Monday, August 31, 2015

  Monday, Aug 31

Yes, a Warmer Arctic Means Cold Winters Elsewhere.  Here's How.

Climate change manifests in snowier winters in places like Boston, thanks to a warmer Arctic. (Credit: Peter Enyeart, via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Melting sea ice and warmer temperatures in the Arctic are to blame for the brutal cold snaps that have plagued parts of Asia and North America in recent years, according to new research by Korean and European scientists released Monday.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience, adds to the growing evidence linking rising Arctic temperatures to changing weather patterns across the globe.  It also helps further debunk one of climate deniers' favorite arguments:  cold weather proves the world isn't warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Deniers reveled in their theory last winter as a record-breaking 110.6 inches of snow fell on Boston and temperatures as low as minus-35 degrees Fahrenheit chilled wide swaths of the Central Plains and Northeast.  Republican Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe famously brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to "prove" his point and Republican Presidential front runner and businessman Donald Trump tweeted in February, "Record low temperatures and massive amounts of snow.  Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING?"

"This research blasts enormous holes in that argument, if the deniers choose to pay attention to these findings," said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey who was not involved in the research.

The concept seems contradictory at first, warmer temperatures in one place causing cold winters in another.  But the paper finds that a hotter, less icy Arctic—a region that has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world over the last two decades—creates a bulge of warm air in the lower atmosphere that forces the jet stream to become wavier, dipping farther south in some places and peaking farther north in others as it moves eastward around the globe.  As it dips south into latitudes lower than it used to, it carries with it cold Arctic air.

Read more at Yes, a Warmer Arctic Means Cold Winters Elsewhere.  Here's How.

Northern Forests Face Onslaught from Heat and Drought

Many northern hemisphere forests face destruction as climate change brings both fiercer droughts and higher temperatures.


The Major Oak in England’s Sherwood Forest: Old age is not its only threat (Image Credit: Immanuel Giel via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
In the long term, many of the great oak forests of Europe or the giant redwoods and pines of America may not survive.  US researchers foresee potential widespread loss of the great temperate forests of both continents.

Under the combined assault of increasing global temperatures and unprecedented drought, some forests could inexorably slide into savannah or scrubland.

Constance Millar is an ecologist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Pacific Southwest Station.  She and a colleague, Nathan Stephenson of the US Geological Survey, report in the journal Science that the boreal forests of the fast-warming sub-Arctic zones are not the only imperilled woodlands.

They see climate change – driven by rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in turn fuelled by ever-greater fossil fuel combustion – as an emerging “mega-disturbance”:  the bringer of not just longer and hotter droughts but of a new class of affliction, the unprecedented “global-change-type drought”.

This cumbersome terminology masks a spell of longer, more severe and hotter droughts that will set the circumstances for new insect pests, fresh plant diseases, invasive competitor species and more extensive and more severe wildfires.

Read more at Northern Forests Face Onslaught from Heat and Drought

  Sunday, Aug 30

Sunday, August 30, 2015

U.S. Seeks Greater Focus on Ocean Warming

Waves lap a coral reef off Bunaken Island marine protected national park near Sulawesi, Indonesia. Warming oceans pose a major threat to coral formation.  (Credit: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images/The Guardian) Click to Enlarge.
The U.S. government has urged the international community to focus more on the impact of climate change on the oceans, amid growing concern over changes affecting corals, shellfish and other marine life.

The U.S. will raise the issue at United Nations climate talks in Paris later this year.  The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be asked to devote more research to the issue.

“We are asking the IPCC in their next series of reports to focus more on ocean and cryosphere [ice ecosystem] issues,” David Balton, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries at the U.S. State Department, said.

“In my judgment, more attention needs to be paid to the climate change effects upon the ocean areas of the world,” Balton said.  “We need to keep pushing up until the Paris conference and beyond.

“Ultimately, we need to change the way we live if we’re to keep the planet in the safe zone.”

Around half of all greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other activities are absorbed by the world’s oceans, which are warming steadily.

This has caused sea levels to rise and the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic than in pre-industrial times.  In acidic water, corals and shellfish struggle to form skeletons and shells.

An Australian-led study released this week, which examined the impact of climate change on 13,000 marine species, found that while some fish may be able to move into cooler areas, others face extinction due to warming waters.  Species on the Great Barrier Reef are considered to be at particular risk.

U.S. government scientists have voiced their concern over recent signals that marine life is under pressure.  An enormous toxic algal bloom nicknamed the “blob”, stretching from the Gulf of Alaska to the coast of Mexico, has been linked to the deaths of 30 large whales washed up on Alaskan coasts.

More than 250,000 Pacific salmon have died or are dying, meanwhile, due to warm temperatures in the Columbia river.  Scientists predict that up to 80 percent of the sockeye salmon population, which swim up the river from the ocean to spawn, could ultimately be wiped out.

Warming water causes outbreaks of disease among some fish, as well as triggering problems high up the food chain by reducing the number of small prey fish.

Read more at U.S. Seeks Greater Focus on Ocean Warming

Shell Swims Against Oil Price Tide

Popular protest is one problem for Shell – the price of oil is another. (Image Credit: Dennis Bratland via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
It’s a gamble – some would say a giant gamble.  Before even one liter of oil has been found, the Anglo-Dutch Shell group is believed to have spent more than US$7 billion – just making preparations for its latest Arctic venture.

Shell is betting on finding the oil industry’s Holy Grail: according to 2008 estimates by the US Geological Survey, the Arctic contains more than 20% of the world’s remaining hydrocarbon resources – including at least 90 billion barrels of oil.
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As recovery from shale deposits becomes more difficult and prices remain low, fracking is not enjoying the explosive growth it saw a few years ago.

Some drilling sites in the US states of Texas and North Dakota are being abandoned. Several of the smaller fracking companies – which borrowed large amounts during the good times to finance their operations – have gone bust.

But there is still a global glut of oil:  the International Energy Agency says there is unlikely to be a rebound in oil prices any time soon.

The drilling season in the Arctic is brief:  the days shorten quickly and the ice begins to form. Shell – and its shareholders – will be hoping for quick returns.

International negotiators preparing for the climate summit in Paris later this year are calling for urgent action to head off global warming.  There are many who hope Shell’s exploration activities will not succeed – and that the Arctic hydrocarbons stay where they are, thousands of feet below the seabed.

Read more at Shell Swims Against Oil Price Tide

NASA Chief:  'Still Time' to Heed Ominous Sea Level Rise Data



The administrator of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says attention must be paid to new data forecasting an approximately one meter rise in sea levels by the turn of the century.

“It sounds definitive and ominous because that’s the way nature works,” Charles Bolden Jr. told VOA Friday in Bangkok.

His comment came after a team of NASA scientists in the U.S. Wednesday briefed reporters on their research documenting an average nearly eight centimeter global sea level rise since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice.

“Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least three feet (0.91 meters) of sea level rise, and probably more,” by 2100, said Steve Nerem of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team and a professor of engineering aerospace sciences at the University of Colorado.

The data is especially significant for Asia where more than 150 million people live within one meter of the current sea level.

“We still have time to make a difference if we’ll pay attention to what the data says,” Bolden, a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general and former astronaut, said during the VOA interview.

Read more at NASA Chief:  'Still Time' to Heed Ominous Sea Level Rise Data

Why the Next Arctic-Drilling Fight Might Be Over Before It Begins

Chukchi sea (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
On paper, the Obama administration is slated to sell new drilling leases in Arctic waters next year, giving big energy companies new opportunities to seek oil and natural gas that may lie beneath the icy seas.  And on paper, the auction would surely inflame the longstanding left-right fight between Arctic development and conservation, putting the Obama administration between energy companies and environmentalists one more time before the president leaves office.

But off paper, and in the real world, there's reason to believe this one isn't actually going to happen—at least not before President Obama vacates the White House.

Instead, several signals suggest the Obama administration will push back or cancel the 2016 sale, leaving the question of new Arctic leases to the next occupant of the White House.  And, if that happens to be Hillary Clinton, it would likely mean slim pickings for the energy industry, given the Democratic front-runner's freshly stated opposition to allowing drilling off Alaska's northern coast.

As written, the Interior Department's 2012-2017 offshore leasing plan calls for an auction next year of drilling blocs in the Chukchi Sea, which is estimated to hold 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil.  But here's a big reason to believe that won't happen:  Interior has not even begun work on a huge piece of the labor-intensive, detailed bureaucratic spadework that must occur first.  That is, the preparation of the formal "Environmental Impact Statement" for the 2016 sale.  Those complex reports that Interior must prepare ahead of lease sales have generally taken around two years to complete for past auctions.

The Chukchi is where oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, after recently winning the Obama administration's green-light for a limited effort, has begun drilling a well on tracts it bought when George W. Bush was still president.

Environmentalists strongly oppose Shell's project to develop leases obtained under Bush.  But in a separate and somewhat lower-profile fight, for years activists have been urging the administration not to sell oil companies any new leases in the region, either.

The Obama administration has a track record of reluctance to sell new drilling rights in the environmentally sensitive Arctic region.  In 2010, a set of major Interior Department revisions to the 2007-2012 leasing plan crafted under Bush scuttled sales in the adjoining Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

Read more at Why the Next Arctic-Drilling Fight Might Be Over Before It Begins

Mapped:  The Countries that Will Face the Biggest Water Shortages by 2040


Baseline water stress (Credit: www.slideshare.net) Click to Enlarge.
Many countries around the world will face severe water shortages by 2040, according to a new report by the World Resource Institute.

As climate change takes hold around the world, water will become even more scarce in dry areas - while wet areas become even wetter.

The report's authors found 33 countries that would face "extremely high water stress" by 2040.

14 of these were in the Middle East - nine of which had a maximum score of five.  These were Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon.

These countries, it says, are among the least water-secure in the world.  They mainly rely on groundwater and desalinated seawater - while Saudi Arabia is planning on surviving almost entirely on imported wheat by 2016, due to fears over its water supply.

Others countries most likely to face "severe and continuous water shortages" by 2040 include Spain and Chile.

Read more at Mapped:  The Countries that Will Face the Biggest Water Shortages by 2040

The Hungry Dystopia of Climate Change

An Indian farmer walks with his hungry cow through a parched paddy field in Agartala, India, 2005. (Credit: Reuters/Jayanta Dey) Click to Enlarge.
Thanks to climate change, farmers are now contending with more unexpected weather than usual in recent years.  Farmers have always been subject to the whims of nature, but eaters in the developed world haven’t had to worry too much about their problems.  For every crop failure there was someone else with a bumper harvest. That may be about to change.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates demand for food will increase 60 percent by 2050 as the human population grows.  And if climate change escalates as predicted, the task force said global food shortages could become three times more likely within a few decades.

Grain production is concentrated to a few crops in a few countries.  Extreme weather events in two or more of those places would “create a multiple bread basket failure,” the report said.
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People living in remote areas of poorer countries might be shielded from the effects of a global food panic, said Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, in an email.  But he continued:  “That said, the best evidence we have suggests that the majority of the poor — even the rural poor — spend more on food than they earn from selling it.  And so if even some of the assumed food prices spikes reach rural areas, these are likely to have a net negative impact on welfare for rural households.”

Wealthy countries rely on these food systems, too.  After all, U.S. exports supply more than 30 percent of the world’s rice, corn, and wheat.  And even developed countries are subject to spikes in food cost.  “In rich countries, where food is freely available, food price inflation was significant and the poorest suffered,” the report said in a section discussing the weather’s impacts on grain yields in the past.  The result?  “People trading down on food quality or quantity, and in the process spending significantly more.”

Food researchers have long cautioned that climate change will impact food availability and system stability.  Burke said rising temperatures have already put pressure on crop yields in most of the tropics and many parts of the developed world, and that there is evidence we’re going to see more weather-related social problems with future climate change.  The recent three-year Syrian drought, which displaced an estimated 1.5 million farmers, likely influenced the Syrian uprising in 2011.  The task force also touched on the weather-influenced, multi-system failures that led to poor wheat yields in 2010 and possibly helped spark the Arab Spring.

Read more at The Hungry Dystopia of Climate Change

Saturday, August 29, 2015

  Saturday, Aug 29

How to Make Sense of 'Alarming' Sea Level Forecasts

Earth with a sea level rise of six meters. Imagine a possible future rise of 70 feet.(Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
You may have read recent reports about huge changes in sea level, inspired by new research from James Hansen, NASA’s former Chief Climate Scientist, at Columbia University.  Sea level rise represents one of the most worrying aspects of global warming, potentially displacing millions of people along coasts, low river valleys, deltas and islands.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s scientific climate body, forecasts rises of approximately 40 to 60 cm by 2100.  But other studies have found much greater rises are likely.

Hansen and 16 co-authors found that with warming of 2C sea levels could rise by several meters.  Hansen’s study was published in the open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion, and has not as yet been peer-reviewed.  It received much media coverage for its “alarmist” findings.

So how should we make sense of these dire forecasts?
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Looking to the past
The IPCC estimates stand in sharp contrast to projections made by some climate scientists, in particular James Hansen who pointed out in 2007 and in his and his colleagues' latest study of the effects of ocean warming on the ice sheets.

The IPCC reports did not take into account rates of dynamic ice sheet breakdown, despite satellite gravity measurements reported in the peer-reviewed literature by other scientists.
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Could it be worse?
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Warming of 2-4C implies a rise in sea level by several to many meters.  Future sea level rise, once it reaches equilibrium with temperature rise of about 2C above pre-industrial temperature, could reach levels on the scale of the Pliocene (pre-2.6 million years ago) around 25+/-12 meters.  Temperature rise of 4C higher than pre-industrial would be consistent with peak Miocene (about 16 million years ago) equilibrium sea levels of about 40 meters.

We don’t know how long it would take for seas to rise that high with rising temperatures. However the extreme rise rate of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, higher than 2 ppm CO2 per year, if continues, threatens an accelerating rate of sea level rise.

Read (much) more at How to Make Sense of 'Alarming' Sea Level Forecasts

Russia Raises an "Ice Curtain" in the Arctic Thanks to Climate Change

A Russian icebreaker in the Arctic. (Credit: NOAA via Wikimedia Commons)
Russia has developed an "anti-access" presence in the Arctic in the past year with a stronger military presence, a push for more territory, and nationalist rhetoric, a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes.

While not focused entirely on climate change, the analysis offers a preview of ongoing geopolitical tensions — and legal issues — likely to be exacerbated by ice loss.  It urges Arctic nations to negotiate a "declaration on military conduct" requiring nations to give a 21-day advance notice of major military exercises — which could prevent actions like the unannounced Russian Arctic military exercises this year involving more than 45,000 forces.

NATO has reported that Russia has increasingly been turning off aircraft tracking devices when flying over Northern Europe, and the country has announced the reopening of dozens of previously closed military bases in the Arctic.

"The Arctic is beginning to become militarized and there is no forum or place to discuss security-related issues and to promote greater transparency and confidence," states the report, which refers to the current situation as "the new ice curtain."

"We are in quite a different place than we were a year, even a year and half ago," added Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at CSIS and the report's co-author.

According to the center, there should be a joint U.S.-Russia working group to enhance safety in the Bering Strait and more coordination between the U.S. Coast Guard and Russia over issues such as vessel traffic lanes.  A new Arctic Coast Guard Forum to be launched this fall — involving the United States, Russia and other Arctic countries — offers an important opportunity to "maintain contact" with Russian officials at a time when bilateral military contacts are not an option, said the research institution.

Tensions, trade or both?
The likely drivers of Russia's new nationalism range from internal political tensions to arrests of Greenpeace activists after they scaled a Russian oil rig in 2013, the center said.  Protests and a lagging economy have put additional pressure on President Vladimir Putin's government. Also, China has been making a push in the Russian Arctic, sending a range of ships through the Northern Sea Route, including its first container ship in 2013 on a path historically used for Russian shippers.  The route runs along Russia's coast and connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

In one sign of tension, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said this year that "some developed countries that don't have direct access to the polar regions obstinately strive for the Arctic."

On one level, Russia's actions are not surprising, considering that the Arctic accounts for approximately 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product and exports, according to Conley.  Efforts on things like search-and-rescue and oil spill prevention are "understandable," she said.

What is unusual, the report says, is the degree of the aggressiveness, and that it is occurring at a time when many Arctic oil and gas activities and infrastructure projects are still on hold. Military exercises in September 2014, for example, were the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union and involved a new military base in the New Siberian Islands.

Read original article at Russia Raises an "Ice Curtain" in the Arctic Thanks to Climate Change

Friday, August 28, 2015

Carbon Emissions from Power Plants Hit 27-Year Low

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector (Jan 1988-Apr 2015) (Credit: EIA) Click to Enlarge.
As states begin the long task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants to comply with new federal climate policy, a 27-year low in carbon dioxide emissions earlier this year shows the U.S. may be heading toward meeting its emissions goals.

U.S. power plants emitted less carbon dioxide — 128 million metric tons — in April than at any point in since April 1988, according to new U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

That continues a long-term trend of declining electric power sector carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. that began after they peaked at about 250 million metric tons in the summer of 2007. April is the month each year when power plants emit the least carbon dioxide because heating and cooling demand is very low in the early spring.
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April’s low emissions numbers happened because, for the first time in history, electricity production from natural gas surpassed electricity produced from coal, which produces greater than 70 percent more carbon emissions than natural gas when it is burned.  That happened only for one month, but as more coal-fired power plants are retired because of environmental regulations and low natural gas prices, the EIA expects more and more electricity to be produced from natural gas.  Electricity production from natural gas has tripled since April 1988.
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Alternative energy sources were also factors in the downward trend of carbon emissions this year, according to the EIA.  Nuclear power generation was 3 percent greater during the first four months of this year over the previous year, and renewable power production increased 2 percent during that time over the first four months of 2014.

Read more at Carbon Emissions from Power Plants Hit 27-Year Low

Drought Becoming the ‘New Normal’ for Californians

Low water levels at Folsom Dam near Sacramento as the Californian landscape takes on a dustbowl look. (Image Credit: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
One way or another, humans are to blame for the catastrophic drought in California that scientists say may be emerging as a “new normal”.

Either humans have mismanaged the state’s water, or human-triggered global warming has begun to help turn America’s landscape of wine and roses into a dustbowl, according to two new studies.

And the arguments have relevance extending far beyond the US west, as the European Drought Observatory has warned that much of mainland Europe is now caught up in the continent’s worst drought since 2003.

The consequences of any drought could also be more enduring than expected.  A research team in the US reports in the journal Ecological Applications that trees that survived severe drought in the US southeast 10 years ago are now dying – because of the long-ended drought.

Complex connections
Such statements are simple, but the connections with climate change are complex.  That is because drought is a natural cyclic turn of events, even in well-watered countries.  It is one of those extremes that, summed up, make the average climate.

Global warming or not, droughts would happen.  California in particular has a history of periodic drought that dates back far beyond European settlement and the state’s growth to become the most populous in the US.

But the drought that began in 2012 – and which has cost the agricultural industry more than $2 billion, lost 17,000 jobs, and so far killed 12 million trees – is the worst in at least a century.

Amir AghaKouchak, a hydrologist at the University of California Irvine, and colleagues say in Nature journal that they want authorities to recognize that human factors are making cyclic water scarcity worse.
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“Soaring temperatures will increase demand for energy just when water for power generation and cooling is in short supply.  Such changes will increase the tension between human priorities and nature’s share.”

Rising levels
The researchers leave open the question of the role of global warming, fuelled by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide because of increasing fossil fuel combustion.  But US scientists report in Geophysical Research Letters that they think global warming could have contributed up to 27% of the present drought.
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More ominously, global warming has amplified the probability of severe drought.  The new study suggests that, by the 2060s, California may be in more or less permanent drought. Rainfall might increase, but not enough to make up for greater evaporation because of rising temperatures.

Read more at Drought Becoming the ‘New Normal’ for Californians

From Katrina, an ‘Amazing’ Decade of Climate Research

New Orleanians walk throught floodwaters pushing boats in areas inundated by Hurricane Katrina on Sept. 2, 2005. (Credit: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA) Click to Enlarge.
Hurricane Katrina, along with two blockbuster studies that bookended the disaster, marked the beginning of a decade of rapid growth in a once tiny subfield that has since become one of the most visible in climate science.
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“There’s been an amazing rate of progress in the last 10 years.  I think the next 10 years will be greater,” Gabriel Vecchi, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, said.

Setting the Stage
Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT, was one of the few scientists who had looked at the question of how hurricane activity might change in a warming climate prior to Katrina.  In a 1987 paper he suggested that warming would lead to more intense, and therefore more potentially destructive, hurricanes (still one of the basic precepts of hurricane-climate research).

In early August 2005, just weeks before Katrina, Emanuel, who had been working on other issues, came back to this idea, with a paper in the journal Nature that took his earlier work a step further.  It suggested that not only would warming lead to more intense and destructive hurricanes in the future, but that this was already happening, helped along by some natural climate variations.  When Katrina struck later that month, interest in his study surged and Emanuel found himself pulled into the cacophonous media coverage.

A separate study by another group followed in mid-September, adding fuel to the fire.  This study, in the journal Science, came to a similar conclusion as Emanuel:  of the hurricanes happening in the global oceans, more were becoming Category 4 and 5 storms than was the case three decades earlier.
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Overall, it is thought that warming will indeed lead to a shift to more intense hurricanes over the course of the 21st century, by anywhere from a few percent to 10 percent, but that overall global hurricane numbers might drop, though by how much is uncertain.

Two of the most robust projections for future hurricanes are that storm surge will be worse, thanks to rising global sea levels, even if hurricanes themselves don’t change, and that storms will bring heavier rains thanks to increased moisture in the atmosphere.

Read more at From Katrina, an ‘Amazing’ Decade of Climate Research

  Friday, Aug 28

Hawaii’s Going 100 Percent Renewable, and It’s Not Using Natural Gas as a ‘Transition’

One out of every eight homes in Hawaii has solar. (Credit: AP Photo/Caleb Jones) Click to Enlarge.
Hawaiian Gov. David Ige said this week he opposes plans to use natural gas as a “transitional fuel” for the island state as it moves to 100 percent renewable electricity.  Ige said investment in infrastructure for LNG — or any fossil fuel — was misplaced, and he expressed doubt that there would be any monetary benefits to LNG proposals.

“LNG is a fossil fuel.  LNG is imported.  And any time or money spent on LNG is time and money not spent on renewable energy,” Ige told the audience at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summit and Expo in Honolulu on Monday night.

The governor’s remarks are especially significant because Florida-based NextEra Energy is trying to purchase Hawaii’s major utilities.  NextEra is an electric utility that also produces natural gas, which makes up a large portion of its generation mix.

Hawaii’s public utility corporation (PUC) is currently reviewing NextEra’s bid, after the board of the Hawaiian Electric Companies, which serve most of Hawaii between three providers, approved the deal.  Hawaiians have voiced concern that NextEra will transition the state’s power fleet from oil to natural gas.  Hawaii gets more of its electricity from oil than any other state — and it has the highest electricity rates.
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But moving to natural gas might not help lower costs, said State Rep. Chris Lee, chair of Hawaii’s Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

“When you factor in infrastructure to make LNG available, it may not pencil out,” he told ThinkProgress.  And when you look at LNG’s cost “both economically and environmentally both here and at the source, then it definitely doesn’t pencil out.”

Instead, Lee said, the state should be investing in more renewable energy sources.

“There’s all kinds of new technology and offshore renewables that we can integrate into our grid right now,” he said.
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Hawaii is arguably the most renewable state in the nation. One out of every eight homes has solar power, and the state’s commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 is the most aggressive renewable portfolio standard in the country.

Read more at Hawaii’s Going 100 Percent Renewable, and It’s Not Using Natural Gas as a ‘Transition’

Despite Governor's Objections, Obama Discusses Climate in New Orleans

Waves crash against a boat washed onto Highway 90 as Hurricane Katrina hits the Gulf Coast (Credit: John Bazemore / AP) Click to Enlarge.
President Barack Obama commemorated the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Thursday in New Orleans with a speech that made special mention of building resilience against climate change, despite earlier criticism by the state’s conservative governor for his planned remarks.

“We are going to see more extreme weather events as a result of climate change — deeper droughts, deadlier wildfires, stronger storms,” Obama said, adding that the government has been preparing for the change by investing in stronger levies, as well as restoring wetlands and other natural systems that are critical for storm protection.

Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, unleashed floods that killed nearly 2,000 people, left thousands of others homeless and caused an estimated $250 billion in damage.  It was the costliest and most damaging storm in U.S. history.

Prior to Obama’s speech, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a long shot Republican presidential candidate who has expressed doubt about man-made climate change, told the president in a letter to reconsider his message.
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“A lecture on climate change would do nothing to improve upon what we are already doing,” Jindal said in the letter.

As the Earth’s temperature rises, warmer weather adds energy to storms, increasing their severity.  At the same time, rising sea levels make storm surges more destructive.  This combination increases the likelihood of events like Hurricane Katrina for locations across the globe.  In his speech on Thursday, Obama said U.S. cities ought to be prepared.

The city of New Orleans released its resilience strategy earlier this week, part of a joint effort with 100 cities to increase urban resilience to a changing climate, a press release by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.  Among the 41 proposed actions were retrofitting infrastructure and improving storm-water management.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says it has spent $1.4 billion since 2009 in Louisiana and Mississippi for nearly 700 mitigation projects, including elevating homes and critical infrastructure, retrofitting government and residential structures and improving drainage.

The Obama administration hopes these types of climate projects could lessen the impact of future storms.  “There’s no denying what scientists tell us, which is that there’s reason to be concerned about these storms getting worse and more violent,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday.

Resilience won't be cheap.  A project meant to save the southeastern portion of Louisiana from sinking into the Gulf of Mexico would cost some $50 billion, ProPublica reported.  About 2,000 square miles of land have already disappeared into the Gulf, and without action, another 1,750 square miles could be lost over the next 50 years, leaving New Orleans largely unprotected from storms, it added.

Bolstering natural geographic features would lessen a potential storm's impact on New Orleans by absorbing the energy of such storms.  To that end, Obama said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has helped rebuild Gulf barrier island chains and natural wetlands.

Read more at Despite Governor's Objections, Obama Discusses Climate in New Orleans

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why Climate Change Could Make Hurricane Impact Worse

Victims of Hurricane Katrina stay at the Astrodome stadium where 16,000 evacuees were receiving food and shelter in Houston on Sept. 4, 2005. (Credit: Carlos Barria—Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
Hurricane Katrina surprised disaster preparedness authorities when it made landfall 10 years ago, leveling entire communities and killing more than 1,800 people. The storm caused more than $100 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. But for all the damage the storm caused in New Orleans, Katrina was a relatively weak hurricane when it hit the city.

In the academic community, the unexpected disaster prompted climate scientists to consider the link between climate change and storms.  Since then, research has shown that climate change will increase the devastation caused by hurricanes as sea levels rise due to global warming.  Some research has also suggested that climate change has increased the intensity and frequency of storms.

The phenomenon of storm surge plays an essential role in the worsening effect of hurricanes. Storm surge occurs when waters rise above their normal level during a storm and wind and weather conditions push that water onto shore.  Thanks to global warming and rising sea levels, the potential for ocean water to be washed ashore by a storm surge has risen as well.

During Katrina, storm surge pushed ashore the water, causing levees to fail.  The storm was recorded as a hurricane of category 1 or category 2 strength when it hit New Orleans, relatively weak for such a devastating hurricane.  But the storm surge reached as high as 12 feet in some places, creating flood conditions across the city and wreaking havoc with the city’s levee system.  Hurricane Sandy, which hit the New York City in 2012, cost $2 billion more due to sea level rise than it would have otherwise, according to a RAND report.

“The strong winds in Katrina essentially blew water from the gulf up across southern Louisiana,” said Hugh Roberts, associate vice president at ARCADIS, a firm that has consulted on Louisiana’s rebuilding efforts.  “Once it hits land, it begins to build up.”

In the future, rising sea levels will only exacerbate the storm surge problem.  Around the globe, sea levels are estimated to rise 1 to 3 feet by 2100 due to climate change, and researchers say that in places like New Orleans 1 foot of sea level rise may lead to a 3 or 4 foot storm surge rise.
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“There is not uncertainty about sea level rise,” said RAND researcher Jordan Fischbach, who led a Louisiana flood risk assessment team.  “As we get more sea level rise, these large storm events will with certainty damage to assets and people.”

Read more at Why Climate Change Could Make Hurricane Impact Worse

Carbon Pricing Can Help Save Forests––and the Climate––Analysis Says

While some caution a tax on carbon won't fix everything, new research shows it can significantly slow deforestation.


Deforestation, particularly in the tropics, is a major climate change issue. (Credit: Rainforest Action Network, via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Deforestation will cost the Earth an India-sized patch of forest by mid-century––a crippling blow to the climate––but carbon pricing could halve the loss, according to a new study.

A comprehensive new analysis of satellite imagery and land use practices across 101 countries shows that one-seventh of the world's tropical forests will be lost over the next 35 years, an area equal to roughly one-third of the United States.

Such a tremendous loss of forests and the burning of the carbon they contain would hasten global warming significantly.  The loss, however, could be cut nearly in half by placing a price on carbon that pays landowners to keep their forests intact.

"Stopping deforestation won't on its own stop climate change," said the study's lead author, Jonah Busch, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development.  "But if you try to stop climate change without stopping deforestation, it's going to be much more expensive and harder to get there than if you take advantage of this big and cheap source."

Read more at Carbon Pricing Can Help Save Forests––and the Climate––Analysis Says

  Thursday, Aug 27

7 Out of 10 Americans Want Their States to Comply with the EPA’s Climate Plan

Coal power plant (Credit: Shutterstock)  Click to Enlarge.
Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan by a margin of nearly two to one, a new poll from the League of Conservation Voters found.

Despite the rhetoric from some Republican governors, 70 percent of Americans want their states to develop plans to meet the EPA’s guidelines.  Carbon emissions from power plants will be regulated for the first time under the EPA plan, finalized earlier this month.

“It is good news that support for the Clean Power Plan remains strong, but it’s especially good news to see that Americans want their governors on board with the plan too,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement.  “State leaders who are choosing to fight these carbon pollution safeguards would do well to listen to their constituents instead of the polluters.”

According to the poll, conducted for the League of Conservation Voters by Hart Research, supporters of the plan outnumber opponents pretty much across the board.

“A majority of voters in every region of the country support it, as do a majority of voters in every age, education, and income category,” the researchers found.  And while there is majority support among both Democrats and Independents, Republicans are not far behind:  56 percent of “non-conservative” Republicans are generally in favor of the Clean Power Plan, and 58 percent of all Republicans want their state to comply with the EPA rule — even if they don’t support it.

Read more at 7 Out of 10 Americans Want Their States to Comply with the EPA’s Climate Plan

Wildfire Smoke Fouls Air Across U.S. Northwest

NASA satellite captures thick plumes of smoke from wildfires (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
In north-central Washington, a cluster of deadly fires dubbed the Okanogan Complex jumped some 20,000 acres in size from the day prior to more than 280,267 acres (113,420 hectares), after a blanket of cooler air lifted, kicking up winds and heat.

The fire, now the state's largest on record, was 17 percent contained on Wednesday, up from Monday's 10 percent.

Evacuation orders were issued for more than 2,000 residents and thousands more have been advised they may soon need to flee as well, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Suzanne Flory.

Last week, three firefighters were killed and four were injured in an initial assault on a branch of the Okanogan Complex.  So far this year, U.S. wildland blazes have claimed the lives of at least 13 firefighters.

About 50 miles (80 km) to the south, fires have scorched 88,142 acres (35,670 hectares) along Lake Chelan, and some 1,000 residents in the area of a resort town at the foot of the lake remain under evacuation orders.

This summer's blazes have stretched resources thin, prompting a rare enlistment of firefighting reinforcements from the U.S. military and abroad.

President Barack Obama said in an interview with Seattle's KIRO-TV that Congress should focus on funding the fight against wildfires when it returns from its summer break.

"Each year we’ve seen it get worse.  Part of this has to do with climate change, and it’s something that we’re going to have to anticipate in the decades in the future," he said.

Read more at Wildfire Smoke Fouls Air Across U.S. Northwest

New Survey on Americans' Views on Papal Encyclical on Climate Change

Pope Francis (Photo Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A new national survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and researchers at Yale University found that fewer than 1 in 3 Americans, and 40 percent of Catholics, are aware of Pope Francis's efforts to publicize global warming as a priority issue for the Catholic Church.  While there is relatively low awareness of the papal encyclical, a majority of Americans say it is appropriate for the pope to take a public position on the issue of global warming. This is true even though very few Americans consider global warming as an issue of religion, social justice, or poverty.  The nationwide poll was collected July 17 to 19, 2015, using the AmeriSpeak Omnibus, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,030 adults.

"This survey indicates that the Pope's message on global warming has not broken through to a majority of Catholics or Americans," said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "The survey found that few people consider the issue a religious or social justice one."

Some of the poll's key findings include:
  • Few Americans, just 31 percent, have heard about Pope Francis's encyclical on global warming.
  • Most Americans say they think it's appropriate for the pope to take a public stand on global warming despite few viewing it as a religious issue.
  • Catholics mirror non-Catholic Americans in their attitudes about whether global warming is happening and their views about the appropriateness of the pope's recent encyclical.
  • Over three-quarters of Americans say climate change is an environmental and scientific issue.  Few consider it to be an issue relating to social justice, poverty, or religion.
"Even though the Pope's Encyclical is a major theological statement, fewer than 2 in 5 churchgoing Catholics heard about it from their priest in the month after it was released," said Anthony Leiserowitz, a faculty member of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.  "But this may change when Pope Francis visits the United States in September to bring his message personally."

Read more at New Survey on Americans' Views on Papal Encyclical on Climate Change

Global Sea Levels Climbed 3 Inches Since 1992, NASA Research Shows

Tourists make their way across Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on the Causeway coast, north of Belfast April 8, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton) Click to Enlarge.
Sea levels worldwide rose an average of nearly 3 inches (8 cm) since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice, a panel of NASA scientists said on Wednesday.

In 2013, a United Nations panel predicted sea levels would rise from 1 to 3 feet (0.3 to 0.9 meters) by the end of the century.  The new research shows that sea level rise most likely will be at the high end of that range, said University of Colorado geophysicist Steve Nerem.

Sea levels are rising faster than they did 50 years, ago and “it’s very likely to get worse in the future,” Nerem said.

The changes are not uniform.  Some areas showed sea levels rising more than 9 inches (25 cm) and other regions, such as along the U.S. West Coast, actually falling, according to an analysis of 23 years of satellite data.

Scientists believe ocean currents and natural cycles are temporarily offsetting a sea level rise in the Pacific, and the U.S. West Coast could see a significant hike in sea levels in the next 20 years.

“People need to understand that the planet is not only changing, it’s changed,” NASA scientist Tom Wagner told reporters on a conference call.

“If you’re going to put in major infrastructure like a water treatment plant or a power plant in a coastal zone ... we have data you can now use to estimate what the impacts are going to be in the next 100 years,” Wagner said.

Read more at Global Sea Levels Climbed 3 Inches Since 1992, NASA Research Shows

Let’s See What Happens When this Group of Scientists Retests Studies that Contradict Climate Science

Climate Scientists (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
The scientific consensus behind man-made global warming is overwhelming:  multiple studies have noted a 97 percent consensus among climate scientists that the Earth is warming and human activities are primarily responsible.  Scientists are as sure that global warming is real — and driven by human activity — as they are that smoking cigarettes leads to lung cancer.

But what if all of those scientists are wrong?  What if the tiny sliver of scientists that don’t believe global warming is happening, or that human activities are causing it — that two to three percent of climate contrarians — are right?

That’s the hypothetical question that a new study, authored by Rasmus Benestad, Dana Nuccitelli, Stephan Lewandowsky, Katharine Hayhoe, Hans Olav Hygen, Rob van Dorland, and John Cook, sought to answer.  Published last week in the journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology, the study examined 38 recent examples of contrarian climate research — published research that takes a position on anthropogenic climate change but doesn’t attribute it to human activity — and tried to replicate the results of those studies.  The studies weren’t selected randomly — according to lead author Rasmus Benestad, the studies selected were highly visible contrarian studies that had all arrived at a different conclusion than consensus climate studies.  The question the researchers wanted to know was — why?

“Our selection suited this purpose as it would be harder to spot flaws in papers following the mainstream ideas.  The chance of finding errors among the outliers is higher than from more mainstream papers,” Benestad wrote at RealClimate.  “Our hypothesis was that the chosen contrarian paper was valid, and our approach was to try to falsify this hypothesis by repeating the work with a critical eye.”

It didn’t go well for the contrarian studies.

The most common mistake shared by the contrarian studies was cherry picking, in which studies ignored data or contextual information that did not support the study’s ultimate conclusions.  In a piece for the Guardian, study co-author Dana Nuccitelli cited one particular contrarian study that supported the idea that moon and solar cycles affect the Earth’s climate.  When the group tried to replicate that study’s findings for the paper, they found that the study’s model only worked for the particular 4,000-year cycle that the study looked at.

“However, for the 6,000 years’ worth of earlier data they threw out, their model couldn’t reproduce the temperature changes,” Nuccitelli wrote.  “The authors argued that their model could be used to forecast future climate changes, but there’s no reason to trust a model forecast if it can’t accurately reproduce the past.”

The researchers also found that a number of the contrarian studies simply ignored the laws of physics.  For example, in 2007 and 2010 papers, Ferenc Miskolczi argued that the greenhouse effect had become saturated, a theory that had been disproved in the early 1900s.

Read more at Let’s See What Happens When this Group of Scientists Retests Studies that Contradict Climate Science

  Wednesday, Aug 26

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Solar Power Takes Giant Strides as Prices Fall

Massive solar power stations are being built in the world’s “sun belts” − with the US and India competing to have the largest in the world.

Arizona’s barren landscape is ideal for the construction of solar farms. (Image Credit: Energy.gov via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The US Navy is investing in what will be the largest solar farm in the world in order to provide power for 14 of its bases.

The climate of Arizona, where the two earlier phases of the Mesquite solar farm are already up and running, provides 300 days of sunshine a year.  And the Navy’s deal to extend the farm is the largest purchase of renewable energy ever made by a US federal government agency.

The solar farm project is one of a growing number being installed across what is known as the American Sun Belt − the southern states of America, which have expanding populations, plenty of sunshine, but also large areas of arid and unproductive land.

The price of solar panels has now fallen so far worldwide that, in sunny climes, they can compete on cost with any other form of energy generation.  This new generation of huge solar farms produces as much power as a large coal-fired plant.

China and India are also building similarly massive installations, taking advantage of their own sun belts and desert regions.  It is doubtful that Mesquite 3, huge as it is, will manage to remain the world’s largest for long.

Read more at Solar Power Takes Giant Strides as Prices Fall

Obama Calls for Big Clean Energy Push

Installing Solar Panels on Roof (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
President Obama spoke in Las Vegas Monday at the National Clean Energy Summit.  He was introduced by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who called Obama “the leader who finally put us on the path to stop climate change.” The senator also commended Obama’s administrative efforts to effect change when it’s been nearly impossible to push anything through legislatively.

In his speech, Obama outlined his plan to move America from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable one using both executive orders and partnerships with states and the private sector. His new actions include an additional $1 billion in federal loan guarantees for clean energy projects.  You can read about all of the new initiatives at Whitehouse.gov.

More pointedly, the president spoke about barriers to clean energy; namely, the fossil fuel industry, the Koch brothers, and certain members of the Republican establishment who “hold up snow balls in February as if that disproves decades of scientific data.”

Of the Koch brothers, Obama said: “It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market.  It’s another thing when you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working and people want to buy and suddenly you’re not for it anymore.  That’s a problem.”

Clean energy, he said, is no longer just for tree-huggers.  “If you’re progressive, libertarian, if you want to save some money, if you care about the future of our children and grandchildren,” he said, renewable energy is for you.

Read more at Obama Calls for Big Clean Energy Push

When Firefighters Speak Out on Climate Change, We Ought to Listen Up

Freak wild fires are becoming the new normal as global weather patterns have changed dramatically, but we still not have accepted that


Is this the brave new future of climate change? (Photograph Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is worsening the fires that ravage many parts of America each year.  Grime-streaked firefighters battling one of the 167 active wildfires currently scorching portions of the US west will tell you as much. What they have encountered on the firelines in the past few years is evidence that everything has changed as a result of global warming.
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But what firefighters believe is abnormal is just a new normal driven by climate change. Temperatures that spike above long-held norms, record-breaking low-humidity levels, multi-year droughts, tinder-dry vegetation and fierce winds are among the factors fueling these new, more massive infernos.  The sooner that firefighting agencies, public officials, policymakers and citizens acknowledge the impact that climate change is having on the frequency, intensity, duration and behavior of fire, the sooner that they will begin to develop new responses to wildland fire in the US west.

Doing so will mean admitting that climate change is also disrupting the capacity of firefighting organizations to respond.  They were created to snuff out fires based on what were perceived to be static weather patterns – the old normal.

Today’s powerful conflagrations have also exposed the conceit that we must fight all fires, everywhere.  That commitment is made doubly dangerous given how dried out the US west has become due to the mega-drought that has been wracking the region since 2010. 

Factoring climate change into our calculations about what fires we’re able and not able to fight will be a hard concession for firefighters and the public to accept.  Still, we will have to let some fires burn, particularly those distant from populated areas.

Yet making such tough choices must come coupled with an increase in spending at national, state and local levels for fire-prevention measures.  The US Forest Service is now spending more than 50% of its budget on firefighting alone, which is seriously undercutting its ability to conduct more cost-effective thinning of forests that can diminish a fire’s intensity and speed.

More money is also needed for educational outreach to those inhabiting fire zones – dubbed the wildland-urban interface – to ensure that their dwellings are more fire safe and defensible. This investment is particularly imperative in California, where more than two million people live in these zones, putting themselves directly in the path of this new fire regime.

Read more at When Firefighters Speak Out on Climate Change, We Ought to Listen Up