Saturday, October 31, 2015

Everyone’s Favorite Climate Change Fix

Factory Pipes Steam Into The Sky (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
In Brussels and in Beijing, at top universities, in board rooms of the world’s largest companies, in city and state capitals throughout the US and beyond, and across the liberal-conservative spectrum, momentum is building behind the wonky financial tools that make carbon emissions more expensive.  Taxes and markets have been used to solve global environmental problems of the past.  Now there’s hope they can address today’s climate challenge.  It’s a viewpoint espoused by nonprofits like the Sierra Club.  But it also gets the backing of energy multinationals like Royal Dutch Shell.

“The transition to a cleaner future will require government action and the right incentives,” Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president and special envoy for climate change, wrote in an email to the Monitor.  “At the center should be strong public policy that puts a price on carbon pollution.” 

The idea is simple.  We consider carbon-heavy fuels like coal cheap because we usually don’t factor environmental costs into the final market price.  Inflating that price – either through a tax on carbon emissions or carbon credits that emitters can buy and sell – sends a clear and strong signal in the universal language of money.  Markets adapt to the added cost burden, discouraging emissions-heavy fuels and encouraging lower-carbon ones like natural gas, or zero-carbon sources like nuclear power and renewable energy.  Unlike clean-energy quotas or other top-down policies, carbon pricing offers a certain level of predictability, flexibility and efficiency that makes it attractive to a wide range of diverse constituencies.  Carbon taxes and emissions trading tell producers to reduce carbon emissions, but it allows each producer to determine for itself how to do so.

Putting the idea into practice, however, is another story.  Exactly how much should carbon cost?  Set the price too high and there’s a risk of public backlash against more expensive gasoline and other everyday goods.  Set it too low and emitters have little incentive to change their behavior.  Europe experienced the latter when it rolled out an emissions trading system in 2005.  US efforts to implement a similar cap-and-trade system stalled in the Senate.  Australia implemented a carbon tax in 2012, only to repeal it three years later amid shifting politics.

Read more at Everyone’s Favorite Climate Change Fix

Half Million Die in Decade of Disasters in Asia Pacific

Residents walk on a road littered with debris after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines Nov. 10, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)  Click to Enlarge.
The Asia Pacific region, the most disaster-prone part of the world, suffered 1,625 disasters in the decade through 2014, and needs to spend more on adapting to climate change and preparing for more extreme weather, the United Nations said this week.

The region's disasters - 40 percent of the global total - claimed half a million lives over the decade, affected 1.4 billion people and caused $523 billion in economic damage, the 2015 U.N. Asia-Pacific Disaster Report said.

The world body urged the region's governments to invest more in adapting to climate change and preparing for disasters as the risks the region faces are worsened by its rapid economic growth and mushrooming population.

"Building resilience is not a choice or luxury for us, but a compulsion," Shamshad Akhtar, head of the U.N. regional development arm for Asia Pacific, said at the launch of the report in Bangkok.

"Investing in disaster risk reduction is of course proven effective. It's a critical area, but at the same time it's neglected."

Some 772 million poor people in the region are particularly vulnerable to disasters and tend to live in low-value, hazard-prone areas such as urban slums, steep slopes, flood plains and riverbanks, the report said.

They lack the resources to take preventive measures and do not having savings to draw upon when disaster strikes, it said.

International aid for disasters was $28 billion from 2004 to 2013, but most of this was for emergency response and rehabilitation, rather than prevention, it said.

Read more at Half Million Die in Decade of Disasters in Asia Pacific

Exxon Mobil Accused of Misleading Public on Climate Change Risks - The New York Times

An ExxonMobil refinery in Louisiana. More than 40 environmental and other groups called for a federal investigation of the oil-and-gas company. (Credit: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
More than 40 of the nation’s leading environmental and social justice groups demanded a federal investigation of Exxon Mobil on Friday, accusing the huge oil and gas company of deceiving the American public about the risks of climate change to protect its profits.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the groups, citing recent news reports, suggested that Exxon Mobil might be guilty of the same kind of fraud that the tobacco companies were found to have perpetrated when they hid the risks of smoking.  Those violations ultimately cost the companies tens of billions of dollars in penalties.

The call for an investigation echoes demands made in recent days by three Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and by several Democrats in Congress.
The letter from the groups follows recent articles from two news organizations, Inside Climate News and The Los Angeles Times, about Exxon Mobil’s role in blocking political action on global warming.

Read more at Exxon Mobil Accused of Misleading Public on Climate Change Risks

Thousand-Year Storm Event Leads to Striking Flooding in Death Valley

The left image, captured by a satellite in October 2014, shows Death Valley's Badwater Basin during a year with normal precipitation. The right image, taken earlier this month, shows the recent severe flooding in the region. (Image credit: USGS-NASA)  Click to Enlarge.
A system of storms this month caused significant flooding in most of Death Valley National Park in southeastern California.  These images, obtained via a U.S. Geological Survey-NASA satellite, contrast the region's moisture content in October 2015 and October 2014, which was a year with typical precipitation.  The images have been enhanced with false color to highlight water at or near the surface of the earth; green and blue indicate locations with high moisture content.  Especially striking is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at an elevation of 279 feet below sea level, which is usually a dry lakebed.  In the 2015 image, Badwater Basin is full of water.  Flash floods from the so-called "1,000-year" flood event destroyed roads and utilities, and damaged several historical structures, according to the USGS.

Read more at Thousand-Year Storm Event Leads to Striking Flooding in Death Valley

  Friday, Oct 30

Friday, October 30, 2015

Rapidly Warming Waters Have Thwarted Efforts to Save the Cod

This image shows cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine. (Credit: Gulf of Maine Research Institute) Click to Enlarge.
The number of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine has hit an all-time low in recent years despite strong fishing regulations, and scientists now attribute it to rapidly rising water temperatures, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Sea surface temperatures have increased in the Gulf of Maine faster than almost anywhere else in the world, causing the cold-water species that had already been decimated by centuries of overfishing to reach the verge of collapse.

Strict quotas placed on New England’s cod fishery in 2010 were implemented to increase their numbers, but the limits failed to take into account rising water temperatures.

"Our management forecasts were failing because we were not accounting for this very rapid change in temperature," said Andrew Thomas, an oceanographer at the University of Maine and a co-author of the study.
Cod numbers have dropped as temperatures have risen in the Gulf of Maine (Credit: Paul Horn/InsideClimteNews) Click to Enlarge.
Satellite data that recorded daily changes in sea surface temperature in the Gulf of Maine show that the water warmed by 1.8 degrees from 1982 to 2013, with most of the warming occurring from 2004 to 2013 when temperatures in the Gulf of Maine increased 77 times faster than the global average.
The incredibly fast rate of warming in the waters off  New England is largely due to a northward shift in the Gulf Stream, an ocean current bringing warm water up from the tip of Florida.  The change in the Gulf Stream limits the amount of cold water coming into the Gulf of Maine from the north.

Warming waters in the region led to a decline in the number of young cod as well as a reduction in the number of fish that reach adulthood.  

Elsewhere, however, cod numbers are increasing as a result of climate change.

Estimates of Cod in the Barents Sea off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia show a doubling of the population in recent years.  The increase in what is the largest Atlantic cod fishery in the world is due in part to rising temperatures, which have increased by 2.7 degrees since the late 1970s, according to a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more at Rapidly Warming Waters Have Thwarted Efforts to Save the Cod

Massachusetts Mulls an Economy-Wide Price on Carbon

State Sen. Michael Barrett testified on behalf of his carbon pricing bill at the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Tuesday in Boston. (Credit: Climate XChange)  Click to Enlarge.
"We have to step up our fight against climate change," Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Barrett told a packed committee hearing in Boston on Tuesday.  Barrett's solution:  put a price on carbon.

Barrett laid out his plan in Senate Bill S.1747, one of two carbon price options before the legislature. Massachusetts joins five other states—Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—with proposed legislation exploring this option for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the idea of a carbon price is not new, it is increasingly seen as a key climate solution in the leadup to the U.N. climate talks in Paris in December.  Six major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell and Statoil, have said they support carbon pricing.  In recent weeks, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg voiced support for a global price on carbon.  So have the heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, along with many global leaders in business and politics.

Responding to such calls for action, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said on Tuesday that pricing carbon will not be part of the upcoming climate treaty; but she expressed optimism that it will happen in the future.

"The idea of putting a price on carbon is catching fire as one of the best ways we can cut emissions and deal with the worst effects of climate change," Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a climate research and communications nonprofit told InsideClimate News.  "I do think the Paris agreement is going to galvanize that further.

"People have to recognize that right now, fossil fuels are getting an enormous subsidy because the harm of their emissions are not being captured in their price."

Carbon pricing, whether through a cap-and-trade program, a carbon tax or carbon fee, seeks to encourage communities, organizations, even individuals to use less carbon-intensive energy sources by raising the prices of fossil fuels to reflect their associated carbon pollution.

Massachusetts has already been pricing carbon for the electricity sector for more than five years through a cap-and-trade program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI.  It involves a regional carbon cap and a market for its nine member states to sell and purchase carbon credits.

But for Massachusetts, the power sector accounts for only 20 percent of the state’s emissions; the remaining 80 percent comes from sources not covered under RGGI––such as heating fuels, construction, transportation and manufacturing.  The new carbon pricing proposals aim to fill that gap.

Read more at Massachusetts Mulls an Economy-Wide Price on Carbon

Reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank Is Bad News for the Climate, Environmentalists Say

In this July 28, 2015, file photo, a man walks out of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in Washington. A strong coalition of establishment-backed Republicans and House Democrats voted overwhelmingly Oct. 27 to revive the Export-Import Bank, dealing a defeat to tea party conservatives and Speaker Paul Ryan. (Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Click to Enlarge.
With bipartisan support, the House of Representatives voted this week to approve the reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.  The measure passed 313-118, with a majority of Republicans joining almost all Democrats.

Even with years of uproar from environmental organizations and restrictions on the financing of coal projects, the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank did not include reforms needed to stop the agency from financing fossil fuel and fracking projects overseas.

The Ex-Im Bank, a federally-owned agency that promotes U.S. exports by providing credit and loan guarantees to foreign buyers, has financed billions of dollars worth of coal and gas fired power plants in South Africa, Papua New Guinea, and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, among other places.

“The House of Representatives’ Ex-Im reauthorization bill exposes the U.S. government to increasing financial and corruption risks by failing to institute reforms to ensure projects abide by environmental and social safeguards,” said Kate DeAngelis, international policy analyst at Friends of the Earth (FOE), in a statement.
In December 2013, in response to the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, the Ex-Im Bank board voted to stop funding the construction of new coal plants overseas, with certain exceptions.  The issue of climate change split the Democrats over reauthorization of the bank the following year.  Financial interests in certain states, as well as coal lobbies and other stakeholders on Capitol Hill have put pressure on representatives to roll-back restrictions on Ex-Im.

“We want a complaints mechanism to be put in place, so when terrible things happen, there is a way for complaints to be brought to Ex-Im,” said DeAngelis.  “We want to see other reforms being implemented properly and fully, so it’s not just something Ex-Im can check a box and ignore.”

Read more at Reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank Is Bad News for the Climate, Environmentalists Say

Thursday, October 29, 2015

  Thursday, Oct 29

Winemakers Will Survive, International Body Says of Climate Change

 Bunches of grapes hang from the vine in a vineyard in Alsace, before their harvest in Orschwihr, France, in this September 26, 2015 file photo. (Credit: Reuters/Jacky Naegelen/Files) Click to Enlarge.
Good news for wine drinkers:  a leading international body says grape vines are a hardy little number and can survive climate change, at least over the medium term.

Earlier harvesting, changes in grape varieties and new wine-making processes have already helped counter the impact of the harsher weather hitting vineyards across the globe, the head of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) says.

"Wine producers all over the world have adapted to the changes and the plant has a capacity of adjustment that you can find in no other plant," OIV Director General Jean-Marie Aurand told Reuters in an interview.

Read more at Winemakers Will Survive, International Body Says of Climate Change

West Virginia Power Company Admits Coal Is Doomed

A mining operation in Charleston, WV. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
On Tuesday, in front of a roomful of energy executives, the president of Appalachian Power declared that the war on coal was over, and coal had not emerged victorious.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Charles Patton, president of Appalachian Power, told energy executives that coal consumption is likely to remain stagnant whether or not federal regulations like the Clean Power Plan are allowed to go forward.  He also said that in the national debate about coal and climate change, the public has largely settled on the side of climate change.

“You just can’t go with new coal [plants] at this point in time,” Patton reportedly said.  “It is just not economically feasible to do so.”

Regardless of how the Clean Power Plan — President Obama’s signature climate effort placing limits on carbon emissions from power plants — shakes out, Patton estimated that Appalachian Power’s use of coal could drop 26 percent by 2026.  The Clean Power Plan was published in the Federal Register last Friday, and already faces more than 20 legal challenges from fossil fuel-producing states, utilities, and coal companies.  It’s also being challenged by a group of Republican lawmakers who want to use the Congressional Review Act to essentially negate the rule.

The Obama administration, as well as climate and environmental activists, seem confident that the rule will stand up in court.  But even if it doesn’t, coal is still in perhaps terminal decline in the United States.  That’s thanks, in large part, to a slew of other regulations that have cracked down on harmful pollutants like sulfur and mercury, as well as market forces such as the fracking boom that made natural gas cheap and widely available.  For a lot of companies with aging coal plants, it’s better economic sense to retire those plants than incur the costs associated with retrofitting them to adhere to new standards, especially when natural gas is so cheap.
Around the world, coal remains a popular source of power.  As Brad Plumer points out over at Vox, the rest of the world is undergoing something of a coal renaissance — there are currently more than 2,000 coal plants slated for construction around the world, with 557 actually under construction.  To bring U.S. coal to overseas markets, especially markets in Asia where demand for coal remains high, several companies have proposed building coal export terminals on the West Coast.  In Washington state, two proposals for coal export terminals that would ship millions of tons of coal overseas are currently under review.  Coal companies are also eyeing a new shipping terminal in Oakland, slated to be finished in 2017, as a potential coal export site.

Read more at West Virginia Power Company Admits Coal Is Doomed

  Wednesday, Oct 28

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership Could Undermine Climate Regulations, Top Economist Warns

Joseph Stiglitz (Credit: Democracy Now!) Click to Enlarge.
As a general rule, climate hawks are not jumping for joy over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new trade deal between the U.S. and some Asian and Pacific nations.  On Tuesday, in an interview with Democracy Now!, Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz gave them another reason to worry:  he argued that certain provisions in the TPP would allow polluters to sue governments for setting carbon emission limits.

“This is a trade agreement that has all kinds of provisions intended to restrict regulations,” Stiglitz told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.

As an example of the absurdity of these types of provisions, Stiglitz cited Philip Morris suing Uruguay in 2010 under a different treaty.  Uruguay had implemented a regulation that required tobacco companies to append health warnings to cigarette cartons  — similar to what we have in the United States — and Philip Morris sued the country for a loss in expected profits.  “In other words,” Stiglitz said, “the view is, they have the right to kill people, and if you want to take away that right, you have to pay them not to kill.”

The Columbia University economist warned that the TPP could spur similar litigation over climate regulations.  “We know we’re going to need regulations to restrict the emissions of carbon,” argued Stiglitz.  “But under these provisions, corporations can sue the government, including the American government, by the way, so all the governments in the TPP can be sued for the loss of profits as a result of the regulations that restrict their ability to emit carbon emissions that lead to global warming.”

Writing for Project Syndicate earlier this month, Stiglitz explained that corporate interests argue these types of provisions are “necessary to protect property rights where the rule of law and credible courts are lacking.”  But he calls that argument “nonsense,” especially in the case of regulations formulated to target industries whose “profits are made from causing public harm.”

Watch the Democracy Now! video:

Read more at Trans-Pacific Partnership Could Undermine Climate Regulations, Top Economist Warns

Governments to Raise $22 Billion from Carbon Pricing in 2015:  Report

Locations of Carbon Pricing Instruments (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Governments around the world will this year raise around $22 billion from schemes putting a price on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions such as taxes or emissions trading systems, a report on Wednesday showed.

The role of carbon pricing, in efforts to curb rising emissions blamed for global warminghas gained prominence this year after several multinational companies including oil majors said such a price is needed to spur investment in low-carbon energy.

The figure is up 46 percent from an estimated $15 billion raised in 2014, the report by industry group the Climate Markets and Investment Association (CMIA) showed.

"Revenues from carbon pricing appear likely to continue to increase around the world, and continuing debate will be needed about how these funds should best be used in future," it said.

Europe, which has an emissions trading system (ETS) as well as carbon taxes in some countries, accounted for almost three quarters of the revenue, the report said.

Read more at Governments to Raise $22 Billion from Carbon Pricing in 2015:  Report

Rise in Wildfires Depletes Forests’ Carbon Store

Warning sign on the highway near Moon Lake, Alaska (Image Credit: US Dept of Agriculture via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
In a warming world, forest fires could be about to put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the trees absorb.

New research by US scientists looked at decades of wildfire incidence in Alaska, and they have found that at least one region is now a net exporter of carbon.

This is a reversal of the normal arrangements, whereby trees photosynthesise tissue from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  As they absorb carbon, they sequester it in roots, timber and leaves, and then in leaf litter in the forest soils.

Fire is a natural hazard, and some geographical zones –the Mediterranean, the US southwest, and Australia – are adapted to periodic fire.

But as the planet warms, there have been increasing levels of fire even in the rainforests of the Amazon and in the boreal forests of the near-Arctic.

The Arctic and sub-Arctic forests contain almost one-third of the planet’s store of terrestrial carbon.

Read more at Rise in Wildfires Depletes Forests’ Carbon Store

Upcoming UN Climate Summit Can't Overlook China's Support of Global Coal Power

China's support of global coal power (Credit: Nature Climate Change; Hannam et al.) Click to Enlarge.
When global leaders converge on Paris on Nov. 30 for the 2015 United Nations climate change conference, their goal will be to deliver an agreement that, for the first time, seeks to safeguard the Earth's climate by having all nations that are significant sources of carbon dioxide rein in their emissions.

A threat to that plan might be the unchecked growth of coal-intensive energy in the world's developing nations — a dangerous trend recently accelerated by the expansion of Chinese firms seeking business internationally, according to researchers from Princeton University, Tongji University in Shanghai and the University of California-Irvine.
The researchers write in the journal Nature Climate Change that any agreement reached in Paris also should be expanded to provide guidelines and incentives — already under discussion for industrialized countries — for developing nations to cooperate with one another on lower-carbon energy projects.  Failure to do this, the authors write, could allow further "dirty" energy cooperation between developing nations and complicate the United Nations' goal to keep the global average temperature within 2 degrees Celsius of what it was around 1750 at the dawn of the Industrial Age.

"After years of effort to construct a truly global climate agreement, negotiators are on course to accept a system with incoherent rules for developed and developing countries in terms of investing in low-carbon energy outside their borders.  We think that may be harmful in the long run," said lead author Phil Hannam, a doctoral candidate in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Carbon emissions continue to rise from energy production as developing nations such as India, Brazil and South Africa fuel their rapid industrialization, the researchers report.  At the same time, developing nations such as China have the capital and technology to support other burgeoning economies.  But the lack of international attention -- and UN incentives -- for developing nations to support each other's energy needs in a low-carbon way has helped keep coal power a popular choice, according to the authors.

Chinese firms -- which often have financial or policy backing from China's state banks -- have poured coal-power equipment into other Asian countries, partly as a result of China's slowing domestic power-market growth.  The situation could get worse as China pledges to reduce domestic carbon emissions, according to the paper.  The researchers found that of the total power capacities in Asian countries other than China that have involvement from Chinese firms, 68 percent in operation, 77 percent under construction and 76 percent in planning burn coal.  This level of involvement in coal exceeds the global trend, Hannam said.

"While China has tightened its belt on coal power domestically, that's pushing Chinese firms to help build coal plants in other countries, so much so that China's firms are disproportionately focused in coal-intensive energy abroad relative to other nations," Hannam said.  "Instead, if the UNFCCC integrated low-carbon cooperation between developing countries in the climate agreement, China could lead the way for countries to make pledges for low-carbon investment globally, just as they pledge domestic emissions cuts."

Read more at Upcoming UN Climate Summit Can't Overlook China's Support of Global Coal Power

Charleston’s Floods Illustrate the World’s Watery Future

The swollen rivers only dropped back to normal water levels last week, but flood-weary Charleston, S.C. is already seeing water in the streets again.  This time it’s not a 1,000-year deluge from the sky.  It’s high tide.

The so-called “king tides” are a natural occurrence.  Unusually high tides occur several times each year, often depending on the moon’s orbit and alignment with the earth and sun.  King tides only cause flooding for a few hours around high tide, yet they still cause damage and inconvenience for coastal dwellers.

But sea level rise and warm waters from El Niño are making king tides and other nuisance tidal flooding worse.  Sea levels have risen by 8 inches around the globe since the start of the 20th century due to ocean warming and the melting of the world’s land ice.  The rate of rise is expected to increase and by the end of the 21st century, sea levels could be up to 39 inches higher if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory.

Despite the seemingly small rise to-date, the impacts have been major for cities around the globe including Charleston.

Nuisance flooding has increased 400 percent in Charleston since the 1960s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Other cities, like Annapolis and Baltimore, have seen flooding increase by more than 900 percent.

“Gradually, year by year, the tides are getting higher and higher,” Brian McNoldy, a cyclone researcher at University of Miami, said.  “And places flood that otherwise would not have."

Read more at Charleston’s Floods Illustrate the World’s Watery Future

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

  Tuesday, Oct 27

Bipartisan Group Pushes for Greater Awareness of the Risks of Sea-Level Rise

Louise McCarthy carts her belongings through the fire-charred ruins of the Breezy Point section of Queens after Superstorm Sandy brought floods, fires and blackouts to New York City. New studies show future risks of such storms will be worse. (Credit: Photo by Mark Lennihan / AP Images.) Click to Enlarge.
The Atlantic will sneak up to one of its highest points tomorrow as celestial influences create king tides along the East Coast, three years after similar tides and rising seas added to the huge wall of water that crashed onto the coastline during Superstorm Sandy.

The king tide comes amid new warnings that electric utilities could face serious flooding as low-lying power plants are exposed to higher oceans over the coming decades.  Experts are also concerned that floods reaching farther inland could unlock bacteria that have been stuck in dry soil and spread disease in public waterways.

"There's hundreds of different diseases that can be passed by waterborne fecal contamination," said Chris Sinigalliano, a microbiologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  He's researching whether new flooding in Miami could expose more people to things like cholera and E. coli.

King tides occur in certain areas once or twice a year when the moon is close to Earth.  The gravitational forces can cause water levels to surpass a normal high tide by a foot or more, filling storm pipes in low areas like Miami with placid water and overtopping sea walls.
"Imagine the trillions of dollars at risk from rising seas across the country when you consider the tens of thousands of miles of U.S. coastline facing increasing flooding," New Hampshire state Sen. Nancy Stiles, a Republican who helped organize the event, said in a statement. "Perhaps some of our candidates who are coming into New Hampshire will begin to talk about this and figure out just how we can do it together."

Electric utilities are also underestimating the growing risks to the power grid in coastal areas, warns a study being released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"A large share of the major substations and power plants that provide electricity to more than 70 million coastal residents is already exposed to flooding from hurricanes, nor'easters, or other severe storms," the UCS report says.  "Even more electricity infrastructure stands to be exposed, and to increasing floodwater depths, as seas continue to rise and drive storm surge higher."

The UCS analysis says grid planners misjudge the threat because they are looking backward, not ahead.  Storm preparations and infrastructure defenses are based on estimates of flood hazard zones prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  For the highest-risk flood zones, FEMA assumes that the area will be inundated once every 100 years, UCS said.

Vulnerability creeps higher
But FEMA's estimates, based on historical data, "do not yet incorporate future sea level risk into their designations."  Relying on this view leaves major parts of the grid increasingly vulnerable to "shifting realities," UCS said.

UCS coupled its appeal for stronger grid defenses against extreme weather with a call on utilities and policymakers to speed up the transition to carbon-free sources of electricity and energy-saving strategies, to lessen the impact of rising sea levels and extreme storms affected by global warming.

Read more at Bipartisan Group Pushes for Greater Awareness of the Risks of Sea-Level Rise

Warming May Mean Stifling Future for Middle East

A snapshot of the conditions that affected the Persian Gulf region at 11 a.m. local time on July 31, 2015, when a heat wave sent the heat index soaring. (Credit:  Click to Enlarge.
Much of the Middle East already swelters through what are some of the hottest summers on the planet, but, occasionally, a combination of sky-high temperatures and incredible humidity can take conditions to almost unreal levels.

In late July this year, for example, a major heat wave combined with astronomically high humidity to send the heat index in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran — near the northern coast of the Persian Gulf — to a mind-bending 163°F.

Such intense levels of heat and humidity tax the abilities of even healthy human bodies to cope and can be deadly for the elderly and infirm, as other recent major heat waves, such as the ones that swept across Europe in 2003 or Russia in 2010, showed.

If the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere continues unabated, these worst-of-the-worst heat waves look to become more common and reach new, unfathomable heights in the Persian Gulf area, a new study detailed in the journal Nature Climate Change finds.

Read more at Warming May Mean Stifling Future for Middle East

Indonesia’s Fires Are Driving Climate, Public Health Crises

Air pollution and smoke from fires in Indonesia on Monday, October 26. (Credit: Earth Wind Map)  Click to Enlarge.
Indonesia is in the grips of a double-headed climate and public health crisis as fires rage across the country.  On Monday, the fires reached such a fever pitch that Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo cut a trip to the U.S. short to return home and deal with the inferno that’s turning air toxic and putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than the U.S. on a daily basis.

Nearly 116,000 fires have been documented and air quality in Indonesia and its neighboring countries has suffered.  The fires are a yearly occurrence, but this year is already the second-most prolific burn year on record and dry conditions driven by this year’s strong El Niño mean it still has a shot at the top spot.

“We are definitely looking at an extended fires season this year, perhaps rivaling 1997, with our current forecasts continuing the strong tilt toward dry (conditions),” Andrew Robertson, a climate scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), said.

Robertson and others at IRI have developed fire forecasting tools for the Indonesian government to pinpoint outbreaks and plan a season ahead.  The longer the fires burn, the harder they are to put out (and they could smolder through the rainy season).

Read more at Indonesia’s Fires Are Driving Climate, Public Health Crises

Elevated CO2 Levels Directly Affect Human Cognition, New Harvard Study Shows - by Joe Romm

CO2 in the Atmosphere (Credit: Climate Interactive) Click to Enlarge.
In a landmark public health finding, a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health finds that carbon dioxide (CO2) has a direct and negative impact on human cognition and decision-making.  These impacts have been observed at CO2 levels that most Americans — and their children — are routinely exposed to today inside classrooms, offices, homes, planes, and cars.

Carbon dioxide levels are inevitably higher indoors than the baseline set by the outdoor air used for ventilation, a baseline that is rising at an accelerating rate thanks to human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels.  So this seminal research has equally great importance for climate policy, providing an entirely new public health impetus for keeping global CO2 levels as low as possible.

In a series of articles, I will examine the implications for public health both today (indoors) as well as in the future (indoors and out) due to rising CO2 levels.  This series is the result of a year-long investigation for Climate Progress and my new Oxford University Press book coming out next week, “Climate Change:  What Everyone Needs to Know.”  This investigative report is built on dozens of studies and literature reviews as well as exclusive interviews with many of the world’s leading experts in public health and indoor air quality, including authors of both studies.

What scientists have discovered about the impact of elevated carbon dioxide levels on the brain
Significantly, the Harvard study confirms the findings of a little-publicized 2012 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) study, “Is CO2 an Indoor Pollutant?  Direct Effects of Low-to-Moderate CO2 Concentrations on Human Decision-Making Performance.”  That study found “statistically significant and meaningful reductions in decision-making performance” in test subjects as CO2 levels rose from a baseline of 600 parts per million (ppm) to 1000 ppm and 2500 ppm.

Read more at Elevated CO2 Levels Directly Affect Human Cognition, New Harvard Study Shows

Monday, October 26, 2015

  Monday, Oct 26

Mexico Exhales, but Hurricane Highlights Weather’s New Extremes

Hurricane Patricia, which took its toll on Casimiro, Mexico, was not as devastating as forecasters had feared. (Credit: Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
Mexico breathed an extended sigh of relief that it was spared the expected fury of the strongest hurricane ever recorded after Hurricane Patricia weakened just before landfall on Friday.  But the storm still served as a vivid reminder that extreme weather is getting even more extreme, the one impact of global warming that gets people’s attention when a monster storm heads toward a coastline.

Fortunately, this time the storm ended up being much less devastating than expected.  The Mexican government reported no fatalities over the weekend.
Mexico has had a lot of company in bracing for a superstorm.  There have been a record 22 storms falling into Category 4 or 5 storms in the Northern Hemisphere this year, according to the Weather Channel.  Eastern Pacific nations have been slammed seemingly nonstop by strong hurricanes in recent years, first with Typhoons Bopha in 2012, Haiyan in 2013, Rammasun in 2014 and several this year, killing tens of thousands of people and causing billions of dollars in damages.

Scientists are quick to point out that Hurricane Patricia is indicative of what will likely happen as oceans and the atmosphere warm even more over the next century, fueling stronger hurricanes.  A September study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Climate found that in region of the Pacific where Patricia formed, hurricane wind intensities could increase 8 percent and the number of days with Category 4 or 5 storms could increase 500 percent by the end of this century.

"Anthropogenic warming to date may be having at least some small role (a few percent) in the intensities, and possibly a much larger percentage influence on the occurrence rate of Category 4-5 storms, in the NE Pacific at this point," said Tom Knutson, a climate modeler at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the September study. 

Scientists do not tie the cause of an individual hurricane to global warming, but they often say it worsened or strengthened a storm.  Patricia’s ferocity was largely due to the large blob of record-warm water in the Pacific Ocean caused by the weather pattern known as El Niño.  Sea surface temperatures in the area Patricia formed are 86 degrees F, some of the warmest ever recorded.

Global warming did likely have some impact, said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Co.

"The sea surface temperatures are so high over such huge areas that the moisture flowing into the storm, that provides its primary fuel, must be higher than it has ever been before," he said. "It still requires the right setup to convert that into an intense storm, but the environment is surely ripe.  That consists, of course, of a substantial El Niño-related component, but also the background global warming that has a memory through the ocean heat content."

Read more at Mexico Exhales, but Hurricane Highlights Weather’s New Extremes

American Academy of Pediatrics Links Global Warming to the Health of Children

Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement that links climate change with the health of children, urging pediatricians and politicians to work together to solve this crisis and protect children from climate-related threats including natural disasters, heat stress, lower air quality, increased infections, and threats to food and water supplies.

Stethoscope on baby (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
"Every child need a safe and healthy environment and climate change is a rising public health threat to all children in this country and around the world," said AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP. "Pediatricians have a unique and powerful voice in this conversation due to their knowledge of child health and disease and their role in ensuring the health of current and future children."

The policy statement, Global Climate Change and Children's Health, updates a 2007 policy, and is being published in the November 2015 issue of Pediatrics (published online Oct. 26).
A technical report accompanies the AAP policy statement and offers a review of the latest scientific evidence linking climate change to child health, development, wellbeing and nutrition. Highlights include:
  • Infants less than one year of age are uniquely vulnerable to heat-related mortality, with one study projecting an increase in infant heat-related deaths by 5.5 percent in females and 7.8 percent in males by the end of the 21st Century.
  • Climate influences a number of infectious diseases that affect children across the world, including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Chikungunya, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, diarrheal illness, Amebic Meningoencephalitis and Coccidioidomycosis.
  • The number of deaths in American high school and college football players from heat stroke has doubled from 15 to 29 from 2000-2010.
  • There is an emerging concern that increased atmospheric CO2 impacts grain quality, lowering the protein content of the edible portions of wheat, rice and barley.
  • High rates of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been found in children following climate-related disasters, including hurricanes and floods.
  • Children in the world's poorest countries, where the disease burden is already disproportionately high, are most affected by climate change.
  • In 2030, climate change is projected to cause an additional 48,000 deaths attributable to diarrheal disease in children younger than 15 years old, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Read more at American Academy of Pediatrics Links Global Warming to the Health of Children

As Legal Onslaught Begins, EPA Tells States How to Buy Time on Climate Rule

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy attends a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. (Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)  Click to Enlarge.
As expected, the publication of the final Clean Power Plan in the Federal Register on Friday brought on a swarm of lawsuits from opponents of the U.S. EPA rule.

On Friday morning, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton jointly announced a 24-state lawsuit challenging EPA's rule. Later that day, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced their states are also challenging the rule, meaning that over half of U.S. states are opposing the Clean Power Plan in court.
In addition to the states, a number of industry groups also announced Friday they are challenging the Clean Power Plan in court, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Association of Manufacturers.  The Clean Power Plan also saw opposition in Congress shortly after it was formally published -- on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will file a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act this week designed to halt implementation of the rule.

EPA, the White House and their supporters on Friday expressed confidence that the Clean Power Plan will carry the day in court.

"The Clean Power Plan is grounded firmly in science and the law," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote in a blog post Friday.

EPA offers guidance on 'simple' process for state extensions:

In addition to rebuffing claims that the Clean Power Plan is legally vulnerable, EPA leaders and staff are busying themselves helping states figure out how to implement the regulation.

As part of that effort, the agency released a memorandum last week to regional EPA directors on what states must include in their initial submittal with the agency next September if they want an extension to submit a final state plan in 2018.

Many, if not most, states are expected to file for an extension, acting EPA air chief Janet McCabe said at a conference of air regulators in Washington, D.C., last week.  McCabe stressed that this process would not be onerous.

In the memorandum, EPA stressed that for a state to get an extension, the "process is simple and requires only that the state demonstrate it has taken certain preliminary and readily achievable steps towards the development of its plan."

It notes what must be included in the extension request, to be filed on Sept. 6, 2016:  a description of the compliance approaches the state is considering, an explanation for why the state needs more time to submit a final plan and a description of how the state has reached out to interested parties for input.

Read more at As Legal Onslaught Begins, EPA Tells States How to Buy Time on Climate Rule

World Catholic Leaders Appeal for Bold Climate Change Agreement

California Governor Edmund ''Jerry'' Brown (front) speaks during the ''Modern Slavery and Climate Change'' meeting at the Vatican July 21, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile) Click to Enlarge.
Roman Catholic leaders from around the world made an unprecedented joint appeal on Monday to a forthcoming U.N. conference on climate change to produce "a truly transformational" agreement to stem global warming.

The Catholic cardinals, patriarchs and bishops signed the appeal in the Vatican, saying climate change had to address social justice and that any agreement must be fair and ensure the poor and most vulnerable were not sold short.

Their 10-point document was based on Pope Francis's landmark encyclical last June, called "Laudato Si", which demanded urgent action to save the planet from environmental ruin.

It again put the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church in the front line of the debate over the causes of climate change, an active role that some Catholic conservatives, including U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, have criticized.

The document said "reliable scientific evidence" suggests global warming is the result of "unrestrained human activity", current models of progress and development, and excessive reliance on fossil fuels.  Climate change skeptics argue that man's role in global warming has not been conclusively proved.

"The pope and Catholic Bishops from five continents, sensitive to the damage caused, appeal for a drastic reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases," said the appeal to the conference, which meets in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Read more at World Catholic Leaders Appeal for Bold Climate Change Agreement

As Oil Industry Bleeds Jobs, Asia's Green Energy Drive Offers Bright Spot

A worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, 950km (590 miles) northwest of Lanzhou, Gansu Province in this September 16, 2013 file photo. (Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria/Files) Click to Enlarge.
Renewables are powering a rare bright spot in the energy industry, with record job hiring in solar, wind and hydro partly offsetting the biggest round of job losses in the oil and gas sector in almost two decades.

The boom in new green jobs is being led by Asia where governments in countries such as China and India are embarking on massive programs to use more renewable energy.

The fresh opportunities come as the oil sector is suffering its worst downturn since the late 1990s, encouraging engineering students to rethink their options and even mid-career switches for some who have spent more than a decade in the oil sector.
Direct and indirect employment in renewable energy jumped 18 percent, or by about 1.2 million, last year to 7.7 million globally, with most of the new jobs being created in Asia, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Some of the biggest gains have come in countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Bangladesh and the overall figure could top 16 million globally by 2030, IRENA said.

That stands in contrast to oil and gas, where more than 200,000 jobs have been cut worldwide since oil prices collapsed last year, according to recruiter Swift Worldwide Resources.

The petroleum sector employs nearly 6 million, with more than ten times that number indirectly employed, according to International Labor Organization estimates.  The latest job losses mark the biggest drop since the last big oil price slump of 1997-98.

Read more at As Oil Industry Bleeds Jobs, Asia's Green Energy Drive Offers Bright Spot

Asia’s Coasts to Experience Most Extreme Weather

International Development Research Centre (IDRC) (Credit: Flickr | C/N N/G) Click to Enlarge.
Over the next 50 years, people living at low altitudes in developing countries, particularly those in coastal Asia, will suffer the most from extreme weather patterns, according to researchers.

Unbearable heat waves, typhoons of unprecedented speeds and flash floods have been an increasing occurrence globally.  It's not just a coincidence that these extreme weather events have been happening more frequently, said researchers and scientists at the Common Future under Climate Change conference held in Paris in July.

Hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and land loss as global temperatures rise, icecaps melt and sea levels rise.  Cities will also suffer from heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, as well as drought and water scarcity, according to the report "Climate Change 2014:  Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability."

Historical climate projections for the Indian subcontinent suggest an overall increase in temperature by two degrees, which has resulted in a noticeable rise in heat waves and hot days.

Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar, who leads climate change research at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, has conducted a regional diagnostic study for the critical risks and impacts of climate change in the semi-arid regions of Maharashtra, Karnatak and Tamil Nadu states in south-western and peninsular India.  She found that rising occurrences of heat waves and hot days affected the health sector, mainly due to an increased outbreak of diseases and increased risk of heat stress.  They also placed a big strain on the agricultural sector as well as on livestock and fisheries.

Read more at Asia’s Coasts to Experience Most Extreme Weather

Toon of the week - "I'm Telling You Linus"

"I'm Telling You Linus, the Great Pumpkin Is Fake, but Climate Change Is Real!"

"I'm Telling You Linus, the Great Pumpkin Is Fake, but Climate Change Is Real!"

2015 SkS Weekly Digest #43

Poster of the Week - What's Scarier on Halloween?

What's Scarier on Halloween?  Global Warming or It's Mini-Me Ocean Acidification

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #43 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Outline of UN Climate Deal Reached After Fractious Talks

Co-chairs of the United Nations climate talks Ahmed Djoghlaf (L) and Daniel Reifsnyder (Credit: picture-alliance/ZUMAPress/L. Huanhuan) Click to Enlarge.
Envoys have reached an outline for a UN global climate pact to be reached in Paris in five weeks.  The five day negotiations in Bonn have been marked by fractious arguments between developed and developing countries.

A 20-page document put forward by developed countries on Monday had morphed into 55-pages at the close of negotiations on Friday night, after developing countries insisted their demands were cut and should be reinserted.

The five day meeting that was supposed to create a clear and concise outline for global leaders to negotiate a climate pact in early December partially met its goal, but revealed deep divisions between developed and developing countries that have hampered previous attempts to reach an international consensus.

"The bad news is that it is no longer a concise text," UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said at the conclusion of talks.  Todd Stern, the US climate chief said the large text was expected and envoys would continue to focus it down in Paris.  "It's what we have and we'll go to work," Stern said, adding he believed negotiators could reach a final deal.

Read more at Outline of UN Climate Deal Reached After Fractious Talks

Paris Climate Summit Will Hinge on Climate Aid - Poor Nations

Snapshots of negotiators who split into groups in climate talks in Bonn, Germany, to address contested details in a draft climate agreement ahead of final talks in Paris late in the year. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
More funds to help poor nations cope with climate change will be the make-or-break issue when a Paris summit seeks a U.N. deal in December to slow global warming, the main group of developing nations said on Thursday.

Poor nations say they are far more vulnerable than the rich to powerful hurricanes, heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels and want clear promises that aid will rise from an existing goal of $100 billion a year by 2020.

For many developing nations "climate change poses an existential risk, it's a matter of life and death," Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, South Africa's delegate who speaks for more than 130 developing nations, said at U.N. climate negotiations.

"Whether Paris succeeds or not will be dependent on what we have as part of the core agreement on finance," she told a news conference in Bonn during the Oct. 19-23 U.N. talks among almost 200 nations, the final preparatory session before Paris.

Developed nations have promised to raise climate funds to $100 billion a year, from a wide range of public and private sources, by 2020 to help emerging economies curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to impacts of climate change.

Mxakato-Diseko's Group of 77 and China, which has expanded to 134 members from 77 at its founding, wants guarantees that aid will be "scaled up from a floor of $100 billion from 2020".

The United States and other rich nations favor vaguer wording that stops short of promising a rise from 2020.

Read more at Paris Climate Summit Will Hinge on Climate Aid - Poor Nations