Sunday, April 30, 2017

  Sunday, Apr 30

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.

New Book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Details Fossil Fuel Titans Behind Climate Crisis

Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the new book by environmental journalist Dick Russell that details the people and institutions most responsible for today’s climate and environmental crisis. (Main image: From the book cover) Click to Visit.
Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the new book by environmental journalist Dick Russell that details the people and institutions most responsible for today’s climate and environmental crisis.  Russell focuses on fossil fuel titans like Charles and David Koch; Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson; CEO of fracking giant Continental Resources Harold Hamm; and Peabody Coal chief Greg Boyce. 

“As carbon dioxide has risen to atmospheric levels not witnessed on earth in millions of years, a relative handful of men have fought to maintain their power and wealth at the expense of all civilization,” Russell writes.  “This book scrutinizes who these people are, their means of confusing the truth, and how they justify their actions.”

In the book Russell addresses how these energy moguls manipulated and confused the public through public relations spin doctors like Richard Berman and propaganda campaigns run by nonprofit front groups, think tanks, and other research-for-hire organizations.  Russell unearths the unrelenting flow of fossil fuel money to lobbyists and government decision makers, particularly within the Trump administration, which has tilted the scales in favor of corporate profits and against the well-being of all people and the planet.

The book dives into the history of individuals — many now running the government — who have deep ties to the Koch brothers, dark money, and networks of climate denial.  A sampling of these individuals include many familiar to DeSmog readers:  the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt; Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke; Secretary of Energy Rick Perry; Rep. Lamar Smith; Sen. James Inhofe; David Schnare; Michael Catanzaro; Myron Ebell; Thomas Pyle; and Mike Pompeo.

Russell also covers the shifting mind-set of the younger generation.  In particular, he writes about the offspring of some of the wealthiest fossil fuel families and their dedication to changing the status quo in the energy arena.  He covers the journey to fossil fuel divestment by the Rockefeller family, as well as the environmental quest of the granddaughter of the man who pioneered fracking.  He also interviews the son of Richard Berman who has described his father as “a sort of human monster.” 

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. edited the book and provides the introduction.  Kennedy notes how the election of Donald Trump has unfortunately resulted in the “horsemen” described in the book being elevated to “the pinnacle of power.”  Kennedy also references the Book of Revelation — the origin of the concept of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

“The Book of Revelation described the Four Horsemen as war, conquest, pestilence and death.  Donald Trump’s choice, to invite a group of conscienceless oil men to govern the country, has brought such chilling metaphors to the foreground, as more than an obscure biblical reference.”

As Americans turn out to march in support of science and action on climate change, this new book details how we arrived here and why these efforts are more critical than ever to ensure Earth is a livable planet for future generations. 

Read more at New Book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Details Fossil Fuel Titans Behind Climate Crisis

Nitrite Pollution Puts Warming Waters at Risk

Nitrite pollution caused by rising temperatures is changing the chemistry of coastal waters, threatening more algal blooms and zones devoid of fish.

An algal bloom in a Florida harbor:  Growing warmth and increasing nitrite are likely to make them commoner. Image: John Moran via Wikimedia Commons Click to Enlarge.
US scientists have identified a new hazard linked to global warming:  a change in ocean water chemistry causing nitrite pollution that could trigger toxic algal blooms and even dead zones in coastal waters.

Nitrite is a byproduct of fertilizer decay, and is becoming increasingly common as a potential pollutant as ocean temperatures rise.  Humans use sodium nitrite to preserve meat products such as bacon and sausage, but health authorities would prefer to see less of it in the human diet.

In the wider world nitrite becomes available as microbial organisms consume ammonium in fertilizer waste that washes down rivers and estuaries to the coasts, and although it is a natural product of natural biochemical processes, too much nitrite is not healthy for the environment either.

It can affect the species and numbers of single-celled plants that live at sea, and trigger toxic blooms that consume the ocean’s oxygen and create zones where no fish can survive.

“Rising ocean temperatures are changing the way coastal ecosystems – and probably terrestrial ecosystems, too – process nitrogen,” said James Hollibaugh, professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia at Athens.  “Much of the global nitrogen cycle takes place in the coastal zone.”

The ocean environment is changing:  the seas are becoming measurably more acidic as they absorb ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide, the product of fossil fuel consumption that is driving global warming.

Repeated warnings
Researchers have more than once warned of “dead zones” and toxic algal blooms as a consequence of changing climatic conditions.  Ocean temperatures are increasing, and this in turn encourages a new set of biochemical processes.

Professor Hollibaugh and a colleague report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that over the course of eight summers they measured peaks of nitrite, alongside massive increases in the numbers of the microorganisms that produce it, in coastal waters off Georgia.

One argument has it that nitrite accumulation is a consequence of oxygen deficiency.  The Georgia scientists wondered if there could be another explanation.

In the laboratory, they exposed single-celled creatures called Thaumarchaea to different temperature levels, and found that as the thermometer went up, so did the nitrite output.

The microbes involved in the process co-operated to convert ammonium to nitrate, with a nitrite stage in the process:  a reaction that chemists would write as NH3 to NO2 to NO3.  Higher temperatures interfered with the second stage of the reaction, leaving a nitrite surplus.

That was what happened in the lab. To test the result, the scientists then analysed environmental monitoring data from 270 locations around 29 temperate and subtropical lagoons and estuaries across the US, France and Bermuda, to confirm the finding:  the link between higher temperatures and nitrite accumulation held.

“The information gained from monitoring programmes can be used not only to forecast what is going to happen down the road, but also to come up with potential solutions”
“The same process, though we didn’t look at it specifically, takes place in regards to fertilizing soil for agricultural purposes.  It affects farmers and their efficient use of fertilizer – when they should apply it and what form it should be in – and ultimately much of that fertilizer will end up in the waterways, which can lead to algal blooms that choke out other species,” said Professor Hollibaugh.

And this in turn raises the spectre of positive feedback:  more nitrite could then lead to more nitrous oxide in the atmosphere.  This is one of the greenhouse gases that would then accelerate atmospheric warming, leading to even more nitrite in the estuaries and lagoons, and then more nitrous oxide again.
“If you live on a marsh and look out over the water, you’re probably not going to notice it, but if you like shellfish, like to fish, like recreational water sports, then these findings do matter,” Professor Hollibaugh said.

Read more at Nitrite Pollution Puts Warming Waters at Risk

NY Times Hired a Hippie Puncher to Give Climate Obstructionists Cover

Yesterday, New York Times subscribers were treated to an email alert announcing the first opinion column from Bret Stephens, who they hired away from the Wall Street Journal.  Like all Journal opinion columnists who write about climate change, Stephens has said a lot of things on the subject that could charitably be described as ignorant and wrong.  Thus many Times subscribers voiced bewilderment and concern about his hiring, to which the paper’s public editor issued a rather offensive response.

Justifying the critics, here’s how the paper announced Stephens’ first opinion column in an email alert (usually reserved for important breaking news):
In his debut as a Times Op-Ed columnist, Bret Stephens says reasonable people can be skeptical about the dangers of climate change
Stephens gets his few facts wrong
In his column, Stephens pooh-poohed climate change as a “modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880,” citing the 2014 IPCC report.  However, Stephens packed three big mistakes into that single sentence.  Here’s what the IPCC said (emphasis added):
The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend show a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C over the period 1880 to 2012
The northern hemisphere warms faster than the global average because it has more land and less ocean than the southern hemisphere (water warms slowly), so this is an important mistake that underestimates the global temperature rise.  On top of that, since 2012 we’ve seen the three hottest years on record (2014, 2015, and 2016), so even the 0.85°C warming figure is outdated (it’s now right around 1°C).

Stephens doesn’t understand the rapid pace or urgency of the problem
Most importantly, the global warming we’ve experience is in no way “modest.”  We’re already causing a rate of warming faster than when the Earth transitions out of an ice age, and within a few decades we could be causing the fastest climate change Earth has seen in 50 million years.  The last ice age transition saw about 4°C global warming over 10,000 years; humans are on pace to cause that much warming between 1900 and 2100 – a period of just 200 years, with most of that warming happening since 1975.

Of course, how much global warming we see in the coming decades depends on how much carbon pollution we dump into the atmosphere.  If we take serious immediate action to cut those emissions, as the international community pledged to do under the Paris agreement, we can limit global warming to perhaps 2°C, and the climate consequences that come along with it.

But this is where Stephens’ opinions are particularly unhelpful:
Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions.  Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts … Perhaps if there were less certitude about our climate future, more Americans would be interested in having a reasoned conversation about it.
In other words, the people obstructing climate policies are justified because climate “advocates” are too mean to them, and claim too much certainty about the future.

This is of course nonsense.  There is uncertainty about how much global warming and climate change we’ll see in the coming decades (climate scientists are crystal clear about this), but the biggest factor contributing to that uncertainty is human behavior – how much carbon pollution we end up dumping into the atmosphere.  This is apparent from looking at the IPCC global temperature projections:

Global average surface temperature projections. (Illustration Credit: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report)  Click to Enlarge.
In the red ‘burn lots of fossil fuels’ (RCP8.5) scenario, we’ll see a further 3.0–5.5°C warming between now and 2100.  In the blue ‘take immediate serious climate action’ (RCP2.6) scenario, we’ll see a further 0.5–1.5°C global warming by 2100.  Those ranges represent uncertainties in the climate modeling, but the difference between them – which is based on how much carbon pollution we release – is bigger than the uncertainty in each scenario.

Stephens needs a lesson in risk management
So far, climate change may be humanity’s greatest-ever risk management failure.  The Paris climate agreement was a major step to remedy that failure, but now the Trump administration is debating whether to withdraw from it, or simply refuse to honor America’s pledges.

There have been bipartisan bills in Congress to implement market-based solutionsto the problem, but each has been blocked by the Republican Party at the behest of its fossil fuel donors.  Democrats have even proposed small government, revenue-neutral solutions that would benefit the economy, but while some Republican elder statesmen support the policy, Republicans in Congress have refused to even vote on it.

Stephens punches the hippies
In short, on climate science and policy it’s clear where the problem lies, and it’s not with the advocates.  Not only does Stephens get basic facts wrong and gloss over the tremendous risks posed by climate change, but he blames partisan policy obstruction on the people who are desperately trying every possible avenue to solve the problem.  The New York Times is publishing and promoting textbook hippie punching, and its readers are rightly appalled.

Read more at NY Times Hired a Hippie Puncher to Give Climate Obstructionists Cover

An Ice-Free Summer in the Arctic Ocean Would Be Deadly for the Northern Hemisphere

New modeling suggests it could happen as soon as mid-century.

March sea ice extent has been declining by 2.74 percent per decade. (Chart: NSIDC) Click to Enlarge.
Climate scientists don’t like to get pinned down on making date-specific projections about the effects of global warming.  But after months of watching Arctic sea ice languish at a record low, the big question has surfaced once again:  When will we see the Arctic’s first ice-free summer?

According to University of Exeter climate researcher James Screen, the latest modeling suggests that, unless heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions stop soon, an ice-free Arctic summer will happen as soon as 2046.

“That’s our best estimate, give or take 20 years,” Screen said during an April 24th press conference at the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna.  The ice decline is clearly linked with rising global temperatures, and the chances that the Arctic will be ice-free increase dramatically when the average global temperature rises between 1.7 and 2.1 degrees Celsius, Screen said.

There’s a good chance an ice-free Arctic Ocean in the summer would have a strong effect on seasonal weather patterns across land areas in the Northern Hemisphere, and it would have big implications for ocean ecosystems.  Polar bears use sea ice to hunt for seals, and a complete meltdown would also affect the blooming cycles of plankton, which serves as food for whales, fish, and birds.  Further, ice-free conditions in the Arctic Ocean would also spur an increase in shipping, fishing, and, potentially, oil and gas drilling.

Screen, an expert on how the melting sea ice affects the path of weather systems around the Northern Hemisphere, said that the regional distribution of ice decline is important.  In recent years, most melting has been in the Barents Sea, which leads to cooling over Eurasia.  That spatial variation means that, as the pattern of melting changes, the effects over land areas will shift as well.

Read more at An Ice-Free Summer in the Arctic Ocean Would Be Deadly for the Northern Hemisphere

Climate Protest Takes on Trump's Policies -- and the Heat -- in DC March

Protesters march away from the US Capitol on Saturday in Washington.(Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Protesters backing action on climate change ... braved the sweltering heat Saturday in the nation's capital as part of the People's Climate March.

The march began at 12:30 p.m. near the Capitol, and demonstrators planned to move to the White House and end up at the Washington Monument, according to the proposed route map.

Michele Holmes, from New York's Harlem neighborhood, is one of those activists.  She joined about 200 others who climbed into four buses traveling to 
Washington early Saturday to join in the march.

"Trump is undoing everything Obama did.  He doesn't realize climate change impacts everyone.  It impacts him," Holmes told CNN.  "Change is inevitable, and only we can solve it -- the impact is just changing the way we live."

Temperatures neared 90 degrees Saturday, well above the average high of 71 degrees for April 29, according to

Washington's Fire and Emergency Medical Services said it had received 50 calls as of 4:41 p.m. EDT for medical incidents related to the climate march.  Four people were taken to hospitals.

Hundreds of sister marches were also planned across the United States and around the world. Protesters marched through the snow in Denver.  Demonstrations were held in Boston, New York, Seattle, Chicago, Amsterdam, and London.

Coinciding with Donald Trump's 100th day in office, the protests are taking on the President's environmental policies, which have generally prioritized economic growth over environmental concerns.

During those first 100 days, the Environmental Protection Agency has moved swiftly to roll back Obama-era regulations on fossil fuels while also facing significant planned budget cuts.

Read more at Climate Protest Takes on Trump's Policies -- and the Heat -- in DC March

West Virginia’s Biggest Utility Just Told the Governor Burning More Coal Is “Not Going to Happen”

Average annual number of coal miners, 1985 to 2015 (Credit: St. Louis Federal Reserve Board) Click to Enlarge.
West Virginia is coal country.  And so, given Trump’s promise to “put our [coal] miners back to work,” it’s no surprise that the state’s Democratic governor Jim Justice wants his state’s biggest utility to burn more of it.

But Chris Beam, president of Appalachian Power, the state’s largest utility, has some bad news.

Beam told the governor—a farmer and coal mogul himself—that all new power generation would likely come from wind, solar, and natural gas.  “The governor asked me, ‘I’d like you to burn more coal,’” Beam said according to the West Virginia Gazette-Mail.  “Well, we don’t have any more coal plants.  We’re not going to build any more coal plants.  That’s not going to happen.”

This isn’t an issue of pollution controls, however; Customers and economics are driving today’s energy agenda.  Beam says the debate over climate change, and the role of coal in it, is essentially over.  Appalachian Power’s parent company AES believes the regulation of carbon dioxide is inevitable.  In the coming decades, renewable energy and natural gas are poised to dominate the fuel mix.  “We’re past that argument as a company,” Beam said.

Appalachian Power’s residential and industrial customers, which include Steel Dynamics, Koch Industries, and Marathon petroleum, are now asking about switching to 100% renewables, says John Shepelwich of Appalachian Power.  In order to get out in front of this growing demand, the utility, which serves more than a million customers across the US mid-Atlantic region, has begun preparing power plans that would allow customers to stop using fossil fuels.

Read more at West Virginia’s Biggest Utility Just Told the Governor Burning More Coal Is “Not Going to Happen”

Germany Calls Rick Perry’s Push to Rework Paris Climate Agreement ‘Absurd’

German Emissions Rebound (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Germany fired back at Rick Perry’s criticism of Europe for not living up to its vow to fight climate change, saying the U.S. energy secretary’s suggestion to renegotiate the landmark Paris accord is “absurd.”

The 2015 global agreement to limit global warming-causing gases already lets nations adjust their own emissions targets, making it pointless for the U.S. to reopen talks in hopes of winning more favorable terms, said German environment ministry spokesman Michael Schroeren.

“That is, in the first place absurd, and secondly from the U.S. point of view completely unnecessary,” Schroeren said in a statement to Bloomberg.  “The Paris accord is a dynamic accord.  It allows signatory states much flexibility.”
Regarding Paris
Schroeren welcomed Perry’s call for the U.S. to remain party to the Paris accord, brokered in 2015 in the French capital by more than 190 nations.

The U.S. energy secretary’s statements Tuesday marked one of the first times a member of Trump’s cabinet has made a direct public call for remaining part of the agreement.  The president, who vowed to “cancel” the agreement during the campaign, is expected to announce his decision next month, when world leaders gather for the Group of Seven summit in Italy.

Trump may deny the Paris accord’s underlying premise.  But it’s unclear what, if anything, the president wants to renegotiate about the deal itself, said Alden Meyer, who has followed climate talks for two decades as director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Flexible Mechanisms
“What is it that he doesn’t like about the agreement?  The fact that it lets each country set its own goals?  The fact that it requires India and China to come up to our level of reporting and transparency?  The fact that it allows flexible market mechanisms?” Meyer said.  “This really is a made-in-America agreement.”

Read more at Germany Calls Rick Perry’s Push to Rework Paris Climate Agreement ‘Absurd’

Saturday, April 29, 2017

  Saturday, Apr 29

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.

U.N. Risk Chief:  Put a Price on Disasters

People cross a flooded street after a massive landslide and flood in the Huachipa district of Lima, Peru on March 17, 2017. (Credit: REUTERS/Guadalupe Pard) Click to Enlarge.
Calculating the costs of natural disasters is a valuable way for governments to recognize and limit the potential for damage, especially as extreme weather linked to climate change occurs more often, the United Nations' disaster prevention chief says.

Recent deadly landslides caused by floods in Peru and Colombia show the urgent need for governments to prepare better and invest more, said Robert Glasser, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

"It's important to quantify the costs.  As long as the costs of these disasters are invisible, it is very easy to ignore them, and it's very hard to make the case to spend money on prevention," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview this week.

"It's about tying climate risk together with disaster risk more broadly and quantifying the costs historically and projecting future costs," he said.

The heavy human toll and economic damage of flooding were laid bare in Colombia this month when two landslides killed more than 330 people and left thousands of others homeless.

Flooding in Peru last month killed more than 100 people, while Hurricane Matthew in Haiti last year caused more than 600 deaths and $2.7 billion in economic losses.

"With climate change, we are seeing a marked increase in extreme weather," Glasser said.

Global economic losses from disasters have reached an average of $250 billion to $300 billion annually, according to a 2015 report by UNISDR.

A yearly global investment of $6 billion would pay off in benefits of $360 billion in less damage and fewer economic losses in 15 years, the report said.

Yet spending on preparedness and resilience remains low.  The U.N. has called on governments to spend at least 1 percent of development aid by 2020 on disaster preparation, but they currently spend just half that amount.

Read more at U.N. Risk Chief:  Put a Price on Disasters

Zinc Battery Breakthrough Could Mean Safer, Lighter Cars and Smartphones

A grey bumpy surface (Image Credit: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory) Click to Enlarge.
Rechargeable zinc-based batteries could not only store as much energy as lithium-ion batteries but also be safer, cheaper, smaller and lighter, new research finds. The results suggest zinc batteries could find use in mild hybrids (microhybrids), electric vehicles, electric bicycles, and eventually perhaps smartphones and power grid storage.

The researchers are now aggressively testing these batteries and exploring scaling up this technology.  “We feel we can have a battery ready for the market by the end of 2019,” says Michael Burz, CEO of energy technology firm EnZinc in San Anselmo, Calif., which helped engineer the new batteries.

When it comes to electric vehicles, the new batteries will “be 30 to 50 percent cheaper than comparable lithium-ion systems,” Burz says.

Lithium-ion batteries have become notorious for safety incidents resulting from overheating, at times bursting into flames and even exploding.  The U.S. Navy was researching alternative technologies because “there's a Navy and a broader military concern with the safety of lithium-ion batteries—on soldiers, on sailors, on platforms,” says Debra Rolison, head of the advanced electrochemical materials section at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and one of the researchers involved in the zinc breakthrough.

Zinc-based batteries do not pose the same fire risk linked with lithium-ion batteries, and can in principle match or surpass them in terms of specific energy (energy per unit mass), as well as energy density (energy per unit volume).  Moreover, zinc is cheap and widely available.  All these features help explain why zinc-based batteries “are the go-to global battery for single-use applications,” Rolison says.

Read more at Zinc Battery Breakthrough Could Mean Safer, Lighter Cars and Smartphones

Trump Moves to Lift Arctic Offshore Drilling Ban, but It Might Not Be So Easy

There is no legal precedent for Trump to undo Obama's order of permanent protection from drilling, and action by Congress would take years.

Shell made the first attempt at offshore drilling in American Arctic waters in 2015, but its exploratory well didn’t produce enough oil or gas. Because of that and falling oil prices, many large companies abandoned plans for the region. (Credit: Tim Aubry/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Friday aimed at resurrecting offshore drilling in the Arctic—an area that Barack Obama had protected in one of his final moves as president.

It comes during a flurry of executive orders issued this week as Trump nears his 100th day in office, and is among several administration actions designed to unleash unfettered fossil fuel production on public lands and waterways.  But when it comes to drilling in the Arctic, it's not clear just how much Trump can legally accomplish, and any attempt to overturn existing protections will likely face a protracted legal battle from environmental advocates.

When Obama ordered the permanent protection of nearly 120 million acres of Arctic and Atlantic waters from drilling just a month before he left office, many wondered just how "permanent" that would be.

The area in question includes the entirety of the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea off Alaska, as well as a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Virginia.  Obama's executive order relied on his powers under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 (OCSLA), which allows a president to withdraw certain areas from drilling.

Trump's order, called the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to lift the ban in some of the areas Obama had sought to protect.  It also directs Zinke to review the current five-year plan, which dictates which federal waters can be leased and does not include the banned areas.

The executive order also instructs regulators to reexamine their policy on seismic testing in areas where it is currently not allowed, and it instructs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to review marine monuments and sanctuaries created or expanded in the past 10 years, while refraining from designating any news ones.
Legally, Trump may be on shaky ground when it comes to overturning Obama's withdrawal, though.  The legal underpinning of Obama's move—OCSLA—states that "The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf."

So Obama clearly had the authority to issue the ban, said David Uhlmann, the director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program at the University of Michigan Law School.  "The more difficult question is whether a subsequent president can alter that withdrawal, or whether it is truly permanent," he said.

Those defending the ban will likely argue that because the act does not explicitly say that subsequent presidents can undo a withdrawal, it should stand.

"No prior presidents have ever purported to undo a permanent withdrawal once it's been put in place," said Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice.  "It'd be an unprecedented action and, we think, unlawful."

Read more at Trump Moves to Lift Arctic Offshore Drilling Ban, but It Might Not Be So Easy

Trump's EPA Wins Advantage in Campaign to Dismantle Clean Power Plan

An appeals court agreed to delay ruling on the Obama plan to rein in global warming emissions.

The Clean Power Plan, designed by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, is the centerpiece of U.S. pledges to cut emissions in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement. (Credit: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A federal appeals court on Friday temporarily granted the Trump administration's request to defer ruling on the validity of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, and said it would next consider handing the far-reaching climate rules back to the Environmental Protection Agency to be overhauled or even dismantled.

It was a significant tactical advance for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who on President Donald Trump's orders is working to undo the CPP, which would regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and is critical to meeting U.S. pledges  under the Paris climate agreement.

But the court did not give Pruitt all he wanted.  He had sought an indefinite hiatus—or "abeyance," in legal jargon—for as long as it took for him to decide what to do about controlling carbon dioxide emissions, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly found to be EPA's mandate under the Clean Air Act.

Instead, the appeals court granted an abeyance for just 60 days.  It asked the adversaries who have been fighting in court ever since the rules were proposed to submit briefs in just over two weeks on whether the painstakingly devised regulations should be "remanded"—basically sent back to EPA's drawing board.

If that happens, electric power plants, especially those burning coal, which have long produced a major proportion of U.S. greenhouse gases, would be allowed indefinitely to continue doing so largely unfettered by federal constraints.  They would be mitigated only by market forces, state and local laws, and rules governing other pollutions.

David Doniger, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the ruling disappointing, but not devastating.  He noted that if the rule is remanded to Trump's EPA, the Supreme Court stay could be lifted and the Obama version could remain in force, pending its reconsideration.

Even if the appeals court ultimately decides not to cede the field entirely to the Trump-Pruitt EPA, it's hard to see at this point how anything but delay and uncertainty lies ahead for the next few years.

Read more at Trump's EPA Wins Advantage in Campaign to Dismantle Clean Power Plan

Trump Orders Review of Obama Offshore Drilling Plan

The Ocean Star offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. (Credit: Katie Haugland Bowen/flickr)
President Trump on Friday called for the review of a five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing that the Obama administration put in place to keep large swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic off-limits to fossil fuel development.

Trump signed an executive order calling for the review during a ceremony at the White House.  It comes just before the symbolic 100-day mark of his administration and instructs the Commerce Department to also review all marine sanctuaries created or expanded in the past 10 years. The order echoes another signed earlier this week for a review of all large national monuments established since 1996 and recommending ways for Congress to shrink or abolish them.

The latest order is part of a concerted effort to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations — such as the Clean Power Plan and a moratorium on federal coal leasing — put in place in part to curb the greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.  Those emissions are raising global temperatures and sea levels, as well as impacting weather patterns and the health of ecosystems.

Trump and officials in his administration, many of whom have connections to the oil and gas industry, have decried those regulations as “job killing” and preventing economic growth.  They have also cited them as a threat to national security.  Trump promised during his campaign to roll them back and bolster America’s declining coal industry as well as fully exploit the country’s fossil fuel reserves.

“This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to job-creating, energy exploration,” Trump said in remarks before the signing.  “It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban and directs Secretary Zinke to allow responsible development of offshore areas that will bring revenue to our treasury and jobs to our workers.”

The new order “puts us on track for American energy independence,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters Thursday evening.

Zinke is charged with carrying out the review of the current five-year offshore leasing plan over the next couple of years.  In the meantime, that plan “remains in existence; there is no immediate change,” Zinke said.

Under the current leasing plan, 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic and 115 million acres of the Arctic under U.S. jurisdiction are placed off-limits for leasing.  Offshore leasing accounts for about 16 percent of U.S. oil production and 5 percent of natural gas production, with about 97 percent of that activity occurring in the western Gulf of Mexico.  The plan did allow for leasing in 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea off of Alaska.

Read more at Trump Orders Review of Obama Offshore Drilling Plan

Friday, April 28, 2017

  Friday, Apr 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.

Sea Floor Erosion Causes Coral Reefs to Sink

Five US coral reefs are sinking beneath the waves due to the erosion of the sea floor, robbing coastal communities of their natural storm barrier.

Antler coral at the Molokini crater, near the Hawaiian island of Maui, where the sea floor is being scoured of sand and sediments. (Image Credit: Yury Velikanau via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s coral reefs are not just in hot water and under threat from acid attack; they may even be getting out of their depth.  New research around five US coral reefs shows that even as sea levels rise, the sea floor around the reefs is being eroded.

And coral growth simply may not be fast enough to keep up, which means that coastal communities in Florida, the Caribbean, and Hawaii could become increasingly at risk from storms, waves and erosion.

The news comes close after revelations that great tracts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, like other coral colonies, have been devastated by bleaching, as ocean temperatures rise above the levels that corals – animals that live in symbiosis with algae – can tolerate, and researchers have warned that this could soon be happening to reefs almost everywhere, every year.

Coral under threat
There is already widespread alarm among marine scientists as the seas become measurably more acidic due to an increase in levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and this too poses a threat to corals everywhere.

But while researchers in the tropics had monitored the living reefs of the surface waters, hardly anybody had paid attention to the sea floor around the reefs.

Now, scientists of the US Geological Survey report in Biogeosciences that – possibly as a consequence of the degradation of the reefs of the Florida Keys, the US Virgin Islands, and the Hawaiian island of Maui – the sea floor is being scoured of sand and sediments, just as sea levels continue to creep to a predicted rise of up to a meter by 2100.

Around Maui, they report, they measured the loss enough sand, rock and shell to fill the Empire State Building in New York 81 times over.

This means that the seas along those coasts have become unexpectedly deep.  Since tropical corals depend for nourishment on light photosynthesized by their algal partners at the surface, this raises yet another hazard:  if the sea floor is falling at the same time as the seawater ceiling is going up, can corals grow fast enough to keep up?

“Our measurements show that seafloor erosion has already caused water depths to increase to levels not predicted to occur until near the year 2100,” says Kimberly Yates, a biogeochemist at the USGS’s St Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, who led the research.

“At current rates, by 2100 sea floor erosion could increase water depths by two to eight times more than what has been predicted from sea level rise alone.”

Healthy coral reefs are among the richest and most diverse habitats on the planet.  They represent an immediate asset to human communities:  they underwrite tourism and fisheries, and they deliver protection against storm surge and tsunami for around 200 million people in low-lying coastal communities.

Sea level rise presents a threat to communities along the coasts of all the inhabited continents, and coastal flooding could by 2100 be costing the world $100 trillion a year.

One group has calculated that money spent on protecting and restoring reefs would represent a bargain, at about one-twentieth the cost of artificial breakwaters.

Read more at Sea Floor Erosion Causes Coral Reefs to Sink

The Next March Is All About Climate Change

Hundreds of thousands turned out for the People's Climate March in New York, held in September 2014. (Credit: Climate Action Network/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
For the second weekend in a row, Washington, D.C. will be home to people clamoring for policies based on science.  But unlike the March for Science, this weekend’s People’s Climate March will be overtly political and put a sharp focus on climate change and justice.

The march builds on a 2014 landmark event that drew hundreds of thousands to the streets around the globe.  Then, the push was for the world to deliver a climate deal, a goal achieved a year later in Paris.

The climate action landscape has changed a lot since then, most notably by the election of President Trump.  While some of his policies may be driving people to the streets on Saturday, Paul Getsos, the national march coordinator, said he wasn’t the initial impetus for the march.

“We were ready to be active with the next administration when we thought it was Hillary Clinton,” Getsos said.  “Our steering committee was working together (last year) to figure out how to make the next president, who we thought was going to be Clinton, be bigger and bolder on climate.”

Nonetheless, Trump’s election has changed the focus a bit.  Organizers and other climate advocates are now trying to prevent the U.S. from backsliding on its recent climate action progress.

The Trump administration has walked back a number of climate policies enacted under President Obama and proposed cutting the budget of a number of climate and energy programs.  A number of cabinet members have also expressed views far outside established climate science.

The march is slated for Trump’s 100th day in office.  Organizers chose the date because the first 100 days is a measuring stick for the president’s priorities.  Executive orders aiming to roll back climate policies are among the few tangible goals Trump can point to.

Read more at The Next March Is All About Climate Change

A New Kind of Street Tree Grows in Newton MA

Scott Carlin planted a spring snow crabapple along Hyde Avenue in Newton. (Credit: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff) Click to Enlarge.
The Northeast has already seen a rise in temperature of roughly 2 degrees over the past 100 years, according to the federal National Climate Assessment released in 2014.

Along with rising sea levels and increased precipitation, the region is expected to experience more frequent, longer, and hotter heat waves, leading to increased drought risk.

A study released in March by the Woods Hole Research Center predicted that 40 tree species in the eastern United States will not be able to adapt to warming temperatures, including some varieties of birch, maple, fir, and cherry.

Researchers reviewed conditions at national parks and recreational areas in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia. While park rangers can fight invasive species and pests, researchers said the underlying causes of climate change need to be addressed.

“We need to cut our fossil fuel emissions and stop warming. There’s no getting around that,” said Woods Hole scientist Brendan Rogers in a statement.

The future of Newton’s urban canopy is being shaped in part nearly 500 miles to the west, at Schichtel’s Nursery in Springville, N.Y. It’s where the city gets many of its trees, and growers there worry that the heat will bring drought, threatening trees like sugar maples, said James Kisker, the nursery’s sales manager.

Kisker said the nursery provides trees for more than 150 American cities, including Milwaukee and Minneapolis, and closer to home, Boston, Lexington, Arlington, and Cambridge.

He compared climate change’s predicted impact on some trees to the harm caused by Dutch elm disease to the American elm decades ago, or the Asian longhorned beetle, which wiped out troves of pines in the United States, including in Worcester.

“We’ve seen this pattern before,” he said.

The nursery has been encouraging city foresters to plant several varieties of trees that can handle drought and pollution, Kisker said. And they should be diverse enough to prevent insects and disease from decimating a community’s trees.

Marc Welch, director of the city’s urban forestry division, said the city’s tree program, which began plantings in 2015, is expected to add a total of 1,100 new trees by the end of 2017.

In addition to beautifying public spaces, he said, they offer shade, clean the air, and reduce stormwater runoff.

Specimens are chosen from among 20 to 30 different varieties, depending on the location. Where trees could bump into power lines, crabapple or cherry are being planted. Taller types — oak, for example — are being added where height won’t be an issue, he said.

“They are one of the few public assets, as they grow, they appreciate in value,” Welch said.

Read more at A New Kind of Street Tree Grows in Newton

Thursday, April 27, 2017

  Thursday, Apr 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.

The Clean-Energy Transition Is Powering the U.S. Economy

National Mall (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The federal government has an important role facilitating the acceleration of a clean, modern 21st century energy system.  Ignoring that role or diminishing its effectiveness go against the tide of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that is creating U.S. jobs and helping the economy flourish.

Companies, states, and cities are all pursuing clean energy and energy efficiency because it makes economic sense.  The federal government needs to encourage this innovation, not try to slow it down.

Consider that clean energy is the fastest growing energy sector in the United States. Renewables have accounted for more than half of new U.S. power capacity for the past three years in a row.  Thanks to market forces, including falling prices for renewables and relatively low and stable prices for natural gas, the U.S. energy system is getting cleaner.

The drive for clean energy and sustainability is also putting Americans to work.  The latest U.S. Department of Energy report shows the solar workforce increased by 25 percent to about 374,000 in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32 percent to about 102,000.  Almost 2 million Americans are employed in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services.  The U.S. nuclear industry directly employs about 50,000, and growing global demand could generate thousands of U.S. industry jobs.

Read more at The Clean-Energy Transition Is Powering the U.S. Economy

American Climate Refugees Could Flee Inland

The population of inland American cities will alter drastically if predictions of dramatic sea level rises by 2100 are correct, new report suggests.

More on its way … flooding in Ukiah, California, January 2017. (Image Credit: Bob Dass via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
If humans go on burning ever greater volumes of fossil fuel, then dramatic rises in sea levels could turn 13 million US citizens into climate refugees and send them fleeing inland – many of them to Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix.

This latest study, in Nature Climate Change, builds on an earlier assessment of what could happen in 319 American coastal counties if sea levels rise 1.8 meters by 2100.

American refugees
The calculation at the time was that overall sea level rise could threaten the properties of 13.1 million people.  This raised the question:  where could they all go?

“We typically think about sea level rise as a coastal issue, but if people are forced to move because their houses become inundated, the migration could affect many landlocked communities as well,” says the study’s author, Mathew Hauer, a population scientist in the Department of Geography at the University of Georgia.  He also led the original county-by-county estimates of the numbers at risk.

Worldwide, around 1 billion people live in low-lying coastal zones, and an estimated 180 million are at risk.  The latest study is claimed as the first attempt to use mathematical simulations to calculate not just the attrition on the coasts, but the long-term consequences for landlocked communities, which will have to accommodate a new class of incomer:  the climate refugee.

In December 2015, more than 195 nations agreed in Paris to attempt to contain global warming to 1.5°C by drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions.  But even if such promises are fulfilled, European cities could face sea level rises of more than 50cm (1.6 ft) by 2100, enough to put properties and lives at risk in cases of extreme storms and tidal surges.

Richer populations are assumed to be more likely to invest in coastal defenses and some coastal communities will be less at risk than others, yet the cost of what Dr Hauer calls “adaptive infrastructure” in the US could reach $1 trillion.

But population change is inevitable.  Miami, in Florida, could lose 2.5 million residents, and, altogether, nine states could see a population decline in response to a sea level rise of 1.8 meters (5.9 ft).  Texas, however, could gain 1.5 million citizens, demonstrating, says Dr Hauer, “that the sheer magnitude of places affected could alter the US population landscape”.

Read more at American Climate Refugees Could Flee Inland

Ocean Warming to Cancel Increased Carbon Dioxide-Driven Productivity

Sea grass. (Credit: © Richard Carey / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
University of Adelaide researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity.

Published today in Global Change Biology, the researchers found that high CO2 expected by the end of the century which causes ocean acidification will boost production at different levels of the food web, but ocean warming canceled this benefit by causing stress to marine animals, preventing them using the increased resources efficiently for their own growth and development.  The result was a collapsing food web.

Read more at Ocean Warming to Cancel Increased Carbon Dioxide-Driven Productivity

Trump's Climate Cuts Could Result in Half-Billion Extra Tons of CO2 in the Air

A new analysis quantifies the 'Trump Effect' on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, finding emissions begin to flatten or increase by 2020 under his policy plans.

President Trump's efforts to roll back existing climate change policies will have a delayed but prolonged effect, according to a new analysis. (Credit: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
President Donald Trump's planned climate change policies could lead to an extra half a billion tons of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2025, according to a new analysis.  That is equal to the annual electricity emissions of 60 percent of U.S. homes.

Climate Advisers, a Washington consultancy, predicts that U.S. carbon emissions, which have been falling, will begin to flatten or increase by 2020 if the Trump administration succeeds in repealing the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era regulations.

In other words, decisions made today will have a delayed effect—but a prolonged one.

"We found that the 'Trump Effect' really begins to bite into the U.S. emissions trajectory in 2025—since many of the factors influencing today's emissions trajectory can't be reversed quickly," the report said.

The analysis assumes that some regulations are more vulnerable than others to rollbacks. The Clean Power Plan to curb carbon emissions from power plants, methane rules covering the oil and gas industry and a handful of efficiency regulations are "highly vulnerable" in the consulting firm's view, either because they're high profile or because they haven't been fully implemented.  If these are the only rules the Trump administration is able to repeal, it would erase 332 million metric tons of carbon pollution cuts, Climate Advisers projected.

If, however, the Trump administration succeeds also in eliminating "moderately vulnerable" rules—those controlling landfill emissions, potent refrigeration gases such as HFCs and several energy efficiency standards—another 229 million tons of projected emissions cuts would not happen, the report finds.

Read more at Trump's Climate Cuts Could Result in Half-Billion Extra Tons of CO2 in the Air