Sunday, July 31, 2016

  Sunday, July 31

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.

Following DeSmog’s Revelations on Spectra Pipeline, MA Senators Demand More Answers from FERC on Alleged Conflict of Interest

Warren/Markey (Credit: Itai Vardi's blog) Click to Enlarge.
In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey demand new answers about an alleged conflict of interest in the environmental review of a proposed Spectra Energy natural gas pipeline project.

As DeSmog first reported, the Environmental Assessment (EA) for Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge project was carried out on FERC’s behalf by third-party contractor Natural Resource Group (NRG), which at the time was working directly for Spectra on a related pipeline, PennEast.  Following these revelations, Sens. Warren and Markey demanded explanations from FERC Commissioner Norman Bay, urging him to issue a new and objective review for the project.

Read more at Following DeSmog’s Revelations on Spectra Pipeline, MA Senators Demand More Answers from FERC on Alleged Conflict of Interest

New Report Highlights Need for BLM to Slash Methane Waste, Pollution

How much natural gas wasted (Credit: EDF) Click to Enlarge.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management should do more to protect taxpayers from unnecessary waste of their natural gas resources.  That’s the main takeaway from a new report from the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office.  Its findings again underline the urgent need for BLM to finalize strong new standards to reduce methane waste.

Methane is both the primary component of natural gas and a very potent climate pollutant.  In fact, pound for pound, methane is more than 80 times worse for our climate than carbon dioxide in the short term.  This means that unnecessary methane waste and pollution like the GAO found in this new report is a double whammy – depriving taxpayers of revenue due to us for the development of our natural gas resources and dangerously accelerating climate change.

Read more at New Report Highlights Need for BLM to Slash Methane Waste, Pollution

New Lithium-Oxygen Battery Greatly Improves Energy Efficiency, Longevity

New chemistry could overcome key drawbacks of lithium-air batteries.

In a new concept for battery cathodes, nanometer-scale particles made of lithium and oxygen compounds (depicted in red and white) are embedded in a sponge-like lattice (yellow) of cobalt oxide, which keeps them stable. The researchers propose that the material could be packaged in batteries that are very similar to conventional sealed batteries yet provide much more energy for their weight. (Credit: Ju Li, the Battelle Energy Alliance Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT; postdoc Zhi Zhu; and five others at MIT, Argonne National Laboratory, and Peking University in China) Click to Enlarge.
Lithium-air batteries are considered highly promising technologies for electric cars and portable electronic devices because of their potential for delivering a high energy output in proportion to their weight.  But such batteries have some pretty serious drawbacks:  They waste much of the injected energy as heat and degrade relatively quickly.  They also require expensive extra components to pump oxygen gas in and out, in an open-cell configuration that is very different from conventional sealed batteries. 

But a new variation of the battery chemistry, which could be used in a conventional, fully sealed battery, promises similar theoretical performance as lithium-air batteries, while overcoming all of these drawbacks.

The new battery concept, called a nanolithia cathode battery, is described in the journal Nature Energy in a paper by Ju Li, the Battelle Energy Alliance Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT; postdoc Zhi Zhu; and five others at MIT, Argonne National Laboratory, and Peking University in China.

One of the shortcomings of lithium-air batteries, Li explains, is the mismatch between the voltages involved in charging and discharging the batteries.  The batteries’ output voltage is more than 1.2 volts lower than the voltage used to charge them, which represents a significant power loss incurred in each charging cycle.  “You waste 30 percent of the electrical energy as heat in charging. … It can actually burn if you charge it too fast,” he says.

Staying solid
Conventional lithium-air batteries draw in oxygen from the outside air to drive a chemical reaction with the battery’s lithium during the discharging cycle, and this oxygen is then released again to the atmosphere during the reverse reaction in the charging cycle.

In the new variant, the same kind of electrochemical reactions take place between lithium and oxygen during charging and discharging, but they take place without ever letting the oxygen revert to a gaseous form.  Instead, the oxygen stays inside the solid and transforms directly between its three redox states, while bound in the form of three different solid chemical compounds, Li2O, Li2O2, and LiO2, which are mixed together in the form of a glass.  This reduces the voltage loss by a factor of five, from 1.2 volts to 0.24 volts, so only 8 percent of the electrical energy is turned to heat.  “This means faster charging for cars, as heat removal from the battery pack is less of a safety concern, as well as energy efficiency benefits,” Li says.

This approach helps overcome another issue with lithium-air batteries:  As the chemical reaction involved in charging and discharging converts oxygen between gaseous and solid forms, the material goes through huge volume changes that can disrupt electrical conduction paths in the structure, severely limiting its lifetime.

The secret to the new formulation is creating minuscule particles, at the nanometer scale (billionths of a meter), which contain both the lithium and the oxygen in the form of a glass, confined tightly within a matrix of cobalt oxide.  The researchers refer to these particles as nanolithia.  In this form, the transitions between LiO2, Li2O2, and Li2O can take place entirely inside the solid material, he says.

The nanolithia particles would normally be very unstable, so the researchers embedded them within the cobalt oxide matrix, a sponge-like material with pores just a few nanometers across.  The matrix stabilizes the particles and also acts as a catalyst for their transformations.

Conventional lithium-air batteries, Li explains, are “really lithium-dry oxygen batteries, because they really can’t handle moisture or carbon dioxide,” so these have to be carefully scrubbed from the incoming air that feeds the batteries.  “You need large auxiliary systems to remove the carbon dioxide and water, and it’s very hard to do this.”  But the new battery, which never needs to draw in any outside air, circumvents this issue.

Read more at New Lithium-Oxygen Battery Greatly Improves Energy Efficiency, Longevity

ALEC in Indianapolis:  ExxonMobil and the #WebOfDenial

In the face of government investigations, publish outrage, and bankruptcy, companies like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Peabody Energy are plotting their self-defense strategies at the American Legislative Exchange Council's 2016 annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

ALEC Indianapolis 2016 sponsors (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
This month, nineteen United States Senators called attention to the Web of Denial, a network of front groups that oppose any productive action to combat climate change.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) led the charge, building upon his weekly “Time To Wake Up” speech series on global warming, flagging the front groups that peddle climate doubt for their clients in the oil, gas and coal industries.

One of the top groups obstructing any form of progress is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.  ALEC convened its annual meeting in Indianapolis this week, where it hooks state politicians up with lobbyists from Koch Industries (and its many nonprofit tentacles), Peabody Energy, tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies and other industries looking to put pro-business policies  in the hands of state politicians.

Conference Cash from ExxonMobil and the #WebOfDenial
The Center for Media and Democracy revealed that ExxonMobil is a top sponsor of the conference.

Read more at ALEC in Indianapolis:  ExxonMobil and the #WebOfDenial

Crisis on High

At the top of the world a climate disaster is unfolding that will impact the lives of more than 1 billion people.

The route to the pole passes through the ancient silk road town of Dunghuang in north-western China. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Deep in the Himalayas sits a remote research station that is tracking an alarming trend in climate change, with implications that could disrupt the lives of more than 1 billion people and pitch the most populated region of the world into chaos.

The station lies in the heart of a region called the Third Pole, an area that contains the largest area of frozen water outside of the North Pole and South Pole.

Despite its relative anonymity, the Third Pole is vitally important; it is the source of Asia's 10 largest rivers including the Yellow, the Yangzi, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy and the Ganges — and their fertile deltas.

Flows from the glaciers that give the pole its name support roughly 1.3 billion people in China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — and the glaciers are melting fast.

Chinese authorities have opened up a remote research station on the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau and revealed alarming research on the pace of global warming.

Half a century of research shows the temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees in the area, more than double the global average.  More than 500 glaciers have completely disappeared, and the biggest ones are retreating rapidly.

Read more at Crisis on High

Energy-Wise Buildings Can Cut Gas Imports

Unleashing a fourth industrial revolution on Europe is the bold aim of a report on how to make the continent’s buildings carbon-neutral energy producers.

Making existing buildings in Europe more energy efficient could create a million new jobs. (Image Credit: Tapio Liller via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A renovation program to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings in Europe could create a million jobs, provide warmer homes, more comfortable factories and offices, reduce fuel bills across 28 countries, and cut imports of Russian gas, researchers say.

This is because buildings are currently the biggest single emitter of GHGs in Europe.  Many have inefficient heating and cooling, combined with poor insulation.

But with existing technology and political will, they could be transformed into energy producers and become carbon-neutral, says a report produced by OpenEXP, an international group of experts helping policymakers to reach sustainable development goals.

Read more at Energy-Wise Buildings Can Cut Gas Imports

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A New Leaf:  Scientists Turn Carbon Dioxide Back into Fuel

In a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers have found a way to convert carbon dioxide into a usable energy source by using sunlight. (Credit: © Romolo Tavani / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
As scientists and policymakers around the world try to combat the increasing rate of climate change, they have focused on the chief culprit:  carbon dioxide.

Produced by the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and car engines, carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, warming the planet.  But trees and other plants do slowly capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it to sugars that store energy.

In a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers have found a similar way to convert carbon dioxide into a usable energy source using sunlight.

One of the chief challenges of sequestering carbon dioxide is that it is relatively chemically unreactive.  "On its own, it is quite difficult to convert carbon dioxide into something else," said Argonne chemist Larry Curtiss, an author of the study.

To make carbon dioxide into something that could be a usable fuel, Curtiss and his colleagues needed to find a catalyst -- a particular compound that could make carbon dioxide react more readily.  When converting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into a sugar, plants use an organic catalyst called an enzyme; the researchers used a metal compound called tungsten diselenide, which they fashioned into nanosized flakes to maximize the surface area and to expose its reactive edges.

While plants use their catalysts to make sugar, the Argonne researchers used theirs to convert carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide.  Although carbon monoxide is also a greenhouse gas, it is much more reactive than carbon dioxide and scientists already have ways of converting carbon monoxide into usable fuel, such as methanol.

Read more at A New Leaf:  Scientists Turn Carbon Dioxide Back into Fuel

  Saturday, July 30

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.

Human Consumption of Earth's Natural Resources Has Tripled in 40 Years

Landscape deeply scarred by an open cut coal mine in Hunter Valley, Australia. (Credit: Max Phillips / Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Humans' appetite for gnawing away at the fabric of the Earth itself is growing prodigiously.  According to a new UN report, the amount of the planet's natural resources extracted for human use has tripled in 40 years.

A report produced by the International Resource Panel (IRP), part of the UN Environment Program, says rising consumption driven by a growing middle class has seen resources extraction increase from 22 billion tons in 1970 to 70 billion tons in 2010.

It refers to natural resources as primary materials and includes under this heading biomass, fossil fuels, metal ores and non-metallic minerals.

The increase in their use, the report warns, will ultimately deplete the availability of natural resources—causing serious shortages of critical materials and risking conflict.

Growing primary material consumption will affect climate change mainly because of the large amounts of energy involved in extraction, use, transport and disposal.

Irreversibly Depleted
"The alarming rate at which materials are now being extracted is already having a severe impact on human health and people's quality of life," said the IRP's co-chair, Alicia Bárcena Ibarra.

Read more at Human Consumption of Earth's Natural Resources Has Tripled in 40 Years

California's Fast-Track Solar Permits Let the Sun Shine In Faster—and Cheaper

Cities have responded to a California law by approving some residential solar permits in as little as a day, saving homeowners not just time, but money too.  Cities have responded to a California law by approving some residential solar permits in as little as a day, saving homeowners not just time, but money too.

Installing solar on a rooftop, like this system on a home in San Mateo, Calif., is getting faster and easier as cities comply with a California law requiring a speedier permitting process. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
California cities are leading the nation in eliminating one of the biggest hurdles to the growth of residential solar: lengthy and confusing permitting.

Spurred by a recent state law, hundreds of California communities have streamlined their permit process for small residential solar systems over the past year, some bringing it down to a single day.  Some cities have also fast-tracked inspections to within a few days of permit approvals.  The outcome?  The state's biggest cities are now processing and signing off on hundreds of these solar projects each month.

San Jose, for example, streamlined its permit review and approval process last August and has since approved more than 4,500 residential rooftop solar permits.  That's a nearly 600 percent increase over the previous year, when San Jose, California's third-largest city, permitted a mere 661.

Read more at California's Fast-Track Solar Permits Let the Sun Shine In Faster—and Cheaper

World Carbon Producers Face Landmark Rights Case

An oil rig off the coast of California. (Credit: Pete Markham/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s largest oil, coal, cement and mining companies have been given 45 days to respond to a complaint that their greenhouse gas emissions have violated the human rights of millions of people living in the Phillippines.

In a potential landmark legal case, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR), a constitutional body with the power to investigate human rights violations, has sent 47 “carbon majors” including Shell, BP, Chevron, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, a 60-page document accusing them of breaching people’s fundamental rights to “life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self determination.”

The move is the first step in what is expected to be an official investigation of the companies by the CHR, and the first of its kind in the world to be launched by a government body.

The complaint argues that the 47 companies should be held accountable for the effects of their greenhouse gas emissions in the Philippines and demands that they explain how human rights violations resulting from climate change will be “eliminated, remedied and prevented."

It calls for an official investigation into the human rights implications of climate change and ocean acidification and whether the investor-owned “carbon majors” are in breach of their responsibilities.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change.
The full legal investigation is now expected to start in October after the 47 companies have responded.  Although all 47 will be ordered to attend public hearings, the CHR can only force those 10 with offices in the Philippines to appear.

These include Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Lafarge, Holcim, and Taiheiyo Cement Corporation.  The CHR has the power to seek the assistance of the UN to encourage any which do not attend to co-operate.

“The commission’s actions are unprecedented.  For the first time, a national human rights body is officially taking steps to address the impacts of climate change on human rights and the responsibility of private actors,” said Zelda Soriano, legal and political adviser for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, one of the groups which has brought the complaint to the CHR.

“This is an important building block in establishing the moral and legal ‘precedent’ that big polluters can be held responsible for current and threatened human rights infringements resulting from fossil fuel products.  From the Netherlands to the U.S., people are using legal systems to hold their governments to account and demand climate action,” she said.
The CHR is not a court and would have no power to force companies to reduce emissions or fine them.  However, it can make recommendations to government and would add to the worldwide pressure to persuade shareholders to divest from heavy carbon emitters.

The investigation is the latest in a growing tide of climate liability cases being brought against governments and corporations.  In June, the Netherlands’ high court ruled on the world’s first climate liability suit, ordering the Dutch government to take stronger action against climate change to better protect its citizens.

Read more at World Carbon Producers Face Landmark Rights Case

They Killed Keystone.  Now What?

A placard with the Canadian flag rests on the ground covered in oil as demonstrators conduct a die-in to protest against the Keystone Pipeline and the Alberta Tar Sands. (Photo Credit:  AP / Nam Y. Huh) Click to Enlarge.
There are three main projects under consideration right now that would bring millions of gallons of tar sands oil out of Canada every day.  Kinder Morgan wants to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline to the west, where oil could be shipped south to California’s refineries. Enbridge is trying to increase capacity in two pipelines in Minnesota which would feed into a system carrying oil down to the Gulf Coast.  And TransCanada is proposing a major pipeline to the maritime provinces in order to ship tar sands oil down the Eastern Seaboard.

Oil from tar sands is incredibly heavy oil — it is very thick, tar-like.  Technically known as bitumen, the petroleum product has to be diluted in order to flow through pipelines.  Alberta has one of the largest bitumen deposits in the world.  In fact, the Alberta tar sands produce more oil each year than the entire country uses.  For this reason, and because some 90 percent of the facilities for refining the heavy oil are located in the Gulf Coast, the United States is the biggest buyer of tar sands oil.

And tar sands oil, from a climate and environmental safety perspective, is really bad.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a gallon of gasoline from bitumen is responsible for 15 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than a gallon of gas from conventional oil.  In addition, the energy-intensive tar sands oil extraction process uses a lot of water, which ends up in toxic man-made pools.

Bitumen also poses a greater risk to the environment if (or when) it spills.  While convention oil is certainly difficult to clean up (see: Exxon Valdez; Deepwater Horizon), bitumen is even harder to put back in the bottle.  Bitumen sinks.  When an Enbridge line ruptured in the Kalamazoo River six years ago, the company had to dredge the river in order to get the heavy oil out.  They had only moderate success, while devastating the river's ecosystem.

It's partly for this reason that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recommended in a report this week that the United States consider a ban on bitumen transportation in U.S. waters.

Read more at They Killed Keystone.  Now What?

Major Media Get Climate Change Wrong (Again)

Coal power plant (Credit: Chicago Tribune Via Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
In an editorial in last Saturday’s paper, the Chicago Tribune editorial board said that we still need coal, oil and gas because solving climate change is too complex. Such handwaving doesn’t pass the smell test:  they haven’t done their homework.  To be fair, for a paper that once regularly featured a climate denier (Dennis Byrne), the Trib has come around somewhat, especially in their praise for the Paris climate agreement.  But they’re still miles away from reality.

So too, it appears, are the Atlantic and the Washington Post, which feted climate change deniers in events sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute last week in Cleveland.  You know what these types of events are like, lots of mixed drinks and bromides.  The Intercept gives the full scoop on such shameless and unethical actions by publications that should be pressing the powerful on climate change, not coddling them.

Last year was the hottest on record and this year looks to top it.  Luckily, the Democratic Party platform calls for galvanizing a World War II-like effort to stop climate change.  But there are obstacles, beyond even the presidential contest, that could prevent more thoroughgoing action to prevent climate change.  One such obstacle, for instance, is the growth of gas infrastructure which would put us on a path toward certain temperature rise and obviate everything else we are trying to do.  And this is where journalists should be challenging conventional wisdom about climate change and urging massive deployment of the functional renewable energy we already have, not offering milquetoast paeans to the wonders of technology or the lie that climate science isn’t settled.

Read more at Major Media Get Climate Change Wrong (Again)

Addressing the Plight of Existing Nuclear Retirements, Part 2

RPS Policies by State (Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Click to Enlarge.
This is the second article in a three-part series on existing nuclear in the United States.  Part 1 identified and discussed major economic and policy challenges. Part 3 will look at other state, regional, and federal policy solutions.

  1. Although the economic struggles of the existing US nuclear fleet are clear, potential solutions to these challenges remain somewhat undefined and unanalyzed.
  2. Any solution must provide sufficient incentives to generators, reduce uncertainty, and be politically feasible.
  3. This is a clear situation where a one-size fits all approach will not work – instead, planners will likely have to consider many different policy and regulatory avenues.
  4. Short term policy fixes may be sufficient to protect the most vulnerable nuclear reactors but more systemic policy reforms are needed for the long-term sustainability of the entire nuclear power fleet.
Nuclear Retirements Under Increased Scrutiny
In the last several months, the announcement of planned retirements at 5.1 GW of nuclear capacity in Illinois and California underscored the challenges facing the U.S.’s nuclear fleet.

While there are many factors at play there are four dominant issues:
  • Restructured electricity markets structurally favor short run marginal costs and largely ignore long term considerations
  • Low natural gas prices reduce electricity prices in these markets and also challenge the cost effectiveness of nuclear plants in regulated markets
  • Continuing growth in renewable energy, especially solar, will only exacerbate these two issues in the long term
  • The nuclear fleet is aging, leading to multiple issues including the need for large additional capital expenditures
Unless market or policy design changes, a large portion of the existing nuclear fleet faces retirement in the short term, resulting in increased national carbon emissions.  As renewable energy continues to grow rapidly and plants continue to age, the rest of the fleet will also face retirement risks if current market design persists.

Although policymakers are increasingly recognizing these issues, questions remain about how to address them.

Read more at Addressing the Plight of Existing Nuclear Retirements, Part 2

Engineers Work to Cut Costs and Emissions in Geothermal Power

A geodesic dome covers a geothermal wellhead at the Hellisheiði Power Station in Iceland. (Photo Credit: Umair Irfan) Click to Enlarge.
Geothermal energy is a promising method of producing heat and electricity, since it is renewable and can provide constant power.  According to Iceland's National Energy Authority, 85 percent of the country's energy comes from renewable sources.  Geothermal power provides 66 percent of Iceland's energy and a quarter of the country's electricity.

However, the technology has high upfront costs, finding adequate geothermal resources can be a risky investment, and some instances of geothermal power emit greenhouse gases.  In parts of the world, geothermal energy can emit more carbon dioxide than coal.

The CarbFix project at Hellisheiði tackles the emissions side of geothermal energy.  The plant produces 303 megawatts of electricity and 133 MW of hot water, and in 2012, engineers began reinjecting carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into geothermal wells at wellheads covered with geodesic domes instead of allowing these gases into the air.

The goal was to get basalt rocks rich in calcium and magnesium to react with the injected gases to form calcium carbonate limestone, permanently locking emissions away.  In nature, this process can take thousands of years, but engineers set out to create conditions that would make it happen in five.

The results showed the mineralization was even faster.

"What I really like about the CarbFix solution is using the natural processes," said Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir, project manager for CarbFix at Reykjavik Energy.  "After two years, it's just rock, and it stays that way."

Aradóttir and her team published their findings last month in the journal Science.  The project started out injecting 250 tons of carbon dioxide in 2012 and ramped up to 5,000 tons in 2014.

Read more at Engineers Work to Cut Costs and Emissions in Geothermal Power

Friday, July 29, 2016

  Friday, July 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.

Climate Change’s Fingerprints All Over California Wildfires

Reports this week from the front lines of the Sand Fire in Southern California painted the scene as apocalyptic. The drought-fueled blaze was explosive, fast-moving and devastating, burning through 38,000 acres in the Santa Clarita Valley and forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 homes.

If the state’s wildfire season holds true to forecasts, the Sand Fire will be one of many catastrophic wildfires to scorch drought-stricken forests and shrublands across California this year.  So far, only one wildfire has been larger — the 48,019-acre Erskine Fire, which started in June in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and destroyed 250 homes and buildings.

None of the fires have been among the worst or largest wildfires the state has seen in recent years, but they’re part of a dire global warming-fueled trend toward larger, more frequent and intense wildfires.  The number of blazes on public lands across the West has increased 500 percent since the late 1970s, said LeRoy Westerling, a professor studying climate and wildfire at the University of California-Merced.

The outlook this summer is sobering:  Wildland fire potential for most of coastal California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains is above normal and is expected to remain that way through October, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Global warming’s fingerprints can be clearly seen on this year’s fire season in California, where the state’s extreme drought is entering its fifth year and record-breaking heat has baked the region.

“Climate change has exacerbated naturally occurring droughts, and therefore fuel conditions,” said Robert Field, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The worse the drought, the more of a tinderbox forests become.

Read more at Climate Change’s Fingerprints All Over California Wildfires

Forest Restoration Gets a Cutting Edge

Fast-growing liana vines climb up and choke back new tree growth. (Image Credit: Paul Godard via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Research by scientists from the UK and Tanzania has revealed that assisted ecological restoration can lead to dramatic increases in growth of new and established trees – helping to mitigate climate change and boost biodiversity.

All that is required, they say, is effective control of lianas, the fast-growing, woody climbing vines that, left to their own devices, quickly take over forest in which most or all of the merchantable timber has been cut, and crowd out emerging tree seedlings.

Trials carried out over five years in Tanzania’s Magombera forest – one of the world’s most threatened habitats – compared tree growth on plots where lianas were left undisturbed with those where they were cut back twice a year.

The results are remarkable, with a 765% increase in net biomass gain on plots where lianas were managed.  Crucially, the trials suggest this can be achieved without affecting species diversity.

Faster growth
As a solution to forest degradation, natural regeneration assisted by liana management could be far more effective than tree planting.  It produces faster growth rates and the right mix of naturally occurring species – and it can be carried out at a fraction of the cost.

Another potential benefit is that young trees in liana-managed areas appear to be more resilient to the wildfires that often set back regeneration in degraded forest.

The study, published in the African Journal of Ecology, combines results from the Magombera trial with data from other published research on liana management in tropical Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

It concludes:  “Incorporating our data into a first quantitative review of previous studies, we found that tree growth, recruitment and net growth rates were all consistently higher where lianas were either absent or removed.”

It is estimated that up to 60% of remaining tropical forests worldwide have been degraded by logging.  Of this, 1.4 billion hectares, or 5.4 million square miles (8.7m km2), have been identified as suitable for restoration.
The authors note that assisted ecological restoration has so far been attempted only on a very small scale.  They say there is an urgent need to develop landscape-scale restoration techniques that are practical and affordable for economically-disadvantaged nations.

The lead author, Dr Andrew Marshall, senior lecturer in the environment department at the University of York, UK, says that exclusion of lianas during the early stages of regeneration in many logged-over areas could provide the solution.

He told Climate News Network:  “No one has until now combined data from all over the world to see what the general trend is.  If you combine the results from our study with other research in Panama and Brazil, we’re talking about a sixfold to sevenfold increase in net biomass, so the implications for global carbon sequestration are potentially profound.”

Read more at Forest Restoration Gets a Cutting Edge

Thursday, July 28, 2016

  Thursday, July 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.

Meet Hillary Clinton's Climate Change Champion

Gene Karpinski (left with microphone), president of the League of Conversation Voters, speaks during a gathering in front of the White House to celebrate President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline last year. (Photo Credit: AP Images.) Click to Enlarge.
With wooly white sideburns accounting for much of his hair, Karpinski is still working on environmental issues in his 11th year as president of the League of Conservation Voters.  Today, he'll achieve a new goal by speaking at the Democratic National Convention about climate change.

"It's an honor, and it's an important conversation to have," Karpinski said in one of several conversations with ClimateWire this week.  He plans to use his speech to underscore Donald Trump's assertion that global warming is a "hoax."

In some ways, Karpinski's selection by the Clinton campaign is almost automatic.  Under his leadership, the LCV Action Fund made its earliest presidential endorsement ever, in November 2015, before a single primary vote had been cast.  That decision gave Clinton credibility on climate change as she faced Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, both of whom were promoting more aggressive policies than Clinton to reduce greenhouse gases.

So it was met with disbelief when Karpinski justified the endorsement by saying Clinton is the best candidate to challenge Trump.  A Sanders spokesman, Michael Briggs, said at the time that LCV's decision was made "on something other than merit."  To make his point, he compared Sanders' lifetime LCV score with Clinton's -- 95 to 82, respectively.

Karpinski's assertions might be vindicated in the eyes of his supporters later tonight when Clinton officially accepts the Democratic nomination.  That he'll appear on the same stage, on the same day, isn't a coincidence.  LCV officials didn't stand idly by; they made it happen.

Read more at Meet Hillary Clinton's Climate Change Champion

Trump Now Blames Scientists for Global Warming ‘Hoax’

Donald Trump offered a new explanation this week on why he believes climate change is a hoax.  Past explanations have included blaming China for making up climate change for their benefit.  But that was before being nominated for President.  So what’s his position today?

Speaking with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, Trump gave an updated account of why he thinks global warming is a hoax.
O’REILLY: Did you ever call climate change a hoax?
TRUMP: Well, I might have because when I look at some of the things that are going on, in fact if you look at Europe where they had their big summit a couple of years ago, where people were sending out emails, scientists practically calling it a hoax and they were laughing at it.  So, yeah, I probably did.  I see what’s going on and you see what’s going on.
The Discredited ClimateGate Conspiracy Theory
Trump appears to be referring here to the illegal hacking of scientists’ emails in 2009, which climate skeptics gleefully dubbed “ClimateGate.”  These conspiracy theories have been thoroughly debunked (see for example, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Politifact). After the emails were released, every investigative report — from the National Science Foundation Inspector General, NOAA’s Inspector General, Penn State University, University of East Anglica, and the UK Parliament — reached the same conclusion: nothing in the emails in any way altered the overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is warming due to increased levels of pollution.

Read more at Trump Now Blames Scientists for Global Warming ‘Hoax’

This Video Shows Why We Must Stop TPP to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground

The climate movement has achieved critical wins recently. Protecting the Atlantic coast from offshore drilling, stopping fracking in New York, and defeating the Keystone XL pipeline to name a few. Yet, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), if approved by Congress, could undermine these and other critical climate victories. And the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) isn’t looking much better. We can’t let corporate trade deals hamper climate progress; we must defeat the TPP.

That’s the message of a new video released by the Sierra Club today.

The video comes at a key moment in history. The TPP, a deal that was negotiated in secret with hundreds of corporate advisors and that grants broad new rights to multinational corporations, is facing immense opposition from over a thousand civil society organizations (including hundreds of environmental organizations), millions of members of the public, over a hundred city councils, economists, actors like Mark Ruffalo and Evangeline Lilly, musicians, and both presidential candidates.

And yet, TPP backers—mostly the same multinational corporations who helped craft the deal and will benefit from it—are eager for Congress to pass the agreement during the “lame duck” session in Congress late this year.

Click to read more: This Video Shows Why We Must Stop TPP to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground

Tesla's $5-Billion Gigafactory Begins Production

An overall view of the new Tesla Gigafactory is seen during a media tour Tuesday, July 26, 2016, in Sparks, Nev. It i??s Tesla Motors'?? biggest bet yet: A massive, $5 billion factory in the Nevada desert that could almost double the world???s production of lithium-ion batteries by 2018. (Photo Credit: AP/Rich Pedroncelli) Click to Enlarge.
On Tuesday, Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk opened the doors to the Gigafactory – a $5-billion project with the capacity to double the world’s production of lithium-ion batteries and maybe even fuel the CEO’s increasingly ambitious goals.

Construction is not finished, but the factory is ready to begin low levels of production.  When completed, the factory plans to cover 10 million square feet of the Nevada desert, making it one of the largest buildings in the world.  According to Tesla, if the Gigafactory is operating at full capacity it will be able to produce 150 gigawatt hours of energy every year – enough to power New York City for about three years – and reduce the cost of batteries by a third by 2018.

Tesla currently contracts out battery production to Japan, but producing their own batteries in America will allow the company to expand production, have more control over prices, and dive deeper into the long-term energy storage side of the business.    

“If you look at where batteries are being made, it’s almost all in Asia,” JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer and co-founder, told the Wall Street Journal.  “That was one of the big opportunities we have here, is to close the logistics loop from where cells are made and materials are made and move it closer to where our vehicles are made.”  In the short term, Tesla needs batteries for the production of the Model 3 sedan, the fourth car the company has designed, which is scheduled to roll off factory floors at the end of 2017.  At $35,000, the car will be Tesla's most affordable, due in part to lower battery costs.  Because of the high initial orders for the Model 3, Tesla decided to try to increase production to 500,000 vehicles per year by 2018, two years earlier than scheduled.

But the batteries will also be vital to the success of the master plan Musk released earlier this month outlining the company’s goals for the next ten years, which include developing home solar panels and battery storage; moving beyond luxury cars to produce electric pickup trucks, sedans, and even semi-trucks; delving into safe autonomous technology; and creating a car sharing system that will earn car owners money.

Read more at Tesla's $5-Billion Gigafactory Begins Production

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Climate Change Got Prime Spot at Wednesday’s Democratic National Convention

Climate change got a star-studded, prime-time spot at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday with a short film from James Cameron and Maria Wilhelm.

The five-and-half-minute film includes a number of celebrities ― Jack Black, America Ferrera and Don Cheadle ― as well as the voice of Hillary Clinton and footage of former President George H.W. Bush and the pope. 

Drawn from Cameron’s Showtime television series “Years of Living Dangerously,” the film starts with a dark outlook on the current challenges of climate change:  droughts, severe storms, floods, wild fires and record heat waves.

“Crops are failing, food prices are rising, communities are threatened,” says the narrator, actress Sigourney Weaver.  “Our children are at risk.”

It also targets Donald Trump’s position on climate change ― that it’s a hoax created by the Chinese ― as “reckless” and “dangerous.”  It juxtaposes that with Clinton’s argument that climate change is a threat worth confronting head-on.

“I’m not going to stand by and let anyone take us backward, deny our clean energy future, or hand our children a dangerous world destabilized by climate change,” Clinton says in a voiceover.

“Together we can do this,” she continues.  “For our future, for our children.”

Read more at Climate Change Gets Prime Spot at Wednesday’s Democratic National Convention

  Wednesday, July 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.

Scientists Urge Obama to End Federal Coal Leasing

Group says the U.S. will not meet its emissions goals or international climate targets without an end to the federal program.

A coal mine in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. (Credit: Kimon Berlin/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Citing coal’s effect on climate change, a group of more than 65 prominent scientists is urging the Obama administration to end coal leasing on federal public lands by making permanent a moratorium the government placed on leasing in January.

In a letter sent to the administration Wednesday, the scientists said that unless coal mining is stopped permanently, the U.S. cannot meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, and the goal to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F) may be impossible.

Using coal to generate electricity is the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change globally.  Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using more natural gas and renewables is widely seen as a primary way to meet international climate goals.

The scientists include James Hansen, former director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA; Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT; Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell; and Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer.

Coal mining on federal land, mainly in the West, represents about 41 percent of total U.S. coal production.  The Obama administration has placed a three-year moratorium on coal leasing on public lands while the federal government conducts a review meant to bring the leasing program in line with U.S. climate policy.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Interior said the agency is evaluating potential reforms to the program.  

Preventing global warming from exceeding 2°C requires 95 percent of all U.S. coal to remain in the ground, the scientists wrote.

“A rapid end to federal coal extraction would send an important signal internationally and domestically to markets, utilities, investors and other nations that the United States is committed to upholding its climate obligation to limit temperature rise to well below 2°C,” they wrote.

“We should stop coal leasing on public lands as part of a broader effort to stop burning coal at all in order to save the American people from the disastrous damages that causes,” Shindell said.

Shindell said it was understandable that the U.S. used coal as its primary source of electricity in the past because the costs of burning coal were not yet known and there were no good alternatives.  Today, the consequences of using coal are clear, and the U.S. should focus on developing renewables instead, he said.

Read more at Scientists Urge Obama to End Federal Coal Leasing

Climate Change Risk Threatens 18 U.S. Military Sites

Former United States Marine Corps recruits march past their drill instructors after emblem graduating ceremonies from the Marine Corps depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, January 6, 2004. (Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton) Click to Enlarge.
Rising sea levels due to hurricanes and tidal flooding intensified by climate change will put military bases along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast at risk, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Nonprofit group the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed 18 military installations that represent more than 120 coastal bases nationwide to weigh the impact of climate change on their operations.

Faster rates of sea level rises in the second half of this century could mean that tidal flooding will become a daily occurrence for some installations, pushing useable land needed for military training and testing into tidal zones, said the report titled The U.S. Military on the Front Lines of Rising Seas.

By 2050, most of these sites will be hit by more than 10 times the number of floods than at present, the report said, and at least half of them will experience daily floods.

Four of those - including the Naval Air Station in Key West, Florida, and the Marine Corps recruit depot in South Carolina - could lose between 75 and 95 percent of their land in this century.

Read more at Climate Change Risk Threatens 18 U.S. Military Sites:  Study