Saturday, April 30, 2016

Proposed Coal Terminal Would Be the Equivalent of Adding 8 Million Cars to the Road

Coal in uncovered trains (Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Click to Enlarge.
Cowlitz County and the Washington State Department of Ecology have finally released the draft of their long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement regarding a proposed coal export terminal in Longview, Washington.  Located just two hours north of Portland, Oregon, along the Columbia River, the proposed terminal would ship a maximum of 44 million metric tons of coal from the Western United States each year to markets overseas, making it, if built, the largest coal export terminal in the country.

Proponents have championed the potential economic benefits of the $680 million project, arguing that it would bring long-term jobs to an area of the state historically plagued by above-average unemployment rates.  Additionally, they argue that the terminal would help make United States coal more competitive by opening up Asian markets.

Opponents of the project, however, argue that it would be extremely detrimental to both the local environment and the global climate.  They cite issues such as increased train traffic, coal dust, and the eventual burning of the coal — which would result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions — as reasons why the state should reject the project.

That increase in greenhouse gas emissions will be substantial, the draft EIS found.  The report estimates that, between 2018 and 2038, the total additional greenhouse gas emissions created by the project would be 37.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent — roughly the same as adding 8 million passenger vehicles to the road.

Read more at Proposed Coal Terminal Would Be the Equivalent of Adding 8 Million Cars to the Road

How a Deal with GE Sheds Light on Saudi Arabia's Life After Oil

Mohammed bin Salman, deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, answered questions at a press conference on Monday. (Credit:  Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Last November, General Electric Co. announced the completion of an initial $1 billion investment in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude oil exporter.

The Saudi GE Technology and Innovation Center aims to help modernize the nation's electric grid and make inroads in industrial applications and health care.  The U.S. conglomerate wants to double its Saudi Arabia workforce in four years, getting a strong foothold as Saudi Arabia moves aggressively to diversify its economy and government revenues away from oil exports.

The aim is to free Saudi Arabia from the pitfalls of oil's boom-bust cycles by as early as 2020.

To GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt's ears, the Saudis' rapid realization that oil revenue alone cannot guarantee a stable economy is a signal for GE to invest big in the kingdom.

"Our initiatives are aligned with the strategic development priorities of the kingdom," Immelt said.

Information has been trickling out about Saudi Arabia's economic plans.  And according to The Wall Street Journal, the government is expected to provide more detail about reforms in the coming weeks.  What we do know is this:  Saudi Aramco, the largest oil exporter in the world, will sell off a 5 percent stake to investors, and the revenue will seed a $2 trillion sovereign wealth fund designed to stabilize government revenues.

What's being called the Vision 2030 plan is also meant to attract foreign direct investment, like the kind from GE.  There's even talk of expanding tourism beyond the religious pilgrimages to Islamic holy sites.

Saudi officials have said that as early as 2020, the country could rid itself of dramatic budget shortfalls and economic pain whenever the price of oil falls.  Saudi Arabia ran a nearly $100 billion budget deficit last year, and the plunge in oil prices has forced the government to draw down on reserves and tap global credit markets for the first time in decades.

Oil prices have fallen nearly 70 percent since the summer of 2014, partly as a result of a Saudi strategy to keep pumping oil and drive out high-cost U.S. shale oil producers.  Crude has rebounded, but prices struggle to stay above $40 per barrel, after selling at around $100 a barrel a couple of years ago.

Economic diversification could be a tall order for Saudi Arabia, according to economists.

In its World Factbook, the Central Intelligence Agency estimates that Saudi Arabia's central government relies on oil exports for more than 80 percent of its revenues.  Oil and petroleum products constitute 90 percent of exports, and the oil business generates 45 percent of Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product.

The CIA notes that Saudi Arabia has made inroads into greater economic diversification but says much of it revolves around the energy industry: power generation, telecommunications, natural gas exploration and petrochemicals.  Putting citizens to work is also a high priority.  The CIA estimates that up to 80 percent of Saudi Arabia's workforce is "non-national."

That is where GE's plan to hire locals caught the kingdom's attention.  GE says it wants to boost "training in energy, health care and localized research for over 10,000 Saudi professionals through local and global programs."

Read more at How a Deal with GE Sheds Light on Saudi Arabia's Life After Oil

Higher Coal Use in Asia Could Increase Water Stress

Coal-fired power plant (Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Coal burning, despite recent signs of having peaked in China and pledges made at the Paris Climate talks in December, remains the primary source of electric power in Asia.  In both China and India, it’s responsible for the lion’s share of human-made sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, which drive up concentrations of sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere.  These aerosols not only endanger public health in the region but also contribute to local and global climate change.  

Just how much climate change will depend on Asia’s energy choices in the years and decades to come.  At one extreme, economic growth and energy demand in China, India, and other fast-growing Asian nations would lead to rapid increases in coal use, resulting in more significant climate impacts; at the other, Asia would gradually lessen these impacts by shifting from coal to cleaner burning fuels such as natural gas, and low-carbon energy technologies such as wind turbines and photovoltaics.  Now a new study in the Journal of Climate assesses the climate’s likely response to aerosol emissions at both extremes, resulting in likely lower and upper bounds for the impact of Asian aerosols on regional surface temperature and rainfall.

According to the study, a high coal-use future — in which today’s emissions of sulfur dioxide and black carbon aerosols from Asia’s industry, energy, and domestic sectors are set to twice their year-2000 values from 2030 to 2100 — would entail significant local and global climate impacts.

Read more at Higher Coal Use in Asia Could Increase Water Stress

The Forecast in Morocco:  Smells Like Revolution

Morocco (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Leaders in Rabat would prefer to avoid the potential economic consequences of the drought.  In 2011, a struggling economy was one factor that drove Moroccans to protest in the streets during the Arab Spring.  The Kingdom weathered the unrest, avoiding a political crisis, and has recently been promoting Morocco’s survival as a regional success story.  Today, however, Morocco could be headed for another Arab Spring.  The reason?  Climate change.

Morocco could be the main stage of a coming climate revolution in North Africa, according to activists and scholars.  Though predicting exactly when and where this scenario will unfold is difficult, a number of reports, including a 2012 study conducted by the University of Hamburg, have determined that climate change will put Morocco at high risk of conflict.  Whether this means a revolution is uncertain, but observers agree that climate change will have an impact on socio-economic and political developments in Morocco for the years to come.  “Injustices related to climate change will force themselves on the social and political movements of Morocco’s future,” says Hamza Hamouchene, co-author of The Coming Revolution in North Africa:  The Struggle for Climate Justice.

While North African leaders understand the urgency of climate change, Hamouchene says, their strategies aren’t progressive enough to resolve the issue.  In Morocco, the government has favored partnering with institutions such as the European Union and World Bank to fight climate change rather than engage local communities and their own solutions, which often come from firsthand knowledge and experience of working with the land.  But Morocco is unlikely to consider changing its approach anytime soon, Hamouchene says, which is a decision that may come at a critical cost.  Neglecting local communities, he notes, will push citizens to align their environmental-related grievances with existing movements for freedom, sovereignty and social equality.  And if past instances of unrest in Morocco are any indication, the target of the criticism will be state leaders and government officials.

Dangerous climate trends are likely to have a negative effect on future standards of living throughout Morocco.  Current challenges such as rising sea levels, hotter temperatures and the creeping sprawl of the Sahara Desert aren’t going anywhere — and could worsen.  The country is likely to see a spike in natural disasters, claims the Moroccan environmental activist Salaheddin Abir of Attac, an anti-globalization organization.  He predicts that “droughts, flash flooding and even earthquakes will become more common, and make thousands of Moroccans vulnerable to poverty.”
Today, Morocco faces a difficult situation in which it must provide to a rapidly expanding population in the midst of a climate crisis that is ruining agriculture.  If a revolt does occur, it will be the ensuing struggle over access to resources that causes it, says Moshe Terdiman of Muslim Environment Watch.  “When we talk about climate triggers for conflict, we mostly talk about an allocation crisis.”

Read more at The Forecast in Morocco:  Smells Like Revolution

 Friday, April 29

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.) Click to Enlarge.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Satellite Shows U.S. Has the Most Gas Flares in the World

A NOAA map showing flaring sites in the Marcellus shale region of northeast Pennsylvania. (Credit: NOAA) Click to Enlarge.
Drive through many oil and gas fields in the U.S. and one thing stands out above the pumpjacks and storage tanks, especially at night  — steadily flickering flames.

Those flames are known as gas flares, which burn off excess natural gas from crude oil and natural gas wells across the globe.  Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are using satellites to learn more about those flares — how much gas is being burned, how many flares exist and where they are.

The imagery is stunning, showing large swaths of rural areas lit up like small cities at night.

“The most surprising thing I found was the large number of flaring sites there are in the USA,” said Chris Elvidge, lead scientist on the project at NOAA’s Earth Observation Group in Boulder, Colo. “The flares in the USA are small and highly intermittent, but gosh, there are a lot of them, far exceeding any other country.”

Energy companies flare about a third of the gas they produce, and much of the gas being burned off is methane, a greenhouse gas about 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.  Methane’s potency declines in the long run, but contributes more to global warming than carbon dioxide over a span of decades.

Energy companies voluntarily report how much gas they flare.  But a lack of independent data has resulted in uncertainty about how much gas is actually being lost.

NASA and NOAA are trying to fill in the data gap with satellite imagery from an instrument called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite.

“The system identifies gas flaring sites and estimates flared gas volumes and carbon dioxide emissions in annual increments,” Elvidge said.

So far, the scientists have found 6,292 flares in the U.S., burning off 10.65 billion cubic meters of natural gas.  They found only 1,738 flares in Russia, but those burned much more gas — nearly 20 billion cubic meters.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flaring, the World Bank has launched a program that aims to stop routine flaring globally by 2030.  Elvidge said NOAA’s satellite-based verification system supports the World’s Bank’s initiative and helps keep track of the carbon dioxide emissions in each country that committed to reducing them as part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

NASA’s interactive flare map shows how concentrated hydraulically-fractured oil and gas wells are in some places, especially in the Marcellus shale gas fields of Pennsylvania.  In that region, the flares spread to the New York state line, where fracking has been banned.

Another area of concentrated flaring is in the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota.  Flaring occurs there and in many other regions because there are few pipelines or infrastructure there that can bring that natural gas to market.

Flaring in North Dakota produced 4.5 million metric tons of CO2 in 2012 alone, roughly the equivalent of adding 1 million new cars to U.S. highways, according to the non-profit sustainability group Ceres.

Read more at Satellite Shows U.S. Has the Most Gas Flares in the World

Investor Network Says Utilities Should Face Climate Change Stress Tests

The new Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California November 13, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam) Click to Enlarge.
Electric utilities should undergo stress tests to show how their business models are in line with limiting global warming, a global network of investors said on Friday.

In a guide published on Friday, a network of more than 270 institutional investors with assets worth more than 20 trillion euros ($23 trillion) said they were concerned that utilities' strategies are not consistent with a global target to limit the planet's average temperature rise, compared with pre-industrial times, to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

With renewable energy generation expected to increase, and overall demand low due to efficiency improvements and modest economic growth, traditional centralized power generation is being pushed out of the merit order.  The report said such plants would ultimately need to be shut down or retained to provide emergency backup in return for state payments.

New entrants such as Google are emerging as competitors with power management solutions. So electric utilities need to design new business plans and focus on cleaner energy, networks, new services and keeping customers, it said.

Read more at Investor Network Says Utilities Should Face Climate Change Stress Tests

Rising Heat at Work Is Major New Climate Threat:  U.N.

Death Valley Extreme Heat (Credit: Graeme Maclean (Flickr); Licence: CC by 2.0) Click to Enlarge.
Searing temperatures will cost emerging economies up to 10 percent in lost daytime working hours, if countries do not cut planet-warming emissions further than they have promised so far, U.N. agencies and international labor bodies said on Thursday.

Global temperatures are predicted to rise by at least 2.7 degrees Celsius if emissions-reduction pledges made by nearly 190 nations for the new global climate change deal are met.

The Paris agreement, however, sets a goal of keeping average temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

If the world continues with its current level of emissions, the impact on working hours - and lost GDP - is likely to be even worse, according to a joint report by the U.N. Development Programme, International Labour Organization, Climate Vulnerable Forum and other agencies.

"Excessive heat puts exposed working populations at greater risk from heat-induced stresses and undermines growth by compromising productivity," Cecilia Rebong, ambassador and permanent representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, said in a statement.

"Vulnerable groups need significant support to tackle rising heat in the workplace," Rebong added.

Countries likely to be worst affected by rising temperatures include India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Cambodia, Pakistan, Burkina Faso and parts of West Africa, the report said.

India is in the grip of an early-summer heat wave that has killed more than 100 people, forced schools to close and halted outdoor work like construction, government officials said last week. Temperatures have risen above 40 degrees Celsius in some states.
In West Africa, the number of very hot days per year has doubled since the 1960s, with an extra 10 hot days every decade, the report said.

Read more at Rising Heat at Work Is Major New Climate Threat:  U.N.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

 Thursday, April 28

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.) Click to Enlarge.

Climate Change Action Emerges as Winning Wedge Issue in 2016

Voter (Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Click to Enlarge.
A new public opinion survey finds that “Americans across political lines, except conservative Republicans, would support a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming.”

The survey of 1,004 registered voters by the Climate Change Communication programs at Yale and George Mason University yielded a number of important findings consistent with earlier polling this year by Gallup.

The new survey found a growing number of registered voters understand global warming is happening:  “Three in four (73%, up 7 points since Spring 2014) now think it is happening.  Large majorities of Democrats — liberal (95%) and moderate/conservative (80%) — think it is happening, as do three in four Independents (74%, up 15 points since Spring 2014) and the majority of liberal/moderate Republicans (71%, up 10 points).”

The researchers point out “only 47% of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening.”  But then they immediately note:  “Importantly, however, there has been a large increase in the number of conservative Republicans who think global warming is happening.  In fact, conservative Republicans have experienced the largest shift of any group—an increase of 19 percentage points over the past two years.”

Part of the reason for this growing public awareness is Pope Francis, who released his encyclical on the environment last year.  Back in November, the same researchers found that “17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics say his position on global warming influenced their own views of the issue.”  The researches also believe that public awareness has likely been boosted by the the Paris climate accord, the record-smashing winter, and media coverage of climate change.

Climate change and the 2016 presidential election
The researchers found that the number of Americans who are “more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming,” exceeds the number who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate by a factor of 3-to-1 (43 percent to 14 percent).

In particular, climate change has emerged as a winning “wedge issue” in the 2016 race because of the large gap in thinking between conservative Republicans and potential swing voters (like independents and liberal Republicans).  For those who aren’t political junkies, “A wedge issue is a political or social issue, often of a controversial or divisive nature, which splits apart a demographic or population group” — or, in this case, Republicans.

Read more at Climate Change Action Emerges as Winning Wedge Issue in 2016

Germany Just Announced a Major Push to Increase Electric Car Sales

(Credit: AP Photo/Richard Vogel) Click to Enlarge.
Germany has announced it will put about $1 billion towards electric vehicles in a new push to increase clean transportation.  Car buyers will see a 4,000-euro discount (U.S. $4,530) on electric vehicles and a 3,000-euro discount ($3,398) on hybrids.  In addition, the country will spend 300,000 euros to install more vehicle charging stations.

The government and car makers will share the cost of the rebates, which are only available on cars costing less than 60,000 euros (about $67,960), Reuters reported Wednesday.

“With this, I believe we will be able to give a boost to quickly move the number of vehicles (sales) to a considerable level,” Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

Germany has a goal of a million electric vehicles on the road by 2020, but it is well short of that goal.  Currently, there have been only about 50,000 electric vehicles sold.

The United States has also tried to increase the number of electric vehicles on its roads — and has also fallen short.  In January, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz pushed back the date for a million electric cars to 2020 from the administration’s earlier goal of 2015.  As of January about 400,000 of the United States’ 250 million cars and trucks were electric.  The lack of uptake has been blamed on low gas prices — which have halved over the course of Obama’s presidency.  Generally speaking, low gas prices disincentivize consumers from buying electric vehicles.

Read more at Germany Just Announced a Major Push to Increase Electric Car Sales

Historically Hottest Summers Projected to Be the Norm for More Than Half of the World's Population Within 20 Years

Figure 3. Year beyond which the probability of hot summers is larger than 50% (top) and 90% (bottom) estimated from observationally constrained reconstructions based on RCP4.5 (left) and RCP8.5 (right) simulations ... Note that the years are determined from the reconstructions combining past and future simulations, and if a date before 2013 is shown, it has been determined from historical simulations. Click to Enlarge.
We project that within the next two decades, half of the world's population will regularly (every second summer on average) experience regional summer mean temperatures that exceed those of the historically hottest summer, even under the moderate RCP4.5 emissions pathway.  This frequency threshold for hot temperatures over land, which have adverse effects on human health, society and economy, might be broached in little more than a decade under the RCP8.5 emissions pathway.  These hot summer frequency projections are based on adjusted RCP4.5 and 8.5 temperature projections, where the adjustments are performed with scaling factors determined by regularized optimal fingerprinting analyzes that compare historical model simulations with observations over the period 1950–2012.  A temperature reconstruction technique is then used to simulate a multitude of possible past and future temperature evolutions, from which the probability of a hot summer is determined for each region, with a hot summer being defined as the historically warmest summer on record in that region.  Probabilities with and without external forcing show that hot summers are now about ten times more likely (fraction of attributable risk 0.9) in many regions of the world than they would have been in the absence of past greenhouse gas increases.  The adjusted future projections suggest that the Mediterranean, Sahara, large parts of Asia and the Western US and Canada will be among the first regions for which hot summers will become the norm (i.e. occur on average every other year), and that this will occur within the next 1–2 decades.

Read more at Historically Hottest Summers Projected to Be the Norm for More Than Half of the World's Population Within 20 Years

Republican Donor Backs Clean Energy Senators with Digital Campaign

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada April 25, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/David Becker) Click to Enlarge.
A Republican political donor said on Wednesday he would spend "seven figures" on a targeted digital campaign backing two senators who support clean energy policies, which could help tip the balance in their tight November re-election races.

Jay Faison, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based executive of an audio-vision equipment company, said he would endorse Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire for re-election.

Portman is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan energy efficiency bill, while Ayotte is one of the only Republican supporters of President Barack Obama's plan to cut carbon emissions.

Both are running in swing states.  Faison wants to defend conservatives who have led on clean energy issues.

He will use what he calls a "digital first" approach focused on direct online marketing, social media and data mining to target swing voters who care about climate issues and tailor political messaging, methods he said Republicans have been slow to adopt.

"For right or wrong, the Republican Party is branded as non-environmental, which we want to help fix," Faison said in an interview.

In February, Faison launched a Super PAC that will spend around $5 million to support congressional Republicans who support clean energy and environmental protection.

Faison did not say who else he plans to back.

Read more at Republican Donor Backs Clean Energy Senators with Digital Campaign

Radical Action Needed to Decarbonize World Energy Supply:  Report

Smoke rises from chimneys of a thermal power plant near Shanghai March 26, 2014. (Reuters/Carlos Barria) Click to Enlarge.
More radical action is needed to decarbonize the world's energy supply and improve energy efficiency to keep the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) said on Wednesday.

The ETC is made up of global experts from energy companies, the investment sector, public and academic institutions and foundations and aims to identify ways to change the world's energy systems to low-carbon sources.

The ETC commissioned consultancy Ecofys to analyze the national climate plans of 17 countries and regions which account for 78 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Those countries are China, United States, India, Russia, Japan, Iran, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, Argentina, Vietnam, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the European Union.

The plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), are the building blocks of a landmark deal reached in Paris last December to limit the rise in global average temperature to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius this century.

To keep below 2 degrees, the share of low-carbon energy sources in the global energy supply mix needs to rise at least one percentage point a year and energy productivity needs to grow at a minimum of 3 percent a year, the report said.

"The 17 INDCs analyzed show an increase in the use of low-carbon energy of only 0.4 percentage points per year and improvements in energy productivity by just 1.8 percent per year, far below what is required," said Adair Turner, chairman of the ETC.

"A far faster transition is needed to achieve the 'well below' 2 degree goal.  We must focus not only on decarbonizing power, but also on taking the carbon out of other energy supply and dramatically increasing global energy productivity improvement," he added.

Last week 175 nations took the first step of signing the Paris Agreement, but scientists have said current INDCs are not enough to keep warming below 2 degrees.

Read more at Radical Action Needed to Decarbonize World Energy Supply:  Report

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

 Wednesday, April 27

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.) Click to Enlarge.

Carbon Fee Debate Goes Mainstream in Washington State

Traffic in Seattle. (Credit: SounderBruce/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
As governments worldwide begin imposing fees on pollution to try to protect the climate, a debate over dueling approaches — one that has long been restricted to conferences and academia — is becoming prominent in Washington state.

Washington voters will decide in November whether to introduce a carbon tax on fossil fuels and electricity from coal and natural gas, with the goal of slowing global warming while reducing taxes on sales and manufacturing and keeping total tax revenue flat overall.

If Initiative 732 passes, the Evergreen State would buck a national trend in which other states have been adopting a different system for carbon pricing — that of cap-and-trade, in which pollution levels are capped and allowances to release pollution are sold and traded.

“Some folks on our executive committee and in our grassroots base have a strong preference for a carbon tax,” said Yoram Bauman, an economist and comic involved with Carbon Washington, a group that drafted the initiative and gathered signatures.

Carbon pricing is popular among economists and climate experts because it can account for some of the hidden costs of climate change by taxing fossil fuels, which raises prices and reduces demand.  That helps solar, wind, and other climate-protecting alternatives compete on price.

Read more at Carbon Fee Debate Goes Mainstream in Washington State

One Oil Field a Key Culprit in Global Ethane Gas Increase

Location of the Bakken Formation in the Williston Basin (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
A single U.S. shale oil field is responsible for much of the past decade's increase in global atmospheric levels of ethane, a gas that can damage air quality and impact climate, according to new study led by the University of Michigan.

The researchers found that the Bakken Formation, an oil and gas field in North Dakota and Montana, is emitting roughly 2 percent of the globe's ethane.  That's about 250,000 tons per year.

"Two percent might not sound like a lot, but the emissions we observed in this single region are 10 to 100 times larger than reported in inventories.  They directly impact air quality across North America.  And they're sufficient to explain much of the global shift in ethane concentrations," said Eric Kort, U-M assistant professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, and first author of the study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Read more at One Oil Field a Key Culprit in Global Ethane Gas Increase

CNN Runs More Fossil Fuel Ads than Major Climate Stories

Media Matters bar chart of CNN coverage of fossil-fuel vs. climate (Credit: Media Matters) Click to Enlarge.
If you tuned into CNN earlier this year, when NASA and NOAA announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record, you weren’t likely to see much coverage of that announcement.  In fact you were more likely to see an ad for the fossil fuel industry than a news story on how fossil fuels are driving the planet’s warming, according to a new report.

The report, released Monday by Media Matters, looked at CNN’s coverage in the one-week periods following the news that 2015 set the record for the world’s hottest year (January 20-26) and that February 2016 was the hottest February in 137 years of record keeping (March 17-23).  It found that CNN spent nearly five times as much time airing fossil fuel industry advertisements in these two week-long periods than it did airing coverage of climate change and the recent records.  The network spent 23.5 minutes on ads from the American Petroleum Institute, compared to five minutes spent on news coverage on climate change.

CNN spent less than one minute on coverage of January’s hottest year announcement, but it spent 13.5 minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening airing fossil fuel industry ads.  Then, following the February announcement, CNN spent four minutes on climate-related coverage and 10 minutes airing fossil fuel ads.  And this coverage didn’t always mention climate change — “on March 18, CNN anchors Christine Romans and John Berman delivered nearly-identical reports on February’s ‘astounding’ temperature record during the 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. editions of Early Start, respectively, but neither explicitly mentioned climate change or the role fossil fuel pollution and other human activities play in driving climate change,” the report notes.

In fact, according to the report, only one segment on the unusually high temperatures mentioned climate change.  CNN didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Read more at CNN Is More Focused On Running Fossil Fuel Ads Than It Is On Covering Major Climate Stories

Saudi Prince Announces Plan To Free Kingdom From Oil ‘Addiction’

Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a 2012 file photoPrince Mohammed bin Salman in a 2012 file photo (Photo Credit: AP /Hassan Ammar, File) Click to Enlarge.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia — second in line behind the crown prince, and his father, King Salman.  Before his father ascended the throne a year ago, Prince Mohammed began to quietly plan for his kingdom’s future with the encouragement of the late King Abdullah, according to Bloomberg.  Kings and princes frequently plan for the future, but this time the House of Saud wants to be able to thrive in a low-carbon economy.

It wants to be able to survive without oil in four years.

In his first press conference with foreign journalists on Monday, 31-year-old Prince Mohammed announced the ambitious Vision 2030 plan, which the cabinet approved the same day.

“We have developed an oil addiction in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, among everyone,” Prince Mohammed said Monday.  “That is dangerous, and that is what has hampered the development of many different sectors in recent years.”

The government set the goal of generating 9.5 gigawatts of electricity from renewable energy by 2030 as part of the plan.

“Even though we have an impressive natural potential for solar and wind power, and our local energy consumption will increase threefold by 2030, we still lack a competitive renewable sector at present,” the plan reads, before setting the 2030 goal.  A few years ago the government set the goal of producing 17 gigawatts of electricity form nuclear energy by 2032, and 41 gigawatts from solar.  That would mean a grid fueled by one-third solar energy.  This will all cost money.

To raise capital, the government would sell less than 5 percent of Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, in what would be the largest initial public offering in the world.  A small part of that sale would establish a sovereign wealth fund.  The goal is to increase the current public investment fund from $160 billion to $2 trillion, and to use that investment power to transition to an investment-based economy rather than an oil-based economy.

“I think by 2020, if oil stops we can survive.  We need it, we need it, but I think in 2020 we can live without oil,” he said.

In the past, the kingdom relied on oil revenue for 90 percent of the government’s budget and half its GDP.  Recently the price of oil has plummeted, largely due to the continued strong production supply from OPEC countries, led by Saudi Arabia (they are betting they can win an oil price war with producers outside of OPEC, notably the United States).  This has led to lower revenue and an almost $200 billion Saudi budget shortfall and other signs of economic turmoil.  With few good options, it’s no wonder the kingdom wants to become free of the “addiction” of oil export revenue.

“We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of commodity price volatility or external markets,” Prince Mohammed said on Monday.

The government’s task of replacing oil revenue with this investment plan will be incredibly difficult, and potentially impossible.

Read more at Saudi Prince Announces Plan To Free Kingdom From Oil ‘Addiction’

 Tuesday, April 26

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.) Click to Enlarge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

S&P Strips ExxonMobil of Coveted Triple A Rating

In this Jan. 30, 2009 file photo, an Exxon tanker truck operated by Corey Moorer, right, of Clinton, Md., makes a refueling stop at an Exxon station in Arlington, Va. Exxon Mobil said Monday, Feb. 1, 2010, its fourth-quarter earnings tumbled 23 percent as higher oil prices squeezed profit margins in its refining business. [(Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)©AP] Click to Enlarge.
ExxonMobil was stripped of its long-held triple A rating by credit agency Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday as the precipitous crude price rout adds strain to the US oil major’s balance sheet.

The downgrade to double A plus reflected the ballooning of Exxon’s debt and analyst views that the largest US oil group and fourth-largest publicly traded American company would have to increase capital expenditures in the coming years to maintain production.

The move is the latest cut to an industry that has undergone sweeping change since crude prices began to slip, prompting the expected partial flotation of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company and a deluge of defaults by US shale companies.

The downgrade from S&P leaves just two publicly traded US companies with pristine triple A ratings:  Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson.

Exxon, which had held its triple A status since at least the 1940s, has issued debt rapidly over the past two years as the price of oil tumbled to fund its dividend program and capital spending.  The company, which sold $12bn of bonds earlier this year, counted roughly $35bn of net debt at the end of 2015. In 2012, the figure stood at $2bn.

Last year the company nearly covered the entirety of its $31bn in capital expenses with cash it generated from operations, but had to borrow to fund its $15bn dividend and share buyback programs.

“The company’s debt level has more than doubled in recent years, reflecting high capital spending on major projects in a high commodity price environment and dividends and share repurchases that substantially exceeded internally generated cash flow,” Ben Tsocanos, an analyst with S&P, said.

Read more at S&P Strips ExxonMobil of Coveted Triple A Rating

Historical Citizen-Scientists’ Ice Records Confirm Global Temperature Rise

Torne River, spring 2003 in Tornio. (Photo Credit: Terhi Korhonen) Click to Enlarge.
Centuries-old records from Japanese priests and European shipping merchants are helping scientists confirm that the earth has warmed substantially — and freshwater ice formation significantly decreased — since the Industrial Revolution.

These early record keepers tracked annual freeze dates and the breakup of ice each spring on lakes and rivers for hundreds of years, beginning in the 1440s in Japan and 1690s in Finland.  The data represents the oldest inland ice records in human history.  An international team of scientists published a study this week in Nature Scientific Reports examining how ice behavior changed over the records’ years.  They found that from 1443 to 1683, for example, the annual freeze date of Lake Suwa in Japan moved back just 0.19 days per decade.  From the start of the Industrial Revolution, however, that trend grew 24 times faster, pushing back the date of ice formation on the lake by 4.6 days per decade.

Read more at Historical Citizen-Scientists’ Ice Records Confirm Global Temperature Rise

The Arctic Is Melting – and Scientists Just Lost a Key Tool to Observe It

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program has played a critical role in climate science for nearly three decades. (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin) Click to Enlarge.
Earlier this month, a U.S. satellite known as F17 — which was primarily used for meteorological measurements — experienced operational failures that compromised the integrity of its data.  And while there are similar satellites in orbit that can take over the data collection for now, they’re old enough that scientists are unsure how much longer they’ll last.

Now, with no government plans to launch a replacement any time soon, scientists who rely on these satellites for valuable climate data are beginning to worry about the future of their research.  The problem comes at a vital time, too — one when the Arctic, and other remote regions, are seeing rapid changes and scientists badly need these instruments to track them.

Just last month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that the maximum extent of Arctic sea ice this past winter — the time of year when the ice reaches its annual peak — was at a record low for the second straight year.  The Arctic sea ice record has been one of the most important ways scientists have tracked the progress of climate change over time.  But as of April 12, the NSIDC was forced to release a statement explaining that its daily sea ice updates were suspended until further notice due to technical difficulties with F17.
The last satellite built for the DMSP program — F20 — was originally intended to be launched within the next few years.  But last year, the Air Force’s funding request for the program was denied by Congress and the launch plans shelved.  Consequently, the already-built satellite has remained on the ground in storage, and Tina Greer, a public affairs officer with the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, confirmed that there is no DMSP satellite currently on the launch manifest.

Read more at The Arctic Is Melting – and Scientists Just Lost a Key Tool to Observe It

The Paris Agreement:  Have Oil Companies Got the Memo?

 Swimming pool near refinery (Photo Credit: Spencer Thomas via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Oil companies talk a good game on climate change, calling for a global carbon price.  Tom Burke rightly points out the duplicity at work:  the companies are both acutely aware that this will never happen in practice, while also delaying progress by not constructively suggesting something else that might actually work.  We are talking about an industry one of which is under investigation by the New York attorney general to see if it systematically lied about climate change, after all.

The evidence is that the likes of BP simply don’t think that when the chips are down, politicians will have the chutzpah to keep the oil in the ground.  Indeed Shell’s climate change advisor is refreshingly candid:
“There is really nothing to argue about in terms of the CO2 math itself.  It is certainly the case that current proven reserves will take us well past 2 °C if completely consumed and the CO2 emitted.  But now comes the reality check! …[we] need to meet energy demand.”
Political will on climate is a prerequisite given the speed and depth of the shift required.  But it’s in legislative chambers and finance ministries around the world that the real strength of the appetite to get carbon out of the global economy will be measured.  That means addressing the implicit climate damage and pollution subsidy that oil majors get every year – a staggering $5.3 trillion, say the IMF.  Oil companies spend a small fortune lobbying and influencing politicians.  Despite their entreaties that makes them not the solution, but a huge, huge problem.

It’s a potential impasse with global consequences.  It must be broken.  The main thing to realize about Paris is that it won’t amount to a hill of beans unless it leads to a radical change in the business model of fossil fuel companies – on a far quicker timescale than they would ideally have liked.

With the bonhomie of the signing ceremony still fresh in everyone’s hearts, now seems a good time to point this out.  NEF is one of a very long list of signatories to a full-page advertisement in today’s Financial Times.  It appeals to oil companies to see the writing on the wall, and to genuinely put climate change at the heart of their business plans:
Today, you have a choice: to stay on your current course and be forever on the wrong side of history, or respond to the political will of the world and ensure your company becomes part of our shared future.
Paris truly was a landmark moment.  But only when Shell, BP, Exxon and Chevron start to tell very different stories to their shareholders about what it is they’re in business to do, will we know they’ve got the memo.

Read more at The Paris Agreement:  Have Oil Companies Got the Memo?

Within One Week, Plans for Two Major Proposed Natural Gas Pipelines Are Scrapped

A man carries a sign before a rally opposing the Constitution Pipeline outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. (Credit: AP Photo/Mike Groll) Click to Enlarge.
It’s been a good week for anti-pipeline activists in the Northeast.

Plans for two proposed natural gas pipelines have been scrapped within the last week — but not for the same reasons.  On Wednesday, energy company Kinder Morgan halted operations on its Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania into Massachusetts.  Kinder Morgan said it wasn’t able to secure the commitments from energy customers it needed to justify building the pipeline, and said that low energy prices made it difficult for natural gas producers to commit to the pipeline.

Then, on Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration rejected water quality permits needed to construct the Constitution Pipeline, effectively killing the project, which would have brought natural gas 124 miles from Pennsylvania to New York.  New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation said in its decision to reject the permits that the pipeline would have impacted about 250 streams, “including trout spawning streams, old-growth forest, and undisturbed springs.”

The DEC also said it had gotten reports that landowners had clearcut old-growth forests along the pipeline’s proposed route — something that went against FERC rules for the pipeline.  The agency wrote that the pipeline’s water quality application “fails in a meaningful way to address the significant water resource impacts that could occur from this Project and has failed to provide sufficient information to demonstrate compliance with New York State water quality standards.”

Read more at Within One Week, Plans for Two Major Proposed Natural Gas Pipelines Are Scrapped

Getting Cheap Wind Power Where It’s Needed Shouldn’t Be This Hard

State regulators have blocked several big transmission projects to bring wind power to the upper Midwest and the Southeast.

Transmission line (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The wind power industry had another banner year in 2015, and the outlook for the future is strong.  The U.S. Department of Energy’s national wind-power plan calls for wind to supply 20 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030, up from less than 5 percent today.

There’s one major obstacle in the industry’s path, though:  much of that electricity is generated in remote, windswept areas of the Great Plains, and the transmission system to send it to market doesn’t exist. Getting power from wind farms in Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa to the populous cities to the east and west has proven far more difficult than wind developers envisioned a few years ago.
Unlike natural gas pipelines, which are often routed using the power of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to exercise eminent domain, electrical transmission lines must win approval on a state-by-state, often property-by-property basis.
Relief, however, may be on the way in the form of a little known provision of the 2005 Energy Policy Act.  In late March the Department of Energy said that, if necessary, it would use its eminent domain authority under the 2005 legislation to acquire rights of way for Clean Line’s Plains and Eastern project, which will connect wind farms in the Oklahoma panhandle with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s grid via Arkansas.  The federal partnership effectively greenlights the 705-mile, 4,000-megawatt line.

The Plains and Eastern project “will be the largest transmission line in the U.S. ever, in terms of cost and voltage.”  Construction is expected to begin in 2017, and the first power will be transmitted in 2020, the company says.

Read more at Getting Cheap Wind Power Where It’s Needed Shouldn’t Be This Hard

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Earth Doesn’t Need to Worry, but the Things that Live on It Do - by Joe Romm

With 7 billion people going to 9 billion, much of the environment is unsavable.  But if we warm significantly more than 3.5°F from pre-industrial levels -- and especially if we warm more than 7°F, as would be all but inevitable if we keep on our current emissions path for much longer -- then the relatively stable environment and climate that made modern human civilization possible will be ruined, probably for hundreds of years (see NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years”, with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).  And that means misery for many if not most of the next 10 to 20 billion people to walk the planet.

So I think the world should be more into conserving the stuff that we can’t live without.  In that regard I am a conservative person.  Unfortunately, Conservative Day would, I think, draw the wrong crowds.

The problem with Earth Day is it asks us to save too much ground.  We need to focus.  The two parts of the planet worth fighting to preserve are the soils and the glaciers.

Numerous studies show that nearly a third of the world’s land faces drying from rising greenhouse gases — including two of the world’s greatest agricultural centers, the U.S. Great Plains and a big chunk of southeastern China.  On our current emissions path, most of the Southwest ultimately experience twice as much loss of soil moisture as was seen during the Dust Bowl (see Dust-Bowlification).

Also, locked away in the frozen soil of the tundra or permafrost is more carbon than the atmosphere contains today (see Tundra, Part 1).  On our current path most of the top 10 feet of the permafrost will be lost this century -- so much for being “perma” -- and that amplifying carbon-cycle feedback will Will Likely Add Up To 1.5°F To Total Global Warming By 2100, all but ensuring that today’s worst-case scenarios for global warming become the best-case scenarios.  We must save the tundra.

Perhaps it should be small “e” earth Day, which is to say, Soil Day.  On the other hand, most of the public enthusiasm in the 1980s for saving the rain forests fizzled, and they are almost as important as the soil, so maybe not Soil Day.

As for glaciers, when they disappear, sea levels rise, perhaps in excess of an inch a year by century’s end.  If we warm even 3°C from pre-industrial levels, we will return the planet to a time when sea levels were ultimately 100 feet higher.  The first five feet of sea level rise, which seems increasingly likely to over the next hundred years on our current emissions path, would displace more than 100 million people.  That would be the equivalent of 200 Katrinas.  Since my brother lost his home in Katrina, I don’t consider this to be an abstract issue.

Equally important, the inland glaciers provide fresh water sources for more than a billion people. But on our current path, virtually all of them will be gone by century’s end.

So where is everyone going to live?  Hundreds of millions will flee the new deserts, but they can’t go to the coasts; indeed, hundreds of millions of other people will be moving inland.  But many of the world’s great rivers will be drying up at the same time, forcing massive conflict among yet another group of hundreds of millions of people.  The word rival, after all, comes from “people who share the same river.”  Sure, desalination is possible, but that’s expensive and uses a lot of energy, which means we’ll need even more carbon-free power.

Perhaps Earth Day should be Water Day, since the worst global warming impacts are going to be about water -- too much in some places, too little in other places, too acidified in the oceans for most life.  But even soil and water are themselves only important because they sustain life.  We could do Pro-Life Day, but that term is already taken, and again it would probably draw the wrong crowd.
What the day -- indeed, the whole year -- should be about is not creating misery upon misery for our children and their children and their children, and on and on for generations (see The global economy is a Ponzi scheme).  Ultimately, stopping climate change is not about preserving the Earth or creation but about preserving ourselves.  Yes, we can’t preserve ourselves if we don’t preserve a livable climate, and we can’t preserve a livable climate if we don’t preserve the Earth.

Read more at The Earth Doesn’t Need to Worry, but the Things that Live on It Do