Saturday, January 31, 2015

Citigroup Predicts Battery Storage Will Hasten Demise of Fossil Fuels

Forecasts for household interruptive technology penetration rates (Credit: Spark Infrastructure) Click to Enlarge.
Investment bank Citigroup predicts that the wide deployment of battery storage technologies will hasten the demise of fossil fuels across the globe in the coming decade, including oil, coal and gas.

And it also warns that the battery phenomenom will be even more profound than the solar revolution currently sweeping the globe, and will sweep aside any traditional utilities that remain focused on centralised generation.

The predictions of Citigroup analysts are a reprise of predictions it made in August last year, when it predicted that battery storage costs could fall to around $230/kWh by 2020, and eventually be as low as $150/kWh.  The global market for battery storage could be worth more than $400 billion by 2030.

The significance of its latest update is that these forecasts, and their potential impacts, are included as part of its analysis of the 10 major investment themes for 2015.

The issue is therefor rapidly moving beyond those with a narrow focus on utilities and energy markets, it is now part of mainstream financial thinking, and because of that will have a profound influence on capital flows across the globe.

Citi says improvements in battery storage both in terms of operational performance and economic terms should expand and accelerate the trend for corporates and households to become self-sufficient in terms of electricity generation.

Read more at Citigroup Predicts Battery Storage Will Hasten Demise of Fossil Fuels

Obama Ignores Obama on Climate Change

President Obama (Credit: The White House) Click to Enlarge.
President Obama is once again contradicting himself on climate change.  His new push for offshore oil and gas drilling is just the latest instance.

Last week, in his State of the Union address, Obama reiterated at length the urgent threat climate change presents and the importance of taking decisive action to address it.  “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security,” he said.  “We should act like it.”

But Obama himself isn’t acting like it.  This week, his administration released a draft of its next five-year plan for offshore drilling.  It would open up a previously off-limits area along the Southeastern coast, from Virginia down to Georgia, as well as offer many new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.  And while it would protect some key areas north of Alaska from drilling, it would open other Arctic areas up.

So, after bragging in the State of the Union that “we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history,” Obama is inviting fossil fuel companies into previously undisturbed public waters.  This was a quick turnaround from just two days before, when environmental groups were singing Obama’s praises after he proposed to permanently protect much of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development by declaring it a wilderness area.  Now, those groups are criticizing him for threatening the very same region.

The Alaska Wilderness League expressed relief that Obama is at least protecting the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic, but the group’s executive director, Cindy Shogan, insists that the administration needs to “take all Arctic leasing off the table.”

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel points out that oil and gas under the Arctic Ocean, much like the Canadian tar sands, cannot be extracted if we are to avoid ruinous climate change.  Like other unconventional or “tight” fuel sources, Arctic oil is more energy-intensive and risky to access than the stuff that used to bubble up from the soil in Texas.

“A major study that just came out in Nature said if we’re serious about avoiding climate catastrophe, drilling in the Arctic has to be off the table,” says Knodel.  “Drilling in the Arctic requires more energy to get [oil] and transport it because it’s so remote and such a dangerous environment.”

Read more at Obama Ignores Obama on Climate Change

Utility Bosses See Change Coming, Look to Clean and Distributed Energy

Office bulldog (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
There is a new survey out revealing the opinions of the men and women behind the curtain, those who run the institutions that keep the U.S. electrical grid, or “America’s Libido” as it’s so often called, humming.

Specifically, Utility Dive does an annual survey of U.S. utility executives and the 2015 results were released Tuesday.

Read more at Utility Bosses See Change Coming, Look to Clean and Distributed Energy

Latin America Solar Market Grew 370% in 2014

Latin America PV Installations 2013-2015E (estimated) (Credit: GTM Research Latin America PV Playbook) Click to Enlarge.
New figures released by GTM Research show that the Latin America solar PV market grew by 370% in 2014, installing a total of 625 MW.

Latin America comprises Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, a number of regions that have each been making big inroads in renewable energy generation.

The regional Latin America leader was Chile, making up more than three-quarters of the Latin America total.  As an example, in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone, Chile installed double the amount of Latin America’s annual solar PV total in 2013.

Mexico and Brazil filled out the top three spots, second and third (respectively).

The Latin America region has regularly been touted as one of the new hot-spots for renewable energy growth — especially solar.

Figures provided by NPD Solarbuzz back in September projected 9 GW of solar PV to be installed over the next five years in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Read more at Latin America Solar Market Grew 370% in 2014

Coral Reefs Are About to Crash in a Big Way

Coral reef (Credit: Michael Emerson) Click to Enlarge.
Coral reefs cover just 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, but provide habitat to 25 percent of sea-dwelling fish species.  That’s why coral scientist C. Mark Eakin, who coordinates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program, is surprised that the warning he has been sounding since last year — that the globe’s corals appear to be on the verge of a mass-scale bleaching event — hasn’t drawn more media attention.

Bleaching happens when corals lose contact with zooxanthellae, an algae that essentially feeds them nutrients in symbiotic exchange for a stable habitat.  The coral/zooxanthellae relationship thrives within a pretty tight range of ocean temperatures, and when water warms above normal levels, corals tend to expel their algal lifeline.  In doing so, corals not only lose the brilliant colors zooxanthellae deliver — hence, “bleaching” — but also their main source of food.  A bleached coral reef rapidly begins to decline.  Coral can reunite with healthy zooxanthellae and recover, Eakin says, but even then they often become diseased and may die.  That’s rotten news, because bleaching outbreaks are increasingly common.

Before the 1980s, large-scale coral bleaching had never been observed before, Eakin says.  After that, regionally isolated bleaching began to crop up, drawing the attention of marine scientists.  Then, in 1998, an unusually strong El Niño warming phase caused ocean temperatures to rise, triggering the first known global bleaching event in the Earth’s history.  It whitened corals off the coasts of 60 countries and island nations, spanning the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. We functionally “lost between 15 percent and 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs” in ’98, Eakin said.  Only some have recovered.

Eakin is concerned about a relapse, because the oceans are relentlessly warming, driven by climate change from ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions.  As heat builds in the ocean, he says, corals become more vulnerable to bleaching.

Read more at Coral Reefs Are About to Crash in a Big Way

   Friday, January 30

Friday, January 30, 2015

Where Did the Missing Oil Go?  New Study Says Some Is Sitting on the Gulf Floor

Oil platform silhouette in Gulf of Mexico (stock image). A new study finds that some 6 million to 10 million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about 62 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta. (Credit: © Lukasz Zakrzewski / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it.

Now, a new study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Jeff Chanton finds that some 6 million to 10 million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about 62 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

"This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come," Chanton said.  "Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms.  It's a conduit for contamination into the food web."

The article, published in the latest edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, details how oil caused particles in the Gulf to clump together and sink to the ocean floor.

Read more at Where Did the Missing Oil Go?  New Study Says Some Is Sitting on the Gulf Floor

Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds

A view of the Capitol from the Capitol Power Plant, a coal-burning plant in Washington. Americans are less likely to vote for candidates who question or deny the science of human-caused global warming, a poll found. (Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency) Click to Enlarge.
An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.

In a finding that could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign, the poll also found that two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change. They are less likely to vote for candidates who question or deny the science of human-caused global warming.

Among Republicans, 48 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change, a result that Jon A. Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University and an author of the survey, called "the most powerful finding" in the poll.  Many Republican candidates either question the science of climate change or do not publicly address the issue.
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Over all, the number of Americans who believe that climate change is caused by human activity is growing.  In a 2011 Stanford University poll, 72 percent of people thought climate change was caused at least in part by human activities.  That grew to 81 percent in the latest poll.  By party, 88 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans said that climate change was caused at least in part by human activities.

Read more at Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds - NYTimes.com

City Heat Waves More Frequent, Cold Spells on Decline: Study

The world's urban areas have experienced significant increases in heat waves over the past 40 years. (Credit: © Tom Wang / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
Exceptionally hot days and rainfall extremes have become more common in urban areas in the last 40 years, while the number of cold spells has declined, said a study published on Friday.

Heat waves have significantly increased in more than 200 cities across the world, with the largest number of hot spells occurring in the last decade.

"Over half of the world's population now live in urban areas; hence, it is particularly important to understand how the climate and climate extremes ... are changing these areas," Vimal Mishra, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The number of people moving to cities has been steadily growing, and the U.N. predicts that 70 percent of the world population will be living in cities by 2050.
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Increased heat waves have a negative impact on the health of elderly people and children, sometimes resulting in deaths, while more frequent and severe droughts and floods compromise water supplies.

The urban poor, who often live in flood- and landslide-prone areas bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of extreme weather.

"Urban areas make up relatively small part of the global land area; however, they are the center of wealth, so damage to urban infrastructure could result in potentially large economic losses," said Mishra.

In addition to heat waves lasting for six consecutive days or more, more than half of the cities also recorded an increase in the number of individual extremely hot days.

At the same time urban areas saw a decline in cold spells, with 60 percent of cities experiencing a significant decline in extremely windy days.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters journal, analyzed 217 urban areas with population over 250,000 people.

Read more at City Heat Waves More Frequent, Cold Spells on Decline: Study

Shell Bows to Investor Pressure on Climate Risk

Shell station (Credit: royaldutchshellplc.com)
In a rare move, oil major Shell on Thursday backed a resolution proposed by activist investors to force the company to recognize climate change risks by improving its transparency.

Shell's executive vice president of investor relations JJ Traynor said the company would urge shareholders to vote for the resolution at the annual general meeting in May.

The announcement coincided with Shell saying Thursday that it would cut $15 billion in spending but continue to drill in Alaska's Arctic.

The resolution was filed by the Aiming for A coalition of UK investors representing close to £200 billion ($300 billion) in assets and calls on Shell to disclose additional information in five areas related to climate change in its annual reporting from 2016.

The group said in the resolution it was concerned about the "longer term success of the company, given the recognized risks and opportunities associated with climate change."

The resolution requests more information on the company's operational emissions management, the resilience of its assets to climate change, low-carbon energy research and development and investment strategies, relevant key performance indicators and its public policy positions on climate change.

Shell said the company will provide the additional disclosures in its next annual report.

With global oil prices falling around 60 percent since June, public interest and shareholder groups have been warning energy firms about the financial and climate risks of investment in carbon-intensive fossil fuel projects.

ConocoPhillips, which previously announced plans to cut 2015 spending by 20 percent in December, announced Thursday it would slash a further $2 billion in spending.  South Africa's Sasol also announced it would shelve an $11 billion gulf coast gas-to-liquid plant.

Andrew Logan, an analyst at sustainability-focused investor group Ceres, said such moves by a company to recommend an activist group's resolution is rare and reflects the pressure placed on Shell to address climate change.

Shell Bows to Investor Pressure on Climate Risk

It’s Not Too Late to Stop Climate Change, and It’ll Be Super-Cheap - by Joe Romm

Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming.  Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S. The  2014 IPCC report finds the annual cost of avoiding that catastrophe is cheap, a mere 0.06% of annual  growth (the range is 0.4% to 0.14%). (Credit: IPCC) Click to Enlarge.
I rarely disagree with Dave Roberts.  But he has a column on Grist, We can solve climate change, but it won’t be cheap or easy, that is wrong, pure and simple.

I’ll explain why it will be very cheap in two posts — one focusing on the literature and one focused more on my 15 years of experience working directly with businesses to develop, deploy, and analyze the cost-effectiveness of technologies/strategies to cut carbon pollution, including several years helping to oversee the primary federal office charged with that very mission.

The cost of action is perhaps the second most important issue in the entire climate arena. If a climate hawk like Roberts can get it wrong (along with The New York Times climate blog), there is clearly a serious misunderstanding going on.

The most important climate issue is the cost and consequences of inaction.  The climate science has now reached the point that one can definitively say failure to very aggressively try to “solve” climate change is not either a rational or moral option for a nation or humanity as a whole.  As Dave Roberts himself has explained, “The results of inaction are morally unacceptable.  They are also economically unacceptable….”

To be crystal clear, my position — what the literature and field experience make crystal clear — is that solving climate (stabilizing at 2°C) is cheap, by any plausible definition of the word.  Indeed, it is “super-cheap.”

The always overly-conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reviewed the entire literature on the subject and concluded the annual growth loss to preserve a livable climate is 0.06% — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.”  So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24 percent rather than 2.30 percent to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries.
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The 2014 IEA report, Energy Technology Perspectives, explained that an aggressive effort to deploy renewable energy and energy efficiency (and energy storage) to keep global warming below the dangerous threshold of 2°C — their 2DS scenario — would require investment in clean energy of only about 1% of global GDP per year.  But it would still be astoundingly cost-effective:
The $44 trillion additional investment needed to decarbonise the energy system in line with the 2DS by 2050 is more than offset by over $115 trillion in fuel savings – resulting in net savings of $71 trillion.
So yes, solving climate change is “cheap.”  It is NOT “easy,” however, and I have striven to avoid using that word.  When I talk about this I usually say it is “not easy, but straightforward.”  And by that I mean “we know precisely what needs to be done and the net cost is quite low,” which is not the case for many other problems facing humanity.

Read more at It’s Not Too Late to Stop Climate Change, and It’ll Be Super-Cheap

Nuclear Power Needs to Double to Meet Warming Goal

A nuclear power plant in Moscow. (Credit: IAEA Imagebank/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan chilled global attitudes toward nuclear power, the world has been slowly reconciling its discomfort with nuclear and the idea that it may have a role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change.

The International Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency suggest in a report released Thursday that nuclear will have such a significant role to play in climate strategy that nuclear power generation capacity will have to double by 2050 in order for the world to meet the international 2°C (3.6°F) warming goal.

With fossil fuels growing as sources of electricity across the globe, the IEA sees nuclear power as a stable source of low-carbon power helping to take polluting coal-fired plants offline.

To accomplish the needed CO2 emissions cuts to keep warming no greater than 2°C, the IEA says global nuclear power generation capacity needs to increase to 930 gigawatts from 396 gigawatts by 2050.  With nearly 100 nuclear reactors, the U.S. has more nuclear power plants than any other country, representing 105 gigawatts of production.  France, Japan, Russia and China round out the top five countries using nuclear power.

Globally, nuclear energy is already making a comeback with 72 nuclear reactors now under construction worldwide, mainly in Asia.

“This marked the greatest number of reactors being built in 25 years,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement.  “Nuclear energy also remains the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity worldwide.  And, indeed, if we are to meet our collective climate goals, nuclear energy is critical.”
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That conclusion is consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings last year that global carbon dioxide emissions need to be capped at 450 parts per million in order to prevent warming greater than 2°C, Robert N. Stavins, director of the Project on Climate Agreements at Harvard University and a drafting author of the IPCC’s Working Group III Report, said.

“It is virtually inconceivable that the 2 degree or 450 parts per million target as a cap can be achieved in this century without a variety of factors, among which are substantially greater reliance on nuclear power than current trajectories would suggest,” Stavins, who is unaffiliated with the IEA’s report, said.

Read more at Nuclear Power Needs to Double to Meet Warming Goal

   Thursday, January 29

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why Dedicating Land to Bioenergy Won't Curb Climate Change

Corn ethanol plant, Iowa (Credit: Macomb_Paynes) Click to Enlarge.
How does bioenergy contribute to a sustainable food and climate future?

A new WRI paper finds bioenergy can play a modest role using wastes and other niche fuelstocks, but recommends against dedicating land to produce bioenergy.  The lesson: do not grow food or grass crops for ethanol or diesel or cut down trees for electricity.

Even modest quantities of bioenergy would greatly increase the global competition for land.  People already use roughly three-quarters of the world’s vegetated land for crops, livestock grazing and wood harvests.  The remaining land protects clean water, supports biodiversity and stores carbon in trees, shrubs and soils—a benefit increasingly important for tackling climate change.  The competition for land is growing, even without more bioenergy, to meet likely demands for at least 70 percent more food, forage and wood.

Competition for Land

Opportunities do exist to grow more food on the same land and to reinvigorate some degraded, highly underutilized land.  But meeting food and timber needs without clearing more forests will already require full use of this potential.  Providing just 10 percent of global transportation fuel from biofuels in 2050 would require roughly 30 percent of the total energy in all the crops people harvest today.

Turning to so-called cellulosic energy crops such as fast-growing grasses would not avoid this land use competition.  On cropland, even with optimistic estimates, such energy crops will struggle to produce even the same amount of ethanol per acre (hectare) as corn ethanol does today.  Growing these crops on pasture or forest land would sacrifice food and carbon storage benefits.

Using all the world's harvested biomass for energy would provide just 20% of the world's energy needs in 2050 (Credit: wri.org) Click to Enlarge.
Some institutions have called for producing 20 percent of human energy needs from bioenergy of all sorts by 2050.  That would require an amount of biomass equal to all the plants harvested annually across the entire world today: all the crops, crop residues, wood and grasses eaten by livestock.  The world does not have the room.

Beneath these global figures is an even simpler truth: every time we dedicate land to bioenergy, we sacrifice the opportunity to use that land for some other human need, ranging from food to carbon storage.  The trade-off is a bad one because bioenergy is an inefficient use of land.  Even ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil only converts around 0.2 percent of the energy in the sun’s rays to usable energy, and cellulosic ethanol would optimistically only be a little better.

Bioenergy Isn’t Carbon-Free

This opportunity cost of land also explains why bioenergy will rarely reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Studies that find bioenergy reduces greenhouse gases incorrectly view plants as a carbon-free fuel and ignore the very real carbon emitted by burning them. The theory has been that the original growth of the plants absorbs enough carbon to offset the carbon released when they burn.  But if those plants were going to grow and absorb carbon anyway – and typically they would – then diverting them to bioenergy does not remove any additional carbon from the atmosphere.  Instead, bioenergy comes at the expense of some other uses of those plants.  When the expense is food or agricultural land, the effect is poorer nutrition.  When the expense is forests or woody savannas, the effect is less stored carbon.

Some alternative sources of bioenergy still exist without dedicating land for bioenergy. Municipal waste and some forest and crop residues provide potential.  But because of limited quantities of such potential biomass, ambitions need to remain modest.  Replacing traditional but inefficient use of fuel wood or charcoal with improved bioenergy would also be a net gain.

Solar Cells Offer an Alternative

The good news is that standard solar cells available today can generate more than 100 times as much usable energy per acre (hectare) as bioenergy even using optimistic projections for bioenergy’s future.  When used with electric engines in cars with more efficient batteries, solar benefits can rise to 200 or 300 times the efficiency biofuels.  And unlike bioenergy, solar energy works great in deserts and on rooftops without competing for fertile land.

Read more at Why Dedicating Land to Bioenergy Won't Curb Climate Change

TV Networks Now Cover Climate Change, but They’re Doing It Wrong

Bill Nye on Meet the Press (Credit: NBC News) Click to Enlarge.
Here’s some good news:  according to a new study, the major broadcast news networks are covering climate change more than they have in years.  Now here’s the bad news:  much of that coverage includes misleading arguments from commentators who reject the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet.

The new analysis was released Wednesday by the liberal group Media Matters for America.   Media Matters reviewed 2014 climate coverage from the evening newscasts and Sunday morning talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Company.  All told, the networks devoted 154 minutes to global warming last year — up 19 percent compared to 2013 and far more than any year since 2009.  That increase is a big deal. Millions of Americans watch the networks’ evening news shows.  And the Sunday shows — ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox News Sunday — frequently set the agenda for the week’s political reporting elsewhere in the media.
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Of course, sheer quantity isn’t the only — or even the most important — measure of climate change reporting.  For years, news outlets have been plagued by a tendency to balance the scientific fact that we’re warming the Earth with the very unscientific arguments of those who disagree.  That was certainly the case on the Sunday shows last year.  Nearly two-thirds of the climate coverage on NBC’s Meet the Press featured discussions that Media Matters classified as “false balance.”  That included a debate between science educator Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who used the opportunity to argue that there is no scientific consensus on global warming.  Both Nye and moderator David Gregory pushed back against Blackburn’s claims, but many viewers may have been confused by the segment.

A far worse discussion aired on Fox News Sunday, where Washington Post columnist George Will and Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel rattled off a series of climate denial talking points, with little pushback from anyone on the panel. ... In all, nearly half of the 2014 climate coverage on both Fox News Sunday and ABC’S This Week featured false balance, according to Media Matters.  Of the four Sunday shows, only CBS’s Face the Nation managed to avoid false balance entirely.

Read more at TV Networks Now Cover Climate Change, but They’re Doing It Wrong

Rhetoric on EPA, Climate Show Divisions Among Republican Presidential Hopefuls

Republican - Enter your text here (Copyright: Jeff Cameron Collingwood) Click to Enlarge.
One likely Republican presidential candidate called the Environmental Protection Agency “locusts” while another compared climate change to a “sunburn,” exposing a contrast with several other likely contenders within the party who recently acknowledged the role of human activity in climate change.

National Republicans almost universally have opposed President Barack Obama's plan for addressing climate change and how he has used the EPA to achieve those goals, but Senate votes the week of Jan. 19 showed some acknowledge the problem is real even if they disagree about how to address it.  Those divisions are slight but important as Republicans consider a 2016 presidential nominee, environmental advocates have said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a first-term senator from Texas, spoke Jan. 24 at the Iowa Freedom Summit of the need to send “the locusts of the EPA back to Washington” just days after he voted against the scientific consensus that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.

“I was once out in west Texas, and I said, ‘You know, the thing about folks from the EPA is, unlike locusts, you can't use pesticide against them' and an old farmer looked at me and said ‘Wanna bet?'” Cruz said.

While most Republicans have expressed concern about the magnitude and substance of many EPA regulations, few have used such fiery rhetoric about the agency.  Recent polling found six in 10 Americans back limits on carbon pollution, including half of all Republicans, although respondents were not asked how to do so.

Read more at Rhetoric on EPA, Climate Show Divisions Among Republican Presidential Hopefuls

   Wednesday, January 28

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Groups Sue Obama's EPA over Emissions from Industrial Livestock Production

A coalition of groups sued the EPA on Jan. 28 in an effort to push the agency to regulate pollution from the nation's concentrated animal feeding lots, or CAFOs. (Credit: SRAP) Click to Enlarge.
A coalition of environmental, community and animal welfare groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday in an effort to push the Obama administration to reduce air pollution, including greenhouse gases, from enormous livestock feeding lots that supply most of the country's meat, milk and eggs.

In two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., the groups said the EPA has failed to respond to two citizens' petitions delivered years ago urging greater regulation of air pollution from so-called concentrated animal feeding lots, or CAFOs.  The EPA is supposed to respond to citizens' petitions within a reasonable time, though regulations do not define what such a period might be, said Tarah Heinzen, a lawyer with the Environmental Integrity Project, one of the groups in the coalition.

"EPA has really gone awry by looking the other way regarding pollution from this industry," Heinzen said.  "It shouldn't have to fall to citizens to petition EPA to do its job."

Read more at Groups Sue Obama's EPA over Emissions from Industrial Livestock Production

Just 15 votes -- but a Subtle and Important Shift for the GOP

U.S, Senate (Credit: mw.ua) Click to Enlarge.
Last week, 15 Senate Republicans abandoned their party's tried-and-true "I'm not a scientist" stance to back amendments affirming that human emissions are at least partly responsible for global warming.

The shift in message was subtle, and some political experts said it wasn't a shift at all.  There have always been Republicans who acknowledged that human activity has a hand in climate change, they said, and the two amendments to the Keystone XL oil pipeline bill merely gave them a forum to express it.

"We had a chance to vote, and people cast the votes they believed in," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who voted for the amendments offered by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).  "That's all it amounted to."

But others noted that Republican Senate leaders evidently saw an upside in giving GOP members the chance to go on the record now, after many have used the "I'm not a scientist" line to studiously avoid doing so for years.  Now their votes declared that climate change is real and industrial greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to it.
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David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, said that the pivot appeared to be calculated.

"It seems like there is sort of this recognition that the Republican message on climate needs to change," he said.

Jenkins saw last week's votes as part of a continuing evolution in the Republican message on warming -- which started with denial that warming of any kind is occurring, moved through noncommittal statements about the role human emissions play, and has now arrived, for some, with an acknowledgement that man-made climate change is real.

"It doesn't get you to what you would do about it and supporting solutions, but it's definitely a shift," he said.  "And it makes sense, because why would you continue on a stance like that when polling shows that most Americans think it is simply ignoring the facts?"

Read more at Just 15 votes -- but a Subtle and Important Shift for the GOP

BYD Unveils Battery-Electric Over-the-Road Coach Bus

The C9 Battery-Electric Bus. (Credit: BYD) Click to enlarge.
BYD Motors Inc. unveiled the first long range, 100% battery-electric over-the-road coach bus (as opposed to a city transit bus) at the United Motorcoach Association Expo in New Orleans.  This first electric coach—the BYD C9—is a two-axle, 40' coach with the seating capacity to carry 47 people at highway speed for more than 190 miles.

The BYD C9 is the first of three battery-electric coaches the company will launch globally this year.  The other two, a 45' three-axle coach named the C10 and a 23' coach with executive and transport configurations named the C6 will be arriving by the end of 2015.  BYD is taking orders for all three of the coaches starting now.

The C9 uses BYD’s in-wheel drive axle with two 180 kW brushless AC synchronous motors (BYD-TYC180A), each of which develops 1,500 N·m (1,106 lb-ft) of torque.  The 365 kWh Li-ion iron phosphate battery pack can accept 200 kW charging for a charging time of less than two hours.  Top speed of the bus is 62.5 mph (101 km/h).

BYD projects the battery capacity will remain above 80% after 12 years of use.  The BYD Intelligent Battery Management System (iBMS) assists with balancing and charging safety.

BYD Motors Inc is an American company based in California.  Its parent company, BYD Company Ltd, is World's largest manufacturer of rechargeable batteries.

Read more at BYD Unveils Battery-Electric Over-the-Road Coach Bus

At Vatican, EPA Chief to Talk ‘Moral Issue’ of Climate Change

Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will make a short visit to the Vatican on Friday to discuss climate change. According to the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, will meet with senior officials including Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  “We’re hoping that this effort will not only generate sort of a broader understanding of the challenge of climate change, but a really good discussion of how the work of the church, the work of all faiths, can actually be … a way that recognizes and addresses climate change,” she told NCR.  The visit comes as part of a five-day trip that will also take her to Geneva, Rome, and Florence. The President’s climate plan and the EPA’s role in addressing climate change will be the subject of her meetings throughout the trip.  “I think that the president and myself agree that climate change is indeed a moral issue,” she said. “It is about protecting those most vulnerable, and EPA’s job, as focusing on public health and environmental protection, always tasked ourselves to look at those most vulnerable.”
Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will make a short visit to the Vatican on Friday to discuss climate change.  According to the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, will meet with senior officials including Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

“We’re hoping that this effort will not only generate sort of a broader understanding of the challenge of climate change, but a really good discussion of how the work of the church, the work of all faiths, can actually be … a way that recognizes and addresses climate change,” she told NCR.

The visit comes as part of a five-day trip that will also take her to Geneva, Rome, and Florence.  The President’s climate plan and the EPA’s role in addressing climate change will be the subject of her meetings throughout the trip.

“I think that the president and myself agree that climate change is indeed a moral issue,” she said.  “It is about protecting those most vulnerable, and EPA’s job, as focusing on public health and environmental protection, always tasked ourselves to look at those most vulnerable.”

At Vatican, EPA Chief to Talk ‘Moral Issue’ of Climate Change

Thunderstorms Helping Bring Ozone Down to Earth

A supercell thunderstorm over Great Bend, Kan. (Credit: Lane Pearman/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Ozone is a bit of a shape-shifting chemical. High in the stratosphere, ozone acts as an ultraviolet-blocking shield around Earth (which is why the ozone hole is such a problem).  At ground level, it’s a pollutant that can cause serious respiratory problems.  And if it finds its way into the troposphere — the lowest level of the atmosphere — ozone serves as a potent greenhouse gas that warms the planet.

It ends up in the troposphere through a variety of processes including human pollution. It also finds its way there by trickling down from the stratosphere.  In the past, scientists have attributed the trickle between the atmosphere’s different layers to large-scale patterns, such as shifts in the jet stream or air moving from the tropics toward the poles.

But for the first time, research has definitively shown that it’s not just these large-scale movements that lure ozone down from the stratosphere, it’s also smaller-scale events like thunderstorms.  

“The convective-scale events like thunderstorms are smaller.  They’re not explained well in global climate models but we know they’re important,” scientist Laura Pan, the lead author of the new research published in Geophysical Research Letters, said.

Pan’s findings could be important to climate modelers looking to get a better handle on just how greenhouse gases end up in the troposphere and where they go once they get there.

Some research has projected that severe storms — or at least the conditions favorable for their formation — could increase by 40 percent over the U.S. by 2100 during the height of severe storm season if our carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated.  The new research could be a warning about a potentially unexplored feedback loop that could further warm the planet, with more storms bringing more warming ozone to the lower levels of the atmosphere.

Read more at Thunderstorms Helping Bring Ozone Down to Earth

India Gives Nothing Away in Climate Talks with US

Despite the handshake between Barack Obama and Narendra Modi, no deal was done on Indian emissions reductions. (Credit: Government of India Press Information Bureau) Click to Enlarge.
Hopes that India and the US might announce ambitious plans to co-operate in tackling climate change have proved wide of the mark.

A meeting here between the visiting US president, Barack Obama, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, showed India determined to follow an independent line − although Modi said it does intend to increase its use of renewable energy.

Mod did not offer any hint of a reduction in coal use.  And on possible targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, he said nothing beyond agreeing to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, while insisting that India demands equal treatment in cutting GHGs.

India is the third largest GHG emitter, after China and the US, but generates only two tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, compared with 20 tonnes in the US and eight in China.

The two leaders smoothed the way for further Indian use of nuclear power, outlining a deal to limit the legal liability of US suppliers in the event of a nuclear power plant catastrophe.

Read more at India Gives Nothing Away in Climate Talks with US

Can Koch Brothers Lock in Fatal Climate Delay for $889 Million in 2016 Election?

Americans for Prosperity Foundation Chairman David Koch speaks in Orlando, Florida, in August, 2013. (Credit: AP /Phelan M. Ebenhack) Click to Enlarge.
The multi-billionaire Koch brothers are planning to spend a staggering $889 million in the 2016 election cycle, more than double what they spent in 2012. Politico called it “a historic sum that in many ways would mark Charles and David Koch and their fellow conservative megadonors as more powerful than the official Republican Party.”

Remember, the Koch family put together the Tea Party movement and much of the modern right-wing infrastructure.  Koch Industries surpassed Exxon Mobil in funding climate science disinformation and clean energy opposition years ago.  They have already become the biggest force for anti-science politicians at every level of government.

This $889 million announcement is a declaration of dependence on fossil fuels, a figurative declaration of war on a livable climate and the health and well-being of countless future generations.  As Mayor Michael McGinn put it in 2013, “We’re the first generation to see the effects of climate change, and the last generation who can do anything about it.  To refuse to use every tool at our disposal in this fight — to embrace inaction — is to endorse a trajectory that will lead to suffering, privation, and calamity.”

A quarter century of ignoring the warnings from the world’s top scientists has brought us to the point where we are already seeing dangerous climate impacts on every continent — and brought us perilously close to the first of many serious tipping points.  Another decade of inaction would be fatal to a livable climate.  It would essentially rule out stabilizing near 2°C (3.6°F), a temperature target we should beat to have the greatest chance of avoiding multiple catastrophes.  Climate action delayed is climate action denied.

The Koch brothers clearly intend to use every tool at their disposal to pursue the trajectory of inaction, which will indeed lead to suffering, privation, and calamity — or severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for billions of people, as the world leading scientists and governments put it last year.

Worse, the Kochs want much more than mere climate inaction — their goal is to roll back every major climate and clean energy action we’ve already started.  The New York Times explains that the goal of the $889 million 2016 Koch machine is “leveraging Republican control of Congress and the party’s dominance of state capitols to push for deregulation, tax cuts and smaller government.”

Read more at Can Koch Brothers Lock in Fatal Climate Delay for $889 Million in 2016 Election?

   Tuesday, January 27

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Climate Science Behind New England’s Historic Blizzard
- by Joe Romm

Warming-fueled sea surface temperatures provide a boost of moisture for the forecast New England blizzard, just as it has for previous monster East Coast snow storms. (Credit: NOAA)  Click to Enlarge.
Another epic blizzard has born down on New England.  There is a “big part” played by “human-induced climate change,” especially warming-fueled ocean temperatures, according to Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

I asked Dr. Trenberth to comment on the role climate change has on this latest storm, which is forecast to set records.  He explained:
The number 1 cause of this is that it is winter.  In winter it is cold over the continent.  But it is warm over the oceans and the contrast between the cold continent and the warm Gulf Stream and surrounding waters is increasing. At present sea surface temperatures are more the 2F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the east coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10% higher as a result.  About half of this can be attributed to climate change.
“Percent changes in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (the heaviest 1%) from 1958 to 2012″ by region,” via the 2014 National Climate Assessment. “There is a clear national trend toward a greater amount of precipitation being concentrated in very heavy events, particularly in the Northeast,” driven by a warming climate. (Credit: 2014 National Climate Assessment) Click to enlarge.
Before this latest storm, we’ve seen a long-term pattern of more extreme precipitation, particularly in New England winters.  Climate scientists had long predicted this would happen in a warming world.
...
That final point is very important.  The worst deluges have jumped not merely because warmer air holds more moisture that in turn gets sucked into major storm systems.  Increasingly, scientists have explained that climate change is altering the jet stream and weather patterns in ways that can cause storm systems to slow down or get stuck, thereby giving them more time to dump heavy precipitation (see my recent literature review here).

The National Climate Assessment noted that this “remains an active research area” but pointed out that:  “Heavier-than-normal snowfalls recently observed in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. in some years, with little snow in other years, are consistent with indications of increased blocking (a large scale pressure pattern with little or no movement) of the wintertime circulation of the Northern Hemisphere.”
...
In the case of the blizzard bearing down on New England, we have both the extra moisture off the East Coast and an “odd configuration of the jet stream (once again) is moving the low pressure system through a pattern that will create an epic blizzard.”

Read more at The Climate Science Behind New England’s Historic Blizzard

Transmission Line that Could Bring Wind and Solar Power to Millions in West Gets Go-Ahead

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announces the approval of the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF) Saturday, Jan. 24. (Credit: Flickr/Sandia Labs) Click to Enlarge.
On Saturday, the federal government approved a major renewable energy transmission line that could help open up the West to stranded solar and wind assets and enable up to 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy — enough to power over one million homes — to feed into the grid.  The $2 billion project, overseen by SunZia, will span 515 miles across New Mexico and Arizona, and support more than 6,000 jobs during construction and more than 100 permanent jobs according to the Department of the Interior.

“SunZia will help carry New Mexico wind and solar to larger markets in the West,” Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a New Mexico-based clean energy and low-carbon economy advocacy organization, told ThinkProgress.  “There is so much possibility with the advance of both utility scale and decentralized renewable energy generation to displace fossil fuels that are threatening our climate, health and economy.”

The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, which will tap wind resources in New Mexico and solar and geothermal in New Mexico and Arizona, was proposed in 2009.  In 2013 it encountered serious pushback from Republican leaders in New Mexico who argued that the route could disrupt the country’s national security efforts.  New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez sent a letter to the DIO warning that the route could interfere with the Army’s White Sands Missile Range.  She argued that a 45-mile stretch of the route interfered with a region where missiles were tested.

The Bureau of Land Management addressed these concerns, and in working with the Department of Defense will now be burying three short segments of the transmission lines as they pass near the missile range.  According to the DIO, the route also avoids major population centers, cultural sites, highways, and pipelines where possible.  The project includes two parallel 500-kilovolt transmission lines and related facilities located on federal, state and private lands.

Read more at Transmission Line that Could Bring Wind and Solar Power to Millions in West Gets Go-Ahead

Climate Change Could Impact the Poor Much More Than Previously Thought

Per-capita GDP under a business-as-usual scenario for rich (top) and poor (bottom) regions for the reference (no damages) run (green), standard economic model (DICE; red), and DICE modified to account for climate impacts to economic growth (blue). (Source: Nature Climate Change) Click to Enlarge.
It’s widely accepted that climate change will have bigger negative impacts on poorer countries than wealthy ones.  However, a new economic modeling study finds that the economic impacts on these poorer countries could be much larger than previous estimates.

As a result, they suggest that we should be aiming to limit global warming to near, or perhaps even less than the international target of 2°C.  This conclusion is in sharp contrast to current economic models, which generally conclude that the economically optimal pathway results in a global surface warming around 3–3.5°C.

Current economic models mainly treat economic growth as an external factor.  In these models, global warming and its impacts via climate change don’t significantly affect the rate at which the economy grows.  However, several economic studies have concluded that this is an inaccurate assumption, with a 2012 paper by Melissa Dell and colleagues taking the first stab at quantifying the effects of climate damages on economic growth.

The new study by Frances Moore and Delavane Diaz of Stanford University calibrates the climate ‘damage functions’ in one of these economic models (DICE, developed by William Nordhaus at Yale) using the results from the Dell paper.  They grouped the world into rich and poor countries, finding that while the economies of rich countries continue to grow well in a warmer world, the economic growth of poor countries is significantly impaired.

As a result, Moore and Diaz conclude that the economically optimal pathway could be very similar to the most aggressive scenario considered by the IPCC (called RCP2.6).  In this scenario, human carbon emissions peak almost immediately and then decline until they reach zero around the year 2070.

Moore and Diaz find that if climate change does affect GDP growth in this way, then the best path for society would limit temperatures to between 1.6 and 2.8°C warming in 2100, with a best estimate of around 1.7°C warming.

Read more at Climate Change Could Impact the Poor Much More Than Previously Thought

Blizzard Questions, Including Why a European Weather Model Excels at U.S. Forecasts

The National Weather Service posted this blizzard warning on Twitter (Credit: National Weather Service) Click to Enlarge.
In what has, until now, been a quiet winter in the Northeast, nearly 30 million residents are girding for a blizzard that may end up worthy of the National Weather Service list of historic Major Winter Storms. Winds at sea are predicted to reach hurricane strength.  A yard of snow is possible in parts of New England.

There are many different concerns, ranging from stocking up on water for those on wells in areas vulnerable to power outages (which was once my situation, but no more) to my teenage son’s swift click last night to the Snow Days Calculator website.

There are also plenty of questions.  Here are three that I’m sending to a batch of my favorite extreme-weather watchers (including Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia, Cliff Mass at the University of Washington, Ryan Maue at WeatherBell, Andrew Freedman at Mashable, Dave Robinson at Rutgers, Jason Samenow of Capital Weather Gang, Eric Holthaus at Slate and my local go-to guide, Alex Marra of Hudson Valley Weather):
1) Unlike some other past winter nor’easters that were forecast many days in advance, this one seemed to pop abruptly into forecasts only on Saturday. What makes the difference?

2) As with some previous potent winter storms and hurricanes (including Sandy), there’s been a consistent focus on the computer model of the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF, for short) as the best at getting details like snowfall amounts right.  Is that simply a matter of more fine-grained resolution or do you see other factors making their model best at predicting North American storms of this sort?

3) The computer upgrades announced earlier this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seem targeted at closing this gap. Do you see that as a decent prospect, or are there other issues at play, as well?
Read more at Blizzard Questions, Including Why a European Weather Model Excels at U.S. Forecasts

Warming Ups Odds of Extreme La Niñas, Wild Weather

Sea surface temperature anomalies during the strongest La Niña on record that formed in 1998-99. (Credit: NOAA View) Click to Enlarge.
New research published on Monday in Nature Climate Change shows that climate change could nearly double the likelihood of the most intense La Niñas from 1-in-every-23 years to 1-in-every-13 years by the end of this century.  Three-quarters of the increase are projected to come following extreme El Niño years, which are also likely to become more frequent according to previous research.

Back-to-back super El Niño/La Niña have played out before.  For example, the 1998-99 La Niña is the strongest on record and came on the heels of the strongest El Niño on record.  La Niña helped push heavy rains across Australia and contributed to a severe drought in the Southwest U.S., both areas that were dealing with near opposite conditions the year before thanks to an El Niño that has been dubbed the climate event of the century.  The same La Niña also upped the odds of intense hurricanes in the North Atlantic and the 1998 season gave rise to Hurricane Mitch, the seventh-strongest storm to ever form in the basin.

Read more at Warming Ups Odds of Extreme La Niñas, Wild Weather

Toon of the Week:  This meeting of the subcommittee to refute global warming is adjourned.

This meeting of the subcommittee to refute global warming is adjourned. (Credit: www.facebook.com/iheartcomsci)


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Quote of the Week:  No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 20, 2015. (Credit: abcnews.go.com) Click to Enlarge.
No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act.  Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.  The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.  The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it.

 - President Barak Obama

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