Wednesday, May 31, 2017

  Wednesday, May 31

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 Shareholders Vote to Disclose Climate Risks

The landmark investor vote defied Exxon's management.  It requires the oil giant to begin reporting climate-related risks to its business.

The logo of Exxon Mobil Corporation is shown on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, New York, U.S. December 30, 2015.  (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/File Photo) Click to Enlarge.
As news spread that President Donald Trump reportedly plans to remove the U.S. from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, ExxonMobil shareholders voted in favor of a proposal calling on the company to disclose the risks that climate change policies pose to its business. 

The measure, which Exxon urged investors to vote against, passed with 62.3 percent of the vote. 

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the New York Common Retirement Fund, said in a statement that the vote was “an unprecedented victory for investors in the fight to ensure a smooth transition to a low carbon economy.”  The fund holds nearly $1 billion in Exxon shares. 

“Climate change is one of the greatest long-term risks we face in our portfolio and has direct impact on the core business of ExxonMobil,” DiNapoli said.  “The burden is now on ExxonMobil to respond swiftly and demonstrate that it takes shareholder concerns about climate risk seriously.”

Read more at Exxon Shareholders Approve Climate Resolution:  62% Vote for Disclosure

India Would Stick to Climate Accord Even If U.S. Pulled Out

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in talks in Berlin on Tuesday that India would stay in the Paris climate accord even if the United States pulled out, a delegation source said.

Read more at India Would Stick to Climate Accord Even If U.S. Pulled Out

World’s First Commercial CO2 Capture Plant Goes Live

The Climeworks direct carbon capture plant in Switzerland removes carbon dioxide from ambient air. (Credit: Climeworks) Click to Enlarge.
Along with cutting fossil fuel use to zero, removing carbon dioxide from the air is increasingly seen as one way to stop the long-term buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Carbon removal and storage coupled with drawing down fossil fuel use is called “negative emissions.”

Time is running out to perfect the various methods of capturing carbon dioxide and permanently storing it.  Research shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will increase to the point that 2°C (3.6°F) of global warming will be inevitable within the next 22 years.  Scientists consider that level of global warming dangerous, and the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is to stop global warming before that limit is reached.

The technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including planting new forests and building facilities that directly remove and capture climate pollution from the air, is in its infancy.  It has never been tried at a large scale, and nobody knows if it can be used worldwide to remove enough carbon dioxide to slow warming.

The Climeworks plant represents the beginning of an industry that is attempting to perfect the technology.  Other companies, such as British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering, are also working on direct-air capture plants that will commercially suck carbon dioxide from the air.

Sabine Fuss, a sustainable energy researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin who is unaffiliated with Climeworks, said that the company’s direct-air capture plant is the first of its kind to operate on an industrial scale.

“It’s important to note that they will not be permanently storing the CO2 that will be captured,” she said.  “Instead, it will be used for greenhouses, producing synfuels, etc.  No negative emissions will be generated.”

Negative emissions can only occur when the captured carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and then locked away forever, she said.

But Climeworks co-founder Christoph Gebald said the company’s carbon capture plant can be used for carbon sequestration.

Read more at World’s First Commercial CO2 Capture Plant Goes Live

U.S. Resists Plan to Link Climate Change, Ocean Health:  U.N. Co-Chair

A tourist snorkels above coral in the lagoon located on Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef, north-east from the town of Bundaberg in Queensland, Australia, June 9, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/David Gray/File Photo) Click to Enlarge.
The United States is resisting plans to highlight how climate change is disrupting life in the oceans at a U.N. conference of almost 200 nations next week, Sweden's deputy prime minister, who will co-chair the talks, said on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump doubts that global warming has a human cause and that U.S. scepticism has even affected preparations for the June 5-9 U.N. Ocean Conference in New York, Isabella Lovin told Reuters.

The conference is due to issue a "Call for Action" to limit damage to marine life from threats the United Nations says include global warming, over-fishing and pollution such as plastic waste.

"I think I can safely say that the United States has not been very keen on strong language on climate change," Lovin said in a telephone interview.

"We are not prepared to leave that (strong language) out. That's really fundamental," Lovin said of the draft documents.  "The impacts of climate change are almost immeasurable."

Read more at U.S. Resists Plan to Link Climate Change, Ocean Health:  U.N. Co-Chair

Coal Is About to Disappear from New England

Coal shipments arrived by barge at Brayton Point Power Station on the shores of Mount Hope Bay in Somerset, Mass. The plant has long been a linchpin of the South Coast economy. At its height, it employed more than 250 people and accounted for a third of the local tax base. It is scheduled to close Wednesday. (Credit: Benjamin Storrow/E&E News) Click to Enlarge.
For Pat Haddad, a good day is one when she returns home from the state Legislature to see steam rising from Brayton Point Power Station's twin 497-foot-tall cooling towers.  New England's largest coal plant has long powered the economy in Haddad's hometown of Somerset, a community of 18,000 people on the south coast of Massachusetts.

But good days have been few and far between lately.  Soon, they will be gone altogether. Brayton Point will extinguish its boilers for the final time tomorrow.  When it does, coal will have all but disappeared from this six-state region of 14 million people.  Two small and seldom-used coal plants in New Hampshire will be all that remains of a once-mighty industry.

"The sun is literally and figuratively setting," said Haddad, a Democrat who represents Somerset and three other communities in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  "It's so hard to see."

If President Trump is to fulfill his promise of reviving the coal industry, it will have to be without New England.  In 2016, Brayton Point's last full year of operation, coal accounted for 2 percent of the region's power generation.

New England policymakers, united by a common electricity market, are increasingly looking to wind, solar and hydro to meet the region's electricity needs.  Their task amounts to a test for states seeking to decarbonize their power sectors without compromising reliability or sending electric bills skyrocketing.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, collectively 80 percent of the regional market, have committed to slashing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Already, they can claim some impressive achievements.  Wholesale electricity prices hit a record low last year, and carbon emissions from the power sector are down nearly 25 percent since 2000.

The challenges are nevertheless formidable.  Natural gas, already 50 percent of the region's power generation, accounts for the majority of planned power plant additions.  Political divisions among the states mean reaching consensus over how to best achieve deep carbon reductions is difficult.  Maine and New Hampshire, in particular, have expressed wariness over their southern neighbors' carbon-cutting goals.

And aging coal, nuclear, and oil units are retiring at a rapid clip, raising concerns about what will replace them.  ISO New England Inc., the regional grid operator, estimates 15 percent of the region's power capacity will have retired by 2020.

Read more at Coal Is About to Disappear from New England

U.S. Renewable Energy Jobs Employ 800,000+ People and Rising

Twice as many Americans now work in the wind industry as in coal mining, and solar employs many more, but the U.S. still trails the EU and is far behind China.

Renewable Energy Employment (Credit: Paul Horn / InsideClimate News) Click to Enlarge.
Renewable energy jobs are growing around the globe as prices fall and interest in clean power rises.  Worldwide, 9.8 million people are now employed in the renewable energy industry, including 3 million in the booming photovoltaic solar sector, up 12 percent from just a year ago, a new study shows.

The United States has seen explosive growth in renewable energy jobs over the past three years, led by solar jobs (up 82 percent) and wind jobs (up 100 percent), according to new numbers released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Each year, IRENA counts employment in renewable energy by technology and country, including in energy generation, related construction, manufacturing of renewable energy equipment and maintenance.

The numbers tell the story.

In 2016, solar was creating U.S. jobs at 17 times the rate of the national economy, rising to more than 260,000 jobs in the U.S. solar industry today.  In the U.S. wind industry, now with over 100,000 jobs, a new wind turbine went up every 2.4 hours this past quarter.  One driver of this rush to build out solar and wind capacity over the past few years was the expected expiration of key federal tax credits, which were ultimately renewed but with a phase-out over time for wind and solar. 

The total number of U.S. renewable energy jobs still falls short of other countries, however.

The U.S. trails the European Union in renewable energy jobs, about 806,000 jobs to over 1.2 million, according to IRENA's numbers.  (With hydropower excluded, the totals are 777,000 jobs to 1.16 million in the EU).  Brazil also counts more renewable energy jobs, with 876,000, not counting hydropower. 

All three are far behind behind China, the world leader in clean energy employment by far with nearly 4 million jobs, including hydropower.  China's National Energy Administration has projected renewables growth of 2.6 million jobs a year between 2016 and 2020 with a massive investment plan for renewable power generation. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is proposing deep cuts to U.S. investment in clean energy innovation in its 2018 budget.

Read more at U.S. Renewable Energy Jobs Employ 800,000+ People and Rising

Add Nitrous Oxide to the List of Permafrost Melt Concerns

Permafrost peatland in the Arctic. (Credit: Tarmo Virtanen) Click to Enlarge.
Melting permafrost is among the biggest climate change issues.  That’s because it contains billions of tons of carbon that, if it melts, will be released in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas.

Less studied is what happens to the 67 billion tons of nitrogen stored in the currently frozen soil.  New research shows that a permafrost meltdown could cause that nitrogen to be released as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s nearly 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. That would crank up the planetary heat even further, and with it, the risks posed by sea level rise, increasingly extreme weather, and other climate change impacts.

“Until recently, nitrous oxide emissions from Arctic soils were believed to be negligible,” Carolina Voigt, a PhD student looking at Arctic soil chemistry at University of Eastern Finland, said.

But new research that Voigt and her colleagues published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that understanding might be wrong.

Read more at Add Nitrous Oxide to the List of Permafrost Melt Concerns

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

  Tuesday, May 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.

Carbon Cap Rule in Washington State Faces Legal Challenge

Washington State Energy Profile (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Even as the Trump administration seeks to roll back Obama-era rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants, Washington state is forging ahead with its own rules to cap carbon pollution from big industrial facilities.

But the state faces legal challenges as it begins requiring large polluters to gradually reduce carbon emissions over time to combat climate change.

Four natural gas utilities and eight industry groups are seeking to invalidate Washington's so-called clean air rule, which took effect in January and affects such facilities as power plants, fuel and natural gas distributors, oil refineries, and manufacturers.

A Thurston County Superior Court judge is set to hear arguments Friday on one aspect of the case.  Arguments on the merits of the challenge are expected later.

After failing to persuade lawmakers to pass an ambitious cap-and-trade program, Gov. Jay Inslee directed state regulators in 2015 to use existing authority to limit carbon emissions from Washington's largest sources.  He called climate change a threat to the state and said the new regulations would help Washington meet its requirements to reduce carbon emissions.

"We've looked carefully at our law, and we believe we have the authority to do it, and that's the authority we're using," said Stu Clark, air quality program manager with the state Ecology Department.  "That's what the court will sort through.  We didn't do this lightly."

Industry groups led by the Association of Washington Business challenged the regulations last fall.  Four investor-owned natural gas utilities - Avista Corp., Cascade Natural Gas Corp., Northwest Natural Gas Co. and Puget Sound Energy - also filed a separate suit.  The two cases have been consolidated.

Read more at Carbon Cap Rule in Washington State Faces Legal Challenge

'Heat Island' Effect Could Double Climate Change Costs for World's Cities

Overheated cities face climate change costs at least twice as big as the rest of the world because of the 'urban heat island' effect, new research shows.

Tokyo-Yokohama is the most populous urban area in the world. (Credit: © SeanPavonePhoto / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
Overheated cities face climate change costs at least twice as big as the rest of the world because of the 'urban heat island' effect, new research shows.

The study by an international team of economists of all the world's major cities is the first to quantify the potentially devastating combined impact of global and local climate change on urban economies.

The analysis of 1,692 cities, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that the total economic costs of climate change for cities this century could be 2.6 times higher when heat island effects are taken into account than when they are not.

For the worst-off city, losses could reach 10.9 per cent of GDP by the end of the century, compared with a global average of 5.6 per cent.

The urban heat island occurs when natural surfaces, such as vegetation and water, are replaced by heat-trapping concrete and asphalt, and is exacerbated by heat from cars, air conditioners, and so on.  This effect is expected to add a further two degrees to global warming estimates for the most populated cities by 2050.

Higher temperatures damage the economy in a number of ways -- more energy is used for cooling, air is more polluted, water quality decreases, and workers are less productive, to name a few.

Read more at 'Heat Island' Effect Could Double Climate Change Costs for World's Cities0

Rescue Missions Continue for Vogtle and VC Summer Projects

  • Bechtel, Fluor, are reported to be preparing bids to manage the stranded Vogtle nuclear reactor project.
  • Scana is also seeking a new EPC for the V C Summer project.
  • The combined cost overruns are estimated to be $13 billion and the delays for both projects are in the range of three years from the original completion dates.
  • The expected cost at completion of both projects is now estimated to be about $30 billion.  More than 10,000 workers are employed at these sites.

Bechtel Logo (Credit: Bechtel)
In a widely cited report, the Bloomberg wire service describes efforts by two of the nation’s largest EPC firms to prepare bids to potentially take over the construction of the two partially complete Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 nuclear reactors.  Bechtel and Fluor are working on estimates of the cost, and the time, it will take to complete the two reactors.

Fluor NYSE (Credit: exterior Click to Enlarge.The bids will be high risk efforts for both firms as the Vogtle project is already significantly over budget and delayed by several years to consternation of Southern Nuclear.  Westinghouse, which was managing the project, and its main supplier, has declared bankruptcy and is expected to be sold for a fraction of its original value later this year by Toshiba, its parent firm, which is also embroiled in deep financial troubles.

Neither Toshiba nor Westinghouse have been able to present an audited set of financial reports that will give creditors and customers a clear idea where things stand.  Westinghouse has told the news media it is facing over $6 billion in losses due to cost overruns at the Vogtle and Scana sites.

Read more at Rescue Missions Continue for Vogtle and VC Summer Projects

Monday, May 29, 2017

  Monday, May 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.

GMO Crops Could Expect a Brighter Future

Bringing home the harvest: GMO sugarcane could prove more productive than expected. (Image Credit: Jonathan Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
One of the touchier areas of scientific research – in much of Europe, at least – is the genetic manipulation of food plants, seaweed and algae to try to produce more food or provide better rates of conversion into biofuels.  But across the Atlantic genetically-modified crops (GMOs) are increasingly a different story.

They are a deeply controversial subject because early versions of GM food crops had to be dosed in highly toxic chemicals, and claims of higher yields and better nutrition were unproven.  In some cases they caused severe environmental problems, and the European Union maintains a ban on many varieties to this day.

But in the US there has been more acceptance of GMOs as a way of extracting more money from farming, and scientists are encouraged to continue to develop new crops with modified genes.

Two global staples, sugarcane and soya, are being researched by teams from the University of Illinois.  One group at its College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) has shown that sugarcane can be genetically engineered to produce oil in its leaves and stems for biodiesel production.  Surprisingly, the modified sugarcane plants also produced more sugar, which can be used for producing ethanol.

Bigger earners
To compete with traditional crops GMOs have to show they can be more profitable, and the Illinois scientists claim that their sugarcane would produce five times the income of soya and twice as much as corn.

Perhaps more importantly, this sugarcane can be grown on marginal lands in what are known as the Gulf states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Read more at GMO Crops Could Expect a Brighter Future

Antarctica Heights Settle Polar Warming Puzzle

Computer simulation shows that Antarctica is warming far slower than the Arctic region because of its much greater height.

The distant summit of Mount Vinson in Antarctica, rising to 4,892 meters, is higher than Mont Blanc (4,810 meters) in the European Alps. (Image Credit: Torch Magazine via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Scientists believe they have settled one of the great polar puzzles − why Antarctica is warming at a rate so much slower than the Arctic region.  And the answer is a simple one:  Antarctica is so much higher.

To ram the point home, they used a computer simulation to hammer the entire southern continent until it was no more than a meter above sea level.  At which point, in their simulation, warming at the South Pole became much more dramatic.

The two poles are very different:  the Arctic is an ocean almost entirely surrounded by land, while Antarctica is a vast continent entirely surrounded by frozen ocean.

Read more at Antarctica Heights Settle Polar Warming Puzzle

Sunday, May 28, 2017

  Sunday, May 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.

Scientists Just Published an Entire Study Refuting Scott Pruitt on Climate Change

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks with coal miners in Sycamore, Pa., in April. (Credit: Justin Merriman/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
In a sign of growing tensions between scientists and the Trump administration, researchers published a scientific paper Wednesday that was conceived and written as an explicit refutation to an assertion by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about climate change.

The study, in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, sets up a direct test of a claim by Pruitt, made in written Senate comments following his confirmation hearing, that “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming.”

After reviewing temperature trends contained in three satellite data sets going back to 1979, the paper concludes that the data sets show a global warming trend — and that Pruitt was incorrect.

“Satellite temperature measurements do not support the claim of a ‘leveling off of warming’ over the past two decades,” write the authors, led by Benjamin Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  Santer co-authored the study with three Livermore colleagues and scientists from MIT, the University of Washington in Seattle, and Remote Sensing Systems, which keeps one of the three satellite temperature data sets.

“In my opinion, when incorrect science is elevated to the level of formal congressional testimony and makes its way into the official congressional record, climate scientists have some responsibility to test specific claims that were made, determine whether those claims are correct or not, and publish their results,” said Santer in an interview, when asked about the framing of the research.

The study wades into an ongoing and highly fraught debate over how to interpret the temperature records of the planet’s lower atmosphere, or troposphere, provided by polar orbiting satellites.

Such data have often been cited by climate change doubters so as to suggest that there is no global warming trend, or that global warming has recently slowed down, and therefore to contradict thermometer-based measurements taken at the planet’s surface (which show a clear warming trend).

But the new study finds that all of the three satellite data sets — kept by Remote Sensing Systems, the Center for Satellite Applications and Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville — show a long-term warming trend in the middle to upper part of the troposphere. After correcting for a cooling-down of the stratosphere (the layer above the troposphere), the paper finds that the trend is roughly 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit per decade for the first two data sets, and 0.26 degrees Fahrenheit per decade for the third.

Read more at Scientists Just Published an Entire Study Refuting Scott Pruitt on Climate Change

Trump Tells 'Confidants' U.S. Will Leave Paris Climate Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks between Vice President Mike Pence (L) and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt prior to signing an executive order on ''Energy Independence,'' eliminating Obama-era climate change regulations, during an event at the EPA (Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria) Click to Enlarge.
U.S. President Donald Trump has told "confidants," including the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave a landmark international agreement on climate change, Axios news outlet reported on Saturday, citing three sources with direct knowledge.

On Saturday, Trump said in a Twitter post he would make a decision on whether to support the Paris climate deal next week.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A source who has been in contact with people involved in the decision told Reuters a couple of meetings were planned with chief executives of energy companies and big corporations and others about the climate agreement ahead of Trump's expected announcement later in the week.  It was unclear whether those meetings would still take place.

"I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!" he tweeted on the final day of a Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy at which he refused to bow to pressure from allies to back the landmark 2015 agreement.

Read more at Trump Tells 'Confidants' U.S. Will Leave Paris Climate Deal

Trump Budget Still Funds One Big Climate Program

Programs to track emissions from vehicles, factories, power plants, and other sources would continue to receive funding.

Coal Plant [Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)] Click to Enlarge.
One U.S. EPA climate change effort survived the Trump administration’s budget slaughter.

Programs to track greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, factories, power plants and other sources will continue to receive funding, according to the fiscal 2018 budget proposal the White House released Friday.

If Congress approves Trump’s budget, the programs will be among the government’s last substantive federal climate initiatives.

“Having the government pull that data together and do that in a consistent way is extremely important,” said Kevin Kennedy, deputy director for the U.S. Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute.

EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program collects emissions data for carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, along with other greenhouse gases, from more than 8,000 major emitters across the economy, including some power plants and refineries.

The agency shares the data with members of industry, researchers, state and local government, and the public to “better understand emissions inform opportunities, and communicate progress of actions,” according to EPA.

The agency uses that information collected by the program to help develop its annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, which outlines most greenhouse gas emissions throughout the country.  The United States is mandated under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to produce the inventory.  The United States ratified the treaty in 1992.

“The only way to withdraw would be to go through congressional action, and that would take a lot of work at a time when they could be using that effort for other things,” said Pam Lacey, chief regulatory counsel at the American Gas Association, in an interview earlier this year.

Read more at Trump Budget Still Funds One Big Climate Program

How Rising Seas and Coastal Storms Drowned the U.S. Flood Insurance Program

Sea level rise and more severe storms are overwhelming U.S. coastal communities, causing billions of dollars in damage and essentially bankrupting the federal flood insurance program.  Yet rebuilding continues, despite warnings that far more properties will soon be underwater.

The National Flood Insurance Program paid out $8 billion in damages from Hurricane Sandy. (Credit: New Jersey Governor's Office/Tim Larsen) Click to Enlarge.
Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pumped more than ten million cubic yards of sand from offshore dredges to widen Long Beach Island’s beaches and dunes – part of a Sisyphean-like effort to protect the island’s $15 billion of high-calorie real estate.  But there is a problem.  The sand keeps washing away.  A series of storms over the last two years gouged the neatly groomed beaches, costing tens of millions in additional repairs.  When all is said and done, the project will cost more than half a billion dollars, most of the money paid by U.S. taxpayers. 

Like other barrier islands up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Long Beach Island is drowning in slow motion.  Over the last century, researchers estimate that the ocean and bays that flank the island have risen by about a foot.  That doesn’t sound like much, but the added water has made a huge difference in life on the island.  Barnegat Bay now routinely washes over the bulkheads and floods the streets.  Occasionally, school buses have to wait for the water to recede to pick up or drop off children.  Even more worrisome, the rising water makes it easier for storm surge and waves to do more damage in violent storms such as Hurricane Sandy, which wrecked Long Beach Island and the back-bay communities in Ocean County in October of 2012. 

The federal insurance program has subsidized thousands of risky properties along the coast by charging them below-market premiums.

Sea level rise played an important role in Sandy, with historic flooding from Delaware to the Battery in lower Manhattan.  Upward of 100,000 people experienced flooding who otherwise would have been dry, researchers estimate.  Most late season hurricanes veer out to sea by the time they reach the mid-Atlantic.  Sandy took a hard left-hand turn, crashing ashore near Atlantic City and pushing a five-foot plume  up the bays, into places water had never reached before.
Today the NFIP is effectively bankrupt.  It owes the U.S. Treasury nearly $25 billion – money it borrowed from federal taxpayers to cover its obligations in Sandy, Katrina (2005), and Hurricane Ike (2008).  No one expects that money to be repaid.  Some coastal state lawmakers are even calling for Congress to write off the massive debt, contending it is the only way the troubled insurance program, which is up for reauthorization this year, can regain its financial footing. 

Wiping away the debt will help.  But it is only a matter of time until the next big storm drains the coffers again.  Even relatively weak hurricanes cause hundreds of millions in damage, while monster storms like Katrina and Sandy cause billions.  Complicating matters, the NFIP has improbably subsidized thousands of risky properties along the coast – low-lying houses that flood over and over – by charging them below-market premiums to entice them to join the program.   

Now the federal flood program faces no less than an existential threat.  As seas rise, coastal floodplains are expected to expand, exposing more property to routine flooding, surge, and waves.  By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of U.S. houses could be underwater by century’s end and a trillion dollars worth of property at risk.  Much of Long Beach Island’s heavily insured housing could be covered by several feet of water twice a day at high tide, rendering it inaccessible except by boat.  Meanwhile, the average losses for each flood policy could increase by half, according to a 2013 government study, leading to sharp increases in premiums that price out all but the wealthiest property owners. 

Elevating homes above predicted flood levels and adopting other mitigation strategies will help in the short run, says Robert E. Kopp, an expert on climate change and sea level rise at Rutgers University.  But not enough coastal communities are taking the long-term threat seriously.  “So what we have is a lot of changes on the margins,” Kopp said. 

Read more at How Rising Seas and Coastal Storms Drowned the U.S. Flood Insurance Program

Saturday, May 27, 2017

  Saturday, May 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.

Inside the White House War over the Paris Climate Treaty

Reject or revise?  Two factions within the Trump administration are battling it out, with Obama's Clean Power Plan at the heart of the debate.

Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner have been on opposing sides of an internal White House war over the Paris climate treaty. In this analysis, we look at the factions and what rejecting or revising the Paris commitments might mean. (Credit: Pool/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Like Jean Valjean in the sewers, the White House is racing to elude the authorities of Paris, the city that gave its name to the binding 2015 treaty enlisting all nations to address the world's climate change crisis.

Put simply, President Donald Trump faces a choice between two routes—one marked rejection, the other revision—as he seeks to fulfill his campaign pledge to "cancel" the treaty.

That he has this choice stems from two competing impulses that shaped the text of the Paris climate agreement as nations sought to make it both effective and flexible.

The delicate balance they struck was to make the document binding but not compulsory, ambitious but not rigid.  Now, that compromise is being manipulated by two factions, the rejectionists and the revisionists, inside the White House.

Does the agreement attach Houdini-proof manacles on countries?  Leave.  Or is it essentially voluntary, inviting all but entrapping none?  Stay.

How Trump views it may help him decide whether he needs what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dubbed "a seat at the table'' in order to satisfy the president's America-first instincts.

Here are questions and answers about the unfolding debate, based on interviews with insiders and well-informed outsiders.

Read more at Inside the White House War over the Paris Climate Treaty

Fidelity May Back Climate Resolutions, a Milestone for Activists

A Fidelity Investments store logo is pictured on a building in Boca Raton, Florida March 19, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri) Click to Enlarge.
Fidelity Investments may support shareholder proxy proposals calling on companies to report on sustainability matters this year, a major shift by the Boston asset manager as climate activists gain more traction at large U.S. corporations.

While Fidelity will generally vote as company managers recommend on environmental or social issues, "Fidelity may support shareholder proposals calling for reports on sustainability, renewable energy and environmental impact issues," states a new section of its proxy voting guidelines.

The guidelines were put in place in January for this spring's annual meeting season and have not previously been reported.

Fidelity spokeswoman Nicole Goodnow said Fidelity's new policy comes as client interest grows in how companies approach environmental, social, and governance issues.

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Losing Sleep over Climate Change

Areas of the western and northern united states -- where nighttime temperatures are projected to increase most -- may experience the largest future changes in sleep. (Credit: N. Obradovich) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change may keep you awake -- and not just metaphorically.  Nights that are warmer than normal can harm human sleep, researchers show in a new paper, with the poor and elderly most affected.  According to their findings, if climate change is not addressed, temperatures in 2050 could cost people in the United States millions of additional nights of insufficient sleep per year.  By 2099 the figure could rise by several hundred million more nights of lost sleep annually.
Published by Science Advances, the research represents the largest real-world study to date to find a relationship between reports of insufficient sleep and unusually warm nighttime temperatures.  It is the first to apply the discovered relationship to projected climate change.

"Sleep has been well-established by other researchers as a critical component of human health.  Too little sleep can make a person more susceptible to disease and chronic illness, and it can harm psychological well-being and cognitive functioning," Obradovich said.  "What our study shows is not only that ambient temperature can play a role in disrupting sleep but also that climate change might make the situation worse by driving up rates of sleep loss."

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What the U.S. Could Learn from the Dutch on Climate Change

The Netherlands environmental minister highlights the nation’s offshore wind plans, and their perennial battle with high seas.

The Gemini wind farm includes 150 turbines in the North Sea. (Image Credit: Netherlands Embassy) Click to Enlarge.
Earlier this month, the Netherlands completed one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world, as an accelerating wind boom finally helps the country make real progress on its renewable energy goals.

The 600-megawatt Gemini wind park, operating 150 turbines in the North Sea, will serve some 1.5 million citizens.  Several other major offshore wind farms are under development as well, which will collectively push total wind capacity to nearly 4.5 gigawatts by 2023 (see The Wind Fuels the North Sea’s Next Energy Boom).

“As a country we were heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and our way to renewables has been bumpy,” Sharon Dijksma, the nation’s minister for the environment, told MIT Technology Review this week.  “So this government decided that we needed to step up the pace.”

Indeed, the Netherlands had to take bigger swings to meet a binding requirement to reach 14 percent renewable energy sources by 2020 under a European agreement, as well as emission reduction targets under the Paris climate accords.  Clean energy sources currently account for around 6 percent of generation there, lagging well behind most of its European peers.

“When you have enough gas in the ground, you’re not so much looking for anything else,” Dijksma said.  “We were spoiled by natural resources.”

Offshore wind was the logical technology bet for a nation that doesn’t have a lot of sun or much undeveloped land, but does sit adjacent to the breezy North Sea.

Dijksma highlighted the nation’s recent renewable strides at the Climate is Big Business summit this week in San Francisco, one stop in a longer "California mission" to boost collaboration with the state on climate and energy issues.

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Waves Rippled Through Greenland’s Ice. That’s Ominous

Rink Glacier from 34,000 feet. (Credit: John Sonntag/NASA) Click to Enlarge.
On its surface, the Greenland ice sheet is a vast expanse of seemingly immovable ice.  But beneath the monotonous stretch of white, scientists have discovered evidence of waves rippling through one of its outlet glaciers and roiling its innards.

The waves, observed during the two most intense melt seasons on record, sent an unprecedented cascade of ice and water rushing into the sea and warping the very bedrock upon which the ice sits.  As temperatures continue to rise, scientists fear that massive waves of ice could expedite Greenland’s melt even further, pushing sea levels higher.

It’s the latest piece of bad news about Greenland’s ice.  The ice sheet has been pouring roughly 270 megatons of ice a year into the ocean via the glaciers that stretch out from its hulking mass since 2000.  That’s a big uptick compared to preceding decades.

The new research, published earlier this week in Geophysical Research Letters shows a new way that climate change is taking a toll.  Scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, led by Surendra Adhikari, were looking at data from a series of GPS stations set up around the various outlet glaciers that tumble from Greenland’s ice sheet to the sea.  Ironically, they were looking at the GPS data to see if it was worth maintaining the network of stations that rings Greenland.

They found evidence of a never-before-observed phenomenon affecting Rink Glacier, a glacier on the western flank of Greenland.  The glacier usually sends about 11 gigatons of ice into the ocean each summer melt season.

But 2012 was different.  A fast-moving (by glacial standards), massive wave rumbled through the glacier’s interior, causing an extra 6.7 gigatons of ice and water to slosh into the sea.  That’s the equivalent of 55 million blue whales, the largest animal on earth.
Greenland’s melt is currently responsible for roughly 25 percent of observed sea level rise. That percentage could increase in the coming years if what happened at Rink Glacier spreads to other glaciers.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

  Friday, May 26

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.S. Fossil Fuel Groups Pull Out of Climate Change Court Case

Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse, Eugene, OR (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Three fossil fuel industry groups dropped their attempt to intervene in a court case over climate change this week after failing to reach an agreement on a unified legal position on climate science, court filings show.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), prominent trade groups in the oil and gas industry, along with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), intervened in a federal case in which a group of teenagers sued the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights by causing climate change.

The three groups were arguing that a judgment requiring the government to tighten environmental regulations would harm their business interests.  But discord arose among them after a judge ordered them to submit a joint filing stating their views on climate science.

A lawyer representing the three groups said in a court hearing on May 18 that they were unable to agree on the causes and effects of human activity and greenhouse gas emissions on the climate, transcripts of the proceedings show.

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Looking for Trump’s Climate Policy?  Try the Energy Department - The New York Times

Iowa farmland. Historically, the Energy Department has nurtured innovation in the search for new power sources. Now that is in question. (Credit: Dave Kettering/Telegraph Herald, via Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
The Trump administration’s deepest impact on domestic climate policy might have little to do with its efforts to dismantle the Clean Power Plan or its decision on the Paris accord.

Instead, the coming battle over the future of the Energy Department could prove far more significant for the United States’ long-term efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Among energy experts, there is broad agreement that the world still needs major technological advances to halt global warming, like better batteries to integrate larger shares of solar and wind power into the grid, or carbon capture to curb pollution from cement plants.

Historically, the Energy Department has nurtured these kinds of innovations, conducting basic research in its network of 17 national laboratories and aiding private firms struggling to bring risky technologies to market.  But those efforts would be drastically scaled back under President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal, released on Tuesday, which proposes to cut the agency’s energy programs by $3.1 billion, or 18 percent below last year’s levels.

The agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which has helped nudge down the cost of solar power, faces a 69 percent cut.  The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a program that funds research into long-shot energy technologies, like algae biofuels or advanced batteries, would face elimination.  And, despite Mr. Trump’s stated desire to promote “clean coal,” the Office of Fossil Energy, which invests in techniques to scrub carbon dioxide from coal plants and bury it underground, faces an 85 percent cut to its carbon-capture efforts.

Even if members of Congress, who have indicated they will resist many of these changes, shield the agency from cuts, observers worry about the broader effects of an administration skeptical of federal energy research.  Political appointees can still thwart approval of new programs internally — and already appear to be doing so.  Uncertainty over funding could disrupt plans for research at the national labs.  Many career staff members are now contemplating leaving, raising fears of a talent drain.

Read more at Looking for Trump’s Climate Policy?  Try the Energy Department