strategists have been waging a campaign to obscure public awareness of the expert consensus on global warming for nearly three decades.

The Wall Street Journal editorial was written by Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute political advocacy group of Unabomber billboard infamy, and Roy Spencer of “global warming Nazis” infamy.  Spencer previously claimed in testimony to US Congress to be part of the 97% consensus, although his research actually falls within the less than 3% fringe minority of papers that minimize or reject the human influence on global warming.

Spencer’s claim to the contrary was a result of failing to understand the consensus research he referenced.  In The Wall Street Journal this week, Spencer and Bast continued that tradition of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the scientific literature on the expert global warming consensus.

For example, in order to reject the findings of the paper my colleagues and I published last year finding a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature, Bast and Spencer referenced a critical comment subsequently published by David Legates et al. in an obscure off-topic journal called Science and Education.  That paper was based on a blog post written by Christopher Monckton, who's infamous for calling environmental activists “Hitler Youth.”

Monckton's blog post and paper tried to deny the consensus by ignoring 98% of the papers that endorse it.  He compared only papers that explicitly quantified the human contribution to global warming to the full sample of all peer-reviewed papers that mention the phrases “global warming” or “global climate change.”

By that standard, there’s less than a 1% expert consensus on evolution, germ theory, and heliocentric theory, because there are hardly any papers in those scientific fields that bother to say something so obvious as, for example, “the Earth revolves around the sun.” The same is true of human-caused global warming.  That Bast and Spencer refer to Monckton and Legates’ fundamentally wrong paper in an obscure off-topic journal as “more reliable research” reveals their bias in only considering denial “reliable.”

The Wall Street Journal Denies the 97% Scientific Consensus on Human-Caused Global Warming

Leaked EPA Draft Fracking Wastewater Guidance Suggests Closer Scrutiny for Treatment Plants

Process of mixing water with fracking fluids to be injected into the ground (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
One of the most intractable problems related to fracking is that each well drilled creates millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic wastewater.

An internal draft EPA document leaked to DeSmog gives a small window into how, after a full decade since the start of the drilling boom, the agency is responding.

The EPA's new draft document now lists almost two dozen individual substances — like benzene, radium, and arsenic — that it says have been found at high enough levels in shale wastewater to cause concern.  By contrast, the 2011 version focused mostly on the high levels of salts found in the waste.

The new document also explains that the substances it lists are not the only potential pollutants that must be removed before water can be considered fully treated and ready to enter rivers and streams.  It explains that each treatment plant can only take wastewater once regulators are satisfied that they know what is actually in it.

This has been an ongoing challenge for regulators in the past, as the industry has refused to reveal some of the actual chemicals or their levels to the public because, they explain, it would put them at a competitive disadvantage by potentially disclosing trade secrets.

But, in its dry technical jargon, the EPA explains that tests have found chemicals and heavy metals in the shale industry's waste at levels high enough to pose hazards to drinking water safety, human health and the environment.

Leaked EPA Draft Fracking Wastewater Guidance Suggests Closer Scrutiny for Treatment Plants

How Extreme Heat Could Lead to More Oil Rail Car Derailments

Sun on rail-road track (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
Fossil fuel transportation by rail, already beleaguered by a series of disasters, could actually see things get worse thanks to the very climate change it’s helping to drive: as temperatures increase, rail tracks are more likely to warp, leading to more derailments.

While the storms and floods and such that come with climate change threaten the United States’ infrastructure in a variety of ways, bouts of extreme heat in particular can cause the metal rails in train tracks to bend and buckle, according to a new report from Climate Central. Experts refer to them as “sun kinks,” and they occur when the heat causes the metal to expand sufficiently that the structure of the tracks can’t take it, and the rails warp.  It’s a phenomenon that’s caused an estimated 2,100 train derailments in the country over the last forty years, averaging about 50 derailments annually.

In fact, with 2012 delivering the hottest year the continental U.S. has ever seen, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a safety advisory on sun kinks specifically, and pointed to four major train derailments caused by sun kinks in just a two week span.

How Extreme Heat Could Lead to More Oil Rail Car Derailments

Obama Admin Retools Sprawling Western 'Energy Corridor'

The West-wide Energy Corridor map (draft, November 2007). Click map for larger version with legend (PDF format). (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy)
The Obama administration is slowly taking the first steps to revise potentially large sections of a congressionally designated 6,000-mile-long energy corridor as mandated by a nearly 2-year-old legal settlement with environmental groups that claimed the original corridor unnecessarily tore through sensitive landscapes and fails to advance renewable energy development.

But it could be years before any substantive revisions are made to dozens of contested sections of the "West-wide Energy Corridor" that stretches across 11 Western states and nearly 3 million acres of public land, including federal wildlife refuges and key habitat for greater sage grouse.  That's due mostly to a lack of federal funding that has prevented the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and the Department of Energy from even starting a base-line corridor study that was supposed to be completed in July.

The agencies are also waiting for Congress to allocate money for a more detailed, landscape-level review of the corridor -- a key provision of the 2012 legal settlement with conservation groups that is supposed to correct contested sections of the corridor that if left unchanged could allow transmission lines and oil, natural gas and hydrogen pipelines through sensitive areas such as along the border of Arches National Park in southern Utah.

BLM, the Forest Service and DOE likely will not meet a deadline this summer to submit the first round of recommended changes or deletions to sections of the corridor, as per the legal settlement, though federal officials say they are confident the corridor review study will begin this summer and that the first regional review will kick off this fall.

Obama Admin Retools Sprawling Western 'Energy Corridor'

   Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wind Energy in 2013 Was Equivalent to Taking 20 Million Cars Off the Road

Wind energy’s 2013 emissions reductions by state, using EPA’s AVERT tool. (Credit: AWEA) Click to enlarge.
Wind energy reduced power sector emissions by more than 5 percent last year, saving the same amount of CO2 as taking 20 million cars off the road, according to a new report.

The report (pdf), published by the American Wind Energy Association, found that wind energy production in 2013 resulted in carbon emissions reductions of 126.8 million tons.  Some states achieved larger reductions than the national average, with 11 states reducing carbon emissions by 10 percent compared to 2011 levels through wind energy.  Texas — a state which broke its record for highest wind generation ever in March — had the highest volume of carbon reductions, followed by Illinois, California, and Colorado.

Wind Energy in 2013 Was Equivalent to Taking 20 Million Cars Off the Road

Video Report: Americans on the Front Lines of Climate Change



A fire chief in Colorado whose department is battling increasingly intense blazes in the American West.  A Texas rancher struggling to operate in the face of years of drought. Oyster farmers in Washington state scrambling to adapt to increasingly acidic waters that are damaging their harvests.  These Americans are the subjects of videos created by The Story Group, a non-profit journalism initiative.  The videos are meant to put a human face on the science behind the recently released National Climate Assessment, which stressed that global warming is already having a major impact on the United States.

Video Report: Americans on the Front Lines of Climate Change

Time for Candidates to Go on the Climate Offense


Michigan Senate - Land vs. Peters Polling Data

PollDateSamplePeters (D)Land (R)Spread
RCP Average4/3 - 5/20--42.239.2Peters +3.0
EPIC-MRA5/17 - 5/20600 LV4438Peters +6
CEA/Hickman Analytics (D)4/24 - 4/30502 LV4237Peters +5
Magellan Strategies (R)4/14 - 4/15875 LV4641Peters +5
Mitchell Research4/9 - 4/91460 LV3844Land +6
PPP (D)4/3 - 4/6825 RV4136Peters +5

If something were threatening the economic, cultural, and natural lifeblood of your state, would you want your members of Congress to ignore it or address it?  Representative Gary Peters realizes that most voters want leaders to actually solve problems.  And so he has made tackling climate change one of the central issues of the Michigan Senate race.

Plenty of other candidates have talked about climate change on the campaign trail.  But Peters is one of the first to go on the climate offense.  And judging from recent polls, his leadership has boosted his odds of winning.

Peters has challenged his opponent Terri Lynn Land to clarify her position on climate change and to acknowledge that human activity causes climate change.  "This is something elected officials should be talking about -- we have to be concerned about it," Peters recently told the Washington Post.  "Certainly the voters would like to know where she is.  It's a major issue."

The National Mining Association responded recently by funding $300,000-worth of radio ads defending Land, but Peters isn't backing down.  He knows climate action is right for Michigan and for America, and he isn't letting Land or the fossil fuel industry off the hook. He will also have the support of Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate and will be one of their top featured races in their #WinOnClimate campaign.

"I can't imagine the Koch brothers would be supporting [Land] to the tune that they are unless she agrees with their agenda," Peters said. "A big part of their agenda is dismantling environmental regulations.  Until she says otherwise, it's safe to assume she subscribes to it."

Peters' approach has the makings of a winning strategy.  According to the NRDC Action Fund's analysis of the past two election cycles, the best way to appeal to voters on climate change is to be early, loud, and local.  In other words, get out front of the issue before your opponent does, talk about the issue often, and connect the dots between climate change and your home state.

Time for Candidates to Go on the Climate Offense

Denmark, Portugal, and Spain Leading the World in Wind Power

Graph on Wind Share of Electricity Generation in Leading Countries, 2013 (Credit: Earth Policy Institute) Click to enlarge.
Denmark produced one third of its electricity from the wind in 2013.  In no other country has wind’s share of annual electricity generation yet topped 30 percent. But the Danes are not stopping there—they are eyeing a goal of 50 percent wind by 2020, with most of the needed expansion coming from offshore wind farms.  Recent experience shows that Denmark’s grid can accommodate this much wind power and more: wind-generated electricity exceeded 100 percent of demand the evening of November 3, 2013.

In Portugal, wind farms produced nearly a quarter of the country's electricity in 2013.  The situation was similar in neighboring Spain, where wind power accounted for 21 percent of electricity output, just shy of nuclear at 22 percent.

More than 17 percent of Ireland’s power generation in 2013 came from wind farms.  Over the course of the year, the wind share frequently went above 50 percent, peaking at 59 percent on September 16th, according to grid operator EirGrid.

And in both Germany and the United Kingdom, countries with a combined population of 145 million, wind contributed nearly 8 percent of electricity generation in 2013.  Four states in northern Germany get half or more of their electricity from wind.  As impressive as these figures are for Europe’s two largest economies, what is really astounding is that each country has enough potential wind generating capacity to be 100 percent wind-powered.

What’s more, so do the world’s other leading carbon emitters.  This includes, of course, the United States, where wind farms currently supply 4 percent of national electricity.  Iowa and South Dakota lead the way at the state level, each generating more than 25 percent of their electricity from wind as of 2013.  And in China, wind power—despite accounting for less than 3 percent of electricity generation—recently overtook nuclear to become the country’s third largest power source after coal and hydropower.  With a generation potential that is more than 10 times current demand, wind may one day become China’s leading electricity source.

Denmark, Portugal, and Spain Leading the World in Wind Power

Oil Giant Says Profits Are Assured

Shell’s Puget Sound refinery and all its sites will be busy for years ahead, the conglomerate insists (Credit: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
Shell, the world’s largest oil company, believes that governments will not damage its business by taking rapid action on climate change, and says all its oil reserves will be needed and sold at a profit.

In a robust reply to a recent report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, Shell explains the company reasoning for investing in tar sands and other high cost and difficult-to-extract oil reserves.  It says that an ever-expanding global economy, fuelled by population growth and great prosperity, will need more and more oil and gas at least until 2050.  This will support high prices.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative report, and subsequent research by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, say that many of Shell’s long-term, high-carbon projects in the pipeline will become highly vulnerable to losses or will simply be left in the ground when international law starts to constrain the burning of fossil fuels to limit temperature rises.

But Shell says this will not happen because they do not believe politicians will take action quickly enough to avert global warming.  In a long letter to investors, they say they can be assured that the company will continue to make substantial profits out of burning fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

The open letter from Dr J.J. Traynor, executive vice president, investor relations, at Royal Dutch Shell, reveals that the company is placing great faith in carbon capture and storage, and is developing projects in Australia, Canada and Scotland.

Many critics believe that carbon capture, while theoretically possible, has limited potential because old oil wells or other potential storage facilities where the carbon dioxide might be pumped are distant from where the fossil fuels are burned.  It therefore makes the technology expensive and unlikely to be a major factor in reducing emissions.

Oil Giant Says Profits Are Assured

Making 'the Impossible Possible' at the Berlin Air Show

E-Fan demonstrator (Credit: Airbus Group) Click to enlarge.
The fully electric E-Fan aircraft, engineered by Airbus Group, made one of its first public demonstrations here last week following it's first-ever flight in France on March 11.

The novel two-seater aircraft was designed from the outset for electrical propulsion, from its energy management system to safety features.  In developing this technology, Airbus aims to one day reduce the aerospace industry's carbon dioxide emissions by an order of magnitude.

"It's a very different way of flying," said Jean Botti, chief technical and innovation officer at Airbus Group, "absolutely no noise, no emissions."

Airbus Group's ultimate goal is to make a 70- to 80-person hybrid-electric commuter jet with three hours of range in the 2050 time frame. Initial designs of the E-Thrust aircraft show the plane with six electric-powered fans that will be powered by a gas-fueled energy storage unit during the ascent and cruise phase and then glide using electric power alone while descending.

In the next step toward achieving this, Airbus will make a next-generation two-seater electric plane, set for launch in 2017, and a four-seater electric plane with a gas-powered range extender, set for launch in 2019.

These advances are steppingstones toward realizing Flight Path 2050, the European Union's aggressive goal to reduce the aviation sector's nitrous oxide emissions by 90 percent, noise pollution by 65 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent by 2050.

While Airbus and other aerospace companies are pushing the limits of today's technology, it will still take a quantum leap from today's aircraft technology to meet the targets set out in Flight Path 2050, according to Botti.

Faced with looming climate regulations now under negotiation at the International Civil Aviation Organization, aircraft makers and operators around the world are also looking for incremental solutions for improving the environmental performance of their fleet.

Making 'the Impossible Possible' at the Berlin Air Show

   Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

White House Releases Sweeping Regulatory Agenda

Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Credit: www.gsa.gov) Click to enlarge.
The White House on Friday released its latest regulatory agenda, a sweeping plan that includes rules on power plants, renewable fuels, ozone pollution, Clean Water Act jurisdiction and disclosure of payments by oil and gas companies.

The spring issue of the biannual "Unified Agenda of Federal and Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions" details both short- and long-term plans for every agency in the government.

The most notable goals include timelines for the release of greenhouse gas emission standards, proposed 2015 renewable fuel standard targets, a controversial stream protection rule, crude-by-rail safety standards, and methane and hydraulic fracturing regulations.

For U.S. EPA, the White House plan lists more than 130 regulatory items on the agenda from marquee items to mundane actions.  The agenda lays out the schedule for three much-anticipated rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from new, modified and existing power plants.

The New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for new fossil fuels power plants will be finalized in January 2015, it says.

White House Releases Sweeping Regulatory Agenda

To Sway the Public, ‘Global Warming’ Beats Out ‘Climate Change’

Flaming globe (Credit: www.conserve-energy-future.com) Click to enlarge.
If politicians and scientists want to convey the urgency and importance of a warming world, they are far better off using the term "global warming" than “climate change,” according to a new report. Produced by researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University, the report says that Americans are much more familiar with the term “global warming” and that it engenders more negative associations and concern.  Based on recent surveys, the report said moderates, women, Hispanics, political independents, and younger Americans associate “global warming” with alarming developments such as melting glaciers and extreme weather.  Among many groups, “global warming” also creates a greater sense of threat to one’s family and future generations.

To Sway the Public, ‘Global Warming’ Beats Out ‘Climate Change’

Court Ruling on Demand Response Breeds Uncertainty

States with Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (Credit: ferc.gov/oversight) Click to enlarge.
Officials at PJM Interconnection are reviewing a Friday federal appeals court ruling that invalidated a 2011 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order providing incentives for electricity users to consume less power, a practice known as demand response.

FERC has no jurisdiction over demand response, the court said.

The court ruling strikes a blow to the Obama administration's energy efficiency efforts and injects a large degree of uncertainty into how the rapidly expanding demand-response industry will play a role in the nation's electricity markets.

The divided ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit effectively said FERC overstepped its authority under the Federal Power Act in its Order 745, ruling that demand response is a function of retail electricity markets, which are governed by the states.

Court Ruling on Demand Response Breeds Uncertainty

How Much Difference Can a Year Make?  A Lot, Where GHGs Are Concerned

Greenhouse gases overview (Credit: EPA) Click to enlarge.
U.S. EPA's choice of which year to use as a benchmark for emissions reductions could hold an important clue to how far the administration will go to curb climate change, experts and state regulators say.

How Much Difference Can a Year Make?  A Lot, Where GHGs Are Concerned

   Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday, May 26, 2014

Obama's New Rules for Coal Plants Are a Big Deal.  The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger. - New Republic

EPA Sources of Emissions(Credit: EPA) Click to enlarge.
On June 2 Obama will unveil a new set of federal regulations on power plants, designed primarily to keep coal-fired plants from spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere.  The hope is that these new regulations will slow down climate change—at first incrementally, by reducing emissions from existing plants in the U.S., and then more dramatically, by providing the Administration with more leverage to negotiate a far-reaching, international treaty on emissions from multiple sources.

Most important of all, doing nothing about carbon emissions imposes its own, very real, and very significant costs.  It costs money to clean up after natural disasters.  As my colleague Danny Vinik has written, it will cost even more—way, way more—to protect or abandon coastal cities like Miami that can’t withstand significant increases in sea level. “We’re going to pay for climate change one way or another,” says Kyle Aarons, a senior fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.  “We can pay to migrate coastal populations, build sea walls, transport water to regions in drought conditions, or we can put a cost on carbon to drive us to more sustainable resources.  Ultimately we’ll have to pay both mitigation and adaptation costs, but mitigation is projected to be much more cost-effective.”

The NRDC has actually put a number on the savings that its proposal, or something like it, would generate.  According to its latest estimate, the net savings to society would be between $25 and $53 billion in 2020.  You don’t have to take those figures at face value to think that, on balance, regulating power plant emissions will save more money than it costs.

Obama's New Rules for Coal Plants Are a Big Deal.  The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger. - New Republic

Syria Today Is a Preview of Memorial Day, 2030 - by Joe Romm

Climate Wars, by Gynne Dyer - Click to visit.
The worst direct impacts to humans from our unsustainable use of energy — over the next few decades — will, I think, be Dust-Bowlification and extreme weather and food insecurity:  Hell and High Water.

But all of the impacts occurring at once will have an even more devastating synergy.  This means the rich countries will be far less likely to be offering much assistance to the poorer ones, since there will be ever worsening catastrophes everywhere simultaneously so we’ll be suffering at the same time.  Heck, the deep economic downturn and the record-smashing disasters of the past three years have already exacerbated media myopia and compassion fatigue to help those around the world staggered by floods and droughts.

And that suggests another deadly climate impact — far more difficult to project quantitatively because there is no paleoclimate analog — may well affect far more people both directly and indirectly: war, conflict, competition for arable and/or habitable land.

We will have to work as hard as possible to make sure we don’t leave a world of wars to our children.  That means avoiding decades if not centuries of strife and conflict from catastrophic climate change.  That also means finally ending our addiction to oil, a source — if not the source — of two of our biggest recent wars.

In November 2011, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan “said rising temperatures and rainwater shortages are having a devastating effect on food production.  Failing to address the problem will have repercussions on health, security and stability.”

On Sunday, Tom Friedman wrote a column, “Memorial Day 2050,” which begins:
Of the many things being said about climate change lately, none was more eloquent than the point made by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State in the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously, when he observed:  “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”
Syria Today Is a Preview of Memorial Day, 2030

Dry Conditions Fuel an Alaska Wildfire That’s Bigger than Chicago

Satellite view of fire (Credit: NASA) Click to enlarge.
Alaska is battling a huge wildfire this Memorial Day.  In the last 24 hours the fire has spread to become bigger than Chicago, prompting officials to issue an order for about 900 people as it threatens Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a region south of Anchorage.  With just 30 percent of the fire’s 243 square miles contained, 1,000 structures have been evacuated.

Large wildfires are familiar to the region, where 1 million acres burn annually, and yet it is unusually early in wildfire season to see a fire of this size, a spokesperson said.  Citing “unusually dry conditions” as the cause, the Anchorage Daily News points out the state has had “unseasonably warm spring temperatures.”

But the real culprit for worsening fires is climate change, which boosts optimal conditions like heat, drought, and dry weather.  This winter, parts of the country were hit by frigid temperatures while Alaska saw temperatures in the high 40s and 50s and had its all-time warmest January.  In other words, Alaska saw spring-like temperatures as early as January and February this year. Some scientists say climate change fuels this extreme jet stream.

The National Climate Assessment only confirmed the link between climate change and the dry conditions that enable wildfires in the region:
Even if climate warming were curtailed by reducing heat-trapping gas (also known as greenhouse gas) emissions (as in the B1 scenario), the annual area burned in Alaska is projected to double by mid-century and to triple by the end of the century, thus fostering increased emissions of heat-trapping gases, higher temperatures, and increased fires.  In addition, thick smoke produced in years of extensive wildfire represents a human health risk (Ch. 9: Human Health).  More extensive and severe wildfires could shift the forests of Interior Alaska during this century from dominance by spruce to broadleaf trees for the first time in the past 4,000 to 6,000 years.
Dry Conditions Fuel an Alaska Wildfire That’s Bigger than Chicago

China to Scrap Millions of Cars in Anti-Pollution Push

A tricycle travels past a crossroad on a hazy day in Hefei, Anhui province March 30, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Stringer) Click to enlarge.
China plans to take more than five million ageing vehicles off the roads this year in a bid to improve air quality, with 330,000 cars set to be decommissioned in Beijing alone, the government said in a policy document published on Monday.

Pollution has emerged as an urgent priority for China's leaders as they try to reverse the damage done by decades of breakneck growth and head off public anger about the sorry state of the nation's air, water and soil.

In a wide-ranging action plan to cut emissions over the next two years, China's cabinet, the State Council, said the country had already fallen behind in its pollution targets over the 2011-2013 period and was now having to step up its efforts.

As many as 5.33 million "yellow label" vehicles that fail to meet Chinese fuel standards will be "eliminated" this year, the document said.  As well as the 330,000 cars in Beijing, 660,000 will be withdrawn from the surrounding province of Hebei, home to seven of China's smoggiest cities in 2013.

According to Beijing's environmental watchdog, vehicle emissions in Beijing were responsible for about 31 percent of the hazardous airborne particles known as PM 2.5, with 22.4 percent originating from coal burning.

Beijing plans to limit the total number of cars on the road to 5.6 million this year, with the number allowed to rise to 6 million by 2017.  Last year it cut the number of new license plates by 37 percent to 150,000 a year and is also paying for another 200,000 ageing vehicles to be upgraded.

China to Scrap Millions of Cars in Anti-Pollution Push

Antarctic Ice Collapse Could Devastate Global Food Supply

Farmland in Bangladesh is at risk of sea level rise, the food security report warns. (Credit: Alamy via The Guardian) Click to enlarge.
The ongoing collapse of a large part of the Antarctica ice sheet could devastate global food supply, drowning vast areas of crop lands across the Middle East and Asia, according to new research.

The report, Advancing Global Food Supply in the Face of a Changing Climate (pdf), urges the Obama Administration to step up research funding – especially in developing countries – to help make up a projected gap in future food supply.

It also warns America's Corn Belt could face yield declines of more than 25 percent by mid-century - unless there are new advances in agriculture to compensate for hotter temperatures, changing rainfall and more aggressive weeds and pests under climate change.

The report, due to be released at a high-level conference in Washington, DC on Thursday, is the first to factor in the effects of the slow-motion collapse of the Western Antarctica ice sheet on future food security.

Two independent studies last week warned the retreat of the Western Antarctica ice sheet was unstoppable – and could lead to sea-level rise of up to 4 meters (13 feet) over the coming centuries.

Those rising seas would displace millions of people from low-lying coastal areas - and wipe out rice-growing areas across Asia, Gerald Nelson, a University of Illinois economist and author of Thurday's report, said.

"That sea-level rise would take out half of Bangladesh and mostly wipe out productive rice regions in Vietnam," Nelson told The Guardian.  "It would have a major effect on Egyptian agricultural areas."

The projected levels of sea-level rise, due to the retreat of ice in West Antarctica, pose a far greater threat to future food supply even than that envisaged in the United Nations' IPCC report in March, Nelson said.

"A sea level rise of 3 meters (10 feet) over the next 100 years is much more likely than the IPCC thought possible," the report said.

Antarctic Ice Collapse Could Devastate Global Food Supply

When Will Coastal Property Values Crash and Will Climate Science Deniers Be the Only Buyers? - by Joe Romm

Projected sea-level rise (Credit: NY Times) Click to enlarge.
The latest scientific observations provide strong evidence we are headed toward the high end of sea level projections.  And we already knew that devastating storm surges will become routine on the East Coast.

This raises the question:  What year will coastal property values crash?

I first posed the question five years ago.  Back then we were getting a bunch of studies suggesting sea level rise in 2100 would be 3 to 6 feet.  Since then the evidence for that has become even stronger.

Just this month, multiple studies found that both the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and Greenland are poised to continue their accelerating ice loss, with WAIS apparently now in a state of irreversible collapse.  This in turn has led top climatologists and glaciologist to warn that we are headed toward the high end of sea level rise projections this century and beyond.

What does that mean for coastal property?  As a National Geographic article on the subject last year put it:

In a state exposed to hurricanes as well as rising seas, people like John Van Leer, an oceanographer at the University of Miami, worry that one day they will no longer be able to insure — or sell — their houses.  “If buyers can’t insure it, they can’t get a mortgage on it.  And if they can’t get a mortgage, you can only sell to cash buyers,” Van Leer says.  “What I’m looking for is a climate-change denier with a lot of money.”

When Will Coastal Property Values Crash and Will Climate Science Deniers Be the Only Buyers? - by Joe Romm

2014 Commencement Speakers Call for Action on Climate Change, in 5 Powerful Quotes

Bill Nye, the Science Guy (Credit: AP) Click to enlarge.
2014 college graduates have never experienced a month that was not warmer than average.  These same graduates have seen the fossil fuel divestment movement and anti-Keystone XL activism grow at their schools, as more and more recognize how fossil fuels affect them now and in the future.  This year, their commencement speakers — political leaders, scientists, and journalists — realized that too, using their platform to talk climate change.

These five speakers did more than just give a nod to the issue, however.  They called for 100 percent clean energy, slammed climate deniers, and linked it to worldwide stability.

2014 Commencement Speakers Call for Action on Climate Change, in 5 Powerful Quotes

   Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Insurance Leaders Pack Climate Punch

Under-insured: sandbags to try to stop flooding after extreme rainfall in the US (Credit: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA via Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
It might have the reputation of being rather a dull - some might even say boring – business, but there’s no doubting the insurance industry’s financial muscle.

The Geneva Association - a leading international insurance thinktank, whose members have total assets of nearly US$ 15 trillion - has been meeting in Toronto, Canada.  And the focus has been very much on climate change.

The Association, issuing a climate risk statement calling for urgent action by governments and other bodies, said:  “The prospect of extreme climate change and its potentially devastating economic and social consequences are of great concern to the insurance industry.”

Those putting their names to the document – 66 chief executives of the world’s leading insurers - commit themselves to a set of guiding principles on what they describe as the substantial role the insurance industry can play in tackling risks related to climate change.

The insurers pledge to market insurance policies aimed at promoting the development of low carbon energy projects.  They also say they will work to attract investors to such schemes, and use their combined investment muscle to promote low carbon initiatives.

The commitments made by the Geneva Association members are likely to have considerable impact on the development of low carbon energy projects worldwide.  The availability of insurance is often a key ingredient in determining whether or not such schemes are implemented.

Among other pledges in the risk statement, insurers say they will implement measures backing new building codes, with the aim of promoting energy efficiency and sustainability. They will also use their influence to encourage politicians to better understand the potential costs of climate change.

Insurance Leaders Pack Climate Punch