Tuesday, February 28, 2017

  Tuesday, Feb 28

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.

Massive Permafrost Thaw Documented in Canada, Portends Huge Carbon Release

Study shows 52,000 square miles in rapid decline, with sediment and carbon threatening the surrounding environment and potentially accelerating global warming.

Melting permafrost is altering the landscape in northern Canada on a grand scale. (Credit: Wikimedia) Click to Enlarge.
Huge slabs of Arctic permafrost in northwest Canada are slumping and disintegrating, sending large amounts of carbon-rich mud and silt into streams and rivers.  A new study that analyzed nearly a half-million square miles in northwest Canada found that this permafrost decay is affecting 52,000 square miles of that vast stretch of earth—an expanse the size of Alabama.

According to researchers with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, the permafrost collapse is intensifying and causing landslides into rivers and lakes that can choke off life downstream, all the way to where the rivers discharge into the Pacific Ocean.

Similar large-scale landscape changes are evident across the Arctic including in Alaska, Siberia, and Scandinavia, the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Geology in early February.  The study didn't address the issue of greenhouse gas releases from thawing permafrost.  But its findings will help quantify the immense global scale of the thawing, which will contribute to more accurate estimates of carbon emissions.

Read more at Massive Permafrost Thaw Documented in Canada, Portends Huge Carbon Release

China Coal Use Fell Again in 2016, Solar Capacity Rose 82%

Massive investments in clean energy and economic shifts continue to dampen demand for coal in the world’s largest carbon emitter.

Coal statistics for China (Credit: National Bureau of Statistics, China Energy Yearbook 2015) Click to Enlarge.
China’s coal consumption fell in 2016 – the third year in a row the world’s biggest polluter has cut back its use of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel.

According to initial analysis of the Communist Party’s annual Statistical Communique on Economic and Social Development by chinadialogue, coal use fell 4.7%.

It is the largest year on year drop in a decline that has now been repeated since 2014. The Associated Press reported a similar figure.

Although Greenpeace cautioned that this was a measure of the physical weight of coal burned, when measured in energy units the drop was just 1.3%.  This could be due to an improvement in coal quality or discrepancies in reporting.

Coal production also fell 9% from 2015 to 2016, although this was partly matched by a 25% surge in imports.

Greenpeace said that carbon emissions from fossil fuels were forecast to drop by around 1% in 2017, the forth year China’s overall greenhouse contribution had been flat or fallen.

Experts said the coal was unlikely to return to its previous levels, raising hopes that a global peak in carbon emissions was possible.

Xu Zhaoyuan, head of research division at the industrial economy department of the Development Research Centre of China’s State Council, said investments in energy intensive industries such as cement and steel production had been falling while clean energy was undergoing a boom.

In 2016, China’s solar capacity grew a staggering 81.6% to 77GW, double the total installed in the US.  Wind power grew 13.2% to 149GW – roughly a third of all wind energy is located in China.

Read more at China Coal Use Fell Again in 2016, Solar Capacity Rose 82%

Research Advances Energy Savings for Oil, Gas Industries - Catalytic Reaction Also Reduces Pollution

Methane carbon-hydrogen bond activation over nickel clusters (silver spheres) is promoted by low concentrations of surface carbon (brown spheres within the nickel cluster) or by a positive electric field. (Credit: Washington State University) Click to Enlarge.
A Washington State University research team has improved an important catalytic reaction commonly used in the oil and gas industries.  The innovation could lead to dramatic energy savings and reduced pollution.

They report on their work in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, which has designated the paper of particular interest and importance.  The research is led by Jean-Sabin McEwen, assistant professor, and Su Ha, associate professor, of the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at WSU.

Efficiently converting methane
Methane gas is a byproduct in much of the oil and gas industry, where it may build up during operations and cause a safety concern.

Methane also is a primary ingredient in natural gas used to heat homes, and it can be converted into many useful products including electricity.  But breaking the strong bond between its carbon and hydrogen takes a tremendous amount of energy.

"It's a very happy molecule," said McEwen.  "It does not want to break apart."

To convert methane, the oil and gas industry most often uses a nickel-based catalyst.  But it is often less expensive to simply burn the methane in giant flares on site; however, this adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, and wastes energy.  In the U.S., for example, the amount of methane burned annually is as much as 25 percent of the country's natural gas consumption.

"Right now, we just waste all those gases," said Ha.  "If we can efficiently and effectively convert methane from shale or gas fields to electric power or useful products, that would be very positive."

Read more at Research Advances Energy Savings for Oil, Gas Industries - Catalytic Reaction Also Reduces Pollution

Bill Nye Warns Trump Administration Could Have ‘Catastrophic’ Effect on the Planet

“If you want to kill birds, fossil fuels are terrific,” the Science Guy told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asks Bill Nye questions about climate change during a Facebook Live interview Monday. (Credit: Facebook) Click to Enlarge.
Bill Nye says President Donald Trump’s anti-science policies could have devastating ramifications for the environment and humanity.

The celebrity scientist railed against Trump administration climate change skeptics Monday during a Facebook Live interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an outspoken advocate for climate action and renewable energy development.

“The longterm implications are potentially catastrophic,” Nye told the 2016 presidential candidate.  “The problem is the speed at which the world is warming.  It’s not that the climate is changing ― it’s the rate.”

Nye, best known for hosting the popular ‘90s children’s television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and the upcoming Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World,” went on to explain the damaging consequences of ignoring climate change.

“Half the people in the world live near coastlines.  As the ocean gets a tiny bit warmer, it gets a tiny bit bigger.  But the ocean is big and a tiny bit is huge,” Nye said, referencing scientific reports that show rising sea levels caused by climate change could engulf many major cities.

The Earth’s temperature has surged in the recent decade: 2016 was the hottest year on record and January 2017 was 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. A report from the Copernicus Climate Change Service earlier this month found that the average global surface temperature soared to 58.6 degrees Fahrenheit in 2016, approximately 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial times.

Sanders, who holds positions on the Senate’s energy and environmental committees, hosted the live stream on his Facebook page to help viewers better understand the “global crisis of our time.”

Read more at Bill Nye Warns Trump Administration Could Have ‘Catastrophic’ Effect on the Planet

Monday, February 27, 2017

  Monday, Feb 27

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.

EPA Has the Responsibility and the Tools to Address Climate Pollution Under the Clean Air Act - by EDF Climate 411

Gavel and earth (Credit: theenergycollective.com) Click to Enlarge.
It’s barely a week since Scott Pruitt was confirmed as EPA Administrator, and he has already provided yet another indication of why he has no business leading the agency.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Pruitt says he wants to undertake a “careful review” as to whether EPA has the “tools” to address climate change under the Clean Air Act.  Pruitt further states that EPA should withdraw the Clean Power Plan – a vital climate and public health measure to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants – and instead wait for Congress to act on the issue of climate change.

Those statements are contrary to the law and disconnected from reality.  As Pruitt surely knows, the federal courts – including three separate decisions of the Supreme Court – have made it abundantly clear that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to protect the public from dangerous pollutants that are disrupting our climate.  The courts have repeatedly rejected Pruitt’s theory that climate pollution is an issue that only Congress can address through new legislation.

Read more at EPA Has the Responsibility and the Tools to Address Climate Pollution Under the Clean Air Act

How Electric Utilities Could Revive Their Sagging Fortunes and Decarbonize the Country - by David Roberts

It’s all about electrification.

A new day for electric utilities. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
These are gloomy times for electric utilities.  After more than a century of fairly steady and predictable growth, they have entered stagnant waters.  Demand for electricity is sluggish.  Distributed energy resources (solar panels, batteries, etc.) are chipping away at their market share.  Climate activists are always yelling at them for burning so many fossil fuels.  It’s no fun.

Despite the industry’s much-hyped “death spiral” — in which customers abandon utilities for distributed energy, prices rise on remaining customers, more customers leave, etc. — these troubles are probably not fatal.  Even under aggressive projections, most electricity will come from utility-scale power plants through the middle of the century.  Utilities will still be needed. But they do seem to be heading inexorably toward a much-diminished role, with much-diminished profits.

Still, buck up, utility execs, all is not lost!  There is a possible future in which utilities become bigger and more important than ever.  What’s more, it is a future in which they take the lead in decarbonizing the country.

They could be heroes.

That is the good news in a recent paper from research consultancy The Brattle Group.  It outlines a scenario in which utilities thrive, greenhouse gas emissions decline, and everyone joins hands in song.

The key to everything (coincidentally, my long-time obsession) is electrification.

Utilities are headed for stagnation
US utilities, as readers of my primer on utilities know, make money by spending money. Specifically, their profits come from return on capital investments made in new electricity infrastructure.  (They don’t make money selling electricity itself; for that, they only recover costs.)

If they’re not investing in new electricity infrastructure, they’re not earning returns, and they’re not happy.

And it doesn’t look like much investment will be needed in coming years.  It’s not just that distributed energy is chipping away at the need for those investments.  It’s that demand for electricity is forecast to rise very slowly, if at all.

The US Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) for 2015 projects that between 2016 and 2040, US electricity demand will grow by an average annual rate of 0.6 percent — as compared with an average of 1.3 percent over the past 25 years.
Even if the US maxed out rooftop solar, it still wouldn’t get close to the long-term greenhouse gas targets it needs to hit to avoid dangerous climate change:

And that’s not all.  Even if everything went right and the electricity sector completely decarbonized, the US still wouldn’t be close to the greenhouse gas targets it needs to hit:

That’s because electricity sector emissions are only about a third of the US total.

What to do, what to do?

Electrify everything
There is a clear and fairly well-understood path to zero carbon for electricity.  The same cannot be said of energy services that run on liquid fuels — think gasoline for transportation and natural gas for heating.  Efficiency can reduce those fossil fuel emissions, but it can’t eliminate them, and no economical zero-carbon liquid-based alternatives have emerged.

“An alternative path toward significant decarbonization of these sectors,” the Brattle authors write, “is to aggressively pursue electrification of transportation and heating.”

As I wrote in detail in a post last year, that’s a great idea!

To test what the shift could do for electricity sales, the researchers modeled “a steady conversion of transportation vehicles and residential and commercial heating devices away from burning fossil fuels and towards electric-powered alternatives, such that both sectors are fully electrified by 2050.”

Doing so, they conclude, “could lead to an increase of 3,560 TWh of new electricity demand by 2050 relative to the non-electrification [business as usual].”

Read more at How Electric Utilities Could Revive Their Sagging Fortunes and Decarbonize the Country

Climate Shrinks Colorado River Flow

One of the longest US waterways, the Colorado River, has lost 20% of its flow since the year 2000, with the changing climate mostly responsible.

The Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: A fifth of its flow went in 14 years. (Image Credit: Fredlyfish4 via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
The Colorado River is dwindling, and climate change is officially to blame.  In the first 14 years of this century, the flow declined to only four-fifths of the 20th century average, according to new research.  The water lost would have been enough to supply two million people for a whole year.

Altogether, the river supplies water to seven US states and two in Mexico, and 40 million people rely on it for their water.  But the entire Colorado River basin has been experiencing sustained drought since 2000.  And somewhere between one sixth and one half of this liquid loss can be put down to global warming, scientists say.

They publish their findings in the journal Water Resources Research.  “This paper is the first to show the large role that warming temperatures are playing in reducing the flows of the Colorado River,” said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. 

“We’re the first to make the case that warming alone could cause Colorado River flow declines of 30% by mid-century and over 50% by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.”

Read more at Climate Shrinks Colorado River Flow

Saturday, February 25, 2017

All-Time Warmth for February Stretches to New England

Sea-surface temperatures early on Thursday, February 23, 2017, were running 1-2°C (1.8-3.6°F) above average over large parts of the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and northwest Atlantic. (Image credit: www.tropicaltidbits.com, via Eric Blake) Click to Enlarge.
A February remarkable for its long stretches of mildness steamed onward Thursday, with more all-time records for the month continuing to tumble across wide stretches of the U.S.  The apex of the record-setting warmth expanded on Thursday from the Midwest.  A staggering number of daily record highs have been set in recent days, especially when juxtaposed against the sparse number of record lows this month.  As of Friday morning, NOAA’s U.S. Records site had compiled 4492 daily record highs for February 2017, against a mere 29 daily record lows, for a lopsided highs-to-lows ratio of 155-to-1.  With record highs expected to far outpace record lows through the end of the month, February has a very good chance of smashing the highest ratio in modern records:  44-to-1, from November 2016, as reported by longtime records tracker Guy Walton (@climateguyw) in his new Guy on Climate blog.  Brian Kahn (Climate Central) puts it this way:  “The U.S. is poised to set a record-setting record.” 

Another astounding tidbit:  the NOAA site shows 248 monthly record highs for February, but no monthly record lows at all.  This is the first time that Walton recalls seeing such a skewed ratio of monthly records.  It almost goes without saying that this onslaught of February records is entirely consistent with the warming of national and global climate being generated by human-produced greenhouse gases, as noted by Andrew Freedman 

Read more at All-Time Warmth for February Stretches to New England

Europe’s Tough Line on Shipping Emissions

Shipping industry is ordered to reduce its climate-damaging CO2 emissions in European waters or face trading charges.

Dark clouds gather over a container ship in the Belgian port of Antwerp. (Image Credit: August Brill via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The European Parliament has lost patience with shipping industry inaction over climate change and has outlined plans to include vessels in its Emissions Trading System (ETS).

Ship owners are furious, claiming it is wrong that they will effectively be charged for carbon pollution in Europe Union waters ahead of any wider international arrangement.

But the members of the parliament in Brussels endorsed a recommendation from their own environment committee that the maritime industry should be included in the European Union’s ETS, a cap-and-trade scheme aimed at tackling global warming.

Maritime transport is estimated to produce around 1,000 million tonnes of carbon annually and is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

It is predicted that CO2 output will increase by between 50% and 250% by 2050, depending on future economic and energy developments.

“This is not compatible with the internationally-agreed goal of keeping global temperature increase to below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, which requires worldwide emissions to be at least halved from 1990 levels by 2050,” the European Commission explains.

Read more at Europe’s Tough Line on Shipping Emissions

US to Send Delegates to Bonn Climate Talks Despite Trump Vow - The Financial Times

Delegates at the UN conference on climate change in 2015. Donald Trump promised to 'cancel' the Paris deal during the presidential campaign (Credit: © AFP) Click to Enlarge.
The US has said it would send delegates to the next round of international climate change talks in Bonn in May, despite Donald Trump’s vow that he would abandon the Paris agreement at the center of the German negotiations.

UN officials told reporters in London on Thursday they were not sure how to interpret the move, which follows President Trump’s appointment of an environmental regulator who has questioned climate science and a secretary of state who ran ExxonMobil, the world’s largest listed oil company.

“We got an email saying there is a US delegation coming in May,” said Nick Nuttall, communications co-ordinator for the UN climate change secretariat in Bonn.  “It looked like it was a pretty standard delegation that they would send.”

Patricia Espinosa, the secretariat’s executive secretary, said she hoped this was a sign the US might remain part of the Paris deal that virtually every country adopted in December 2015.

“Of course I hope this means they are not really thinking of [pulling out]” she said, adding that it was hard to be sure because any country withdrawing from the accord still faced an effective waiting period of four years and would therefore be expected to send a delegation to UN talks in the interim.

Ms Espinosa hopes to meet senior Trump administration officials in Washington next week, where she plans to emphasize the importance of the Paris deal.  “We want to engage with them to really share with them why this agenda is so important and why it is in their interest,” she said.

Read more at US to Send Delegates to Bonn Climate Talks Despite Trump Vow

Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, Comes Roaring Back - The New York Times

A fire smolders on land cleared for soy farming in Propiedad Valle Verde, near Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Credit: Jim Wickens/Ecostorm) Click to Enlarge.
A few months ago, a representative from Cargill traveled to this remote colony in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands in the southernmost reaches of the vast Amazon River basin with an enticing offer.

The American agricultural giant wanted to buy soybeans from the Mennonite residents, descendants of European peasants who had been carving settlements out of the thick forest for more than 40 years.  The company would finance a local warehouse and weighing station so farmers could sell their produce directly to Cargill on-site, the man said, according to local residents.

One of those farmers, Heinrich Janzen, was clearing woodland from a 37-acre plot he bought late last year, hustling to get soy in the ground in time for a May harvest.  “Cargill wants to buy from us,” said Mr. Janzen, 38, as bluish smoke drifted from heaps of smoldering vegetation.

His soy is in demand.  Cargill is one of several agricultural traders vying to buy from soy farmers in the region, he said.

Cargill confirmed the accounts of colony residents, and said the company was still assessing whether it would source from the community.  That decision would depend on a study of the area’s productivity and land titles, said Hugo Krajnc, Cargill’s corporate affairs leader for the Southern Cone, based in Argentina.  “But if a farmer has burned down its forest we’ll not source from that grower,” he said.

A decade after the “Save the Rainforest” movement forced changes that dramatically slowed deforestation across the Amazon basin, activity is roaring back in some of the biggest expanses of forests in the world.  That resurgence, driven by the world’s growing appetite for soy and other agricultural crops, is raising the specter of a backward slide in efforts to preserve biodiversity and fight climate change.

In the Brazilian Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, deforestation rose in 2015 for the first time in nearly a decade, to nearly two million acres from August 2015 to July 2016.  That is a jump from about 1.5 million acres a year earlier and just over 1.2 million acres the year before that, according to estimates by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

Here across the border in Bolivia, where there are fewer restrictions on land clearance, deforestation appears to be accelerating as well.

Read more at Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, Comes Roaring Back

Friday, February 24, 2017

  Friday, Feb 24

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.

Exxon's New CEO Says Carbon Tax Could Combat Climate Change

Colorado Clouds / The comments, which mirror statements made by Tillerson as CEO and reflect Exxon’s stance over the past years, are the first from the new Exxon head since he took office last month. (Credit: © AgWeb) Click to Enlarge.
In his first blog post since succeeding Rex Tillerson, the new head of Exxon Mobil Corp. focused on climate change, calling for a carbon tax to discourage use of polluting fuels.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said a revenue-neutral carbon tax “would promote greater energy efficiency and the use of today’s lower-carbon options, avoid further burdening the economy, and also provide incentives for markets to develop additional low-carbon energy solutions for the future.”

The comments, which mirror statements made by Tillerson as CEO and reflect Exxon’s stance over the past years, are the first from the new Exxon head since he took office last month. Tillerson now serves as the secretary of state under U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pledged to ease the regulatory burden that former President Barack Obama’s administration imposed on the oil and gas industry in a bid to fight climate change and protect air and water quality.

Read more at Exxon's New CEO Says Carbon Tax Could Combat Climate Change

Ivanka and Jared Saved the Paris Agreement — for Now

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, may be helping behind the scenes at the White House to preserve the Paris Agreement. (Photo Credit: Michael Vadon / Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to say yesterday if President Trump remains committed to withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The suggestion of a shift in position comes after Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, two close advisers to the president, worked to remove references to the global climate deal from a new executive order, according to a source.  The measure, aimed at dismantling carbon policies initiated by the Obama administration, is expected to be released soon but no longer contains language opposing the Paris Agreement.

Moving to quit the international pact is increasingly seen by Republicans as a knottier effort than staying in and, instead, potentially downplaying U.S. commitments struck by the former administration on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The agreement isn't legally binding.

"The question is, for businesses, is it worth the political and economic capital that you would have to invest to take the U.S. out of Paris?  I think the answer is probably no," said Frank Maisano of Bracewell LLP, a firm representing energy companies.

Read more at Ivanka and Jared Saved the Paris Agreement — for Now

Stark Warning on Atlantic Cooling

Climatologists say there is an almost 50% chance that the Labrador Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean will cool rapidly within the next decade.

 Calm before the storm … the Labrador Sea in the North Atlantic. (Image Credit: Algkalv via Wikimedia) Click to Enlarge.
For thousands of years, parts of north-west Europe have enjoyed a climate around 5°C warmer than many other regions on the same latitude.  But new scientific analysis suggests that that could change much sooner and much faster than thought possible.

Climatologists who have looked again at the possibility of major climate change in and around the Atlantic Ocean, a persistent puzzle to researchers, now say there is an almost 50% chance that a key area of the North Atlantic could cool suddenly and rapidly, within the space of a decade, before the end of this century.

That is a much starker prospect than even the worst-case scientific scenario proposed so far, which does not see the Atlantic ocean current shutdown happening for several hundred years at least.

Extreme climate change
A scenario even more drastic (but fortunately fictional) was the subject of the 2004 US movie The Day After Tomorrow, which portrayed the disruption of the North Atlantic’s circulation leading to global cooling and a new Ice Age.

Read more at Stark Warning on Atlantic Cooling

The U.S. Is Poised to Set a Record-Setting Record

Record highs are outpacing record lows in February 2017 at a record-setting pace. (Credit: climatecentral.org) Click to Enlarge.
Unseasonable warmth has kickstarted spring up to a month early in the Southeast, cut into already paltry Great Lakes ice cover, and created skiing conditions more reminiscent of April in the Northeast.  But the most outstanding aspect of the persistent February warmth is what it has done to the ratio of record highs to record lows.

There have been 3,146 record highs set for the month-to-date compared to only 27 record lows, ensuring February will go down as the 27th month in a row with more highs than lows.  The astonishing 116-to-1 ratio of highs to lows would easily set a record for the most lopsided monthly ratio in history.  There have also been 248 monthly record highs and no monthly record lows.

“If the eventual ratio is above 50-to-1 this would be historic,” Guy Walton, a meteorologist who tracks record temperatures, said.

The increasing ratio of record highs vs. record lows is one of the hallmarks of climate change.  By raising the baseline temperature, climate change has made it more likely for record highs to be set while decreasing the odds of record lows.  In a world that wasn’t warming, that ratio would remain constant right around 1-to-1, but research has shown that hasn’t been the case with highs outpacing lows more and more with each passing decade.

The trend is expected to continue into the future.  By mid-century, the ratio could be as high as 15-to-1 in any given year unless carbon pollution is curtailed.

There has been a huge geographical spread of warm and downright hot weather stretching across the U.S.  The latest bout of warm weather has seen Milwaukee reach 71°F, Madison hit 68°F, and Green Bay crack 65°F on Wednesday.  All are February records and about 30°F above normal for this time of year.
More daily records are in danger of falling across the Northeast for the latter half of the week as warm weather continues its march across the country. On the Texas-Mexico border, it’s possible temperatures could crack 100°F on Thursday.

This year’s freakish February numbers only tell part of the story. The warm weather has acted like a time machine, turning the clock more than a month forward in places.

In the Southeast, locations are seeing spring arrive up to four weeks early, according to the U.S. National Phenology Network spring leaf index. Spring coming earlier is another hallmark of climate change.

“I can only say how things are shaping up so far, but so far, it’s shockingly early,” Theresa Crimmins, the assistant director of the network, said. “Eastern redbuds have been reported with open flowers in mid-February this year in North Carolina. In the previous three years, they haven’t been reported to have open flowers until March or April. I could go on and on. There are lots of reports of remarkably early phenology flooding in. The signature of the really early spring that we see in the spring index is definitely driven by temperature.”

Read more at The U.S. Is Poised to Set a Record-Setting Record

Partisan Divide in Congress Wider Than Ever on Environmental Issues, Group Says

League of Conservation Voters' voting scorecard shows record disparity on green issues, with GOP campaigns increasingly funded by fossil fuel company contributions.

League of Conservation Voters' Environmental Voting Scores (Source Credit: League of Conservation Voters / Paul Horn/Inside Climate News) Click to Enlarge.
House Republicans cast pro-environmental votes just 5 percent of the time in 2016, while their Democratic colleagues tallied a 94 percent voting record, according to the League of Conservation Voters.  That makes the 114th Congress the most politically polarized in the 46-year history of LCV's Scorecard, the new numbers released Thursday show.

In the Senate, the average GOP member was voting pro-environment 14 percent of the time, while the Democrats' average was 96 percent.  The gap of 85 points between the Republican and Democratic average scores in 2016 was only slightly smaller than the record 87-point divide in 2015.  As a whole, Congress was more divided than ever in the two years before the most recent election.

Many "pro-environment" votes in 2016 were to stop GOP efforts to roll back protections, noted Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Environment Committee.  Carper's LCV score was 94 percent.

"We're at a point now where we'll be judged by our success in the bad things we keep keep from getting done," he said.  Although he saw some opportunities for bipartisanship on environmental issues—most notably on President Trump's stated goal of infrastructure investment—he anticipated more partisan fights ahead.  "For a while, we'll be battling it out."

The gulf between the parties on Capitol Hill also coincides with a trend in support lawmakers receive on the campaign trail:  In the 2016 election cycle, 88 percent of the $31.3 million that the fossil fuel industry donated in Congressional races went to Republicans; 12 percent to Democrats, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.  In comparison, as recently as 2008, political contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries favored the GOP over the Democrats by a 75-25 percent split.  In 1990, the Republicans' edge was 56-44 percent. 

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University, said as Congress has become more politically polarized on climate change in particular, so has the American public.  "Congressional votes indicate to the committed party members the party stance on environmental issues.  These elite cues then drive public concern," he said.  "Overall, the latest LCV scores paint the picture of a highly polarized Congress, and in turn, lead to continuation of the polarization in U.S. public opinion."

LCV's 2016 scorecard was based on 38 votes on environmental issues in the House, which is the largest number of votes since the environmental group began its annual tally of Congressional voting records in 1970.  It reflected a slew of measures introduced both to block the Obama administration's climate change initiatives and to roll back long-standing protections under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws.  "Under Speaker Paul Ryan, the U.S. House remains the most anti-environmental in history," the LCV said in its report.  The votes "left virtually no issue unscathed and included attacks on many of our cornerstone environmental laws."

Only 17 votes on environmental issues were scored in the Senate, reflecting the fact that many of the measures considered in the House never came to a vote there.  In the Senate, filibuster rules mean that 60 votes are needed to pass most legislation and the leadership often won't spend floor time on measures that can't garner enough bipartisan support.

But in one case last year, Congress succeeded in using special rules to vote against one Obama administration regulation with a simple majority vote:  the  "Waters of the U.S." rule, designed to protect streams and tributaries.  President Obama vetoed that measure, but the rule is now being challenged in the courts and is among those being targeted for elimination by the Trump administration.

The White House, in fact, plans to revisit many of the issues that Congress considered in 2016. "If you want to know which protections for your health and environment are at risk in the Trump era, look no further than the 2016 Scorecard," said Alex Taurel, LCV's deputy legislative director.  "This is the playbook corporate polluters will try to enact into law in the coming years."

The House GOP first descended into single digits on the scorecard in 2013 and has scored 5 percent or less ever since.  In all, 119 House members, all of them Republicans, scored a zero, signifying an unalloyed anti-environmental voting record, in 2016.  That's 27 percent of the House.  Among those scoring zero were three key committee chairmen:  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) of the Science committee, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), of Natural Resources, and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), of Agriculture.

In the Senate, 16 members, all Republicans, scored a zero, including the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas.)

The highest scorer by far among Senate Republicans was Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) with 76 percent.  The second-highest scoring Republican in the Senate, with 46 percent, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, lost her Senate seat in 2016.

Read more at Partisan Divide in Congress Wider Than Ever on Environmental Issues, Group Says

Thursday, February 23, 2017

  Thursday, Feb 23

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.

Liquid Hydrogen May Be Way Forward for Sustainable Air Travel

EasyJet is working on the world’s first hybrid hydrogen plane – and it could save 50,000 tons of fuel each year. The aircraft will use a hydrogen fuel cell to capture energy as it brakes on landing. The energy can then be used by the aircraft to for taxiing without jet engines. Up to 4 percent of EasyJet’s total fuel consumed annually is used for taxiing around four million miles around airports each year. (Credit: EasyJet) Click to Enlarge.
Transport makes up around 20 percent of our energy use around the world--and that figure is set to grow, according to the International Energy Agency.  With sustainable solutions in mind, a new study published by eminent physicist Jo Hermans in MRS Energy and Sustainability--A Review Journal (MRS E&S) looks at the energy efficiency of current modes of transport--from bicycles to buses, from air transport to cruise ships-- and concludes that liquid hydrogen seems to be a realistic option for what is probably the most problematic of transportation modes in terms of sustainability, future air travel.

Professor Hermans from Leiden University's famous Huygen's Laboratory acknowledges that oil-based liquid fuels such as gasoline, diesel and kerosene will be hard to beat when it comes to how much energy they pack in relation to their volume and weight--not to mention the sheer convenience of using them to get from A to B.

The author of popular books such as Physics is Fun (2012) and Energy Survival Guide (2011) acknowledges that achieving sustainable transport in the post-fossil fuel era will be a huge challenge--but finds that liquid hydrogen could offer a potential solution for future air travel.

"Given the severe weight limitations for fuel in aircraft, liquid hydrogen may be a viable alternative in the long run," he argues:
  • First, handling of liquid hydrogen would be carried out by professionals, which reduces the safety issues involved with liquid hydrogen to the same level of risk involved in handling kerosene.
  • Second, liquid hydrogen itself is very light (in fact, it is in a gaseous state at ordinary temperatures), which is an important advantage for air travel.
  • Third, the disadvantages of "boil off" (created by the low boiling point of liquid hydrogen) would be reduced in air travel because of the low outside temperature at cruising altitudes.
Read more at Liquid Hydrogen May Be Way Forward for Sustainable Air Travel

Warming Temperatures Could Trigger Starvation, Extinctions in Deep Oceans

Researchers from 20 of the world's leading oceanographic research centers today warned that the world's largest habitat - the deep ocean floor - may face starvation and sweeping ecological change by the year 2100.

Warming ocean temperatures, increased acidification and the spread of low-oxygen zones will drastically alter the biodiversity of the deep ocean floor from 200 to 6,000 meters below the surface.  The impact of these ecosystems to society is just becoming appreciated, yet these environments and their role in the functioning of the planet may be altered by these sweeping impacts.

Results of the study, which was supported by the Foundation Total and other organizations, were published this week in the journal Elementa.

"Biodiversity in many of these areas is defined by the meager amount of food reaching the seafloor and over the next 80-plus years - in certain parts of the world - that amount of food will be cut in half," said Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and co-author on the study.  "We likely will see a shift in dominance to smaller organisms.  Some species will thrive, some will migrate to other areas, and many will die.

"Parts of the world will likely have more jellyfish and squid, for example, and fewer fish and cold water corals."

Read more at Warming Temperatures Could Trigger Starvation, Extinctions in Deep Oceans

Over Time, Nuisance Flooding Can Cost More Than Extreme, Infrequent Events

Long-term impact of climate change on US cities is rising, researchers find

In the past few decades, events such as an especially high tide can result in flooding of coastal regions. (Credit: Jennie Brewton / UCI) Click to Enlarge.
Global climate change is being felt in many coastal communities of the United States, not always in the form of big weather disasters but as a steady drip, drip, drip of nuisance flooding.  These smaller events can actually be more expensive overall, researchers report.

Read more at Over Time, Nuisance Flooding Can Cost More Than Extreme, Infrequent Events

The Pruitt Emails:  E.P.A. Chief Was Arm in Arm With Industry

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, at the agency’s headquarters in Washington on Tuesday. (Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.

“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.

Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.

An Oklahoma judge ordered the release of the emails in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group.  Many of the emails are copies of documents previously provided in 2014 to The New York Times, which examined Mr. Pruitt’s interaction with energy industry players that his office also helps regulate.

Read more at The Pruitt Emails:  E.P.A. Chief Was Arm in Arm With Industry

This Is What 4 Million Solar Panels Look Like from Space

The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park captured by Landsat 8 in April 2013 and again in January 2017. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory) Click to Enlarge.
On the Tibetan Plateau in eastern China, 4 million solar panels silently soak up the sun as part of the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park.  It’s the largest solar farm in the world, spreading over 10 square miles of the high desert landscape.

The complex sprung into existence in 2013 and has been rapidly expanding ever since.  Satellite imagery curated by NASA’s Earth Observatory chronicles its growth from a cluster of panels to a sprawling solar farm that looks like a giant, angular thought bubble as of January 2017.

... The installation currently has the capacity to generate 850 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power roughly 140,000 U.S. homes.

According to Greenpeace’s Energydesk, preliminary 2016 data show China installed the equivalent of one and a half soccer fields of solar panels every hour.  That puts the country on track to meet its 2020 renewable goals sometime in 2018.

The renewables targets line up with China’s international climate commitments.  The government previously announced it would lower the carbon intensity of its economy 40-45 percent below 2005 levels.  Under the Paris Agreement, China has pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

Looking ahead, the government announced in early January that it plans to spend $361 billion on renewable power generation from now through 2020.  The influx of cash is expected to help China produce a total of 110 gigawatts of solar power and 210 gigawatts of wind power by 2020.  The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park is one piece of the massive renewable energy revolution taking place in China.  The country invested $103 billion into renewables in 2015, the last year with data available.  That helped the world set a renewable investment high water mark of $286 billion.

Read more at This Is What 4 Million Solar Panels Look Like from Space

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

  Wednesday, Feb 22

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.

Expect to See More Emergencies like Oroville Dam in a Hotter World - by Dana Nuccitelli

Northern California Sierra precipitation - average, previous wettest year, and 2016-2017. (Illustration Credit: California Department of Water Resources) Click to Enlarge.
The evacuation of nearly 200,000 people near Oroville Dam is the kind of event that makes climate change personal.  A co-worker of mine was forced out of his home for several days by the emergency evacuation, and another friend was visiting Lake Oroville and happened to leave 15 minutes before the evacuation order was issued.

Like many extreme events, the Oroville emergency is a combination of natural weather likely intensified by climate change.  California regularly sees “atmospheric rivers” that deluge the state with rainfall, but in a hotter world, scientists anticipate that they’ll be amplified by an increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

Northern California is in the midst of its wettest rainy season on record – twice as wet as the 20th century average, and 35% wetter than the previous record year.  It proved to be almost too much for America’s tallest dam to handle.  Water managers were forced to use Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway for the first time ever, which then began to erode, posing the threat of a failure and catastrophic flooding of nearby towns.

While studies haven’t yet connected this extreme wetness to climate change (there are still several months remaining in California’s rainy season), what we’re seeing is consistent with climate scientists’ expectations of a hotter world.

Dams in the United States were built 50 years ago, on average.  Since then, the Earth’s surface temperature has warmed about 0.75°C, and there’s now more than 5% more water vapor in the atmosphere as a result, which intensifies storms.  With hotter temperatures, more precipitation falls as rain and less as snow, and California’s Sierra snowpack also melts earlier in the year.  Climate change stresses California’s water infrastructure through all of these mechanisms.

Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute has been researching the impact of climate change on the water cycle since the 1986, when his dissertation was the first research to conclude that the Sierra snowpack would be at risk due to rising temperatures from global warming.  He also found that this would lead to increased winter runoff and flood risks, which is exactly what we’re now seeing.  As Gleick told me:
Our infrastructure was designed for yesterday’s climate, not today’s or tomorrow’s.  We know the climate is changing and we need to be prepared.
Gleick warned 30 years ago that this increased runoff would add stress to California’s water infrastructure, also noting that in a hotter world, more precipitation would fall as rain and less as snow.
California will get the worst of all possible worlds – more flooding in the winter, less available water in the summer.
Gleick’s words now seem prescient.  Research has shown that conditions that create both wet years and hot dry years in California are becoming more frequent.  California’s intensely wet 2017 is a prime example of weather whiplash, as the state is just now emerging from a 5-year drought that was its most intense in more than 1200 years.

Studies have found that global warming intensified that drought by about 15–35% through factors like increased evaporation and water demand, pushing it into the realm of record-shattering intensity.  As Gleick recently wrote, extreme weather is battering California:
We already see fundamental changes in storm frequency and intensity, increases in the size and duration of droughts and rainfall events, disappearing snow packs, growing agricultural water demands with rising temperatures, and more.

We cannot afford the luxury of pretending climate change isn’t real, and we cannot afford to ignore the risks to our water infrastructure posed by these changes.  Any investment in infrastructure must take climate change into account through smart flexible design, integration of better weather-forecasting and modeling tools, and adoption of new standards for facility construction and operation.

Read more at Expect to See More Emergencies like Oroville Dam in a Hotter World