Tuesday, August 22, 2017

As US Coal Exports Swell, Trump Admin Facilitates Major Deal with Ukraine

Export levels of coal produced in the U.S. shot up earlier this year, as President Donald Trump assumed the White House, in what his administration has dubbed the age of “energy dominance.”

Export levels of coal produced in the U.S. shot up earlier this year, as President Donald Trump assumed the White House, in what his administration has dubbed the age of “energy dominance.” (Image Credit: U.S. Embassy in Ukraine) Click to Enlarge.
For the first quarter of 2017, export levels grew 58 percent compared to the same quarter last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The news comes as the Trump administration recently helped broker a major coal export deal between Pennsylvania-based coal production company Xcoal Energy and Ukranian company Centrenergo PJSC. 

That deal, which will see 700,000 tons of thermal coal shipped from XCoal's mines to Centrenergo power plants in Ukraine, was applauded by both U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

Although Trump's presidential campaign is under scrutiny for its potential connections to Russian operatives, Ross praised the coal deal in the name of fending off Kremlin influence.

“Today’s announcement will allow Ukraine to diversify its energy sources ahead of the coming winter, helping bolster a key strategic partner against regional pressures that seek to undermine U.S. interests,” Ross stated in a press release.  “In the past, Russia has tried to choke off opposition to its ambitions by restricting the flow of natural gas to its western neighbors.”

Perry also lauded the deal as a way of beating back Russian energy dominance in that region. Russian-backed separatist rebels currently occupy Ukraine's coal-rich region and have commandeered the mines, making coal extraction in the area currently untenable. 

“In recent years Kiev and much of Eastern Europe have been reliant on and beholden to Russia to keep the heat on.  That changes now,” stated Perry.  “The United States can offer Ukraine an alternative, and today we are pleased to announce that we will.  U.S. coal will be a secure and reliable energy source for Centrenergo and its electricity customers.”

According to the joint Commerce Department/Energy Department press release, shipments of coal to Ukraine will begin in late August and early September in time to stockpile for the winter season.  Those shipments, according to Kyiv Post, will come mostly via the Port of Baltimore.

Read more at As US Coal Exports Swell, Trump Admin Facilitates Major Deal with Ukraine

Monday, August 21, 2017

  Monday, Aug 21

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

The Trump Administration Just Disbanded a Federal Advisory Committee on Climate Change - The Washington Post

President Trump speaks about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden of the White House in June. (Credit: AP) Click to Enlarge.
The Trump administration has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government’s climate analysis into long-term planning.

The charter for the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment — which includes academics as well as local officials and corporate representatives — expires Sunday. On Friday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting administrator, Ben Friedman, informed the committee’s chair that the agency would not renew the panel.

The National Climate Assessment is supposed to be issued every four years but has come out only three times since passage of the 1990 law calling for such analysis.  The next one, due for release in 2018, already has become a contentious issue for the Trump administration.

Administration officials are currently reviewing a scientific report that is key to the final document.  Known as the Climate Science Special Report, it was produced by scientists from 13 different federal agencies and estimates that human activities were responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010.

The committee was established to help translate findings from the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance for both public and private-sector officials.  Its members have been writing a report to inform federal officials on the data sets and approaches that would best be included, and chair Richard Moss said in an interview Saturday that ending the group’s work was shortsighted.

“It doesn’t seem to be the best course of action,” said Moss, an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences, and he warned of consequences for the decisions that state and local authorities must make on a range of issues from building road projects to maintaining adequate hydropower supplies.  “We’re going to be running huge risks here and possibly end up hurting the next generation’s economic prospects.”

But NOAA communications director Julie Roberts said in an email Saturday that “this action does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.”

Read more at The Trump Administration Just Disbanded a Federal Advisory Committee on Climate Change

Street Wars 2035:  Can Cyclists and Driverless Cars Ever Co-Exist?

Driverless cars appear unstoppable – except of course you can simply walk in front of one and force it to brake.  Could this conundrum eventually mean a return to a dystopian world of segregated urban highways?

A skateboarder rides next to an electric driverless bus in Lyon, France. (Photograph Credit: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty) Click to Enlarge.
A report last month estimated that by 2035 up to 25% of new vehicles sold could be fully autonomous.  Humans can be terrible drivers, and many proponents believe AV could reduce the 1.34 million annual global road death toll.

But cities have some urgent questions to answer, and failure to address the issues raised could see us sleepwalking back into the problems of the 1960s and 70s, where cities became thoroughfares for traffic first … and places for people second.

The ‘problem’ posed by cyclists
Driverless cars navigate and detect other road users using a combination of cameras, detailed maps, radar and, in the case of Google cars, Lidar (light detection and ranging), a laser-sensing system adapted from oceanographic surveying.  Google, in a company now spun off as Waymo, has been testing driverless cars (with pilots inside) on public streets in the US since 2009, clocking 2.5 million miles, and honing the technology following interactions with other road users.

A driverless car will, in theory, stop if it detects an object in its path – but cyclists, being small and agile, represent a unique challenge.  AVs struggle with changes in speed and the huge variety of cycle shapes and sizes.  They even struggle to detect which way a bicycle is pointing.  Deep3DBox, a program designed to identify 3D objects from 2D images, such as camera footage, is the most successful at doing this; yet it only spots a cyclist in 74% of cases, and correctly predicts the direction they are facing just 59% of the time.  Poor weather makes detection even less accurate.

Former Renault-Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn described cyclists as “one of the biggest problems for driverless cars” last year.  They confuse the vehicles, he said, because at times they behave like pedestrians, at other times like cyclists, and “they don’t respect any rules usually”.

Google has acknowledged that “it’s hard for others to anticipate their movements”.  This came after one cyclist bamboozled a self-driving Lexus by performing a prolonged track stand at a junction.  Google has since taught its cars to recognize cyclists’ hand signals, different sizes and shapes of bike, and allows them more space on the road.

The issue of detecting and reacting to unpredictable behaviour is far from solved, though, as the Guardian recently witnessed during a ride in a driverless Nissan Leaf.  In a separate incident earlier this year a driverless Leaf was caught on camera overtaking a cyclist at very close proximity, even though the vehicle’s monitors indicated it had detected the rider.

But what action should a driverless car be programed to take when it sees a cyclist or a pedestrian in its path?  And what happens if people crossing roads learn they can simply walk in front of AVs which will be forced to brake?

Robin Hickman, a reader in transport and city planning at University College London’s Bartlett School of Planning, believes this makes driverless cars “unworkable” on busy urban streets.

“In terms of the algorithm for dealing with obstacles that move in unpredictable ways, like cyclists or pedestrians, I would say that’s unsolvable,” says Hickman.  “If a pedestrian knows it’s an automated vehicle, they will just take the priority.  It would take you hours to drive down a street in any urban area.

Read more at Street Wars 2035:  Can Cyclists and Driverless Cars Ever Co-Exist?

Tiny Organisms Could Help Crops Endure Droughts

Microbes could help plants thrive even as the climate changes.

Indigo Agriculture Reseachers (Image graphic Credit: David McCarthy. Photos: Indigo Agriculture) Click to Enlarge.
There’s more to a lush green plant than meets the eye.  Armies of tiny organisms called microbes live on and in leaves, stems, and roots.  They help plants absorb nutrients, fight disease, and endure stresses like drought.

Now, a biotech startup called Indigo Agriculture is harnessing microbes to help farmers increase crop yields.  The company collects microbes from plants around the world and identifies which ones help in drought conditions.  For example, some microbes help plants retain water or stimulate root growth.

Indigo makes seed coatings using those microbes, which enter the plant’s tissue as it grows. Last year, the company launched a microbe-coated cotton seed.

Marquez:  “The results were very encouraging.  We saw on average eleven percent increase in yield in west Texas, our target area.”

That’s Luis Marquez, senior scientist at Indigo.  As droughts and extreme heat make growing food harder, he says there’s a need to develop crops that can thrive in these conditions.

Read more at Tiny Organisms Could Help Crops Endure Droughts

Warmer Waters from Climate Change Will Leave Fish Shrinking, Gasping for Air

This is an infographic. (Credit: Lindsay Lafreniere) Click to Enlarge.
Fish are expected to shrink in size by 20 to 30 per cent if ocean temperatures continue to climb due to climate change.

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia provides a deeper explanation of why fish are expected to decline in size.

"Fish, as cold-blooded animals, cannot regulate their own body temperatures.  When their waters get warmer, their metabolism accelerates and they need more oxygen to sustain their body functions," said William Cheung, co-author of the study, associate professor at the Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries and director of science for the Nippon Foundation-UBC Nereus Program.  "There is a point where the gills cannot supply enough oxygen for a larger body, so the fish just stops growing larger."

Daniel Pauly, the study's lead author and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us at the Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries, explains that as fish grow into adulthood their demand for oxygen increases because their body mass becomes larger.  However, the surface area of the gills -- where oxygen is obtained -- does not grow at the same pace as the rest of the body.  He calls this set of principles that explains why fish are expected to shrink "gill-oxygen limitation theory."

Read more at Warmer Waters from Climate Change Will Leave Fish Shrinking, Gasping for Air

More GOP Lawmakers Bucking Their Party on Climate Change

But if the Republican Party is undergoing a shift on climate, it is at its earliest, most incremental stage.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House, said this week that the Climate Solutions Caucus has grown faster than he expected. (Credit: Susan Walsh/AP Photo) Click to Enlarge.
While President Donald Trump continues to dismantle Obama-era climate policies, an unlikely surge of Republican lawmakers has begun taking steps to distance themselves from the GOP’s hard line on climate change.

The House Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan backwater when it formed early last year, has more than tripled in size since January, driven in part by Trump’s decision in June to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.

And last month, 46 Republicans joined Democrats to defeat an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would have deleted a requirement that the Defense Department prepare for the effects of climate change.

The willingness of some Republicans to buck their party on climate change could help burnish their moderate credentials ahead of the 2018 elections.  Of the 26 Republican caucus members, all but five represent districts targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee next year.

But it has also buoyed activists who view the House members’ positioning as a rare sign of GOP movement on climate change.

“Strangely, President Trump helped us,” said Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman whose views on climate change contributed to his defeat in a South Carolina primary in 2010. “His withdrawal from Paris dramatically increased the number of [internet] searches about climate change and increased interest … People are getting more and more uncomfortable with the nuttiness of these positions.”

In a Republican-held Congress, Inglis said, voting to reject a Republican-backed amendment to the defense authorization bill was “a big step for these members … Members of Congress who are attuned to their districts apparently are picking up on the reality that Americans on both left and right are concerned about climate change.”

Read more at More GOP Lawmakers Bucking Their Party on Climate Change

It’s Time to Start Talking About “Negative” Carbon Dioxide Emissions - by David Roberts

We have to bury gigatons of carbon to slow climate change.  We’re not even close to ready.

Gotta capture that. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s nations have agreed, almost unanimously, to try to limit the rise of global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less over preindustrial levels.

Is that still possible?  Climate campaigners, scientists, and politicians frequently insist it is.  All we need, they say, is political will.

But that’s not all we need.  There’s something else, something we talk about much less.

Range of Global Emissions Pathways Scenarios: 1.5 and 2 degrees (Credit: Oil Change International)Click to Enlarge.
You see, in order to have a reasonable chance of hitting the 2C target, modeling shows that humanity must go carbon negative in the mid- to late 21st century.  Here are two scenarios developed by Oil Change International, one that offers a 66 percent chance of hitting 2 degrees, one that shows a 50 percent chance of hitting 1.5 degrees:

As you can see, for a likely chance of hitting 2C, emissions have to go below zero in 2065. Going below zero means removing more carbon from the atmosphere than we are emitting, by capturing it and burying it beneath the earth’s surface.
Range of Global Emissions Pathways 1.5 scenarios (Credit: Glen Peters) Click to Enlarge.

If we do not allow negative emissions into the models, they show that to hit our target, emissions have to decline at an absolutely ludicrous rate:

Absent a meteor wiping out advanced civilization, that’s not going to happen.  So, negative emissions it is!

That means we must start burying and sequestering carbon (in some models as early as 2020) and rapidly scale up until we are burying more than we’re emitting.  That is a truly daunting undertaking — some models show us burying 10 to 20 gigatons a year by 2100, which is 25 to 50 percent of today’s total emissions.

Lots of natural processes sequester carbon (see Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown for more on how these processes could be enhanced), but to sequester the amounts needed in the time available, we have to accelerate things.  That will require manually burying carbon in large underground reservoirs and aquifers.

Manually burying carbon in large underground reservoirs and aquifers. (Credit: Sanchez 2015) Click to Enlarge.
The technology on which most hopes are pinned is bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, or BECCS.  (Carbon Brief has a fantastic illustrated history of BECCS, as well as a longer discussion with experts about negative emissions.)

The idea is that as plants grow, they absorb carbon from the air.  When biomass is burned for energy, that carbon is released.  If you can capture that released carbon and bury it, you have a net carbon negative process — carbon is removed from the atmosphere.

To bury enough carbon to put the 2C target in reach, BECCS will have to be massively scaled up, requiring biomass planted and harvested over an area as large as India, or larger.  (One reason many scientists, including Kevin Anderson, think it will never happen.)  It is a truly gargantuan undertaking.

Which makes it very strange that we’re not talking about it.

Who is going to bury all this carbon?  We don’t know.

All the world’s countries have agreed to the Paris target (even the US hasn’t technically withdrawn yet), which means that theoretically they have all agreed to the project of burying hundreds of gigatons of carbon.  But BECCS is not even mentioned in the text of the agreement, and the complex discussions around who will bury all the carbon, how much, and when, have not so much as begun.

That odd silence is the subject of a new commentary in the journal Nature, by Glen Peters of Norway’s CICERO Center for International Climate Research and Oliver Geden of Germany’s Institute for International and Security Affairs.

They do not tackle the thorny subject of whether large-scale BECCS is practically possible. (See this Brad Plumer post for more.)  Instead, they take a step back and note that if it is to be possible, it’s going to require an enormous amount of planning, preparation, and coordination.

Read more at It’s Time to Start Talking About “Negative” Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Sunday, August 20, 2017

  Saturday, Aug 19

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Electric Cars:  The Death of the Internal Combustion Engine - The Economist

It had a good run.  But the end is in sight for the machine that changed the world.

The Internal Combustion Engine (Credit: Jon Berkeley) Click to Enlarge.
The internal combustion engine's days are numbered.  Rapid gains in battery technology favor electric motors instead. ... The Chevy Bolt has a range of 238 miles (383km); Tesla fans recently drove a Model S more than 621 miles (1,000km) on a single charge.  UBS, a bank, reckons the “total cost of ownership” of an electric car will reach parity with a petrol one next year—albeit at a loss to its manufacturer.  It optimistically predicts electric vehicles will make up 14% of global car sales by 2025, up from 1% today.  Others have more modest forecasts, but are hurriedly revising them upwards as batteries get cheaper and better—the cost per kilowatt-hour has fallen from $1,000 in 2010 to $130-200 today.  Regulations are tightening, too.  Last month Britain joined a lengthening list of electric-only countries, saying that all new cars must be zero-emission by 2050.

The shift from fuel and pistons to batteries and electric motors is unlikely to take that long.  The first death rattles of the internal combustion engine are already reverberating around the world—and many of the consequences will be welcome.

To gauge what lies ahead, think how the internal combustion engine has shaped modern life. The rich world was rebuilt for motor vehicles, with huge investments in road networks and the invention of suburbia, along with shopping malls and drive-through restaurants.  Roughly 85% of American workers commute by car.  Car making was also a generator of economic development and the expansion of the middle class, in post-war America and elsewhere. There are now about 1bn cars on the road, almost all powered by fossil fuels.  Though most of them sit idle, America’s car and truck engines can produce ten times as much energy as its power stations.  The internal combustion engine is the mightiest motor in history.

But electrification has thrown the car industry into turmoil.  Its best brands are founded on their engineering heritage—especially in Germany.  Compared with existing vehicles, electric cars are much simpler and have fewer parts; they are more like computers on wheels.  That means they need fewer people to assemble them and fewer subsidiary systems from specialist suppliers.  Car workers at factories that do not make electric cars are worried that they could be for the chop.  With less to go wrong, the market for maintenance and spare parts will shrink. While today’s car makers grapple with their costly legacy of old factories and swollen work forces, new entrants will be unencumbered. Premium brands may be able to stand out through styling and handling, but low-margin, mass-market car makers will have to compete chiefly on cost.

Assuming, of course, that people want to own cars at all.  Electric propulsion, along with ride-hailing and self-driving technology, could mean that ownership is largely replaced by “transport as a service”, in which fleets of cars offer rides on demand.  On the most extreme estimates, that could shrink the industry by as much as 90%.  Lots of shared, self-driving electric cars would let cities replace car parks (up to 24% of the area in some places) with new housing, and let people commute from far away as they sleep—suburbanization in reverse.

Even without a shift to safe, self-driving vehicles, electric propulsion will offer enormous environmental and health benefits.  Charging car batteries from central power stations is more efficient than burning fuel in separate engines.  Existing electric cars reduce carbon emissions by 54% compared with gas-powered ones, according to America’s National Resources Defense Council.  That figure will rise as electric cars become more efficient and grid-generation becomes greener.  Local air pollution will fall, too.  The World Health Organization says that it is the single largest environmental health risk, with outdoor air pollution contributing to 3.7m deaths a year.  One study found that car emissions kill 53,000 Americans each year, against 34,000 who die in traffic accidents.

Autos and autocracies
And then there is oil.  Roughly two-thirds of oil consumption in America is on the roads, and a fair amount of the rest uses up the by-products of refining crude oil to make petrol and diesel. The oil industry is divided about when to expect peak demand; Royal Dutch Shell says that it could be little more than a decade away.  The prospect will weigh on prices long before then. Because nobody wants to be left with useless oil in the ground, there will be a dearth of new investment, especially in new, high-cost areas such as the Arctic.  By contrast, producers such as Saudi Arabia, with vast reserves that can be tapped cheaply, will be under pressure to get pumping before it is too late:  the Middle East will still matter, but a lot less than it did.  Although there will still be a market for natural gas, which will help generate power for all those electric cars, volatile oil prices will strain countries that depend on hydrocarbon revenues to fill the national coffers.  When volumes fall, the adjustment will be fraught, particularly where the struggle for power has long been about controlling oil wealth.  In countries such as Angola and Nigeria where oil has often been a curse, the diffusion of economic clout may bring immense benefits.

Meanwhile, a scramble for lithium is under way.  The price of lithium carbonate has risen from $4,000 a tonne in 2011 to more than $14,000.  Demand for cobalt and rare-earth elements for electric motors is also soaring.  Lithium is used not just to power cars: utilities want giant batteries to store energy when demand is slack and release it as it peaks.  Will all this make lithium-rich Chile the new Saudi Arabia?  Not exactly, because electric cars do not consume it; old lithium-ion batteries from cars can be reused in power grids, and then recycled.

Read more at The Death of the Internal Combustion Engine

Today’s GOP Agenda Is Unpopular and Indefensible. - by David Roberts

“So, mum’s the word, then?” (Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Click to Enlarge.
The New York Times had a big story on the the 11th about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s propensity to operate in secret.  It offers a detailed and damning review of the evidence, but it stops short of drawing the broader conclusion:  namely, that the approach of serving industry under cover of secrecy is not idiosyncratic to Pruitt, nor is it distinctively Trumpian. Rather, it is the standard approach of today’s GOP, as reflected in such recent initiatives as the failed health care bill.  It is, in fact, the only approach possible to advance an agenda that is unpopular and intellectually indefensible.

Before painting that bigger picture, though, let’s look more closely at Pruitt’s brief but memorable stint at the EPA so far.

Pruitt is radically remaking the EPA, mostly in secret
Things got off to an inauspicious start in February, when a story at E&E revealed that Pruitt was requesting a full-time, around-the-clock security detail — not the first act of a man confident in his agenda.

In May the New Republic’s Emily Atkin, noting Pruitt’s refusal to meet with media or make his schedule public, asked, “What is Scott Pruitt hiding?”  Another story in May found that political leadership at the EPA had begun “occasionally inserting new data and other information into public statements without final review from career policy specialists,” data and information officials inside EPA describe as “misleading and incompatible with extensive agency research.” Another covered Pruitt firing several scientists from the agency’s science review board, planning to replace them with people more sympathetic to industry.

An AP story in June uncovered an email record showing that Pruitt coordinated tightly with fossil fuel groups as attorney general in Oklahoma.  E&E revealed that Pruitt’s calendar in his early weeks at EPA was filled with meetings with energy executives (though he met with no environmentalists).

A story in July showed that Pruitt is rolling back regulations “without the input of the 15,000 career employees at the agency he heads.”  Instead, the Times’s Coral Davenport writes, “Pruitt has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general.”  Another noted that he had traveled back home to Oklahoma — where he hopes to run for Senate — 10 times in his first three months, huddling with industry allies from his AG days.

Also in July, Rolling Stone ran a long expose by Jeff Goodell that focused on, among other things, Pruitt’s secrecy.
Except for his victory lap after Paris, he mostly avoids mainstream media.  (Pruitt's office refused numerous requests to interview him for this story.)  And despite his often-professed belief in "the rule of law," he has steadfastly resisted and evaded Freedom of Information Act requests for e-mail records and other public documents.  He's so good at operating in the shadows, in fact, that he was recently given the Golden Padlock Award by investigative journalists, which recognizes the most secretive publicly funded person or agency in the United States.
Here’s the Golden Padlock Award, which a group of investigative reporters and editors gave to Pruitt for “steadfastly refusing to provide emails in the public interest and removing information from public websites about key environmental programs.”

And now, The New York Times pulls it together:
[Pruitt] has terminated a decades-long practice of publicly posting his appointments calendar and that of all the top agency aides, and he has evaded oversight questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to the Democratic senators who posed the questions.

His aides recently asked career employees to make major changes in a rule regulating water quality in the United States — without any records of the changes they were being ordered to make.  And the E.P.A. under Mr. Pruitt has moved to curb certain public information, shutting down data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies, and taking down more than 1,900 agency webpages on topics like climate change, according to a tally by the Environmental Defense Fund, which did a Freedom of Information request on these terminated pages.
The picture that emerges from all this is pretty clear:  Pruitt is avoiding oversight, avoiding environmentalists, avoiding agency staff, and avoiding mainstream media.  He is taking steps to corrupt agency science and science communication and loosen regulatory burdens on fossil fuels, in close consultation with industry groups and right-wing media, with as little public scrutiny as possible.

What’s notable, aside from the grotesque distortion of the agency’s mission, is how well Pruitt represents the state of today’s GOP.

And first, let’s get this out of the way:  Pruitt is a creature of the GOP, not any kind of Trump-era anomaly.  He has spent his entire career enmeshed in right-wing groups like the Republican Attorneys General Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council.  He is steeped in conservative media, a long-time favorite of right-wing sites like Breitbart.

He is of the movement, and the culmination of the GOP’s current philosophy toward EPA, which can only be described as thoroughgoing nihilism.  The right views EPA as a tool of the Democrats and it wants to burn it down.  Trump has merely given Pruitt the green light.

Read more at Today’s GOP Agenda Is Unpopular and Indefensible.

Hot Days Put the People Who Grow Your Food in Danger

Heatstroke can be deadly if not treated quickly.

 Harvesters (Photo credit: Flikr | Ali Eminov) Click to Enlarge.
The luscious tomatoes and juicy peaches in your local grocery store were most likely picked by hand to prevent bruising.  But that personal touch comes at a price.  On hot days, the workers who pick these crops are at risk of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and other heat related illnesses.

Linda McCauley, a professor and dean of the Emory University School of Nursing, says heat-related illness can sneak up on someone who is unaware of the signs.  So it’s important to recognize the early symptoms in order to prevent serious complications or even death.

McCauley:  “So you’re working in a field and you’ve started having a headache and then all of a sudden you’re starting to feel dizzy and you feel like you’re going to pass out.”

Once someone feels light-headed, quick action is critical.

McCauley:  “In general, the workers don’t have any sense about how dangerous a heatstroke is – in that you have minutes.  You don’t have hours.”

Heat stroke can be deadly, but it’s also avoidable.  So educating workers and employers about how to recognize the symptoms is vital.

And putting programs in place to protect workers will become even more important as the climate warms.

Read original at Hot Days Put the People Who Grow Your Food in Danger

Saturday, August 19, 2017

  Saturday, Aug 19

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Analysis:  Why US Carbon Emissions Have Fallen 14% Since 2005

Wind Turbine by Gas Sign (Credit: ) Click to Enlarge.
Before 2005 US carbon emissions were marching upwards year after year, with little sign of slowing down. After this point, they fell quickly, declining 14% from their peak by the end of 2016.

Researchers have given a number of different reasons for this marked turnaround.  Some have argued that it was mainly due to natural gas and, to a lesser extent, wind both replacing coal for generating electricity.  Others have suggested that the declines were driven by the financial crisis and its lasting effects on the economy.

Here Carbon Brief presents an analysis of the causes of the decline in US CO2 since 2005. There is no single cause of reductions.  Rather, they were driven by a number of factors, including a large-scale transition from coal to gas, a large increase in wind power, a reduction in industrial energy use, and changes in transport patterns.

Declines in US CO2 have persisted despite an economic recovery from the financial crisis. While the pace of reductions may slow, many of these factors will continue to push down emissions, notwithstanding the inclinations of the current administration.

Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that in 2016…
  • Overall, CO2 emissions were around 18% lower than they would have been, if underlying factors had not changed, and 14% lower than their 2005 peak.
  • Coal-to-gas switching in the power sector is the largest driver, accounting for 33% of the emissions reduction in 2016.
    *Wind generation was responsible for 19% of the emissions reduction.
  • Solar power was responsible for 3%.
  • Reduced electricity use – mostly in the industrial sector – was responsible for 18%.
  • Without these changes, electricity sector CO2 emissions would have been 46% higher than they are today.
  • Reduced fuel consumption in homes and industry was responsible for an additional 12% of the overall emissions reductions.
  • Changes in transport emissions from fewer miles per-capita, more efficient vehicles, and less air travel emissions per-capita account for the final 15%.
Read more at Analysis:  Why US Carbon Emissions Have Fallen 14% Since 2005

Some Democrats See Tax Overhaul as a Path to Taxing Carbon - The New York Times

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, second from left, and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, third from left, hope to curry bipartisan support for a carbon tax as part of a larger deal on tax reform. (Credit: Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
With a sweeping overhaul of the tax code on the horizon, two Senate Democrats believe this is the moment to broach the third rail of climate change policy: a carbon tax.

The plan by the senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, to level a $49 per metric ton fee on greenhouse gas emissions is widely acknowledged as a long shot.  But the lawmakers, along with climate activists and a cadre of conservative supporters, insist the tax reform is a way to create bipartisan support. The senators propose to use a portion of the estimated $2.1 trillion they anticipate in carbon tax revenue over the first 10 years to reduce the top marginal corporate tax income rate, something the White House has called for.

They also hope to have an ally in President Trump’s economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn, who met in February with a prominent group of Republicans advocating a similar plan.

No Republican lawmaker has signed on to the Senate measure.  Mr. Trump, who routinely proclaims his affection for coal, during the presidential campaign flatly rejected via Twitter a suggestion that he might put a price on carbon pollution.  The senators steering the effort admit they haven’t even broached a carbon tax directly with members of the administration, and the White House has distanced itself from the policy via Twitter a suggestion that he might put a price on carbon pollution. The senators steering the effort admit they haven’t even broached a carbon tax directly with members of the administration, and the White House has distanced itself from the policy.

Yet even the fiercest critics of a carbon tax say they can’t afford to dismiss the effort.

“What is that Taylor Swift song?  We are never, ever, ever getting back together?  This is never, ever, ever going to happen,” said Grover Norquist, the anti-tax lobbyist and founder of Americans for Tax Reform.  But, he added, the possibility of a carbon tax routinely re-emerges. “This time there is money for promoting that this idea might happen someday,” he said.

Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, which promotes fossil fuels, agreed.  “It’s so much revenue that it’s always going to be on the table and it’s always a threat,” he said.
The carbon tax movement’s biggest jolt came this year when a coalition of Republican elder statesmen, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III,  made the case to the White House that a fee on the burning of fossil fuels coupled with a monthly dividend to American households would be good for the economy, as well as the planet.  Those discussions are continuing, said Ted Halstead, founder of the Climate Leadership Council, a think tank dedicated to free market solutions to climate change, who has been working with the conservative leaders.

In the meantime, Senators Whitehouse and Schatz say, they have their eyes on the tax overhaul debate.  The White House wants the corporate rate cut to 15 percent from its current 35 percent.  Whether or not that is realistic, they say, getting even partway there will take bipartisan compromise.

The carbon tax bill they have proposed uses part of the revenue to reduce the marginal corporate income tax rate to 29 percent.

“There are only a handful of options in terms of generating revenue for broad-based tax reform, and they’re all very close to dead on arrival.  This is the one proposal that could attract a significant number of Democrats,” Mr. Schatz said.  He acknowledged, though, that using revenue to cut the corporate income tax rate could turn off some Democrats, too.

The legislation calls for the tax, which would increase annually by 2 percent, to be collected at its source — at coal mines, oil refineries, or ports of entry.  The rest of the revenue would come back to taxpayers in an annual inflation-adjusted $550 refundable tax credit, or $1,100 for married couples filing jointly.  Money would also be devoted to veterans and to coal country for job training programs.

The idea of a carbon tax dates to the 1920s, when the British economist Arthur Pigou observed that some goods had social costs that society ended up paying for — like alcohol, or pollution.  In the early 2000s economists and other supporters of taxing companies for the carbon they send into the atmosphere formed the Pigou Club in his honor.

Some conservative heavyweights, like Arthur Laffer, often called the father of supply-side economics, and Darren W. Woods, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, have thrown their intellectual and political heft behind the idea.  Economists argue that the revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce or eliminate income, payroll, or other taxes.  Some business leaders say it is preferable to onerous regulation or a cap-and-trade program.
Mr. Norquist and other opponents like Mr. Pyle say they welcome a debate on a carbon tax. They and others recalled that Democrats lost the House in the 1994 midterm elections in large part because President Bill Clinton proposed but failed to get passed a “B.T.U. tax” on fuels that would have raised energy costs.

A 2013 Congressional Budget Office analysis found that a carbon tax half as big as the one Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Schatz propose would raise gasoline prices by 20 cents a gallon and electricity bills by 16 percent on average.  Coal-heavy states would see even steeper price increases.

The idea that a national tax on carbon dioxide emissions could generate billions of dollars for ailing coal communities does not seem to have won over many lawmakers.  Senate Democrats who recently wrote to Republican leaders laying out their conditions for bipartisan tax reform did not mention a carbon tax.  But supporters note that if the White House hopes to cut tax rates without raising the deficit, it will need to find new, taxable economic activity.  So optimistic are Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Schatz about winning bipartisan support that they unveiled their bill at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.  (A representative was quick to note, though, that hosting the carbon tax debate was not an endorsement of the policy.)

Read more at Some Democrats See Tax Overhaul as a Path to Taxing Carbon

Wind and Solar Power Are Saving Americans an Astounding Amount of Money -- by David Roberts

Not getting sick and dying from pollution is worth quite a bit, it turns out.

Wind and solar capacity in the continental US (Credit: Nature Energy) Click to enlarge.
Wind and solar power are subsidized by just about every major country in the world, either directly or indirectly through tax breaks, mandates, and regulations.

The main rationale for these subsidies is that wind and solar produce, to use the economic term of art, “positive externalities” — benefits to society that are not captured in their market price.  Specifically, wind and solar power reduce pollution, which reduces sickness, missed work days, and early deaths.  Every wind farm or solar field displaces some other form of power generation (usually coal or natural gas) that would have polluted more.

Subsidies for renewables are meant to remedy this market failure, to make the market value of renewables more accurately reflect their total social value.

This raises an obvious question:  Are renewable energy subsidies doing the job?  That is to say, are they accurately reflecting the size and nature of the positive externalities?

That turns out to be a devilishly difficult question to answer.  Quantifying renewable energy’s health and environmental benefits is super, super complicated.  Happily, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab have just produced the most comprehensive attempt to date.  It contains all kinds of food for thought, both in its numbers and its uncertainties.

(Quick side note:  Just about every country in the world also subsidizes fossil fuels.  Globally, fossil fuels receive far more subsidies than renewables, despite the lack of any policy rationale whatsoever for such subsidies.  But we’ll put that aside for now.)

Here’s how much wind and solar saved in health and environmental costs
The researchers studied the health and environmental benefits of wind and solar in the US between 2007 (when the market was virtually nothing) and 2015 (after years of explosive market growth).

Specifically, they examined how much wind and solar reduced emissions of four main pollutants — sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and carbon dioxide (CO2) — over that span of years.  The goal was to understand not only the size of the health and environmental benefits, but their geographical distribution and how they have changed over time.

To cut to the chase, let’s review the top-line conclusions:
  • From 2007 to 2015, wind and solar in the US reduced SO2, NOx, and PM2.5 by 1.0, 0.6, and 0.05 million tons respectively;
  • reduction of those local air pollutants helped avoid 7,000 premature deaths (the central estimate in a range from 3,000 to 12,700);
  • those avoided deaths, along with other public health impacts, are worth a cumulative $56 billion (the central estimate in a range from $30 to $113 billion);
  • wind and solar also reduced CO2 emissions, to the tune of $32 billion in avoided climate costs (the central estimate in a range from$5 to $107 billion).
So, if you add up those central estimates, wind and solar saved Americans around $88 billion in health and environmental costs over eight years.  Not bad.

That number is worth reflecting on, but first let’s talk a second about how they came up with it.

Uncertainties abound in measuring positive externalities
Tallying up these benefits is difficult for all sorts of reasons.
These ranges reflect the simple fact that different models weigh things differently, from the physiological impacts of pollution to the value of missed work.   This is part of what muddies the politics of environmental regulation:  Costs are specific and concentrated; benefits are uncertain and diffuse.

Wind and solar benefits vary over time and from place to place
If you dig into the paper, you find that the most interesting data has to do with the variations in benefits across regions and over time.

It’s complex, but in a nutshell, the health and environmental benefits of wind and solar vary depending on what other sources are being displaced, and how much, and when.

... while the absolute level of subsidies might match the absolute level of benefits, they do not line up on a granular level.  The health and environmental benefits of wind and solar vary widely by time and region, but most policy incentives for wind and solar do not.  Federal tax incentives treat all wind and solar projects the same.  And when subsidies do vary, as in state-level policy, it’s rarely connected to their varying benefits.

The conclusion the researchers draw from this subsidy mismatch is that “addressing air quality and climate change through policies directly supporting wind and solar is not necessarily the most cost-effective approach.”

That’s true, as far as it goes, though I think there are still plenty of good reasons to support wind and solar.  What’s fun, though, is to think about what it might look like if state and federal supports for wind and solar did vary by time and region.
A final word on costs and benefits
In this case, as in all such cases, it is somewhat misleading to simply compare total subsidies with total health and environmental benefits.  The total amounts are not all that matters.  It also matters how costs and benefits are distributed — i.e., equity matters as well.

To put it bluntly:  A dollar in federal taxes is not equivalent to a dollar of avoided health and environmental costs.  The latter dollar is worth more than the former dollar.

Why is that?  Simple:  Federal taxes come disproportionately from the wealthy, via our progressive federal income tax, but health and environmental benefits disproportionately help the poor.  And as any good economist will tell you, the same dollar is worth more to a poor person than it is to a rich person.

This is something that often gets lost in discussions of environmental regulations.  It’s not just that their total benefits almost always exceed their direct costs.  It’s that those benefits are uniquely egalitarian and progressive.

In the case of climate change, any reduction in CO2 emissions benefits everyone on Earth (egalitarian), while disproportionately helping the poor, who suffer earliest and most from climate impacts (progressive).

In the case of local air-quality benefits, cleaner air benefits everyone in the region who breathes (egalitarian), while disproportionately helping the poor, who are more likely to live in close proximity to fossil fuel power plants (progressive).

In terms of equity, converting a dollar of wealthy people’s money into a dollar of health for low-income communities seems like a good deal to me.  And if you can get multiple dollars of low-income health benefit for every dollar of high-income taxes, well, that’s a no brainer.

Read more at Wind and Solar Power Are Saving Americans an Astounding Amount of Money

For Wind Power, Bigger Is Better

(Credit: Illustration by Luke Shuman; data from Bloomberg NEF; Rochard A. Dunlap, Make Consulting, GWEC) Click to Enlarge.
Things are looking up for wind power—way up.  Wind is now competitive with fossil fuels in many areas of the world, while the rise of turbines to new heights figures to bring down costs even more.
(Credit: Illustration by Luke Shuman; data from Bloomberg NEF; Rochard A. Dunlap, Make Consulting, GWEC) Click to Enlarge.
 (Credit: Illustration by Luke Shuman; data from Bloomberg NEF; Rochard A. Dunlap, Make Consulting, GWEC) Click to Enlarge.

Read original at For Wind Power, Bigger Is Better