Monday, February 29, 2016

America’s Methane Crisis Just Got Worse

Aliso Canyon gas well pad leaked methane for nearly four months, affecting the nearby community of Porter Ranch in Los Angeles. (Credit:  Click to Enlarge.
Emissions of methane in the United States are far higher than previously understood, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  It’s something scientists have known for some time, but new figures released by the agency confirm that we’ve been lowballing our estimates of methane emissions.  The revelation, announced last week by EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, showed among other things that methane emissions in 2013 were 27 percent higher than previous estimates.

The bad news came on the heels of the end of the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak in Southern California, arguably the largest such disaster ever.  For four months, the ruptured gas-well complex spewed thousands of tons of methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere.  The accident essentially “doubled the [methane] emission rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin, and in total released 97,100 metric tonnes of methane to the atmosphere,” according to a paper in Science.

Methane is emitted from equipment failures, like the Aliso Canyon disaster, but also from smaller undetected leaks and routine flaring of excess gas from oil wells.  Gas lost annually due to leaks and flaring is worth $1.4 billion at 2015 prices, according to the EPA.

One reason that estimates of methane emissions vary so widely is that the gas is odorless, colorless, and dissipates quickly.  Official figures don’t even include methane from “super emitters” like the Aliso Canyon event.  The scientists who produced the Science study had to fly a small aircraft over the leak in order to measure how much gas it was emitting.

In a separate study published last week, a team of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, studied methane leaks in the Los Angeles Basin using a mobile lab equipped with sensors designed to measure methane, ethane, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. They found 213 hot spots across the region.

Read more at America’s Methane Crisis Just Got Worse

Which Mega-Cities Offer Best Protection from Climate Change?

The world's wealthy cities received a large part of the $323 billion governments spent on measures to adapt to climate change last year, but vulnerable cities in the developing world are falling behind, said a study published on Monday.

Developing-world cities with more than 3 million residents such as Addis Ababa, Lagos, and Jakarta, spent a smaller percentage of their GDP on protecting their inhabitants from worsening extreme weather and rising seas than their rich counterparts such as New York or Paris, the study said.

That suggests spending on climate adaptation is more strongly linked to protecting capital than helping the world's poor avert the worst impacts of global warming, said researchers from University College London, who conducted the study.

New York, for example, spends about $269 per capita on climate change adaptation, while Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, which is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, spends just $8 per person annually.

Developed-world cities, on average, spend about 0.22 percent of their GDP on climate change adaptation, while cities in developing countries spend about 0.15 percent.

China's capital, Beijing, is an exception in the developing world, allocating 0.33 percent of its total wealth to climate adaptation, said the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Global spending on responses to climate change - including flood barriers, more resilient infrastructure and better drainage systems - is set to increase as the planet warms and weather becomes more erratic, the study said.

Public and private sector spending on climate change adaptation and resilience in ten megacities in 2014/15. Expressed as total spend in millions of pounds (left) and as a percentage of the city’s GDP (GDPc; right).  [Credit: Georgeson et al, (2016)] Click to Enlarge.
The researchers calculated spending on climate change adaptation for ten of the world's mega-cities:

Read more at Which Mega-Cities Offer Best Protection from Climate Change?

  Monday, Feb 29

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Leonardo DiCaprio Uses Oscars Speech to Call for Climate Action

Leonardo DiCaprio holds Oscar (Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) Click to Enlarge.
Leonardo DiCaprio had a message for Oscar viewers Sunday night:  climate change is real, and we need to act on it now.

DiCaprio won the award for Best Actor for his role as a frontiersman in The Revenant — his sixth time nominated for an Oscar and first time winning.  DiCaprio used the second half of his speech — after the usual thanks — to call attention to climate change.

“Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history — our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow,” he said.  “Climate change is real, it is happening right now, it is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”

Read more at Leonardo DiCaprio Uses Oscars Speech to Call for Climate Action

The Hidden Cause of America’s Coal Collapse

The US coal mining sector is in free-fall.  The market value of US coal companies today is a fraction of what it was just a few years ago. Dozens have gone bankrupt. The public debate regarding the cause of US coal’s decline has focused largely on domestic factors.  Some see low-cost natural gas as the primary culprit.  Others blame environmental regulations.  But the leading cause of the decline in US coal production revenue is the one most overlooked – a slow-down in Chinese demand.

A Sector in Decline
The American coal industry is hurting.  The four largest US miners by output, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy and Alpha Natural Resources, which account for nearly half of US production were worth a combined $34 billion at their peak in 2011.  Today they are worth $150 million.  Arch and Alpha filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, joining a number of other smaller miners including Patriot Coal and Walter Energy.

In debating the root cause of American coal companies’ current ills, observers generally point to recent changes in the US electric power sector.  Coal’s share of US power generation has declined from an average of 53% between 1980 and 2005 to 34% in 2015 .
As a result, domestic coal consumption has declined by 32% over the past ten years.  While this has certainly hit the industry hard, the more important source of coal industry distress has nothing to do with the US power sector.  Indeed it has very little to do with the US.
Mind the Met
It’s certainly true that the majority of the American coal production is used for power generation within the US.  Of the billion tons of coal mined in 2014, 90% was steam coal used to generate electricity (or heat in industrial boilers) at facilities located in the US.  A much smaller share, 3%, was exported for use in power plants elsewhere in the world.  The remainder (7%) was metallurgical coal (or “met” coal) used to make steel.  While a relatively small share production in tonnage terms, met coal has traditionally fetched a much higher price than steam coal both in the US and around the world.  Met prices surpassed $200 a ton in 2011, 250% more than relatively expensive Central Appalachian steam coal sold for during that same period of time.

Since 2011, however, met prices have collapsed, down to $85 a ton at the end of last year. Steam coal prices have softened as well, but not nearly as much as met.  If you combine these changes in price, with the changes in production quantities over the past four years, met’s role in the US coal sector’s collapse becomes pretty clear.  Between 2011 and 2014, 93% of the decline in US coal producer revenue was due to a drop in met quantities and prices.  A sharp drop in US coal-fired power generation– and resulting drop in steam coal production – played a more significant role in 2015, but met still accounted for 57% of the revenue decline relative to 2011. Another 6% was due to a decline US steam coal exports.  That leaves only 38% of the decline in US coal producer revenue attributable to weak domestic steam coal demand 
Betting on a Future that Never Arrived
It’s not just the direct impact of the current Chinese coal consumption slowdown on US coal production revenue that has American miners on the ropes.  It’s the change in outlook for Chinese coal consumption going forward. 

[China's big change is mostly for environmental reasons:  to reduce urban air pollution and to avoid catastrophic climate change.]

Read more at The Hidden Cause of America’s Coal Collapse

Democratic Party Slams GOP Candidates on Climate Change

The Democratic Party released a video on Sunday slamming Republican presidential hopefuls for their opposition to action on climate change, suggesting the views clash with the reality of rising sea levels and shifting weather patterns.

The video features Republican front-runner Donald Trump and his two closest rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, denying man-made global warming, juxtaposed with images of U.S. flooding, wildfires, droughts and heat waves.

"I'm not a believer in climate change," Trump says during a television news interview featured in the clip.

"Satellite data show there's been no warming whatsoever," Cruz, a U.S. senator of Texas, says in another news clip.

Rubio, a U.S. senator of Florida, says, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it."

The video aims to put the environmental issue center stage in the November race for the White House.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both laid out plans to combat climate change, while all five Republican presidential contenders have argued that the problem doesn't exist or have discounted the scope of the issue.

The video also draws a link between environmental issues and the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court following the surprise death this month of Justice Antonin Scalia.

President Barack Obama has said he plans to nominate a replacement for Scalia before the November election, but Republicans in Congress have vowed to block the effort.

"With so many issues at stake now, with so much potentially heading before the court on clean energy and climate change, we simply can't afford for our nation's highest court to be crippled," a few Democratic members of Congress say in the video.

Read more at Democratic Party Slams GOP Candidates on Climate Change

As Sea Levels Rise, Economic Damage Piles Up Even Faster:  Study

A villager walks on a stone barrier as sea water reaches her house in Mayangan village in Subang, Indonesia's West Java province, in this July 16, 2010 file photo. (Credit: Reuters/Beawiharta) Click to Enlarge.
As sea levels rise, threatening cities from New York to Shanghai, the economic damage will increase even faster, scientists said on Monday.

Extreme floods whipped up by storms will become ever more costly for cities as ocean levels edge up around the world's coasts in coming decades, they wrote in a study that could help guide governments budgeting to protect everything from buildings and basements to metro systems.

"The damage from sea level rise rises faster than sea level rise itself," co-author Juergen Kropp, part of a team at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Reuters of the findings.

For the Danish capital Copenhagen, for instance, a moderate sea level rise of 11 cm (4 inches) by 2050 from 2010 levels would cause about a billion euros ($1.1 billion) a year in extra damage if no protective action is taken, the study estimated.

But the costs would quadruple to 4 billion euros if the rate of sea level rise roughly doubles to 25 cm by 2050, in line with the worst scenarios projected by a U.N. scientific panel, they wrote in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

World sea levels are creeping higher, the U.N. panel says, partly because global warming is adding water to the oceans by melting glaciers from the Andes to the Alps and parts of vast ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica.

Read more at As Sea Levels Rise, Economic Damage Piles Up Even Faster: Study

Sunday, February 28, 2016

  Sunday, Feb 28

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Rural Electric Co-Ops, Traditionally Bastions of Coal, Are Getting into Solar

Fuel Mix of Power Sold by Co-Ops (Credit: NRECA) Click to Enlarge.
In the US, rural areas and constituencies have typically weighed against progress on clean energy.  But that may be changing.

A new story out of Wisconsin illustrates that a slow, tentative shift is underway, as rural electricity consumers and the utilities that serve them take a new look at the benefits of solar power.

In fact, if you squint just right, you can even glimpse a future in which rural America is at the vanguard of decarbonization.  The self-reliance and local jobs enabled by renewable energy are of unique value in rural areas, and rural leaders are beginning to recognize that solar isn't just for elitist coastal hippies any more.
Rural co-ops are coal-dependent and regulation-averse
Rural co-ops have been around for a long time, and they've always done things basically the same way. In a nutshell, they strike long-term power purchase agreements (sometimes up to 50 years) with big coal plants.Consequently, rural co-ops have traditionally opposed air quality regulations. Among other things, they fought against the 2009 cap-and-trade bill and lobbied against Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan.
Glimmers of clean energy in rural America
Rural co-ops' opposition to air regulations is a combination of stubborn habit and justifiable protectiveness of their members, who are often poorer than average.  For most co-op members, the monthly electric bill is a larger proportion of consumer spending than for most urbanites.

What's more, many co-ops are locked into long-term PPAs with coal plants.  And smaller co-ops often do not have the capital to own or purchase from a diverse array of power sources.  Rural co-ops rightly fear anything that will raise costs for their members.
Rural communities are especially attuned to the values of independence and self-reliance.  There is a powerful attraction to the idea of local power that creates local jobs.

Now that the handcuffs of coal are starting to loosen and financing challenges are being overcome, I wouldn't be surprised to see renewable energy embraced by rural co-ops, perhaps even with more enthusiasm than their investor-owned counterparts.

Read more at Rural Electric Co-Ops, Traditionally Bastions of Coal, Are Getting into Solar

The Suddenly Urgent Quest to Remove Carbon Dioxide from the Air

“I’m skeptical there is a technology that will cheaply capture CO2 at 400 parts per million when it’s expensive to do at 400,000 parts per million in a smokestack,” says Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth sciences at Stanford University who has researched negative emissions.  “It’s tougher thermodynamically. Carbon dioxide in air is a thousand times less abundant.”

Jackson and other researchers have studied what is perhaps the leading current idea for how negative carbon emissions are supposed to happen, and it’s very different. It’s called bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, or “BECCS.”

The idea here is that you would pair two existing technologies:  Growing corn, trees or other forms of biomass to burn in power plants, and then storing the burned-off carbon in the ground instead of letting it escape into the air.  When the plants regrow , they would pull carbon dioxide out of the air again, and the net result would be a removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
BECCS may have an Achilles heel.  Namely, the amount of land required to grow enough trees or corn to remove carbon at a planetary scale would be enormous.

One recent study, for instance, found that in order to offset about a third of current global carbon emissions, you would need to cover the entire lower 48 states in BECCS projects.

Yet another negative emissions idea, simply planting huge amounts of trees where they currently do not exist, faces a similar hurdle.  There’s no doubt more trees means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Yet once again, vast areas could be required — and in the future, people will need even more land to grow food than at present.

During major periods of tectonic uplift in the Earth’s past, huge slabs of rock rich in the mineral olivine (mostly peridotite) were pushed up through the Earth’s crust, with some of it being exposed at the surface. The resulting chemical weathering caused or contributed to a significant drop in CO2 levels leading to global cooling. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Some researchers advocate a completely different approach, called “enhanced weathering.”

Scientists have long known that over vast time periods, carbon is removed from the atmosphere by becoming embedded in rocks.  Here’s how it works:  Rainwater contains some carbon from the atmosphere in the form of carbonic acid.  As it falls on certain types of rocks, they break down or “weather,” and the interaction eventually leads to the formation of a carbonate — such as limestone — with the carbon locked inside.
The idea is to speed up this process by crushing silicate rocks like olivine, and spreading them over landscape surfaces to get rained upon.  Sounds simple, but it takes a lot of money and energy to mine and then crush rocks, and the fine dusts that result could also prove a major health hazard if people breathe them in.

It’s also expensive.  A recent study estimated a price of between $60 trillion and $600 trillion to remove 50 parts per million of carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere in this manner.

Read more at The Suddenly Urgent Quest to Remove Carbon Dioxide from the Air

U.S. Gasoline Use Slows With Uptick in Fuel Efficiency

U.S. gasoline consuption vs. vehicle miles traveled. (Credit: EIA) Click to Enlarge.
Gas is cheap — about $1.73 on average nationwide today — and that means Americans are driving more miles than they did back before the recession when gasoline topped $4 per gallon.

Thanks to greater fuel efficiency, however, gasoline consumption is lower than it was at its peak in 2007, even though Americans are driving more than they did nine years ago, according to a report published this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“There’s a tremendous run-up in fuel efficiency since 2007,” EIA analyst Michael Morris said.  “You can have static gasoline consumption because of fuel efficiency.”

Average fuel efficiency for all cars nationwide — old and new — has increased about 1 percent in the past nine years, from about 21.25 miles per gallon for light-duty vehicles in 2007 to about 22.5 miles per gallon today, he said.  Average fuel economy for new vehicles is about 33 miles per gallon.

Burning gasoline in cars and trucks is a major contributor to global warming, so less gasoline used in vehicles benefits the climate.  Carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle tailpipes account for 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — America’s second largest single source of those emissions, just behind electric power plants.

Americans drive a lot — about 8.9 million miles each day during the summer driving season last year, an increase of about 3.7 percent over the year before.  Total miles driven last year were about 4 percent higher than in 2007.  By 2017, we’re expected to be driving 7 percent more miles than we did in 2007.

But even as we drive more, growth in gasoline use is expected to flatten out.  Gasoline consumption will likely be 0.6 percent below 2007 levels both this year and next year, EIA data show.

“The combination of an increasing share of the baby-boomer generation reaching retirement and continued increases in vehicle fuel economy is expected to limit growth in motor gasoline consumption,” the report says.

Increasing fuel efficiency and flattened gasoline consumption fits into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas emissions standards for light-duty vehicles, which are expected to reach about 54 miles per gallon by 2025, reducing cars’ and trucks’ greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion metric tons over that time.

Beginning in 2017, car makers are required to improve their new cars’ carbon dioxide emissions by 3.5 percent per year, and beginning in 2022, car makers will have to improve their vehicles’ emissions by 5 percent each year.

Read more at U.S. Gasoline Use Slows With Uptick in Fuel Efficiency

Australia's Biggest Banks Pump Billions into Fossil Fuels Despite Climate Pledges

The big four banks have lent six times as much to fossil fuels as they did to renewables since 2008. (Photo Credit: Jesse Marlow) Click to Enlarge.
Australia’s big four banks are continuing to finance fossil fuel projects despite embracing a 2C or better global warming target, according to figures from financial activists Market Forces.

The Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank signed off on loans totalling $5.5bn to coal, oil, gas and liquefied natural gas projects in 2015, a figure that is higher than three of the preceding eight years.

Among the deals were eight loans for coal projects signed in Australia in 2015, with a total value of $4bn, including for struggling Whitehaven Coal, operator of the controversial Maules Creek mine. All of the projects had some financing from the big four banks, with their contributions totalling $995m.
Tim Buckley, an analyst from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told Guardian Australia the banks immediately started trading the debt in secondary markets and lost 20% on it in the first few months.

Buckley said the bad performance of that loan was an “a-ha moment” for the banking industry.  He said he was sure that next year similar analysis would show a drop in fossil fuel lending but not because of environmental concerns – simply because they are realizing fossil fuels are a bad bet.

“The financial markets have realised that [the Paris accord] was a massive aha-moment for everyone … They are saying, ‘Look, we know that policy action globally is inevitable,” Buckley said.  As a result they were beginning to be more cautious about financing fossil fuels and that would be reflected at the end of this year, he said.

Read more at Australia's Biggest Banks Pump Billions into Fossil Fuels Despite Climate Pledges

  Saturday, Feb 27

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

“I Am an Energy Voter” - by James Hansen

Energy Voter (Credit: YouTube) Click to Enlarge.
“I am an energy voter” commercials are from skilled professionals, and they are persuasive.  They promise jobs, low prices at the pump, warm homes, and energy independence for our nation.

Benefits for all, or so it seems.  In reality, in the end, benefits flow mainly to a handful of people, the fossil fuel magnates, who prefer to be anonymous.

“I am an energy voter” commercials, in effect, ask us to place our offspring on a sacrificial alter. As we raise the knife, unlike Abraham, we hear no voice telling us to stop, to put down the knife. Young people do not cry out.  Adults are fooled and compliant.

Yet the science is crystal clear.  We have a climate and energy crisis, an emergency.  Regional climate change is beginning.  In the U.S. Southwest it means increasingly hot summers, stronger droughts, more extreme fires, and when rain occurs, heavier rain and floods.

As climate change grows, rapidly shifting climate zones will drive many species to extinction.  As many as half of all species could be committed to extinction by the end of this century.

The largest economic effect will occur via rising sea level, as ice sheets begin to collapse by mid-century.  More than half of the world’s largest cities could become dysfunctional this century.

Social and economic disruptions from such consequences would be devastating.  It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse could make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

Halting climate change requires fossil fuel phase-out in a few decades, thus emission reductions of several percent per year.  Informed politicians understand the situation, but are afraid to tell the public what is needed.  They feel impotent in competition with “I am an Energy Voter.”
It is not rocket science.  As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest fuel, they will be burned.  Fossil fuels only seem cheap, because the price does not include their full cost to society.  Human health costs of pollution are borne by the public, not fossil fuel companies.  Growing costs of climate change are also borne directly by the public or by governments, which also means the public.

Fossil fuel prices can be made honest by collecting a rising carbon fee from fossil fuel companies at the domestic sources of oil, gas and coal, i.e., the domestic mines or ports of entry.  If the money is distributed 100 percent to the public, an equal amount to each legal resident, it is revenue neutral.  Thus it is not a tax and does not make the government bigger.

A carbon fee makes fossil fuels more expensive, allowing clean energies and energy efficiency to compete.  Almost two-thirds of the public, people doing better than average in limiting their fossil fuel use, would receive more in their monthly dividend, transferred electronically to their bank account or debit card, than they pay in increased prices.

This carbon “fee & dividend” is progressive.  Wealthy people, who travel more and have larger houses, have a large carbon footprint.  Given today’s income disparities, this modest change seems beneficial, giving the little guy something to build on, if he uses the dividend wisely.
A rising carbon fee is the only practical way to phase down global emissions.  If the U.S. and China agree to a carbon fee, it can become near global.  Participating nations would place a border duty on products from non-participating nations and give fee rebates to domestic manufacturers exporting to the latter nations.

Read more at “I Am an Energy Voter”

Scientists Calculate Our Debt to the Earth

Researchers in the US have found a way to put a monetary value on the multitude of vital services and assets we rely on nature to provide us cost-free.

Wheat crops on the Kansas High Plains in the US depend on aquifer water. (Image Credit: James Watkins via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Perhaps for the first time, scientists have put a direct cash value on the metaphor that conservationists call “natural capital”.

This is, in effect, the money humans don’t have to spend on services that nature supplies for free – such as crop pollination, water purification, and coastal protection by wetlands, sandbanks and reefs.

And one high value transaction supplied gratis by nature is groundwater.  For farmers water in subterranean aquifers represents money in the bank, as groundwater underwrites 40% of world food production.

Eli Fenichel, assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and colleagues looked at withdrawals from the Kansas High Plains Aquifer and report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that between 1996 and 2005, Kansas lost approximately $110 million a year.

Food production
The losses represented the depletion of the aquifer as farmers withdraw this ultimate natural capital to support food production.  And the total for the decade was $1.1 billion.
But the latest study delivers a relatively sure balance sheet of costs and rewards, profits and losses.

The scientists used economic principles to value traditional assets, and then factored in ecosystem changes and human behavior that might make such assets increase or reduce in value.  This could help governments and business redefine spending on nature conservation as investment.

“The idea that we can actually measure changes in the value of natural capital is really important,” Dr Fenichel says.  “It shows that in places like Kansas, where groundwater is a critically important asset, there is a way to measure and keep tabs on these resources as part of a larger portfolio.

“And in a world where data is more and more available, it should be possible to do this more often.  I think that bodes well for guiding policies aimed at maintaining all of society’s wealth.”

For a business to be sustainable, its reserve capital must not decline with time.  The new approach means that the natural capital represented by groundwater can be turned into a set of figures on a balance sheet.

Read more at Scientists Calculate Our Debt to the Earth

Consumers Have Huge Environmental Impact

Here's how different countries compare when it comes to carbon, land, material and water footprints. (Credit: Illustration: Ivanova et al. Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption. Journal of Industrial Ecology) Click to Enlarge.
"If you look at China's per capita consumption-based (environmental) footprint, it is small," says Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Industrial Ecology Programme.  "They produce a lot of products but they export them.  It's different if you put the responsibility for those impacts on the consumer, as opposed to the producer."

That's exactly what Ivanova and her colleagues did when they looked at the environmental impact from a consumer perspective in 43 different countries and 5 rest-of-the-world regions.  Their analysis, recently published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, showed that consumers are responsible for more than 60 per cent of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 80 per cent of the world's water use.

"We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses," Ivanova says. "But between 60-80 per cent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption.  If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well."

The analysis allowed Ivanova and her colleagues to see that consumers are directly responsible for 20 per cent of all carbon impacts, which result from when people drive their cars and heat their homes.

But even more surprising is that four-fifths of the impacts that can be attributed to consumers are not direct impacts, like the fuel we burn when we drive our cars, but are what are called secondary impacts, or the environmental effects from actually producing the goods and products that we buy.

Read more at Consumers Have Huge Environmental Impact

Better Technology Could Take Agriculture Halfway Towards Climate Targets

Each brick represents 10 kilos of carbon dioxide emissions per kilo of protein, equaling 200 kilos for beef, 30 for pork and 10 for poultry. (Credit: Christian Löwhagen) Click to Enlarge.
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden studied a range of measures for cutting food-related emissions.  Besides reductions in beef and dairy consumption, they found that technology improvements will be crucial.  Under favorable conditions, better technology could cut these emissions by as much as 50 percent.

"Emissions from manure storage can all but be eliminated if the facilities are covered and waste gases are flared, says David Bryngelsson, lead author of the study.  And emissions from fertilizer production can largely be avoided by using the latest technology.  However, far more ambitious climate policies for agriculture are needed to make these technology improvements happen."

The technological prospects for cattle are less promising, according to the researchers.  This is a critical finding, since cattle account for a very large share of the emissions.  The study therefore concludes that reductions in beef consumption are necessary for meeting the climate targets.

"But we don't have to give up meat entirely," says Stefan Wirsenius, co-author of the study. "Poultry and pork cause rather low emissions, in a range equivalent to 10 to 30 kilos of carbon dioxide per kilo of protein, while beef cause 200 kilos per kilo protein.  So we can continue to eat large quantities of poultry and pork -- provided that we cut back on beef."

Cheese and other dairy products are also serious climate problems, according to the study.

Read more at Better Technology Could Take Agriculture Halfway Towards Climate Targets

Rising U.S. Emissions Make Paris Promises Elusive

Greenhouse Pollution Creeps Up (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
New data this week showing how little progress the United States has made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions since President Obama took office is the latest evidence to undercut the pledges the United States made in negotiating the Paris climate treaty.

The Clean Power Plan's crackdown on coal-fired power plants is on hold, thanks to the Supreme Court.  Methane emissions are turning out to be higher than previously thought, as natural gas booms.  People are buying more gas-guzzling cars, thanks to low prices at the pump.

And now, in a draft of its annual greenhouse gas emissions tally, the EPA reported that emissions in the year 2014 climbed almost 1 percent from 2013 to 2014.  That brought emissions back above the level of Obama's first year in office, 2009.

In negotiating the Paris treaty, signed in December, the U.S. pledged to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025, below the level of 2005.

The new data show that from 2005 to 2014 emissions went down just 7.5 percent, leaving most of those promised reductions off in the distance, like a hazy mirage.

Most of that decline is due to the nosedive in emissions that came with the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.

In a quarter-century, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have marched mostly in the wrong direction.

"Total U.S. emissions have increased by 7.7 percent from 1990 to 2014," the report stated.  "Since 1990, U.S. emissions have increased at an average annual rate of 0.3 percent."

Read more at Rising U.S. Emissions Make Paris Promises Elusive

Friday, February 26, 2016

  Friday, Feb 26

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Even Without EPA’s Clean Power Plan, ‘the Future Is Bright for Wind and Solar’ - by Joe Romm

Wind farm and solar panels (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
The future for U.S. renewables is very bright with or without the EPA’s carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, a new analysis finds.

Last month, I reported on a study that found the future for U.S. renewable energy is very bright because of the combination of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the budget deal extending key solar and wind tax credits (the ITC and PTC).  That study by the Rhodium Group found that the boost to renewables from those two policies together is large enough to wipe out the natural gas renaissance that had been recently brought on by cheap shale gas.

Absent the budget deal, compliance with EPA’s Clean Power Plan would have largely been met by natural gas generation replacing coal (chart on left).  But thanks to the extension of renewable energy tax credits, gas will play a far more limited role, and renewables will replace coal (chart on right).

But now the Supreme Court has issued a “stay” on the CPP, delaying it for the foreseeable future. So Rhodium examined what happens to renewables in the no-CPP case.  Let me note it is still very possible if not likely that the CPP will ultimately be enacted, especially given the recent passing of conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, historically a reliable anti-environmental vote.

In fact, it’s not clear the CPP is even needed to achieve the coal plant retirements required for the U.S. to achieve its part of the Paris climate deal, a 26 to 28 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2025 versus 2005 levels.

But the Rhodium analysis is worth examining because it appears to be the first of its kind and because some in the media are already misreporting its basic conclusion.  For instance, Politico’s “Morning Energy” blasts the headline “WITHOUT CLEAN POWER PLAN, ITC AND PTC ARE BRIDGES TO NOWHERE” and begins “Up to 50 gigawatts of wind and solar installations might not happen if courts ultimately overturn the Clean Power Plan, the Rhodium Group said in a report released today.”

No and no.  The report itself concludes, “in all but the low gas price case, the future is bright for wind and solar.”  It’s true that without the CPP, there might be up to 50 gigawatts less renewable capacity than Rhodium previously forecasted.  But, more importantly, it’s also true that in the most probable of Rhodium’s new scenarios (low gas prices AND low renewable prices), there are actually 20 gigawatts more renewables without the CPP than Rhodium forecast last month with the CPP!

Read more at Even Without EPA’s Clean Power Plan, ‘the Future Is Bright for Wind and Solar’

Many of the World’s Pollinators Are Facing Extinction, Report Warns

Bumblebee (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
Bees and other pollinators are in trouble — so much so that many of them are facing extinction, according to a new report.

The report, released Friday by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), is a two-year assessment of the threats facing pollinators — both vertebrates, such as birds and bats, and invertebrates, such as bees, butterflies, and other insects.  It noted that, in some regions, 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species are so threatened by myriad environmental impacts that they’re facing extinction, with butterflies and bees seeing the highest risk.  Among vertebrates, 16.5 percent of species are threatened by extinction worldwide.  Pollinators are a major group: there are 20,000 species of wild bees across the globe, the report notes, and many of them haven’t been identified yet.

Pollinators are also a hugely important group of animals.  Almost 90 percent of wild flowering plants depend on pollination by animals, and 75 percent of food crops around the world depend on pollination.  Globally, $235 – $577 billion worth of global crops are affected by pollinators each year, the report found.

“Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives,” said Simon Potts, co-chair of the assessment, said in a statement.

IPBES, which looked at existing research to compile the report, cited pesticides and disease as two threats posed to pollinators, especially managed honeybees.  Varroa mites, for instance, have become a plague on honeybee colonies.  They attach themselves to bees and suck out their circulatory fluid, weakening the bees and spreading dangerous diseases.  Pesticides, especially the widely-used neonicotinoids, have been found to damage bees’ brains and contribute to bee losses.  The Environmental Protection Agency in January released findings on one neonic pesticide, imidacloprid, the most commonly-used neonic in the United States.  The agency found that, when applied to certain crops, the pesticide was harmful to bees.  The EPA is still looking into three other neonicotinoids.

The organization also listed land use changes, climate change, and invasive species as threats to pollinators.  Land use changes can turn wildflower-covered fields into fields of just one or two crops, a switch from a high-nutrition landscape to a lower-nutrition one.  And climate change can lead to a shift in peak nectar flow for flowering plants.  If managed honeybees miss this nectar flow — if they’re delivered to beekeepers too late, for instance — the hive can be weakened.  The report also found that climate change has already shifted distribution of bumblebees and butterflies and pollinator-dependent plants.

Read more at Many of the World’s Pollinators Are Facing Extinction, Report Warns

Electric Vehicles Could Be as Cheap as Gas-Guzzlers Soon

Electric vehicles charging (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
With gas prices at less than $2 a gallon, it may be hard to imagine trading in the old combustion engine for an electric vehicle, but according to new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the age of the EV could be just around the corner.

The study published on Thursday predicts that battery prices — which have already fallen 35 percent in the past year — will continue to drop steeply in the coming years.  By the 2020s, EVs could be just as affordable as, if not cheaper than, gas-powered vehicles.  Sales of EVs, according to the report, will make up nearly 35 percent of market by 2040.

Thirty-five percent is huge growth considering that today EVs sales make up less than 3 percent of the market.  Manufacturers are certainly taking notice:  Chevy, Nissan, Fiat, Ford, Volkswagen, and Mitsubishi all currently have EVs on the market in the $30,000 range — and if price isn’t your main concern, you can always buy luxury EVs from BMW, Mercedes, or Tesla.

The growth of the electric vehicle does not bode well for the oil market, which is already suffering from crude oil prices as low as $30 a barrel.  As Bloomberg News points out, “electric vehicles could displace oil demand of 2 million barrels a day as early as 2023.  That would create a glut of oil equivalent to what triggered the 2014 oil crisis.”

But while the death of Big Oil is undoubtedly good for the planet, what exactly are the environmental costs of the electric vehicle?  They don’t run on air, after all:  The electricity powering your EV has to come from somewhere, and depending on where you live, that “somewhere” could mean coal-fired power plants.  The good news is that a 2015 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in U.S., EVs emit less than half the greenhouse gases than gas-guzzlers do on average, even when you account for the manufacturing process.  But, as Mother Jones reports, the materials used to make EV batteries introduce other problems:  Cobalt mining has been linked to child labor, and lithium mining linked to water pollution and depletion.

Read more at Electric Vehicles Could Be as Cheap as Gas-Guzzlers Soon

Aliso Canyon Released 97,000 Tons of Methane, Biggest U.S. Leak Ever, Study Says

As SoCal Gas hedges on estimating the size of the disaster, a study it funded says not only can the leak be measured, but gave it a staggering number.

The methane leak in Los Angeles was deemed the largest ever in the U.S., and has heightened calls for action. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The leak from Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage unit totaled 97,100 metric tons of natural gas, making it the largest release of uncombusted methane in U.S. history, according to a peer-reviewed study published Thursday in the journal Science.

SoCal Gas, however, joined two other California utilities in telling state regulators that there is no established method for estimating methane releases in catastrophic gas-system failures. That filing on Feb. 17 incensed environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Fund and drew a rebuke from one of the Science study’s lead authors.

Read more at Aliso Canyon Released 97,000 Tons of Methane, Biggest U.S. Leak Ever, Study Says

Thursday, February 25, 2016

  Thursday, Feb 25

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide (Credit: Click to Enlarge.

Connecticut Program Makes Solar Affordable for Low-Income Families

A new program in Connecticut aims to eliminate the cost barriers to rooftop solar energy for low-income households. (Credit: Alexandra Beier/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Churches, synagogues and mosques across Connecticut are supporting a groundbreaking program that aims to make solar power affordable for all homeowners.

Residents who sign up to lease a rooftop solar system through this initiative will not have to pay a deposit or go through a credit or background check, some of the biggest barriers to going solar for many low- and moderate-income families.  The solar leasing costs—initially $20 a month, in some cases—are likely the lowest currently available in the state, and the country.

"It's stellar," said Rev. Carl McCluster of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport, one of the churches participating in the program.  "In communities where there are low-income households like Bridgeport and like most urban areas...sometimes you are stretched to make ends meet." Credit checks and deposits are often impossible for these families, he said.

McCluster is also the managing director of the national network of religious groups called Faith Restoration Empowerment & Economic Development Outreach Ministries, Inc., or FREEDOM. For this solar offering, FREEDOM members in Connecticut teamed with the solar provider PosiGen and Connecticut Green Bank, an organization devoted to growing local clean energy and climate-friendly opportunities.

In the coming weeks, FREEDOM members will host informational sessions about the solar program to their communities.  Anyone who signs up at those meetings, whether a member of the faith organization or not, can take advantage of the deal.

Soaring Solar
Connecticut has one of the smaller solar markets in the country, ranking 16th nationwide in 2014 for total installed solar power.  But with this new program, Connecticut is striving to be a leader on solar accessibility.  It also helps the state get closer to its goal of generating 27 percent of its electricity through renewable energy sources by 2020.  And it does so in a way that makes solar power available to families across income levels.

Read more at Connecticut Program Makes Solar Affordable for Low-Income Families

Topping the Tables

The Evolving Risks Landscape, 2007–2016 (Source Credit: World Economic Forum 2007–2016, Global Risks Reports) Click to Enlarge.
The Global Risks Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) last year presented a mixed outlook for the run up to the UN Paris climate negotiations.  On one hand, environmental risks had been marching steadily up the perceived risk rankings, whereas on the other there were signs of dwindling levels of international trust and cooperation.

However, the climate negotiations played out better than many might have expected.  It is interesting, then, that in the latest WEF Global Risks Report (pdf) 'failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation' is the top ranked risk in terms of its perceived impact on society.  It also ranks third in terms of likelihood, after large-scale involuntary migration (which is already happening) and extreme weather events, which have been well represented during 2015.

This essentially means that respondents think that a failure to address this issue is likely to lead to levels of climate change that pose serious risks to society, potentially beyond our capacity to adapt within the next ten years.

The risks report is based on a survey of 750 individuals and was undertaken during September and October 2015, so the outcomes of the Paris negotiations were not yet known.  Nevertheless, knowledge of the Paris Agreement would not be expected to alter perceptions of the potential impacts of climate change, should they occur, even if it might affect perceptions of their likelihood.

The WEF risks report is notable for several reasons.  First, different types of risk are explicitly ranked alongside one another.  That the failure to address climate change tops the tables above fiscal crises and even weapons of mass destruction is significant.

Moreover, those surveyed by the WEF are skewed towards individuals whose expertise lays in economics (34.5%) and are working in the private sector (44.7%); for comparison, only 10% have primary expertise in the environment.  If broad recognition that there is a problem is a first step towards social and political solutions, then perhaps there is some room for optimism, as well as healthy debate about what those solutions could and should look like.

Read original article at Topping the Tables