Thursday, July 31, 2014

Controversial Sale of Federal Coal Yields Low Prices with Only One Bidder

Autumn aspens among evergreens surrounding one of the mesa Lakes on the Grand Mesa in western Colorado. Grand Mesa National Forest is right next to the Bowie No. 2 Mine. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
Amid growing public concern over the federal government’s coal program and its substantial contribution to climate change, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctioned off 8 million tons of coal in western Colorado Thursday as part of its “Spruce Stomp” lease sale.

The only bid at the coal sale was from Bowie Resources, LLC, the same company that proposed the parcel be auctioned through the BLM’s controversial lease by application process, which critics claim is noncompetitive and gives industry too much control over the leasing process.  The Spruce Stomp sale is not unique in this respect; since 1990, roughly 90 percent of all “competitive” federal lease sales have only had one bidder.

Bowie Resources bid 36 cents per ton for the coal — or $2.9 million in total for the lease. A recent analysis from Greenpeace found that the average price for publicly-owned coal was $1.03 per ton.  The company says this additional coal will help facilitate the expansion of its Bowie No. 2 Mine.  The mining and burning of the coal sold today will emit more than 21 million metric tons of carbon pollution into the air, or the equivalent carbon emissions of 4.5 million cars.

An analysis by the Center for American Progress released Tuesday also found that, in addition to concerns with the undervaluation of federal coal, BLM’s coal-leasing program in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana is costing more than $19 billion per year in losses and damages resulting from carbon pollution.

BLM does not typically consider the social cost of carbon when leasing federal coal. However, a recent court decision that blocked the expansion of a federal coal mine in Colorado for overlooking carbon costs has sparked new questions on whether BLM must account for these costs.

Controversial Sale of Federal Coal Yields Low Prices with Only One Bidder

These Maps Show How Big Data Can Fight Climate Change

Los Angeles (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
New maps released Tuesday illustrate the toll climate change and pollution are taking on several communities in Los Angeles, many of the same areas that also hold the greatest potential for clean energy investment.  The Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER) is the result of a partnership between the Environmental Defense Fund and UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.  The groups say their work is a prime example of how big data can be used to engage citizens in the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change right in their own neighborhoods.

While climate change will drive up temperatures in Los Angeles, a particular concern for at-risk communities already burdened by pollution, the analysis found major potential for solar and energy efficiency projects.  Realizing just ten percent of the city's untapped rooftop solar potential, for instance, would create 47,000 solar installation jobs and could reduce carbon pollution by nearly 2.5 million tons annually -- the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road every year.

These Maps Show How Big Data Can Fight Climate Change

Report Paints Bleak Future for Nuclear Power

Isar nuclear power plant in Germany. (Credit: Bjoern Schwarz/flickr) Click to enlarge.
While nuclear power is seen by some of the most prominent climate scientists in the U.S. as a necessary means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation to combat climate change, most growth in low-carbon electricity generation is in wind and solar.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report, written by independent consultants in London and Paris with support from the German Green Party and the anti-nuclear Rocky Mountain Institute, based in Colorado, shows that nuclear power's share in global energy production declined to 10.8 percent in 2013, down from 17.6 percent at its peak in 1996.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration doesn't see nuclear power generation either growing or declining much in the next 25 years.

Report Paints Bleak Future for Nuclear Power

How Climate Denial Could Cost this Iowa Senate Candidate an Election

State Sen. Joni Ernst waves to supporters after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. (Credit: AP / Charlie Neibergall) Click to enlarge.
Storm clouds are beginning to gather for Joni Ernst, the Republicans' contender for Iowa's Senate seat this November.

Within the last month, several liberal and environmental groups have targeted her with campaigns aimed at highlighting her climate positions and the money she's received from the Koch Brothers and other fossil fuel groups.  The latest -- a rather slick production from NextGen Climate -- promises to be the first in a series taking Ernst to task for valuing moneyed interests like Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform over the needs of everyday Iowans.  The ad buy will run for five weeks starting Wednesday in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and the Quad Cities, and will total $2.6 million.

NextGen Climate is the super PAC set up by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, and it has promised to drop $100 million this election season going after candidates in several clear races who have denied the validity of climate change.  Back in June, the group hit Ernst for opposing the Clean Water Act in a debate and for stating in May that "I have not seen proven proof that [climate change] is entirely man-made."

For Iowa and the American Midwest specifically, the recently-released National Climate Assessment predicts more extreme heat, downpours, and flooding through 2100 -- along with serious consequences for large portions of the region's economy -- thanks to human carbon emissions.

Ernst's opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), is on board with policies to tackle climate change, including new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules to cut carbon emissions from power plants and the 2009 effort to pass a national cap-and-trade system. Ernst is opposed on both counts, and actually earned herself a $1 million critical ad hit in June from groups like the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Action Fund, after she promised to "abolish the EPA."

How Climate Denial Could Cost this Iowa Senate Candidate an Election

   Wednesday, July 30

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

DOE Discloses First Steps to Curb Leaks in Natural Gas Systems

Richard Mark, CEO of Ameren Illinois, said the company’s $330 million gas investment plan will modernize major natural gas pipelines and install advanced monitoring technology. (Credit: Dilip Vishwanat | SLBJ) Click to enlarge.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz yesterday announced preliminary initiatives to combat leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane from pipelines, compressors and other parts of the natural gas distribution infrastructure.
  • Efficiency Standards for Natural Gas Compressors – The Energy Department will begin the process of establishing energy efficiency standards for new natural gas compressor units, which are currently estimated to consume more than 7 percent of natural gas in the US. Improved efficiency will help provide energy savings for consumers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Advanced Natural Gas System Manufacturing – In collaboration with industry, the Department will evaluate and establish a high-impact manufacturing research and development initiative to improve natural gas system efficiency and leak reduction.
  • Incentives for Modernizing Natural Gas Infrastructure – Following discussion with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chair Cheryl LaFleur, Secretary Moniz has recommended that FERC look at ways to provide greater certainty for cost recovery for new investment in modernization of natural gas transmission infrastructure.
  • Encouraging State Leadership for Efficient Distribution – The Energy Department will join the National Association of State Regulatory Utility Commissioners in a technical partnership to accelerate investments for infrastructure modernization and repairs to natural gas distribution networks, with DOE providing grant funding and technical assistance to help inform decision-marking by state utility commissioners.
DOE Discloses First Steps to Curb Leaks in Natural Gas Systems

Climate Extremes Are Here to Stay: Expect More Heat Waves and Cold Snaps

Cold snowy road. (Credit: © pergo70 / Fotolia) Click to enlarge.
Researchers show how they've used advanced computational data science tools to demonstrate that despite global warming, we may still experience severe cold snaps due to increasing variability in temperature extremes.

Evan Kodra and his adviser Auroop Ganguly, a climate change expert and associate professor in Northeastern's Department of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering, decided to take a dif­ferent approach in their paper recently pub­lished online in the journal Scientific Reports, published by Nature.  Their work was performed in Northeastern's Sustainability and Data Sciences Laboratory run by Ganguly.

What they found may surprise some:  while global temperature is indeed increasing, so too is the variability in temperature extremes.  For instance, while each year's average hottest and coldest temperature will likely rise, those averages will also tend to fall within a wider range of potential high and low temperate extremes than are currently being observed.

Climate Extremes Are Here to Stay:  Expect More Heat Waves and Cold Snaps

New Battery Boasts 7 Times More Energy Density

Nissan Leaf Battery (Credit: Nissan) Click to enlarge.
This week a research team at the University of Tokyo School of Engineering has announced a new lithium ion battery that packs seven times more energy density – at 2,570 watt-hours per kilogram – than current lithium ion batteries.  The team, led by Professor Noritaka Mizuno, adds cobalt to the lithium oxide crystal structure of the positive electrode, which promotes the creation of oxides and peroxides during the charge/discharge cycle.  In addition, it promises significantly faster recharge times as well.

Of course, this breakthrough is still in the experimental stage.  Energy dense lithium ion batteries will not be on the shelf at WalMart any time soon.  But if the claims for the new battery prove valid, expect to see the struggle between EV’s and FCV tilt sharply in favor of electric vehicles.  Now the range for the new Porsche Cayenne PHEV could be 112 miles instead of 16, and that shiny new Nissan LEAF could go over 500 miles on a full charge instead of just 73.  And the Tesla Model S would be able to drive some 1,855 miles before needing to be plugged in.

New Battery Boasts 7 Times More Energy Density

To Keep Delivering Quality Products, General Mills Wants Major Carbon Cuts from Suppliers

Cheerios (Credit: culpfiction) Click to enlarge.
A few months ago, the international food manufacturing giant General Mills was branded a “clear laggard” by climate activists for not doing enough to cut its carbon footprint.  Oxfam International accused the company of dragging its feet on reducing so-called “scope 3” greenhouse gas emissions — those not directly controlled by the company, but essential in making its products; for example, emissions from a farm contracted by General Mills to grow the oats that eventually wind up in your cereal bowl. Oxfam also faulted the company for not using its clout to engage directly with governments to “positively influence climate change policy.”

General Mills’ worldwide sales total $17.9 billion, and it owns familiar consumer brands like Cheerios, Old El Paso, and Pillsbury.

Monday, Oxfam claimed big victory:  General Mills released a new set of climate policies that Oxfam says makes it “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”

The policy states unequivocally that General Mills believes that climate change is a big threat to global food security and its future business model:
As a global food company, General Mills recognizes the risks that climate change presents to humanity, our environment and our livelihoods.  Changes in climate not only affect global food security but also impact General Mills’ raw material supply which, in turn, affects our ability to deliver quality, finished product to our consumers and ultimately, value to our shareholders.
In another big step, the company also announced Monday that it will join Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy “to advocate more closely with policy makers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation,” according to the company.  The group of 31 companies (including big guns like eBay and Starbucks) is run by the nonprofit Ceres, and is designed to help businesses directly lobby policymakers on issues like renewable energy, green transportation, and pollution controls on power plants.  Ceres also campaigns to get companies and investors to adopt more sustainable environmental practices.

To Keep Delivering Quality Products, General Mills Wants Major Carbon Cuts from Suppliers

GAO Report:  Drinking Water at Risk from Underground Fracking Waste Injection

A  jar of fracking water waste is displayed at a recycling site in Midland, Texas. (Credit: Pat Sullivan/AP) Click to enlarge.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s program to protect drinking water sources from the underground injection of fracking waste needs improvement, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Underground injection of fracking waste has been linked to drinking water contamination and induced earthquakes around the country.

The GAO report is online here:  http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-555.  Highlights are here:  http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664500.pdf.


GAO Report:  Drinking Water at Risk from Underground Fracking Waste Injection

Facing Facebook:  Australia’s Cap-and-Tax - by James Hansen

James Hansen profile (Credit: en.wikipedia.org) Click to enlarge.
I did not mean to pick on Australians.  However, we must make note of and learn from our mistakes.  The two main points that I made in discussions in Australia re their cap-and-trade were (1) it would be ineffectual in reducing emissions, and (2) it would be recognized as a tax, and thus it would not survive and grow at the rate needed to phase out emissions.

What I support is a simple honest approach, fee-and-dividend, designed for the public and most of all designed to effectively address the carbon/climate matter.  Not one dime to the government.  Once in place, this system would be armor-plated; most people would get more money in the dividend than they pay in increased costs; they would want the carbon price to rise.  Yes, rich people would pay more, but nothing they can’t afford, and it addresses growing wealth disparity.

A few more comments, using the U.S. as the example.  I am an optimistic person, but let me for a moment point out some of the bad sides of people.  It helps explain why governments resist consideration of a simple transparent system that would work.

Facing Facebook:  Australia’s Cap-and-Tax - by James Hansen

   Tuesday, July 29

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Delaying Climate Policies Could Cost U.S. Economy $150 Billion Each Year, White House Warns

This March 13, 2014 file photo shows cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif. (Credit: AP, Marcio Jose Sanchez) Click to enlarge.
The White House’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) released a sweeping report Tuesday on the monetary costs of delaying action on climate change, and it had one glaring conclusion:  the longer America waits to act, the more money will be stripped from the U.S. economy.

The report, titled The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change, looks at climate change policy as a form of insurance — that is, a form of self-protection against various forms of risk.  As with insurance, the report found that paying money over time to mitigate the risks of sea level rise, severe weather, drought, and other potential impacts of global warming would be far less expensive if done sooner rather than paying for the aftereffects later, and absolutely less expensive than waiting to deal with more catastrophic climate-related events.

“At this stage, there’s no doubt that climate change is real, that it’s being caused by our activity, that it’s harming the planet and affecting our livelihood,” Council of Economic Advisers chairman Jason Furman told reporters on a press call on Monday.  “What this report makes clear is first of all that we know way more than enough to justify acting today; second, that delaying action will increase the cost; and third, the uncertainty of the risk … [is] an argument for acting more today as a form of insurance against the worst consequences in the future.”

The thesis for the CEA’s report is this:  if policies aren’t implemented to curb the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, carbon will continue accumulating.  As more carbon accumulates, temperatures will rise, increasing the negative impacts of climate change, and thereby increasing economic costs over time.

As the net mitigation costs of dealing with climate change increase, the report found that on average, costs would increase 40 percent for every decade of delay on climate policies.  That percentage is based on present value, meaning the total amount the United States would have to pay would be 40 percent larger than it would be today.

Delaying Climate Policies Could Cost U.S. Economy $150 Billion Each Year, White House Warns

California and Mexico Sign Pact to Fight Climate Change

California Governor Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference at Memoria y Tolerancia museum in Mexico City July 28, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Edgard Garrido) Click to enlarge.
California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican environmental officials signed a pact on Monday aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, an agreement that could eventually expand the market for carbon credits.

California and Mexico Sign Pact to Fight Climate Change

Ten U.S. Cities Where Flooding Is Much More Common

A house in Port Deposit, Maryland, is reflected in the floodwater in the home's backyard that surround a bird house, on Sept. 9, 2011.(Credit: Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/MCT via Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
Those who dismiss global warming projections might at least note that change has already become a nuisance.

Sea-level rise is making many U.S. cities more susceptible to regular flooding, potentially putting roads, rails, drains and tunnels at risk, according to a new report released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report details the rise in low-grade or “nuisance flooding” in the last 50 years.  These are persistent floods, which cause inconvenience rather than injury or death, and may gradually impose costs on local governments to fix or replace infrastructure.

Sea level is higher today than it was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  What that means practically is flooding that once came only during big storms can now come during high tide.

The most significant rise in nuisance flooding is concentrated on the East Coast, with Annapolis, Maryland seeing a 925 percent increase in low-grade flooding over 50 years, to an annual average of 39.3 days. 

Nearby Baltimore has had a 922 percent increase.  The study documents an increased frequency in rising waters, not estimate costs associated with them.  With minor floods nine times higher in some places, you can do the math.

Ten U.S. Cities Where Flooding Is Much More Common

Europe's Habitat and Wildlife Are Vulnerable to Climate Change

This is a map of the vulnerability of ecosystems to biome shifts due to climate change and of habitat loss due to land cover change. (Credit: University of Southampton) Click to enlarge.
New research has identified areas of the Earth that are high priorities for conservation in the face of climate change.  Europe is particularly vulnerable, as it has the lowest fraction of its land area, only four per cent, of any continent in ‘refugia’ – areas of biological diversity that support many species where natural environmental conditions remain relatively constant during times of great environmental change.

Europe's Habitat and Wildlife Are Vulnerable to Climate Change

US Coal Exports Have Erased All the CO2 Savings from the Fracking Boom

Coal Terminal (Credit: Imam Hartoyo/Flickr) Click to enlarge.
The domestic fracking boom has been widely celebrated as a godsend in the fight against climate change.  In 2007 cheap natural gas began replacing dirtier coal as the fuel of choice in US power plants. By 2012 the switchover was annually saving an estimated 86 million tons of CO2, the carbon equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road. That's obviously a huge accomplishment, but it comes with a lesser known catch:  all of that coal we're no longer using is still getting dug up, sold off, and spewed into the atmosphere.

The carbon pollution savings from our switch from coal to gas has been more than canceled out by an increase in our coal exports, according to a recent study by Shakeb Afsah of the group CO2 Scorecard.  After the domestic market for coal dried up in 2007, US exports of steam coal increased by 83 million tons, resulting in the release of an additional 149 million metric tons of CO2.  That's 73 percent more CO2 than Americans have saved so far by ditching the black stuff.

The study is mentioned Monday in a story by AP's Dina Cappiello, who looks at whether the coal exports will ultimately increase carbon emissions.  Coal companies point to studies suggesting international demand for coal is fairly inelastic, meaning that if US coal exports suddenly disappeared, they would simply be replaced by coal from somewhere else.  Yet other studies conclude that the US exports depress prices, driving up demand and delaying a switch to cleaner options.

US Coal Exports Have Erased All the CO2 Savings from the Fracking Boom

Stanford Foresees $25,000 EV, 300-Mile Battery Range with New Honeycomb Battery

Honeycomb (cropped) by prilfish. Click to enlarge.
A research team from the Stanford School of Engineering has just figured out how to stabilize the lithium in a lithium-ion battery, and that could help bring the typical EV down to the level of mainstream affordability.  The team is looking at a price point of $25,000 for an EV battery range of 300 miles, which would be competitive with a 40 mpg gasmobile.

The dream of extending EV battery range usually comes with a high price tag, so the idea that longer range could actually bring down costs is of particular interest, especially considering that former Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a member of that Stanford research team.

Now that Chu is back at his former position with Stanford Engineering, he has joined with research team leader Yi Cui and lead author Guangyuan Zheng in a paper published online Sunday in Nature Nanotechnology, titled Interconnected hollow carbon nanospheres for stable lithium metal anodes, which zeroes in on the dendrite problem.

Dendrites refers to those hairy mossy fibers that can grow out of your Li-ion battery over time. They are associated with decreased efficiency as well as safety risks.  Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory offer a good rundown (break added for clarity):
Over the course of several battery charge/discharge cycles, particularly when the battery is cycled at a fast rate, microscopic fibers of lithium, called “dendrites,” sprout from the surface of the lithium electrode and spread like kudzu across the electrolyte until they reach the other electrode.

An electrical current passing through these dendrites can short-circuit the battery, causing it to rapidly overheat and in some instances catch fire.

Stanford Foresees $25,000 EV, 300-Mile Battery Range with New Honeycomb Battery

Rising Heat Hits Indian Wheat Crop

Woman harvesting wheat in Raisen district, Madhya Pradesh, India (Credit: Yann via Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
Satellite imaging highlights the growing need to change agricultural practices in South Asia as higher average temperatures cause the reduction of crop yields on the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Researchers in the UK have established a link between changing climate and agriculture that could have significant consequences for food supplies in South Asia.

They have found evidence of a relationship between rising average temperatures in India and reduced wheat production, which was increasing until about a decade ago but has now stopped.

The researchers, Dr John Duncan, Dr Jadu Dash and Professor Pete Atkinson, all geographers at the University of Southampton, say an intensification is predicted for the recent increases in warmth in India’s main wheat belt that are damaging crop yields.

The greatest impact that the hotter environment has on wheat, they say, comes from a rise in night-time temperatures.

Dr Dash said: “Our findings highlight the vulnerability of India’s wheat production system to temperature rise.  We are sounding an early warning to the problem, which could have serious implications in the future

Rising Heat Hits Indian Wheat Crop

   Monday, July 28

Monday, July 28, 2014

Obama Coal Sales to Cost Society Billions in Global-Warming Damage

Coal mine (Credit: Tim Aubry) Click to enlarge.
The global-warming damage caused by burning coal leased from federal lands under President Obama will eventually cost society tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars--far outweighing any economic benefit of coal leasing to taxpayers, a Greenpeace report concludes.

The leasing program charges companies only about a dollar a ton on average to mine coal, but the pollution from each ton burned is estimated to cost between $22 and $237, Greenpeace said.

The report uses the federal government's method of estimating the social cost of carbon, or SCC.  The SCC is a calculation devised by economists to express in today's dollars the price future generations ultimately pay for the damages caused by carbon pollution.

Obama Coal Sales to Cost Society Billions in Global-Warming Damage, Study Says

Why Restoring Wetlands Is More Critical Than Ever

This is a healthy marsh in the Milford Neck Conservation Area on Delaware Bay. Marshes need the meandering creeks and ponds seen here, and the hummocks (the dark gray areas) are important resting and roosting areas for migratory birds. (Credit: Delaware Wild Lands) Click to enlarge.
Along the Delaware River estuary, efforts are underway to restore wetlands lost due to centuries of human activity.  With sea levels rising, coastal communities there and and elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe are realizing the value of wetlands as important buffers against flooding and tidal surges.

Yet despite government, NGO, and regulatory efforts, wetland losses continue unabated.  In the U.S., for instance, even with a “no net loss” policy in place, between 1998 and 2009 coastal wetland losses increased.  Scientists have discovered that salt marshes and mangroves store far more carbon than equal areas of tropical forest. from 60,000 to 80,000 acres per year.  In the Delaware Bay, where Danielle Kreeger, science director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, was overseeing the construction of this “living shoreline,” tidal wetlands are being lost at the rate of an acre a day, this in the East Coast's second-largest estuary, where 126,000 of its 400,000 acres of wetlands are considered by the Ramsar Convention to be of international importance.

Why Restoring Wetlands Is More Critical Than Ever

Trees Save Lives and $7 Billion in Health Costs Annually, Forest Service Finds

This map shows trees' estimated removal of four key air pollutants (nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns) in each county in the contiguous U.S. in 2010. (Credit: USDA/Environmental Pollution) Click to enlarge.
Trees are saving more than 850 human lives each year and preventing 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in the U.S., according to the first broad-scale estimate of trees' air pollution removal by U.S. Forest Service researchers.  Looking at four common air pollutants -- nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns -- researchers valued the human health benefits of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion annually in a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

The benefits of trees vary with tree cover across the nation, the researchers note.  Tree cover in the United States is estimated at 34.2 percent overall, but varies from 2.6 percent in North Dakota to 88.9 percent in New Hampshire.  While the pollution-removal capabilities of trees equaled an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, the impacts of that improvement are substantial, the study found.

Trees Save Lives and $7 Billion in Health Costs Annually, Forest Service Finds

Climate Change and Air Pollution Will Combine to Curb Food Supplies

Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies. But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution - specifically ozone pollution, which is known to damage crops. (Credit: Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT) Click to enlarge.
Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies.  But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution -- specifically ozone pollution, which is known to damage crops.  A new study shows that these interactions can be quite significant, suggesting that policymakers need to take both warming and air pollution into account in addressing food security.

Climate Change and Air Pollution Will Combine to Curb Food Supplies

Toon of the Week - The Logic of Climate Change Deniers

logic of climate change deniers when applied to everyday weather.  it's raining right now, therefore the sun is a hoax.

The logic of climate change deniers when applied to everyday weather.  It's raining right now. Therefore, the sun is a hoax.

Toon of the Week - The Logic of Climate Change Deniers

Poster of the Week - Debating Climate Change

Debating climate change is like arguing about whether the earth is flat. (Credit: www.facebook.com/iheartcomsci) Click to enlarge.

Debating climate change is like arguing about whether the earth is flat. - Bill Maher

Poster of the Week - Debating Climate Change

   Sunday, July 27

Sunday, July 27, 2014

EPA Is Failing to Stop Methane Leaks from Pipelines, Inspector General Says

Pipeline  (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
The Environmental Protection Agency isn’t doing enough to prevent methane from escaping from natural gas pipelines, according to a new report from the agency’s internal watchdog.

The report, published Friday by the EPA’s Inspector General, stated that in 2011, more than $192 million worth of natural gas was lost due to leaks in pipelines.  The report said that the agency, which until now has “placed little focus and attention on reducing methane emissions from pipelines in the natural gas distribution center,” needs to take steps to better prevent methane from escaping.  It recommended that the EPA work with the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to try to fix the problem, a partnership President Barack Obama has also called for.

Up until now, however, the EPA has only implemented a program that encourages natural gas companies to reduce their methane emissions voluntarily, but doesn’t require them to do so. So far, that program hasn’t done enough, the report states.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps 86 times more heat as CO2 does over a 20-year period. Scientists have warned that methane emissions from the natural gas industry are a significant contributor to climate change, and in 2013, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan stated that “curbing emissions of methane is critical to our overall effort to address global climate change.”

The EPA has agreed to take the Inspector General’s recommendations to partner with PHMSA and create a plan to deal with the financial losses of methane leaks, but it has not yet agreed to other recommendations in the report, including setting performance goals for leak reduction and tracking methane emissions from natural gas pipelines.

EPA Is Failing to Stop Methane Leaks from Pipelines, Inspector General Says

How the U.S. Government Just Pulled Off the Equivalent of Retiring 1.8 Million Cars

President Obama (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
The White House announced Saturday that federal agencies have cut their greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent since 2008 — roughly equivalent to permanently taking 1.8 million cars off the road.

The occasion for the announcement was the annual release of agency scorecards, documenting their progress in cutting GHG emissions, improving energy efficiency, and reducing pollution and waste.  This is the fourth year the agencies have released the scorecards.  The process was kicked off in 2009 when President Obama issued Executive Order 13514, which laid out the goals for the agencies as well as the process by which they should plan, measure, and document their progress.

The current 2020 goal as laid down by the White House is for the entire government to reduce collective GHG emissions from fuels and building energy use 28 percent from their 2008 levels.  Agencies are also tasked with cutting indirect emissions — which come from things like government employee commutes and business travels — by 13 percent.

Federal agencies are also tasked with getting 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, a goal that triple government use of renewables from where it was at in 2013.  Saturday’s announcement showed the agencies reached nine percent renewable use by the end of fiscal year 2013.  The target for that deadline had been 7.5 percent, putting the agencies ahead of schedule.

The federal government’s use of potable water has also been cut 19 percent from 2007 levels, with a goal of a 26 percent improvement in efficiency of use by 2020.

The White House’s current pledge to the international community is to cut America’s overall carbon emissions 17 percent below their 2005 levels by 2020.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s recent rules cutting emissions from new and existing power plants is a major part of that effort, as are a slew of other initiatives outlined in President Obama’s climate action plan, including the improvements for federal agencies.

How the U.S. Government Just Pulled Off the Equivalent of Retiring 1.8 Million Cars

Prepare for High Energy Growth, Climate Experts Warn

Oil field pump jacks (Credit: Future Energy Growth/shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
World leaders are failing to come to grips with the implications of rapidly rising energy consumption for climate change, climate experts said at last week’s Breakthrough Dialogue.

“If everyone in the world were to consume energy at Germany’s highly efficient levels,” explained Roger Pielke, Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, “global energy consumption would need to triple or quadruple.  How do we provide the energy equivalent of adding 800 Virginias while meeting climate goals?”

The percentage of energy the world gets from zero-carbon sources has been flat for 20 years, Pielke, Jr. noted.  “In 2014, 13 percent of the world’s energy came from carbon-free sources — mainly hydro and nuclear,” said Pielke, Jr.  “That 13 percent hasn’t changed in 20 years.  If you want to actual stabilize carbon dioxide – then that 13 percent needs to be above 90 percent.”

Achieving the target of atmospheric concentrations of 450 parts per million while meeting business-as-usual energy demand requires one gigawatt — the size of one nuclear reactor — of zero-carbon new energy every day.

“That reality is uncomfortable and challenging,” Pielke, Jr., said, “but we are moving toward high-energy planet very fast.”

Jesse Ausubel of The Rockfeller University cautioned against thinking that the rise of the rest means energy consumption at levels exceeding that of the West.  While energy consumption will continue to grow, “later adopters” such as China and India will consume at lower levels because they build leaner, more efficient systems.

In the United States, the absolute use of over many materials, including steel, paper, water, have peaked.  The rate of growth for US electricity is also declining, according to Ausubel.  Right now, India and China have rapidly increased energy consumption, much like the United States did in the 20th century, but because they are later adopters, their use of energy can also be expected to decline.

We have to be cautious about what we mean by a high-energy planet,” said Ausubel.  “We could very well have a high-energy services planet without using large amounts of materials like petroleum.”

Prepare for High Energy Growth, Climate Experts Warn

Attack of the Chicago Climate Change Maggots

A thunderstorm with heavy rains approaches downtown Chicago, Monday, June 24, 2013. (Credit: AP Photo / Scott Eisen) Click to enlarge.
As Washington still fights over whether or not climate change is real, people across the country are already paying costs scientists ascribe to it -- sometimes in unexpected places.  You might think about climate change in terms of rising sea levels threatening coastal cities.  But all over the Midwest, from Chicago to Indianapolis and Milwaukee, residents face just as many difficult issues as changing weather patterns collide with aging infrastructure.  The costs -- for governments, insurance companies and homeowners -- are measured not only in dollars, but in quality of life.

In Chicago over the past century, downpours that force human waste up pipes and into homes -- storms that dump at least 1.5 inches of rain in a single day -- have struck the city more often.  Annual precipitation in the Midwest grew about 20 percent during the past century.  Rains of more than 2.5 inches a day are expected to increase another 50 percent in the next 20 years.

Over the next five years, Chicago will spend $50 million on flood prevention, putting green touches on capital infrastructure projects.  One example:  workers will add French drains to a highway while repaving it, said Karen Hobbs, an environmental policy analyst who helped author Chicago's Climate Action Plan.  More rain barrels, permeable alleys and trees will sprout around the city.  The goal, Hobbs said:  find natural ways to 
reduce storm runoff by 250 million gallons.

,Attack of the Chicago Climate Change Maggots

When Politics Constraints Carbon Pricing, Part 2:  6 Tips for Improving Climate Change Policy

Willingness to Pay for Climate Mitigation [Credit: Jenkins (2014)] Click to enlarge.
How to improve on a politically-constrained carbon price?

First, policy makers should ... strive to mitigate climate-related externalities while ensuring (1) that the policy is welfare-improving (i.e., the social costs of mitigating climate-related externalities do not exceed the social benefits) and (2) that the policy does not violate one or more political economy constraints (i.e., the private costs of mitigating climate-related externalities do not exceed the various political economy constraints on policy making).

Second, there might be several policy measures that exhibit superior economic efficiency and environmental efficacy compared to both doing nothing and simply trying to implement a carbon price that will inevitably run right into binding political constraints.

Third, paying careful attention to the way voters and other constituents view the the costs of different policy measures is ... essential.

Fourth, the ideal policy is unlikely to be one that ignores the political constraints arising from industry structure, and thus runs into fierce political resistance. 

Fifth, for example, policies that can be credibly linked to public health co-benefits (which can be very large), energy security benefits, or economic development and employment benefits for key constituencies could improve public support for such policies.

Sixth, public campaigning that can raise support for climate policies in key constituencies can relax political constraints, although such campaigning must be pursued in a way that doesn’t simultaneously increasing opposition in other constituencies (i.e. doesn’t backfire). 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the use of the revenues generated by a carbon price may ultimately be just as important as the level of carbon tax itself (if not more so). How revenues are used can dramatically impact both the political support for the carbon price itself and improve the environmental efficacy and economic efficiency of the policy.

When Politics Constraints Carbon Pricing, Part 2:  6 Tips for Improving Climate Change Policy

Urban Heat Boosts Some Pest Populations 200-Fold, Killing Red Maples

Urban 'heat islands' are slowly killing red maples in the southeastern United States, research shows. One factor that researchers have found that impacts the situation is that warmer temperatures increase the number of young produced by the gloomy scale insect -- a significant tree pest -- by 300 percent, which in turn leads to 200 times more adult gloomy scales on urban trees. "We'd been seeing higher numbers of plant-eating insects like the gloomy scale in cities, and now we know why," says Adam Dale, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of two papers describing the work. "These findings also raise concerns about potential pest outbreaks as temperatures increase due to global climate change."
Urban 'heat islands' are slowly killing red maples in the southeastern United States, research shows. One factor that researchers have found that impacts the situation is that warmer temperatures increase the number of young produced by the gloomy scale insect -- a significant tree pest -- by 300 percent, which in turn leads to 200 times more adult gloomy scales on urban trees.

"We'd been seeing higher numbers of plant-eating insects like the gloomy scale in cities, and now we know why," says Adam Dale, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of two papers describing the work.  "These findings also raise concerns about potential pest outbreaks as temperatures increase due to global climate change."

Urban Heat Boosts Some Pest Populations 200-Fold, Killing Red Maples

   Saturday, July 26

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Replacing Coal, Oil with Natural Gas Will Not Help Fight Global Warming, Expert Argues

Comparison of the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas, conventional natural gas, coal, and oil to generate a given quantity of heat. (Credit: onlinelibrary.wiley.com) Click to enlarge.
Both shale gas and conventional natural gas have a larger greenhouse gas footprint than do coal or oil, especially for the primary uses of residential and commercial heating.  "While emissions of carbon dioxide are less from natural gas than from coal and oil, methane emissions are far greater.  Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that these emissions make natural gas a dangerous fuel from the standpoint of global warming over the next several decades," said the author of a new article.


Replacing Coal, Oil with Natural Gas Will Not Help Fight Global Warming, Expert Argues

Ground-Mounted Solar Demand Surpassing Bulding-Mounted in US Market

Solar panels in a parking lot (Credit: cleantechnica.com Click to enlarge.
Take it as a good sign there is enough segmentation in the solar energy market that we can distinguish easily between ground- and building-mounted types and analyze data.  Demand for the ground-mounted variety has been greater for most fiscal quarters since Q1 2012, according to data adapted from North America PV Markets.

One driver of this extra demand is the growth of utility solar projects and ones that employ parking structures for siting PV panels.  These projects are considered ground mounted, which is reasonable because carports are not buildings.  There is an advantage to using carports because they already exist, meaning no new construction is necessary to support PV panels, and they have their own space, so no new land is needed for the solar projects.

The amount of parking space potentially available may be tremendous.  “It was estimated by some energy analysts that there may be over five billion acres of usable parking lots available for solar installations.

Ground-Mounted Solar Demand Surpassing Bulding-Mounted in US Market

What Will the 21st Century Grid Look Like?

High-voltage transmission lines (Credit: The Future of the Grid/shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
[T]he United States electricity system is undergoing more change, and faster, than it has in many decades.  Numerous factors are driving this change.  Among the most influential are:
  • the resource mix is being turned on its head, including a large and rapid increase of clean renewable generation as technology and renewable power prices plummet;
  • climate change actions are finally getting launched as President Obama gets serious in the absence of congressional effort (to say nothing of outright climate denial by GOP leaders) of any kind;
  • energy efficiency and demand response – reducing the need for new generation and transmission – are increasingly large contributors to our energy and grid support needs;
  • utility customers on the distribution grid are becoming  generators of power, no longer content to simply  consume power;
  • lower cost unconventional gas resources are choking the life out of baseload conventional power sources like coal and nuclear energy; and,
  • the need to contain costs as we meet present and future needs.
“Power outages are up 285 percent since 1984, and the U.S. ranks last among the top nine Western industrialized nations in the average length of outages, which the federal U.S. Energy Information Administration says cost businesses as much as $150 billion a year.”

What Will the 21st Century Grid Look Like?

Robert Rubin:  How Ignoring Climate Change Could Sink the U.S. Economy

Sinking coin (Credit: Skip Sterling for The Washington Post) Click to enlarge.
Good economic decisions require good data. And to get good data, we must account for all relevant variables.  But we’re not doing this when it comes to climate change — and that means we’re making decisions based on a flawed picture of future risks.  While we can’t define future climate-change risks with precision, they should be included in economic policy, fiscal and business decisions because of their potential magnitude.

The scientific community is all but unanimous in its agreement that climate change is a serious threat.  According to Gallup, nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that global warming is caused by human activity.  Still, for many people, the effects of climate change seem like a future problem — something that falls by the wayside as we tackle what seem like more immediate crises.

But climate change is a present danger.  The buildup of greenhouse gases is cumulative and irreversible; the pollutants we are now emitting will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.  So what we do each day will affect us and the planet for centuries. Damage resulting from climate change cuts across almost every aspect of life: public health, extreme weather, the economy and so much else.

Robert Rubin:  How Ignoring Climate Change Could Sink the U.S. Economy

Kudzu That Ate U.S. South Heads North as Climate Changes

Kudzu covering pick-up truck (Credit: Roel Smart/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
As the climate warms, the vine that ate the U.S. South is starting to gnaw at parts of the North, too.

Kudzu, a three-leafed weed first planted in the U.S. more than 100 years ago for the beauty of its purple blossoms, has been spotted in every county in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.  It chokes young trees, brings down power lines and infests abandoned homes.  Now the plant, which can grow as fast as a foot (30 cm) per day, is creeping northward, wrapping itself around smokestacks in Ohio, overwhelming Illinois backyards and even jumping Lake Erie to establish a beachhead in Ontario, Canada.

The invasive plant costs U.S. property owners about $50 million per year in eradication, according to the Nature Conservancy.  Other estimates are 10 times higher.  Agronomists and landscapers fear what the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Lewis Ziska calls the star of “a bad 1950s science-fiction plant movie” will continue to expand its role, making a nuisance and carrying a disease devastating to soybeans.  Climate change is partly to blame, Ziska said, with the average U.S. temperature rising as much as 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, most of that since 1970, according to the National Climate Assessment issued by the White House in May.

Kudzu That Ate U.S. South Heads North as Climate Changes

Why Does Politics Keep Getting in the Way of Pricing Carbon?

Willingness to Pay for Climate Mitigation [Credit: Jenkins (2014)] Click to enlarge.
Summary
  • While a carbon price is every economists' favorite climate plan, real-world political constraints get in the way (just ask Australia!)
  • In a new paper in Energy Policy, I examine a variety of political economy constraints that limit the environmental efficacy and economic efficiency of real-world carbon pricing policies.
  • Households in the United States appear willing to pay just $80-200 per year to combat climate change, equivalent to a carbon tax of roughly $2-8 per ton.  In contrast, estimates of the full social cost of carbon -- the level of carbon tax envisioned by economists -- are an order of magnitude or two larger, ranging from roughly $15-150 per ton (and rising steadily over time).
  • Climate policy makers ignore political economy constraints at their peril--and part two in this series (coming tomorrow) will explore what can be done to seize the opportunity space for improvement in climate policy design.
Ask an economist how to combat climate change, and you're likely to get a pretty simple answer: put a price on carbon.

"If you let the economists write the [climate] legislation, it could be quite simple," MIT business school economist Henry Jacoby told NPR last year, implying that the whole plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions could "fit on one page."

In economics-speak, climate change is "an externality" -- a set of costs (e.g., climate change-related damages) that are external to current market transactions, since no one has to pay for the costs associated with their CO2 emissions.

As such, the traditional economic prescription for climate externalities involves establishing a "Pigouvian fee" on the sources of GHG emissions that corrects for the un-priced externality, either via a tax on carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs (a "carbon tax") or via a market-based emissions cap and permit trading mechanism ("cap-and-trade"). There's a lot of debate about which approach -- tax or cap-and-trade -- is better, but both rest on a common economic foundation, and I'll refer to both collectively as "carbon pricing policies."

If these instruments successfully establish a carbon price equal to the full climate change-related external costs associated with emissions of CO2 and other GHGs (the so-called "social cost of carbon"), they will equalize the marginal social and private costs of GHG emitting activities, restoring an economically efficient of emissions (economists call this "a Pareto optimal level").

There's only one hitch: people generally want their energy to be cheaper, not more expensive!

Last week, Australia repealed it's carbon tax, ending a brutal, decade-long fight over climate policy.  The repeal is just the latest and most glaring example of the extremely up-hill political battle facing any effort to put a hefty price on carbon--i.e., a price sufficient to fully internalize the social costs of CO2 emissions and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Why Does Politics Keep Getting in the Way of Pricing Carbon?

   Friday, July 25

Friday, July 25, 2014

Southwestern U.S. Aquifers Are Extremely Low, NASA Data Show

U.S. groundwater stores (Credit: NASA) Click to enlarge.
Groundwater reserves in the U.S. Southwest are severely low and prospects for their long-term viability are bleak as persistent drought continues to parch the land and prevent recharging, according to an assessment from NASA.  As shown in this map, many underground aquifers in the Southwest are extremely dry compared to average conditions over the past 60 years.  Deep red areas on the map, such as in southern California and Nevada, depict aquifers that are so dry there's less than a 2 percent chance they could have experienced such levels of drought-related depletion since 1948.  Although the Pacific Northwest is experiencing drought-related wildfires, aquifers in that region appear to be well-stocked, according to the map.  The discrepancy is likely due to the long lag between dry conditions at the surface and depletion of groundwater reserves, researchers say.  This assessment, which NASA considers experimental, is based on observations of small changes in Earth’s mass and gravity field — features that are affected by the movement and storage of water.

Southwestern U.S. Aquifers Are Extremely Low, NASA Data Show