Monday, July 31, 2017

  Monday, July 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.

Two Degrees F of Warming Already Baked In

Countries at risk with 2C of warming (Credit: climatecentral.org) Click to Enlarge.
Even if humans could instantly turn off all our emissions of greenhouse gases, the Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century, according to a sophisticated new analysis published in Nature Climate Change.  And if current emissions continue for 15 years, odds are good that the planet will see nearly three degrees (1.5) of warming by then.

"This 'committed warming' is critical to understand because it can tell us and policy makers how long we have, at current emission rates, before the planet will warm to certain thresholds," said co-author Robert Pincus, a scientist with CIRES at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA's Physical Sciences Division.  "The window of opportunity on a 1.5-degree [C] target is closing."

During United Nations meetings in Paris last year, 195 countries including the United States signed an agreement to keep global temperature rise less than 3.5 degrees F (2℃) above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts that would limit it further, to less than 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5℃) by 2100.

The new assessment by Pincus and lead author Thorsten Mauritsen, from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology is unique in that it does not rely on computer model simulations, but rather on observations of the climate system to calculate Earth's climate commitment. Their work accounts for the capacity of oceans to absorb carbon, detailed data on the planet's energy imbalance, the climate-relevant behavior of fine particles in the atmosphere, and other factors.

Among Pincus' and Mauritsen's findings:
  • Even if all fossil fuel emissions stopped in 2017, warming by 2100 is very likely to reach about 2.3 F (range: 1.6-4.1) or 1.3 degrees C (range: 0.9-2.3).
  • Oceans could reduce that figure a bit.  Carbon naturally captured and stored in the deep ocean could cut committed warming by 0.4 degrees F (0.2℃).
  • There is some risk that warming this century cannot be kept to 1.5 degrees C beyond pre-industrial temperatures.  In fact, there is a 13 percent chance we are already committed to 1.5-C warming by 2100.
Read more at Two Degrees of Warming Already Baked In

Study Finds Advanced Reactors Will Have Competitive Costs

  • It uses extensive data from eight leading innovators with products under development.
  • It merged “apples & oranges data sets” to draw comparisons.
A new study of contemporary nuclear industry cost projections, previously unavailable to the public, provides new insight into a potential path breaking cost trend for the next generation of advanced nuclear plants.

According to the study, advanced nuclear companies are forecasting cost targets at nearly half the cost of conventional nuclear plants, dramatically improving the value proposition of nuclear energy and presenting a highly cost‐competitive alternative to other baseload options.

The peer reviewed study, undertaken by the Energy Innovation Reform Project (EIRP), with data collection and analysis conducted by the Energy Options network (EON) on its behalf, compiled extensive data from eight advanced nuclear companies that are actively pursuing commercialization of plants at least 250 MW in size.  Full Text of the study (PDF file) here.

The anonymized findings signal a potential end to the economic downsides of nuclear energy.  In fact, at the lower end of the potential cost range, these plants could present the lowest cost generation options available.

“This study signals the potential for a new chapter in the role of nuclear to address the global demand for economic energy solutions,” said Jeff Merrifield, Partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and former commissioner, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“At these costs, nuclear would be effectively competitive with any other option for power generation.  At the same time, this could enable a significant expansion of the nuclear footprint to the parts of the world that need clean energy the most—and can least afford to pay high price premiums for it.”

Read more at Study Finds Advanced Reactors Will Have Competitive Costs

Loss of Arctic Sea Ice Impacting Atlantic Ocean Water Circulation System

Statue of Liberty and ocean rise (Credit: celebritywonder.com) Click to Enlarge.
Arctic sea ice is not merely a passive responder to the climate changes occurring around the world, according to new research.

Scientists at Yale University and the University of Southampton say the ongoing Arctic ice loss can play an active role in altering one of the planet's largest water circulation systems:  the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).

AMOC has a lower limb of dense, cold water that flows south from the north Atlantic, and an upper limb of warm, salty water that flows north from the south Atlantic as part of the Gulf Stream.  AMOC plays a major role in regional and global climate, affecting the Atlantic rim countries -- particularly those in Europe -- and far beyond.  It was featured in the movie "The Day After Tomorrow."

"Conventional thinking has been that if ocean circulation weakens, reducing the transport of heat from low to high latitudes, then it should lead to sea ice growth.  But we have found another, overlooked, mechanism by which sea ice actively affects AMOC on multi-decadal time scales," said professor Alexey Fedorov, climate scientist at the Yale Department of Geology and Geophysics and co-author of a study detailing the findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The first author of the paper is Florian Sévellec, a former Yale postdoctoral researcher in Fedorov's lab who is now an associate professor at the University of Southampton.  Wei Liu, a Yale postdoctoral associate, is another co-author of the study.

Earlier this year, a different Yale-led study cautioned that the AMOC system was not as stable as previously thought.  That study said the possibility of a collapsed AMOC under global warming conditions is being significantly underestimated.

"We've now found this new connection between sea ice and AMOC," Liu said.  "Sea ice loss is clearly important among the mechanisms that could potentially contribute to AMOC collapse."

The researchers based their findings on a combination of comprehensive climate model simulations and novel computations of the sensitivity of ocean circulation to fluctuations in temperature and salinity at the ocean's surface over time.

"In our experiments we saw a potential loss of 30% to 50% of AMOC's strength due to Arctic sea ice loss.  That is a significant amount, and it would accelerate the collapse of AMOC if it were to occur," Fedorov said.

In the short-term, changes in the subpolar North Atlantic have the greatest impact on AMOC, the researchers found; but over the course of multiple decades, it was changes in the Arctic that became most important to AMOC, they said.

"We suggest that Arctic changes on a multi-decadal timescale, such as the decline in sea ice cover that we are currently experiencing, is the most efficient way to weaken the large-scale ocean circulation of the North Atlantic, which is responsible for the oceanic transport of heat from the equator to high latitudes," Sévellec said.

Read more at Loss of Arctic Sea Ice Impacting Atlantic Ocean Water Circulation System

How Congress Is Cementing Trump's Anti-Climate Orders into Law

These efforts are mostly flying under the radar, but they could short-circuit lawsuits and make it harder to restore environmental protections.


Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is pushing legislation that would require Congressional approval for federal coal lease moratoriums. It's one example of how lawmakers are trying to write President Trump's executive orders into law. (Credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty) Click to Enlarge.
President Donald Trump marvels at his own velocity when he boasts about dismantling the Obama climate legacy.  "I have been moving at record pace to cancel these regulations and to eliminate the barriers to domestic energy production, like never before," he said at a recent White House event.

But while Trump focuses on speed, his allies in Congress appear increasingly concerned about the durability of the president's fossil fuel directives.

In recent weeks they have advanced a handful of legislative measures that echo and extend various presidential orders meant to boost coal, oil, and gas production and set aside consideration of climate change.

These moves may seem redundant, but they could provide bulletproof armor during future challenges to Trump's agenda.

"They are ... covering their bases by trying to legislate the rolling back of these safeguards because the process to repeal, undo or rewrite a regulation is as lengthy as the public process that helped establish the standard in the first place," explained Melinda Pierce, chief lobbyist for the Sierra Club.  "And, of course, any attempt to roll back environmental or public health standards can and will be challenged in court."

"The Trump administration is attacking every environmental and health protection we have," said Sara Jordan, legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters.  "If these legislative proposals get passed, it will make it that much harder for the next administration to restore environmental protections."

That's why Congressional Republicans are racing to write his instructions into law.

"We need to put the legislative stamp of approval on what the Trump administration is doing," said Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) during a recent debate on the House floor.

The House already has voted to fast-track Trump's withdrawal of a clean water rule and to streamline future environmental reviews over cross-border pipelines like Keystone XL.  Now, GOP members are pushing forward legislation to bolster Trump's revival of federal coal leasing, and to bar government regulatory agencies from considering the future damages caused by greenhouse gas pollution.

Read more at How Congress Is Cementing Trump's Anti-Climate Orders into Law

‘Issue for the Left’:  How Climate Change Can Shake This Tag - by Leo Barasi

A new poll shows the view that climate change is mostly a left-wing concern is prevalent and problematic.  It’s time to change the conversation.


"The perceived liberal skew of climate change was greater than the perceived conservative skew of immigration, national debt and defense" (Photo Credit: Mark Dixon) Click to Enlarge.
“Climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left.”

From some people that might have been a celebration of how progressives have united in the face of global warming.  But US vice-president Mike Pence didn’t mean it as a compliment.  For him, linking climate change and the left was a way of delaying action.

The idea that climate change is a left-wing plot should be easy to refute.  Concern about rising emissions are visibly not restricted to anti-capitalists.  This year alone, warnings about climate change have come from members of the not-left-wing community that include Walmart, US secretary of defence James Mattis, and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

But Pence wasn’t shooting in the dark.  A new opinion poll shows he was tapping into a widespread belief that people on the left are more worried about climate change.  The poll, conducted by the research agency PSB for my book, The Climate Majority, and reported here for the first time, reflects a problem that could stop the world doing what’s needed to avoid dangerous warming.

The survey asked people in the US which type of person is most likely to be worried about various issues.  Across the range, climate was the issue most identified with liberals, more than both inequality and housing.  Respondents were more than twice as likely to say that liberals are most worried about climate change than that a person’s political views don’t make a difference.  It was seen as the most partisan of all the issues tested:  the perceived liberal skew of climate change was greater than the perceived conservative skew of immigration, national debt and defense.

This is a problem for efforts to avoid dangerous warming.  As long as climate change is thought of as a partisan battleground, it will be hard to persuade enough people that it is a serious threat.

Mike Pence knows this.  He was following the strategy that Republicans have used for more than 20 years, of casting doubt on the motives of people who warn about climate change.  His immediate audience may be conservatives, but the people who really matter are those in the center. His aim is to persuade them that climate change is a matter of debate between entrenched partisans, with the truth somewhere in the middle.

The delaying strategy has worked quite well so far.  The difficulties of passing a climate deal through the US Congress delayed the arrival of an ambitious international climate deal for years.  And while the US has cut its emissions recently – by around 9% in a decade – it started doing so later than many other rich countries and its emissions are still around their mid-1990s level.

But while polarization has already slowed action, the greatest problems are still ahead.  Past emission cuts have mostly come from relatively easy areas like improving efficiency and switching from coal to gas.  Eventually these will be exhausted and further emissions cuts will have to come from areas closer to most people’s day-to-day lives like food and transport.

So long as climate change is seen to belong to the left many people will be tempted to think the threat is exaggerated and that such changes can’t really be necessary.  In that case, how can the polarization be ended?
...
So the challenge isn’t to persuade moderates to worry about climate change:  they already do. Instead, the task is to stop them thinking that climate change worries people on the left more than it worries other people.  That isn’t going to be achieved with more trench warfare between left and right – that only increases the appearance of partisanship.

Instead, we should change the subject.  The question of how the world could deal with climate change is full of controversial possibilities, yet most of these controversies are ignored.  Among these ignored debates are:  whether the best way to reduce polluting activities like flying is to put up the price, meaning only richer people do them; whether communities should have the right to veto cheap renewable energy projects; whether land should be used to grow energy crops at the risk of increasing food prices; and whether the government has a duty to protect all communities from rising sea levels.

What these many controversies have in common is that they provide conflict about climate change without depending on disagreements about whether global warming is real or on only using voices from the left.  The debates would show that people from across the political spectrum consider climate change a serious threat, while being contentious enough to interest non-specialists.

Read more at ‘Issue for the Left’:  How Climate Change Can Shake This Tag

Unless We Share Them, Self-Driving Vehicles Will Just Make Traffic Worse - by David Roberts

A carbon-free, autonomous car is still a car; it still takes up space.

After decades of relative stagnation, the world of transportation is on the cusp of multiple revolutions.  The biggest three:
  1. Electrification:  a shift from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs)
  2. Automation:  a shift from human-piloted vehicles to automated vehicles (AVs) that drive themselves
  3. Ride-sharing:  a shift from privately owned, often single-occupant vehicles to fleets of shared cars, vans, and small and large buses
There has been a great deal of discussion about how these revolutions will proceed.  (I have written about them here; Vox’s Tim Lee wrote about them here.)  Among the questions are how fast they will develop and how they will interact with one another and with current infrastructure.

Urbanists, who have been fighting for decades to shift the focus of urban planners away from cars to a more holistic vision, with a wider variety of transportation options (“multimodal”) and more land devoted to pro-social uses, are particularly interested in these interactions.

For urbanists, these coming transportation revolutions might portend heaven — fewer cars, less parking, more places for biking, walking, and gathering — or they might portend a hell of more cars, more vehicle miles traveled, worse congestion, and more sprawl.

Which of these two futures comes to pass, or what mix of the two, does not depend on technology.  It depends on us — our willingness to discuss, debate, and plan for the future we want.

This need for planning runs counter to the persistent strain of anti-government, anti-regulation ideology in the US.  The whole notion of designing a future, rather than trusting “the market,” sticks in many Americans’ throats.

But as a new study makes clear, we’re going to have to get over that.


Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation (Credit: ITDP) Click to Enlarge.
A new study compares three transportation revolutions
At the heart of the study are three scenarios, running out to 2050.

In the first, business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, there are no revolutions.  Privately owned, low-occupancy ICE vehicles continue to dominate, meeting the surging growth in demand in the developing world.

In the second, two revolutions (2R) scenario, electrification and automation take off.  EV sales rise from 750,000 in 2016 to 5 million in 2020 and rocket up thereafter.  Full automation becomes commercial around 2020 and takes off in 2025.  In both cases costs fall rapidly and automated electric vehicles (AEVs) dominate new car sales by 2040.  Oh, and the electricity sector mostly decarbonizes (an important caveat!).

Meanwhile, ride-sharing does not take off and most cars remain privately owned and low occupancy.  Because automation makes personal vehicle travel easier and more convenient, there is a 10 to 15 percent increase in overall vehicle travel and no reduction in the number of cars on the road.

In the third, three revolutions (3R) scenario, electrification and automation take off and ride-sharing is prioritized, alongside a suite of policies that encourage multimodal urban transportation, resulting in “an ‘ecosystem’ of public transport and ride-hailing services that are harmonious and complementary.”  Private ownership declines precipitously, the average occupancy of vehicles (especially in places like the US, where it is typically low) rises, and the number of cars on the road plummets.

Obviously, none of these scenarios is likely to play out as described.  It is impossible to predict how policy, technology, and social change will develop and interact, especially in a time of such tumult.

But the scenarios can serve as signposts, rough indicators of the consequences of various choices.  And they can tell us a lot about the political economy of the changes to come.

Read more at Unless We Share Them, Self-Driving Vehicles Will Just Make Traffic Worse

Sunday, July 30, 2017

  Sunday, July 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.

Energy Poverty Is a Real Problem.  Coal Is a Bogus Solution. - by David Roberts

Coal only makes global poverty worse.

Some 1.2 billion people around the world lack access to electricity.  2.8 billion burn charcoal, wood, or other biomass to cook and heat their homes.  Lack of access to clean, reliable energy services, or "energy poverty," is a terrible problem for those who face it, leading to hours of drudgery gathering fuels and high mortality from indoor pollution (which kills around 4 million people a year).

Energy poverty stands in the way of better health, better education, and better jobs. Development experts increasingly agree that there is no way to end extreme poverty without making energy access universal.  That’s what the UN and the World Bank have set out to do by 2030 with the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

Meanwhile, the coal industry finds its fortunes on the decline in the developed world, losing out to natural gas and renewables.  All its hopes for survival, much less growth, rest with the developing world.

So it has glommed on to the surge of interest in energy poverty and is now selling itself as a solution.


Man, biking, dreams of coal. (Credit: Peabody Energy) Click to Enlarge.
For instance, here’s Peabody Energy, calling "advanced coal" a solution to energy poverty:

Here’s the World Coal Association doing the same. Here’s Arch Coal providing energy-poverty talking points to Jeb Bush when he attacked the pope over climate change.  Here’s Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray delivering the same talking points on Fox News. Here’s the Daily Caller pushing them, direct from right-wing think tank the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.  Here’s Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  And so on.

Are they right?  Is coal the key to providing universal energy access?

A recent paper from 12 international poverty and development organizations (led by the Overseas Development Institute) argues the negative.  In fact, the opposite is true: Not only will more coal plants do nothing for energy access, they will impose unnecessary suffering on the poor.

Coal causes climate change, which is bad for the poor
There are some interesting, and not so obvious, reasons why this is true, but the most important reason is also the most self-evident:  Coal causes climate change.

Coal is the single biggest contributor to global carbon pollution.  It provides about 30 percent of global energy and produces about 44 percent of global carbon emissions.

Climate change is going to be very, very bad for the global poor, for a wide variety of reasons. It threatens to set back decades of development work.  As Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, puts it, "if we don’t confront climate change, we won’t end poverty."

This separate report from the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) puts the threat into perspective.  "Of the 30 countries most vulnerable to changes in weather patterns and hazards including climate change," it says, "26 are among the world’s poorest — that is, ‘least developed’ countries."  Of the populations most vulnerable, four in ten — over 400 million people — already survive at the edge of subsistence, on $1.25 a day.  (See also this grim report from the Center for Global Development.)


Villagers carry illegally scavenged coal from an open-cast coal mine in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, India, on December 6, 2014. (Photo Credit: Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Pushing global average temperatures past 2 degrees above preindustrial levels threatens the welfare of hundreds of millions of people who are already close to the edge.  And all it will take to push temperatures that high (and higher) is one-third of the coal plants already planned in the world.
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The best, fastest solution to bringing energy access to areas where it is now lacking is distributed energy — solar, biodigesters, batteries, microgrids, and the like.  These micro-energy solutions will not offer a level of energy access equal to what’s available on a strong centralized grid, but they are more than enough for energy-poor communities to take the first few steps up the energy-access ladder, which are huge in terms of welfare and health.

Eventually, those microgrids can be linked up and connected to larger (low-carbon) power plants, so these rural areas can have real, industrialized economies. But in the meantime, distributed energy can reach them a hell of a lot faster than larger power plants and central grids.

Read more at Energy Poverty Is a Real Problem.  Coal Is a Bogus Solution.

More Investors Will Spurn Fossil Fuels

The hardware will fall into disuse and the money will dry up as fossil fuels wind down. (Image Credit: Paul Heinrich via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
Shares in major oil and gas companies are expected to plunge in value in the next three to five years because of climate change-related financial risks, meaning more investors will spurn fossil fuels.  This is the verdict of British asset managers who control billions of pounds of investments in stock markets.

It could have serious consequences for many thousands of people whose pension funds have invested in these companies, as well as many institutions and charities which rely on dividends for their income, according to a report by the Climate Change Collaboration (CCC), a group of four UK charitable trusts. 

They compiled the report from a survey of thirteen of the world’s largest asset managers, who were asked what effect climate change would have on fossil fuel stocks and what alternative investments were available for customers who wanted to avoid them.

The Collaboration is running a campaign to try to get individuals and large institutions like universities and local authorities to divest from the fossil fuel industry because of the damage oil majors are doing to the climate.

Gauging effect
It carried out the survey to see what effect the campaign is having on the people managing the largest amounts of money invested in the sector.

In order to gauge whether investors had got the message, fund managers were asked whether their clients had asked about fossil fuel-free investments.  Every manager replied that many of their clients had mentioned the issue, and many were concerned about it.

Read more at More Investors Will Spurn Fossil Fuels

Saturday, July 29, 2017

  Saturday, July 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.

Time to End Subsidies that Are Destroying Forests

Cutting trees (Photo Credit: Simon Rawles) Click to Enlarge.
Something is destroying our forests.  In tropical regions alone, we lose an area of forest the size of Austria every year.

It is not demand from the forestry sector that is doing this.  It is demand for commodities like beef, soy, and palm oil.  Most of our forests are being felled because of what’s in our refrigerators.

Outdated, perverse subsidies that are still on the books for these agricultural commodities are encouraging this devastation.  They are singlehandedly undermining all of the good laws and incentives that aim to keep our forests intact.

A quick reminder:  forests are not only the lungs of our planet.  They also regulate the water systems that let us exploit hydroelectricity and prevent disasters like floods.  They ensure soil quality is high for growing food hundreds of miles away.  And with their massive carbon storage capacity, they are the best buffers we have against climate change.

When we lose them, we suffer financially.  The catastrophic forest fires that burned across Indonesia in late 2015 were estimated by the World Bank to have cost $16 billion in lost property, ill health, and reduced economic activity.  Those fires were the result of the clearing and draining of Indonesia’s peatland forests for plantations.

If we want to preserve these indispensable organs of life on Earth, we need to rid ourselves of the perverse subsidies that encourage their destruction.

Subsidies may accelerate degradation in various ways.  They will draw more investment to industries than the market would otherwise support.  They lower the cost of consumption of certain products, leading to overconsumption.  And if commodities are sold below market price, governments lose tax income that they might normally funnel into environmental protection.

Between 1990 and 2010 in Ecuador, the government implemented a series of tax and financial incentives aiming to reduce the production cost for palm oil.  Producers bulldozed forests to make room.  The expanding agricultural frontier led to a 47% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture and forest sector in those two decades.

Existing subsidies are difficult to remove even after they have outlived their original purpose. Interest groups that benefit from subsidies lobby to keep them in place, and governments often oblige them to garner political support.

Yet agricultural subsidies can benefit forests if they are designed to improve yields on less land area with fewer inputs.

For example, Indonesia’s palm oil industry achieves yields of 3.8 tons per hectare. Neighboring Malaysia achieves 4.6 tons per hectare.

Subsidies for Indonesian smallholder palm producers helped add 2 million hectares of plantations between 2000 and 2009.  With the right technology and financial support from the government, smallholder farms can increase output without expanding into the forest, and match Malaysia’s production density.  These are the types of subsidies we need to see:  the kind that remove the incentive to simply plow more land.

Read more at Time to End Subsidies that Are Destroying Forests

Sea Level Fears as Greenland Darkens

The Greenland ice sheet covers an area about seven times the size of the UK (Credit: Kate Stephens) Click to Enlarge.
Scientists are "very worried" that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet could accelerate and raise sea levels more than expected.

They say warmer conditions are encouraging algae to grow and darken the surface.

Dark ice absorbs more solar radiation than clean white ice so warms up and melts more rapidly.

Currently the Greenland ice sheet is adding up to 1mm a year to the rise in the global average level of the oceans.

It is the largest mass of ice in the northern hemisphere covering an area about seven times the size of the United Kingdom and reaching up to 3km (2 miles) in thickness.

This means that the average sea level would rise around the world by about seven meters, more than 20ft, if it all melted.

That is why Greenland, though remote, is a focus of research which has direct relevance to major coastal cities as far apart as Miami, London, and Shanghai and low-lying areas in Bangladesh and parts of Britain.

Algae were first observed on the Greenland ice sheet more than a century ago but until recently its potential impact was ignored.  Only in the last few years have researchers started to explore how the microscopically small plants could affect future melting.
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The possibility of biologically inspired melting was not included in the estimates for sea level rise published by the UN's climate panel, the IPCC, in its latest report in 2013.

That study said the worst-case scenario was a rise of 98cm (3.2ft) by the end of the century.

One concern now is that rising temperatures will allow algae to flourish not only on the slopes of the narrow margins of the ice-sheet but also on the flat areas in the far larger interior where melting could happen on a much bigger scale.

Read more at Sea Level Fears as Greenland Darkens

The Tesla Model 3 Is More Than an Electric Car―It’s a Landmark in Automotive History:  Wired

Tesla Model 3 (Credit: Tesla) Click to Enlarge.
The arrival of Tesla's Model 3 signals a new chapter in automotive history, one that erases 100-plus years of the gas engine and replaces it with technology, design, and performance hot enough to make electric vehicles more than aspirational—to make EVs inspirational.
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Creating the Electric Dream
If one is to harken back to draw a comparative analysis to 2007, it's worth remembering that just as there were smartphones before the iPhone, there are other electric cars available now.  But those other vehicles are clunky and awkward.  The Chevrolet Bolt rivals the Model 3 in range and price (and beat it to market), but it hasn’t captured the public imagination.  The BMW i3 is futuristic, using novel materials and the option of a tiny range-extender engine, but buyers aren’t clamoring for it.

With the Model 3 Tesla promises a smoothly integrated electric driving experience, from generation to acceleration.  Customers can walk into shiny white Tesla stores, order a car, a solar roof, and a home storage battery.  They can take long road trips knowing they have access to a proprietary Supercharger network for high speed top-ups.  It’s a neat, tidy, contained ecosystem—just like Apple’s.

And as with Apple, the Tesla brand and Elon Musk’s celebrity is enough to create a fanbase that is legion and enough potential buyers to excite competitors:  Audi, Jaguar, and Porsche, have all shown electric car concepts that are not just functional, but damn sexy.  The e-tron Sportback, the I-Pace, and Mission E all have Tesla in their crosshairs.

“I have to hand it to Tesla, and the leadership in particular, for being able to create the hype and use public market equity as a source of for generating a whole new narrative about cars,” says R.A. Farrokhnia, Columbia University business and engineering professor.

Building an Autonomous Future
The car should be a leader in self-driving, too.  Right now, Tesla’s Autopilot function is semi-autonomous, so the car will only drive itself on a highway and requires a person behind the wheel.  But some day soon Tesla will send an over-the-air update that enables full self-driving for all its cars on the roads—no hardware changes needed.  It’ll be like the day Apple introduced the app store.  Flicking that switch led advances that nobody imagined from a phone:  new ways to do things like date and move money, social media’s dominance, and the rise of the sharing economy.  This Tesla change will enable drivers will come up with clever ways to lend, share, and monetize their vehicles in ways that are inconceivable now.

Read more at The Tesla Model 3 Is More Than an Electric Car―It’s a Landmark in Automotive History

VW, in Settlement, to Build Electric Vehicle Stations

An electric vehicle charging station in California. (Credit: dj venus/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Volkswagen will build a massive network of electric vehicle charging stations across California as part of a settlement over its diesel emissions scandal.

The California Air Resources Board has voted unanimously to approve the $200 million plan as the first of a number of steps the German automaker has proposed to take to help cut greenhouse gas emissions in California.  In total, the company has agreed to spend $800 million on zero-emissions electric vehicle infrastructure in the state over 10 years.

The plan calls for 2,500 vehicle chargers to be installed at more than 350 stations across California, complementing a nationwide network of charging stations the company is installing in 38 states.  Stations will be spaced an average of about 70 miles apart in California.

In 2015 the state and the Environmental Protection Agency found that Volkswagen had installed a “defeat device” in its diesel vehicles that would improve vehicle performance and cut pollution during emissions tests.

When the vehicles were being driven under normal conditions, they would emit nitrogen oxide pollution up to 40 times the levels that the EPA allows.  The discovery of Volkswagen’s cheating led to three criminal felony counts, $2.8 billion in penalties, and an agreement to prevent future violations.

Read more at VW, in Settlement, to Build Electric Vehicle Stations

Young People’s Burden:  Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions - by James Hansen

Global Temperature in Holocene (last 11,700 years ) Click to Enlarge.
Above paper was published Friday in Earth System Dynamics.

Conclusions include:
  1. Global warming in the past 50 years has raised global temperature (Fig. 1) well above the prior range in the Holocene (the current interglacial period, approximately the past 11,700 years) to the level of the Eemian period (130,000 to 115,000 years ago), when sea level was 6-9 meters (20-30 feet) higher than today.
  2. Global warming can be held below 1.5°C (the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement) if rapid reductions of global CO2 emission (at least 3%/year) begin by 2021 and if there is no net growth of other climate forcings (Fig. 2).  However, 1.5°C global warming exceeds estimated Eemian temperature and is not an appropriate goal.
  3. The growth rate of greenhouse gas climate forcing has accelerated markedly in the past several years (Fig. 3), a conclusion starkly at odds with the common narrative that the world has recently turned the corner toward a solution of the global warming problem.
  4. An appropriate goal is to return global temperature to the Holocene range within a century.  Such a goal was still achievable in 2013 if rapid emission reductions had begun at that time and if there were a global program for reforestation and improved agricultural and forestry practices.  Now climate restoration this century would also require substantial technological extraction of CO2 from the air.  If rapid emission reductions do not begin soon, the burden placed on young people to extract CO2 emitted by prior generations may become implausibly difficult and costly.
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An Appeals Court Just Pressed Pause on the Much-Watched Youth Climate Lawsuit Against Trump

The Trump administration has filed a petition that calls for an appeals court to step in and independently review a decision made by a federal judge last year to allow a climate lawsuit to move to trial. (Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP) Click to Enlarge.
A landmark climate change lawsuit, brought against the federal government by 21 children, has encountered yet another hurdle on its way to trial.  A higher court has just stepped in and ordered a temporary stay on the proceedings while it considers an unusual petition from the Trump administration that could prevent from the case from moving forward at all.

The petition, filed last month by the Justice Department with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, requests a rarely invoked legal procedure known as a writ of mandamus, which allows higher courts to independently review — and potentially overturn — decisions made by lower courts before they have even held a trial.  In this case, the petition calls for the appeals court to step in and independently review a decision made by a federal judge last year to allow the climate lawsuit to move to trial.  The Trump administration has also requested a stay on the lawsuit’s proceedings until the 9th Circuit makes a decision on its petition.

On Tuesday the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ordered a temporary stay until it can make a decision on whether to consider the Trump administration’s requests.  According to Julia Olson, chief counsel for the plaintiffs and director of advocacy organization Our Children’s Trust, the 9th Circuit has not actually honored any of the Justice Department’s motions yet. The stay, she said, was enacted “on the court’s own initiative,” and the order notes that “the petition for a writ of mandamus and all other pending motions will be addressed by separate order.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on the new development in the case.

The order comes just three weeks after U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin set an official trial date of Feb. 5 for the case.  Should the lawsuit get to that point, the plaintiffs — 21 youths now between the ages of 10 and 21 — will argue that the federal government has violated their constitutional rights by promoting the production of greenhouse gases through the use of fossil fuels and damaging the climate system.  The case was initially filed during the Obama administration and has since been inherited by President Trump.

But the federal government has been steadily working to stop the case from progressing.  The petition for a writ of mandamus is the latest of several measures taken by the Justice Department, including a motion under the Obama administration to have the case dismissed, denied by a federal judge in November, and a subsequent motion under the Trump administration to have this ruling overturned, also denied.

The petition for writ of mandamus, widely considered the “Hail Mary” of legal procedures, is the last measure that could potentially stop the case from going to trial.  The request is an “extraordinary” move, according to James May, a law professor and chief sustainability officer at Widener University who is not involved with the lawsuit, and even considering it would be an unusual decision on the part of the 9th Circuit.

In fact, ordering a stay on the lawsuit’s proceedings is a rare move in and of itself, he said. Courts of appeal typically don’t get involved in lower courts’ affairs until the proceedings have progressed to trial, or at least “to a point where there’s something to review,” he told The Washington Post.  While he noted that it’s impossible to predict what the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit will decide to do next, he added that he doesn’t feel the order is a “positive development” for the plaintiffs.

But Olson remains optimistic.

“I don’t think it’s a setback at all,” she said.  “And all it means is that they are preparing an order on the Department of Justice’s request for the court to take up this writ of mandamus and motion for a stay.  The court has a duty to consider these motions and decide them, and that’s what it’s doing right now.”

Read more at An Appeals Court Just Pressed Pause on the Much-Watched Youth Climate Lawsuit Against Trump

Friday, July 28, 2017

  Friday, July 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.

Climate Change Is About to Remake the Insurance Industry

Flooded car (Photo Credit: Sezgin Pancar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Most businesses know that eventually, they could be profoundly affected by climate change.  What’s surprising is how quickly the shifts, threats, and costs are materializing.

Take the insurance industry, which might be expected to profit as people seek to ward off losses.  But instead, it’s thrown into disarray when those losses are no longer possibilities, but inevitabilities.  At a certain point, as the likelihood of extreme weather events increases, insurance companies are “not selling a risk aversion remedy to people,” says Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law School who specializes in risk perception.  “[They’re] getting taken to the cleaners.”

A recent industry study found that last year there were 750 major “loss events” like earthquakes, storms, and heat waves, well above the 10-year annual average of 590. Analytics firm CoreLogic has found that 6.9 million homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of damage from hurricane storm surge that could cost more than $1.5 trillion.

What’s more, flood insurance was not a lucrative business to begin with. Congress set up the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968 as it became clear that private companies couldn’t profitably provide coverage. Now, nearly half a century later, the program is—ahem—under water by $24.6 billion. As a result, there’s a push to move flood insurance toward the private market. That could mean less building in flood-prone areas, as they become effectively uninsurable thanks to sky-high rates. Says Morningstar’s Brett Horn: “Frankly, that’s not a bad outcome.”

Read more at Climate Change Is About to Remake the Insurance Industry

GE, Invenergy Build Wind Farm in Oklahoma, Biggest in the U.S.

General Electric GE 2.5 - 120 - 2,50 MW - Wind turbine (Credit: en.wind-turbine-models.com) Click to Enlarge.
Power development company Invenergy LLC and General Electric Co on Wednesday announced plans to build the largest wind farm in the United States in Oklahoma, part of a $4.5 billion project to provide electricity to 1.1 million utility customers in the region.

The 2-gigawatt Wind Catcher wind farm is under construction in the Oklahoma panhandle and will come online in 2020.  The facility will be linked to a 350-mile dedicated power line that will send the wind farm's electricity to Tulsa.

American Electric Power Co Inc is asking utility regulators in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma to approve plans to build the power line, which will serve customers of its Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Southwestern Electric Power Company regulated utility units.

The utilities also plan to buy the wind farm from Invenergy once it is built.

GE will provide 800 2.5-megawatt turbines for the project.

The cost of wind power has fallen dramatically in recent years, making it competitive with electricity generated from fossil fuels.  The wind farm and transmission line are expected to save utility customers more than $7 billion over 25 years, the companies said in a joint statement.

Read more at GE, Invenergy Build Wind Farm in Oklahoma, Biggest in the U.S.

Cracked

New 2016/17 crack near the center of Petermann Gletscher’s ice shelf as reported by Washington Post on Apr.-14, 2017. Click to Enlarge.
A major glacier in Greenland might be breaking apart. That’s the buzz this week in the polar science community after a big new iceberg emerged at Petermann Glacier in far northwest Greenland. Scientists first spotted an extensive network of cracks in Petermann earlier this year.  The worry is that those cracks may widen during the next few weeks, the warmest part of the short Greenland summer.

Petermann is one of the largest and most important glaciers in the world, with a direct connection to the core of the Greenland ice sheet.  That means that even though this week’s new iceberg at Petermann is just 1/500th the size of the massive one that broke off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica earlier this month, it could eventually have a much bigger effect on global sea levels.  Scientists believe that if Petermann collapses completely, it could raise the seas by about a foot.

Major breakups also happened at Petermann in 2010 and 2012, but the location of the current cracks suggests the glacier could soon shrink to its smallest size in recorded history. Research conducted in the last two years has shown that it’s melting from both below and above, speeding up its eventual collapse.  Another recent study showed that meltwater from Greenland is now the leading cause of global sea-level rise, increasing more than five-fold since 1993.  Not good.

Read more at Cracked

Climate Change Means More Fuel for Toxic Algae Blooms

The sickly green color marks a toxic algae bloom in the western part of Lake Erie in August, 2014. The bloom caused the city of Ohio to temporarily ban drinking water from the city supply, which is pulled from the lake. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory) Click to Enlarge.
For two days in early August 2014, the 400,000 residents in and around Toledo, Ohio, were told not to drink, wash dishes with, or bathe in the city’s water supply.  A noxious, pea green algae bloom had formed over the city’s intake pipe in Lake Erie and levels of a toxin that could cause diarrhea and vomiting had reached unsafe levels.

The bloom, like the others that form in the lake each summer, was fed by the excessive amounts of fertilizer nutrients washed into local waterways from surrounding farmland by spring and summer rains.  Efforts are underway around the Great Lakes ­— as well as other places plagued by blooms, like the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay — to reduce nutrient amounts to control the blooms, which can wreak havoc on the local ecology and economy.

But new research shows that climate change is going to make those efforts more and more difficult.  As warming temperatures lead to increases in precipitation, more nitrogen, one of those nutrients feeding the blooms, will be washed into the nation’s waterways, the work, detailed in the July 28 issue of the journal Science, finds.

The biggest increases in such nitrogen loading will likely come in the Midwest and Northeast, areas already seeing the biggest uptick in heavy downpours.

The findings show the urgency of coming up with policies to reduce nutrient overloads, and the importance of keeping climate change in mind when devising them.

Read more at Climate Change Means More Fuel for Toxic Algae Blooms