Monday, June 30, 2014

Court Rules that New York Towns Can Ban Fracking and Drilling

Ban-Fracking lawn sign (Credit: AP Photo/Jim Suhr) Click to enlarge.
New York towns and cities are allowed to pass bans on oil and gas drilling and fracking, the state’s highest court ruled Monday.

The New York Court of Appeals upheld the ruling of a lower court that local governments have the authority to decide how land is used, which includes deciding whether or not fracking and drilling should be allowed on that land.  The Court of Appeals heard arguments on two cases challenging local bans on fracking in June.  The plaintiffs in those lawsuits argued that New York’s oil, gas and mining law takes precedence over local zoning laws, but in rulings both by a lower court and now the Court of Appeals, that claim was overturned.

Two New York towns — Middlefield and Dryden — that previously banned fracking were the focus of the lawsuits, but the ruling means that now other municipalities in New York can pass laws that ban fracking and drilling.  So far, activists say, 170 towns and cities in New York have passed fracking bans or moratoria.

“Today the Court stood with the people of Dryden and the people of New York to protect their right to self determination.  It is clear that people, not corporations, have the right to decide how their community develops,” Dryden Deputy Supervisor Jason Leifer said in a statement.

Court Rules that New York Towns Can Ban Fracking and Drilling

Comment in Nature Calls for Oil Sands Moratorium

Oil Sands Moratorium (Credit: Oil Sands Moratorium/shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
Here is the press release for our Nature paper, released June 25, calling for a moratorium on oil sands expansion.  This means no loss of current jobs in the oil sands.  But it does mean a return to sanity from this selfish rush to accelerate global warming, ocean acidification and ecological destruction - events that will lead to huge economic and social costs according to a just-released study by the World Bank.  It does mean that we should not build new pipelines like Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, and others.

Comment in Nature Calls for Oil Sands Moratorium

Investment in Clean Energy and Efficiency Could Spur a $12 Billion Market

India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi overlooks solar panels in Gujarat state, India, in 2011. (Credit: AP/ Ajit Solanki) Click to enlarge.
Off-grid renewable energy is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to get electricity to the 1.3 billion people around the world who lack it, the Sierra Club argues in a new report.

The report looked at how energy access can be delivered more cost-effectively to the people around the world that need it.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the world must invest $640 billion over 20 years to ensure global energy access, which is 300 to 500 percent higher than current energy access investments.  But the Sierra Club argues that many essential energy services can be delivered more cheaply than the IEA estimates.  According to the report, a $500 million investment in energy access will be needed over the next two to three years, and that investment will spur a clean energy services market for the poor valued at $12 billion annually.

“Our findings underscore just how large an influence this fast-growing clean energy market can have on global energy poverty,” Justin Guay, Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s International Climate Program, said in a statement.  “More importantly, our report emphasizes the need for international institutions, like the World Bank, to put their money where their mouth is by providing the investments required to spur this solar energy revolution.”

The report states that increasing the use of energy efficiency measures can bring down the cost of energy, allowing it to be delivered more cheaply to people around the world. According to the report, measures such as “skinny grids,” which use advances in LED and cheaper, thinner wiring to deliver electricity to people more cheaply, bring down the cost of energy delivery.

Investment in Clean Energy and Efficiency Could Spur a $12 Billion Market

‘Risky Business’ Report Says Two Things about Water — One Is Obvious, the Other Is Not

Pumping groundwater, some 70 percent of it to irrigate crops, is a potent force in global sea-level rise. (Credit: www.sciencenews.org) Click to enlarge.
Risky Business is concerned with numbers.  The 56-page report, stuffed with graphics and photos, focuses on the economic risks for four areas in which the climate data are clearest:
  • Sea level rise and storm surges
  • Agricultural production
  • Energy demand
  • Heat-related changes in labor productivity and health
“Impacts that are likely to occur between now and 2030 are largely the result of past [historical] emissions, and thus less avoidable.”

Water is ignored  in many of the quantitative assessments.  Changes in the amount of available water are important, the report states.  But that’s about all it states.

Despite the broad neglect, water does make an unusual appearance:  in the sections on rising seas.  The report notes that one of the lesser factors in sea-level rise is groundwater pumping along the coasts, which can cause the land to sink in relation to the ocean.

New Jersey, the report claims, will see a greater net sea-level increase than its neighbors because it pumps more groundwater.

‘Risky Business’ Report Says Two Things about Water — One Is Obvious, the Other Is Not

Indonesia Overtakes Brazil in Forest Losses Despite Moratorium

A truck picks up earth containing nickel ore from a mine cut out of forests on Halmahera island in eastern Indonesia, March 19, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Neil Chatterjee) Click to enlarge.
Indonesia has for the first time surpassed Brazil in clearing tropical forests and losses are accelerating despite a 2011 moratorium meant to protect wildlife and combat climate change, scientists said on Sunday.

Indonesia's losses of virgin forests totaled 60,000 sq kms (23,000 sq miles) - an area almost as big as Ireland - from 2000-12, partly to make way for palm oil plantations and other farms, a study said.  And the pace of losses has increased.

"By 2012, annual primary forest loss in Indonesia was estimated to be higher than in Brazil," where clearance of the Amazon basin has usually accounted for the biggest losses, the scientists wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Deforestation in Indonesia in 2012 alone was 8,400 sq kms (3,200 sq miles) versus 4,600 sq kms (1,800 sq miles) in Brazil, which has managed to reduce losses in recent years, it said.

"We need to increase the law enforcement, the control in the area itself," said Belinda Margono, lead author of the study at the University of Maryland and who also works as an official at the Indonesian forestry ministry.

"The rainforests are the lungs of the planet.  You have lungs to breathe and if you get rid of the lungs, the planet's going to suffer," said Matthew Hansen, a co-author of the report at the University of Maryland.

Indonesia Overtakes Brazil in Forest Losses Despite Moratorium

High CO2 Levels Cause Warming in Tropics as Well

Tropical rainforest (Credit: Martin Pope. By Urmee Khan) Click to enlarge.
Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere cause warming not only at high latitudes but also across tropical regions, according to new research.  "These results confirm what climate models have long predicted -- that although greenhouse gases cause greater warming at the poles they also cause warming in the tropics.  Such findings indicate that few places on Earth will be immune to global warming and that the tropics will likely experience associated climate impacts, such as increased tropical storm intensity," the project leader said.

High CO2 Levels Cause Warming in Tropics as Well

   Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014

To Address Climate Change, Nothing Substitutes for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Raymond Pierrehumbert is the Louis Block Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, and holder of the King Carl XVI Gustaf Chair in Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University for 2014-2015. His latest study, published in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, indicates that reducing CO2 emissions is essentially the only way to address climate change. (Credit: Robert Kozloff/University of Chicago) Click to enlarge.
The politically expedient way to mitigate climate change is essentially no way at all, according to a comprehensive new study.  Among the climate pollutants humans put into the atmosphere in significant quantities, the effects of carbon dioxide are the longest-lived, with effects on climate that extend thousands of years after emissions cease. But finding the political consensus to act on reducing carbon dioxide emissions has been nearly impossible.  So there has been a movement to make up for that inaction by reducing emissions of other, shorter-lived gasses, such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide, and particulates such as soot and black carbon, all of which contribute to warming as well.

A new study by University of Chicago climatologist Raymond Pierrehumbert shows that effort to be, as he puts it, a delusion.  "Until we do something about CO2, nothing we do about methane or these other things is going to matter much for climate," he said.

To Address Climate Change, Nothing Substitutes for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

A New Wind Turbine Generates Back the Energy It Takes to Build It in Just 6 Months

Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (Credit: thinkprogress.org) Click to enlarge.
A new study finds that wind turbines have an energy payback of 6 months, which is comparable to the best solar photovoltaic systems.  In other words, in their first six months of operation, large wind turbines produce the same total amount of energy that was needed to produce and install them.

That is the conclusion of a comprehensive life-cycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines by Oregon State researchers in the International Journal of Sustainable Manufacturing (subs. req’d).

The myth that wind and solar power are bad investments from an energy-payback perspective has been around for years.  It even turned up in the error-riddled 2009 book “Superfreakonomics,” repeated by Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO of Microsoft.

A New Wind Turbine Generates Back the Energy It Takes to Build It in Just 6 Months

Satellite that Measures Carbon Dioxide to Launch July 1

Five years after crashing into the Pacific Ocean, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory will get a second chance. Expected to launch July 1, the second version known as OCO-2 has a singular mission: to track carbon dioxide from space. (Credit: JPL/NASA) Click to enlarge.
The US space agency NASA is about to send up a satellite that will provide vital data for predicting future effects of CO2 by taking the measure of the planetary carbon budget.

OCO-2, more formally known as Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, is planned for launch on July 1 and will circle the globe, taking an inventory of those places on the planet that absorb carbon from the atmosphere (the sinks) and those places that release it into the atmosphere (the sources).

“Knowing what parts of Earth are helping to remove carbon from our atmosphere will help us understand whether they can keep on doing so in future,” said the project scientist Michael Gunson, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  “Quantifying these sinks now will help us predict how fast CO2 will build up in the future.”

Satellite that Measures Carbon Dioxide to Launch July 1

Vegetarian Diets Produce Fewer Greenhouse Gases and Increase Longevity

Fruit and vegetables.  New research finds that consuming a plant-based diet results in a more sustainable environment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, while improving longevity. (Credit: © marucyan / Fotolia) Click to enlarge.
Consuming a plant-based diet results in a more sustainable environment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, while improving longevity, according to new research.  Based on findings that identified food systems as a significant contributor to global warming, the study focuses on the dietary patterns of vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and non-vegetarians to quantify and compare greenhouse gas emissions, as well as assess total mortality.

Vegetarian Diets Produce Fewer Greenhouse Gases and Increase Longevity, Say New Studies

30,000 North Carolina Hogs Churn Out Renewable Manure Biogas, and That’s Just for Starters

Hog (Credit: Jeremy van Bedijk) Click to enlarge.
The new 600-kW Storms Hog Farm manure biogas-to-electricity plant in North Carolina has just officially passed its proof-of-concept stage, leaving the field wide open to build even bigger hog manure biogas plants in the state.  With a hog population of 10 million the last time we checked, that could add up to quite a bit of biogas, possibly contributing to a sustainable fuel cell market in the region, including fuel cells for electric vehicles.

The heart of the operation is the proprietary Two-Stage Mixed Plug FlowTM anaerobic digester from a company called DVO, Inc.

According to DVO, the digesters reduce emissions of methane-rich biogas by about 90 percent compared to disposal on land or in fields.

Once the microorganisms have done their work, the remaining solids can be used as soil enhancer without the baggage that raw manure has.  Unlike raw manure the digested solids are nearly free of pathogens (“almost undetectable” according to APP), and there is “virtually no odor.”

DVO’s proprietary process also involves removing extra phosphorus and ammonia nitrogen, which helps to make the case for using the digested solids as a fertilizer while reducing the risk of nutrient overload in local waterways.

30,000 North Carolina Hogs Churn Out Renewable Manure Biogas, and That’s Just for Starters

South-South Renewable’s Trade Increases as Countries Seek Cleaner Power

First Arab States Regional South-South Development Expo (Credit: www.unep.org/south-south-cooperation) Click to enlarge.
A new report from the United Nations Environment Program shows that renewable energy trade between South-South countries has exploded over the past year, led by regional-heavyweight China.

The South-South — an academic term for trade between developing countries, also known as countries in the global south — are taking advantage of decreasing manufacturing costs, increased investment into the industry, and the falling costs of renewables as the technology’s mature.

In fact, south-south renewable energy trade is growing faster than global and north-south trade.  And while the current trends are a direct result of the industry’s development throughout global north — with global figures for low-carbon and energy efficient technologies projected to triple by 2020 — it’s the global south country’s making the most of what has come before today.

“The EGS [environmental goods and services] market – which is expected to grow to around $US1.9 trillion by 2020 – offers developing countries an unprecedented opportunity to drive the green economy transition,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

South-South Renewable’s Trade Increases as Countries Seek Cleaner Power

   Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Eastern States Lead Way with New Microgrids as a Strategy to Weather Severe Storms

Sandy Outage (Credit: www.greentechmedia.com) Click to enlarge.
Two years ago this week, a fierce, fast-moving thunderstorm system known as a derecho ripped through the Mid-Atlantic leaving more than 1 million of Maryland's 2.5 million electricity customers without power.  In the aftermath of the storm, the state stepped up efforts to improve the resiliency and reliability of the grid.  This week, at the behest of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), the Maryland Energy Administration released a road map for microgrid deployment as part of a strategy to withstand future storms, which are expected to become more intense as a result of climate change.

Eastern States Lead Way with New Microgrids as a Strategy to Weather Severe Storms

Thin-film Solar Cells Freed from Toxic Processing

First Solar's Series 3 Black, with a conversion efficiency of 16.1 percent, is the world's most efficient cadmium telluride photovoltaic module. (Credit: First Solar) Click to enlarge.
Researchers found that magnesium chloride, a salt used to make tofu and de-ice winter roads, can be used to make thin-film solar cells effective, cheap, and nontoxic.

The new, poison-free process could help thin-film solar cells challenge the dominance of silicon photovoltaics, which make up roughly 90 percent of the world’s solar market but have some serious drawbacks.  Silicon does not absorb sunlight particularly well, so modules require layers of very high purity crystals, each more than 150 micrometers thick.  The cost of these silicon slabs is hampering efforts to further reduce the price of solar power.

Thin-film solar cells offer a solution.  By using semiconductors that harvest the sun’s rays much more efficiently, they can get similar results with sheets of lower purity material that are only 2 micrometers thick.  The difference: a significant reduction in manufacturing costs.

Thin-film Solar Cells Freed from Toxic Processing

Leading Insurer to Close Its Climate Change Office, Leaving the Industry 'Mute'

New Zurich Insurance North American Headquarters (Credit: www.zurichna.com) Click to enlarge.
Zurich Insurance Group is closing its U.S. climate change office six years after opening it to help persuade companies to press public officials for solutions to climbing disaster losses, according to several sources.

Leading Insurer to Close Its Climate Change Office, Leaving the Industry 'Mute'

Is Nuclear Power Ever Coming Back?

Nuclear power plant chimneys (Credit: Reuters) Click to enlarge.
“Nuclear is a non-carbon-emitting resource and it has a contribution to play in greenhouse gas emissions avoidance,” said Dan Lipman, executive director of policy development and supplier programs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbyist group. He echoes the sentiments of many across the nuclear industry who are hoping that a growing sense of urgency on climate issues could reinvigorate the market for their technology.

Some climate scientists and high-profile nonprofits are beginning to agree.  Renewable energy is gaining ground, but it still makes up just over 13 percent of the total U.S. electric power mix.  Concerns about resource intermittency, immature storage technologies, grid reliability, and land use haunt faster growth scenarios.  As a result, achieving even the moderate carbon emissions reductions—pegged to a 30 percent reduction over 2005 levels by 2030—outlined by the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan [pdf] is expected to require both the development of new nuclear plants and extended lifespans for those that were built as far back as the 1970s.

Critics are quick to refute these claims, citing cost, safety, waste management, and time-to-market as major barriers to the large-scale adoption of nuclear energy for baseload grid power.  But are these truly insurmountable challenges?  If nuclear is to play a significant role in a low-carbon energy future what will it take to make that happen?

Is Nuclear Power Ever Coming Back?

Win-Win-Win Solution for Biofuel, Climate, and Biodiversity

Sugarcane. (Credit: Woods Hole Research Center)  Click to enlarge.
In Brazil the demand for alternative energy sources has led to an increase in biofuel crops.  A new paper reviews new research conducted by Brazilian colleagues demonstrating the high carbon gains of converting underutilized pastureland for biofuel crops.  With over 2.5 million square kilometers of existing cleared lands in Brazil, much of which is degraded pasture lands, there is already a large potential area for biofuel crop expansion.

Win-Win-Win Solution for Biofuel, Climate, and Biodiversity

Drifting Off the Coast of Portugal, the Frontrunner in the Global Race for Floating Windfarms

A 'windfloat,' one of the three floating wind turbine in the world, off the coast of Agucadoura, near Porto, Portugal. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
Three prototype technologies are competing to provide the first commercial floating wind turbines that could harness the world's strongest winds in the deepest waters.

Drifting Off the Coast of Portugal, the Frontrunner in the Global Race for Floating Windfarms

   Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014

Canadian Supreme Court Ruling Grants Land Title to B.C. First Nation

Chief Francis Laceese, of the Tl’esqox First Nation, stands by a poster showing opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, granting it land title to 438,000-hectares of land Thursday. (Credit: The Canadian Press) Click to enlarge.
A landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada will provide a clear roadmap for all unresolved First Nations land claims in British Columbia.  Pipeline proponents Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are "probably back on their heels."

The high court overturned a B.C. Appeal Court ruling, essentially making it easier for First Nations to establish title over lands that were regularly used for hunting, fishing and other activities prior to contact with Europeans.

Unlike other provinces, the Crown did not sign treaties with most B.C. First Nations, and the landmark ruling — the court's first on aboriginal title —will weigh heavily in unresolved land claims.

"British Columbia is comprised of unceded, unextinguished aboriginal-title territory from one end to the other," said Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

Canadian Supreme Court Ruling Grants Land Title to B.C. First Nation

Green Bonds Show Path to $1 Trillion Market for Climate


Green bonds may help provide the $1 trillion annual investments in clean energy that environmental groups say is necessary to limit the impact of climate change.

“It’s catching on like wildfire,” Michael Eckhart, a managing director at Citigroup Inc. and founder of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said today in an interview. “We’ve reached the Holy Grail, which is the bond market.”

More than $16.6 billion has already been sold worldwide this year, surpassing last year’s $14 billion, as more companies issue the debt to finance clean energy projects, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Green bonds offer a simple method for investors to tap into fixed income markets and finance clean energy, including energy efficiency and sustainable business practices. The market for the bonds could top $40 billion this year and reach up to $100 billion in 2015, Eckhart said on the sidelines of the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York.

A $1 billion issue in February, 2013 by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corp. sold out in an hour, Eckhart said.

“We were shocked it went so fast,” Eckhart said. “Pension funds love them.”

A coalition of banks, including Citi, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Credit Agricole SA (ACA) and others created a common set of criteria for green bonds in January to act as a catalyst for the development of the market.

“Creditworthiness was the only criteria the bond market was using,” Eckhart said.  “For the first time, we’re showing that where it’s being spent matters.”

Green Bonds Show Path to $1 Trillion Market for Climate

Fruit and Vegetable Prices Going Up as California Drought Continues

Raul Taborga of Denny's Organic Farm sells vegetables and berries grown in Nipomo, Calif., at the Marina del Rey farmers market. (Credit: David Karp / David Karp) Click to enlarge.
Fresh fruits and vegetable prices will go up an estimated 6%  in the coming months, the federal government said Wednesday, as California’s ongoing drought continues to hit price tags in grocery stores across the country.

As farmers continue to battle for water in the summer months, The USDA’s Economic Research Service reported that California’s drought has the potential to increase food price inflation above the historical average in coming years.

Fruit and Vegetable Prices Going Up as California Drought Continues

Senators Take Bipartisan Action to Reduce Pollutants Responsible for 40 Percent of Global Warming

Reducing methane emissions from natural gas flaring is one goal of the new bill. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
On Thursday, two senators introduced a bipartisan proposal to address climate change. Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Susan Collins’ (R-ME) Super Pollutants Act of 2014 will reduce short-lived climate pollutants.  These pollutants are responsible for around 40 percent of global warming, making them the second-largest contributor after carbon dioxide, which is accounts for about 55 percent of the global “greenhouse effect.”

Known as “super pollutants,” because they are much more potent than carbon dioxide, short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) stay in the atmosphere for much less time.  Experts say reducing super pollutants now will reduce temperatures and air pollution in the near term, and protect public health and strengthen food security.

“Short-lived climate pollutants are the problem too few people are talking about, but are doing some of the worst damage to the atmosphere,” Murphy said in a statement.  “As we work to combat threats to our climate, we can’t leave short-lived pollutants out of the equation.”

The act targets three specific super pollutants:  hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), black carbon, and methane.

Senators Take Bipartisan Action to Reduce Pollutants Responsible for 40 Percent of Global Warming

North Dakota Plans to Double Its Pipeline Capacity in Just Two Years

Pipeline under construction (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
North Dakota is planning on doubling its oil and gas pipeline capacity over the next two years through building new pipelines and expanding existing lines and refineries, the state’s governor said Tuesday.

At the Governor’s Pipeline Summit Tuesday, Gov. Jack Dalrymple told oil and gas industry leaders that proposed pipeline and refinery projects are expected to double the state’s oil takeaway capacity from about 783,000 barrels per day to about 1.4 million barrels per day by 2016.  One of the new proposed pipelines — which was announced at the conference this week — is a project of Enterprise Products Partners LP, which, if built would carry oil 1,200 miles from the Bakken oil fields to Cushing, Oklahoma. Another project, called the Sandpiper pipeline, would carry oil from Tioga, North Dakota, to Superior, Wisconsin. 

Pipeline projects are important if North Dakota wants to keep up with the state’s booming oil production — North Dakota produces more than one million barrels of oil each day — as well as help limit natural gas flaring, the governor said.

“We will reduce flaring,” Dalrymple said. “It’s just that simple.”

Gas flaring can be a significant contributor to climate change and is a major problem in North Dakota, especially.  Oil producers in the state’s Bakken region burn natural gas from wells that their collection systems can’t catch, and the cheap cost of gas gives companies little incentive not to burn off the gas that often bubbles up alongside oil in the extraction process.  In all, according to a report from Ceres, North Dakota wastes enough gas each day to heat half a million homes, and in 2012, emissions from North Dakota gas flares were equivalent to adding almost one million cars to the road.  Natural gas is mostly composed of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps more heat than CO2 does in a 20-year period, so gas leaks can be a source of methane emissions.  Flaring the gas turns it into carbon dioxide pollution, so cutting flares from oil and gas operations is an important part of reducing overall emissions.

North Dakota Plans to Double Its Pipeline Capacity in Just Two Years

   Thursday, June 26, 2014


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Small Business Owners:  Climate Action Will Protect Our Livelihoods

Small Business Owners Survey Results (Credit: American Sustainable Business Council) Click to enlarge.
Small businesses are already seeing the impacts of climate change, and they’re ready to do something about it.  A poll of small business owners released Wednesday from the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) found that 87 percent are worried that climate change impacts will harm their businesses, 64 percent support some kind of government regulation on carbon pollution, and 40 percent even say they’d accept a 10 percent increase in energy prices rather than suffer the consequences of climate change.

The poll of 555 owners of businesses with between two and ninety-nine employees also found that 57 percent are concerned about carbon pollution, and 57 percent also thought big carbon emitters should make the biggest reductions and bear most of the costs of cuts.

Small Business Owners:  Climate Action Will Protect Our Livelihoods

5 Graphics that Show U.S. Climate Change Costs

Change in Mortality (Credit:  "Risky Business” technical document) Click to enlarge.
Behind the much-publicized report is a much larger 197-page technical document that examines the how, when and where of climate change in the U.S.  Some of the impacts outlined are mainstream topics, like agriculture, energy and sea level rise.  But others are a little more esoteric, like crime, lost productivity and heat-related deaths.  Here are five charts and maps from the technical report that didn’t quite grab headlines, but certainly spotlight the myriad ways climate change will be a drag on the nation’s economy.  Each one of them examines the impacts of climate change under a high emissions scenario.

5 Graphics that Show U.S. Climate Change Costs

Research Raises New Concerns About Climate Impact of Natural Gas

A natural gas flare on a family farm in North Dakota. (Credit: Tim Evanson / Flickr) Click to enlarge.
Natural gas fields globally may be leaking enough methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to make the fuel as polluting as coal for the climate over the next few decades, according to a pair of studies published last week.

Research Raises New Concerns About Climate Impact of Natural Gas

If You Think Climate Politics in the U.S. Are Crazy, Wait Till You See What Just Happened in Australia


Hold on to your hats!  Australia’s already-bizarre carbon price adventures veered into the utterly surreal overnight.

Picture this:  An eccentric billionaire mining baron, most famous outside Australia for commissioning a replica of the Titanic, appearing alongside the world’s most recognizable climate campaigner and former U.S. vice president, Al Gore, to announce Australia’s relatively new carbon tax will be scrapped, and a new emissions trading scheme proposed, effectively screwing over the sitting conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, who is hell-bent on getting rid of carbon legislation altogether.

It’s a big blow to a prime minister who said recently in Canada that he has “always been against” an emissions trading scheme, and believes fighting climate change will “clobber the economy.”

For watchers of Aussie politics, it was a visual feast of weirdness.  For U.S. readers, imagine — I don’t know — industrialist Charles Koch jumping on stage with writer and activist Bill McKibben and you’re getting close.

Al Gore has shared a press conference podium, and political common ground, with many influential leaders in his time, but Clive Palmer must be among the most unexpected.  The mining magnate’s upstart political group, the populist center-right Palmer United Party, was elevated to the Australian political heavyweight class during last year’s national elections, and is now on the verge of holding the balance of power in the Australian Senate, or upper house – a position that possesses outsized power to wheel and deal with a government intent on getting laws passed.

That has meant all eyes are on Clive, who owns a nickel refinery and large swathes of land laced with coal and iron ore, along with several jets and resorts:  not the climate’s most likely hero.

If You Think Climate Politics in the U.S. Are Crazy, Wait Till You See What Just Happened in Australia

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

   Wednesday, June 25, 2014

World Bank:  Fighting Climate Change Would Boost Global Economy up to $2.6 Trillion a Year

Expanding public transit in India is one of the policies recommended in the new World Bank report.(Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
An important new World Bank report concludes that just a few key policies aimed at cutting carbon pollution would boost the global economy.  The study Climate-Smart Development:  Adding Up the Benefits of Actions that Help Build Prosperity, End Poverty and Combat Climate Change, looks at the European Union plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and the U.S.

The Bank finds that if all six embrace three sets of policies for clean transportation plus energy efficiency in industry in buildings, “the annual benefits of just these policies in 2030 include an estimated GDP growth of between $1.8 trillion and $2.6 trillion.”  Furthermore, the report found that “these policies alone would account for 30 percent of the total reduction needed in 2030 to limit global warming to 2°C [3.6°F].”

The overall benefits are staggering, as these policies avoid 94,000 premature pollution-related deaths and 8.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. They save nearly 16 billion kilowatt-hours of energy — roughly equivalent to taking 2 billion cars off the road.

The report builds on recent efforts to estimate the development benefits that come with a reduction in climate pollutants.  These include economic growth, new jobs, improved crop yields, enhanced energy security, healthier people, and millions of lives saved.  In many cases these benefits accrue quickly, and they accrue locally, primarily in the nation where action is taken.

World Bank:  Fighting Climate Change Would Boost Global Economy up to $2.6 Trillion a Year

The New Warmal:  Global Temps Break Another Record

A woman cooks bacon and shrimp on the trunk of a car in the scorching sun in Jinan city, east China's Shandong province, on May 29, 2014.(Credit: Imaginechina via AP Images) Click to enlarge.
The average temperature of Earth’s surface last month exceeded all other Mays before it, since recordkeeping began in 1880, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

But the truly disturbing part isn’t that we’ve hit a new record.  It’s that we live in a season of new records.  This may be the the new warm normal.  To find previous hottest Mays, you don’t have to search far; four of the five hottest Mays on record have occurred since 2010.  More difficult is finding a cool May. The last time the month fell below its 20th-century average was 39 years ago.

The New Warmal:  Global Temps Break Another Record

   Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bipartisan Report Tallies High Toll on Economy From Global Warming

Homes in Miami Beach. A report says unchecked warming could put 1 to 5 percent of Florida properties below sea level by 2100. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
More than a million homes and businesses along the nation’s coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed.  Entire states in the Southeast and the Corn Belt may lose much of their agriculture as farming shifts northward in a warming world.  Heat and humidity will probably grow so intense that spending time outside will become physically dangerous, throwing industries like construction and tourism into turmoil.

That is a picture of what may happen to the United States economy in a world of unchecked global warming, according to a major new report released Tuesday by a coalition of senior political and economic figures from the left, right and center, including three Treasury secretaries stretching back to the Nixon administration.

At a time when the issue of climate change has divided the American political landscape, pitting Republicans against Democrats and even fellow party members against one another, the unusual bipartisan alliance of political veterans said that the country — and business leaders in particular — must wake up to the enormous scale of the economic risk.

“The big ice sheets are melting; something’s happening,” George P. Shultz, who was Treasury secretary under President Richard M. Nixon and secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, said in an interview.  He noted that he had grown concerned enough about global warming to put solar panels on his own California roof and to buy an electric car.  “I say we should take out an insurance policy.”

The former Treasury secretaries — including Henry M. Paulson Jr., a Republican who served under President George W. Bush, and Robert E. Rubin, a Democrat in the Clinton administration — promised to help sound the alarm.  All endorse putting a price on greenhouse gases, most likely by taxing emissions.

Bipartisan Report Tallies High Toll on Economy From Global Warming

Concentrated Solar Power Could Compete with Natural Gas, Study Says

Concentrating solar power (cropped) (Credit: BrightSource Energy) Click to enlarge.
A new study is out that indicates how a network of utility scale concentrating solar power plants could provide the same grid reliability as conventional power plants in some regions, without costing any more than gas-fired power plants.

The new study, Potential for Concentrating Solar Power to Provide Baseload and Dispatchable Power, was conducted under the auspices of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.  It has just been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Concentrated Solar Power Could Compete with Natural Gas, Study Says

It’s Frack, Baby, Frack, as Conventional Gas Drilling Declines

U.S. natural gas production - Click to enlarge.
To deliver significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, a new proposal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency foresees a growing role for natural gas.  But will there be enough of it at affordable prices?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration and industry sources say there’s plenty that can be extracted at a reasonable price.  But some experts question those estimates or say that, at least, the nation shouldn’t bank on them.  Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, coupled with horizontal drilling, has unlocked large gas deposits in shale rock, which had been long recognized but weren’t profitable to extract until about a decade ago.  Over the past five years, with improvements in fracking, shale gas production has soared.  At the same time, however, production from all other sources—such as conventional gas fields on land and offshore as well as so-called tight gas and coal-bed methane—has been declining at a rate of about 5 percent per year.

It’s Frack, Baby, Frack, as Conventional Gas Drilling Declines

Our Survival Depends on the Health of the Oceans - by The Washington Post Editorial Board

John Kerry (Credit: Jean Sebastien Evrard/AP) Click to enlarge.
Humanity depends on the oceans, but their worsening state gets little attention.  Good for Secretary of State John F. Kerry, then, for trying to elevate the issue last week in an international oceans conference in Washington.  The conference produced a billion dollars in pledges for ocean programs, promises from other nations to better protect their marine ecosystems and the news that President Obama will set aside a vast portion of U.S. waters in the central Pacific for ecological conservation.  That’s all to the good. But the health of the oceans — sources of employment, recreation and food for billions — depends on what Mr. Kerry and those like him can get other nations to do.

Then there is the issue of ocean acidification, driven by the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  The ocean is absorbing huge amounts of the greenhouse gas, which will, over time, kill coral, shellfish and other creatures sensitive to a lower pH.  The problem demands worldwide effort, led by the United States, to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the air.

Our Survival Depends on the Health of the Oceans - by The Washington Post Editorial Board

Air Quality to Suffer with Global Warming

In the coming decades India will suffer some of the worst effects of stagnating air due to climate change. (Credit: Hindustan Times/Getty) Click to enlarge.
Climate change is poised to worsen air quality in many parts of the globe, according to a study published Sunday in Nature Climate Change.  By the end of the century, more than half of the world’s population will be exposed to increasingly stagnant atmospheric conditions, with the tropics and subtropics bearing the brunt of the poor air quality. Poor air quality currently causes an estimated 2.6–4.4 million premature deaths around the world per year.

A team led by Daniel Horton, a climate modeller at Stanford University in California, used 15 global climate models to track changes in the number and duration of atmospheric stagnation events, in which stationary air masses develop and allow soot, dust and ozone to build up in the lower atmosphere.  “Much of the air-quality community focuses on pollutants,” says Horton.  “This study takes a step back and looks at the weather or climate component that can lead to the formation of hazardous air quality.”

How worsening air quality due to stagnation would affect different regions has been poorly studied, and there are few estimates of human impact.  The new study shows just how widespread the effects will be, says Jason West, an environmental scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Air Quality to Suffer with Global Warming

   Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday, June 23, 2014

Supreme Court Ruling Backs Most EPA Emission Controls

Smoke is released into the sky at the ConocoPhillips oil refinery in San Pedro, California March 24, 2012. Picture taken March 24, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Bret Hartman) Click to enlarge.
The Supreme Court today threw out part of U.S. EPA's air permitting program for heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

In a 5-4 vote, the court's conservative wing held that EPA could not require stationary sources to obtain air pollution permits and install pollution controls because they emit only a specified amount of greenhouse gases.

The court also ruled that EPA unlawfully interpreted the Clean Air Act when it revised the numeric tonnage thresholds for greenhouse gases that force factories, power plants and on industrial facilities to obtain a permit.

But the ruling's impact on EPA's larger regulatory regime is likely limited.  In a separate part of the decision, EPA won the votes of seven justices who held the agency could require facilities to limit greenhouse gas emissions if they already qualified for the permit program because of emissions of conventional air pollutants.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, noted EPA's broad interpretation would account for 86 percent of the country's greenhouse gases.  But limiting the permit requirement to the "anyway" sources would cover 83 percent, a difference of 3 percent.

Supreme Court Ruling Backs Most EPA Emission Controls

Former Bush Treasury Secretary:  We Can Prevent a ‘Climate Crash’ with a Carbon Tax

Former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. (Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Click to enlarge.
Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times:  The Coming Climate Crash:  Lessons for Climate Change in the 2008 Recession.

What’s amazing [about this] isn't so much the content — the climate crisis is real, we’re close to crossing catastrophic and irreversible tipping points, we have the technology to start slashing carbon pollution now, and we need a carbon price to jumpstart the process.  You’ve heard it many times from the nation’s and world’s top scientists, from Al Gore and Bill McKibben, and on Climate Progress.  But this piece is by Henry M. Paulson Jr., Treasury Secretary from July 2006 to January 2009 under President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
We are building up excesses (debt in 2008, greenhouse gas emissions that are trapping heat now).  Our government policies are flawed (incentivizing us to borrow too much to finance homes then, and encouraging the overuse of carbon-based fuels now).  Our experts (financial experts then, climate scientists now) try to understand what they see and to model possible futures.  And the outsize risks have the potential to be tremendously damaging (to a globalized economy then, and the global climate now).
What are these outsize risks?  Paulson explains that scientists have identified a number of “potential thresholds that, once crossed, could cause sweeping, irreversible changes.”  He points out “already, observations are catching up with years of scientific models, and the trends are not in our favor.”  And, Paulson notes, these changes are quickly accelerating in recent years.  “Fewer than 10 years ago, the best analysis projected that melting Arctic sea ice would mean nearly ice-free summers by the end of the 21st century,” he writes. “Now the ice is melting so rapidly that virtually ice-free Arctic summers could be here in the next decade or two.”

Why is that bad?  Because that leads to an amplifying feedback that speeds up atmospheric and ocean warming, “ultimately raising sea levels.”  And we have a bigger problem at the other pole:  “Even worse, in May, two separate studies discovered that one of the biggest thresholds has already been reached,” Paulson writes.  “The West Antarctic ice sheet has begun to melt, a process that scientists estimate may take centuries but that could eventually raise sea levels by as much as 14 feet.”

Finally, Paulson warns, there’s every reason to expect that many other concerns of climate scientists will become painful reality in the years ahead:  “And 10 years from now, will other thresholds be crossed that scientists are only now contemplating?”

But this is no economic doom and gloom message from the former Treasury Secretary. Rather, Paulson presents a choice between economic doom and economic boom.  “We already have a head start on the technologies we need.  The costs of the policies necessary to make the transition to an economy powered by clean energy are real, but modest relative to the risks,” he writes.

So, then what is the solution?  Paulson is clear that “a tax on carbon emissions will unleash a wave of innovation to develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs as we and other nations develop new energy products and infrastructure.” In turn, he writes, “this would strengthen national security by reducing the world’s dependence on governments like Russia and Iran.”

Former Bush Treasury Secretary:  We Can Prevent a ‘Climate Crash’ with a Carbon Tax

Mayors Sign Climate Protection Agreement, Endorse Innovative Climate Solutions

Kevin Johnson, at podium, Sacramento Mayor, President, The United States Conference of Mayors gestures as he responds to questions during a news conference at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors as Columbus, Ohio Mayor Michael B. Coleman, center left, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, right, show their support, Friday, June 20, 2014, in Dallas. (Credit: AP/Tony Gutierrez) Click to enlarge.
Confronting climate change is a major agenda item at this week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Dallas, Texas, including climate protection awards, climate panels, and a discussion with U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz.  Mayors signed the latest version of the Climate Protection Agreement — endorsed by over 1,000 mayors, it supports a national goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 amongst other things.

On Sunday, attendees will also vote on a resolution encouraging cities to use natural solutions to fight climate change and “protect freshwater supplies, defend the nation’s coastlines, maintain a healthy tree cover and protect air quality.”

Democratic mayors from the Republican-leaning states Texas and Arizona, including Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, have backed the resolution.  The conference is nearly split between Republican and Democratic mayors and the resolution only encourages action rather than mandating it.  Leffingwell told the Associated press he thinks it will pass quickly, saying he thinks “the best strategy is not to get involved in partisan politics.”

Coming on the heels on the EPA’s recently unveiled Clean Power Plan that proposes carbon-pollution limits on existing power plants, states are already engaged in a heated debate over their role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.  By taking action at a more local level, mayors can lead by example and avoid some of the political trappings that accompany efforts to initiate change at the state or national level.

Mayors Sign Climate Protection Agreement, Endorse Innovative Climate Solutions

France Launches Financing Plan for Energy Transition

French Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Minister Segolene Royal (R) and Finance Minister Michel Sapin speak to the journalists after a conference about the financing of energy transition in Paris June 23, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier) Click to enlarge.
France announced on Monday a package of tax breaks and low-cost loans to improve insulation in buildings and boost investment in renewable energy, which is supposed to provide 40 percent of the country's electricity by 2030.

France Launches Financing Plan for Energy Transition

Can the Port Authority Help Save the Planet?

Port Authority (Credit: Sergio Membrillas) Click to enlarge.
This has been a bad year for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with scandals over a bridge closure and, most recently, a shady real estate deal.  But the authority has a chance at redemption, if it is willing to move beyond its traditional mandate.  Its model of interstate cooperation could do much more than prevent traffic jams; it could also play the leading role in managing the ecological health of the Hudson River estuary, and serve as an example for other coastal cities around the world facing complex environmental problems in a time of climate change.

Estuaries exist where ocean tide meets freshwater from an incoming river.  The nutrient-rich environment underwrites an enormous food supply that supports dense animal populations, from seals to frogs to wading birds.  They have also long been attractive sites for urban development because of their prolific supply of natural resources, access to navigable water and capacity to absorb the waste produced by masses of people.

During the last two centuries, urbanization has increasingly horned in on this territory.  In 1800, a little more than 40 percent of the 25 largest cities in the world were situated along estuaries.  Today, close to 70 percent of the planet’s largest cities are found there.

One of the main ecological impacts has been eutrophication:  a decline in water quality caused by an excess of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.  Often, those nutrients come from synthetic fertilizer, but the human waste discharged from cities, especially developing ones, remains an important factor.

In the past, those nutrients found their way back to the land.  Even today in the East Kolkata wetlands of India, sewage is recycled into vegetable patches and fish farms.  But this kind of “closed-loop” system is rare in modern cities wedded to real estate development rather than agriculture.  Instead, nutrients are gushing into estuaries and resulting in harmful algal blooms that rob the water of oxygen, degrade marine habitat and limit the diversity of aquatic life.

Can the Port Authority Help Save the Planet?

   Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Nebraska Utility Is Phasing Out Some Coal Units, and It Won’t Cost That Much

Big Coal Plant (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
The Omaha Public Power District in Nebraska announced on Thursday that it will retire three coal units in the next two years at its North Omaha plant and transition two other units to natural gas within a decade.

The three coal units will be retired by 2016, the public utility said.  Another two units at that plant will get updated pollution controls by 2016 as well, and will transition to burning natural gas by 2023.  OPPD will similarly retrofit its Nebraska City coal-fired station and implement new energy-efficiency programs to reduce demand.

The utility said the changes would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent, and cut nitrogen and sulfur oxide emissions by 74 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

“Customer opinions have led OPPD to a dramatic change in how it will generate electricity in the future,” the utility said in a statement.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after the Obama administration unveiled new standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.  A number of Nebraska lawmakers have argued that the EPA’s carbon rules will make energy unaffordable in the state.

In a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday morning, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said that members of the board of directors at OPPD and the Nebraska Public Power District have told him that “the only conclusion they’ve come to so far is that it’s gonna cost them, quote, ‘a hell of a lot of money,’ end quote.”

But OPPD said Thursday that its plan to phase out coal “is only slightly more expensive than if we didn’t change our current generation portfolio to adapt to future regulations.” Rates for consumers are expected to increase between 0 and 2 percent under the plan.

Nebraska Utility Is Phasing Out Some Coal Units, and It Won’t Cost That Much