Tuesday, October 31, 2017

  Tuesday, Oct 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.

Prepare for a World 3°C Warmer in 80 Years

The UN expects a world 3°C warmer by 2100, even if countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions as they promised in 2015.

Mauna Loa observatory, Hawaii: Tracking the path to a world 3°C warmer. (Image Credit: LCDR Eric Johnson, NOAA Corps via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
Governments should accept that we shall probably be living in a world 3°C warmer than it is today by the end of this century unless they urgently step up the speed at which they cut greenhouse gases, a United Nations assessment says.

As things stand, the UN says, even fully implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement (concluded in 2015) will deliver only one third of what is needed for the world to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

It will make “a temperature increase of at least 3°C by 2100 very likely” – meaning that governments need to deliver much stronger pledges when they are revised in 2020.

“Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker,” says the assessment, in this year’s edition of the Emissions Gap report, produced by UN Environment and released ahead of next week’s UN climate change conference in the German city of Bonn.

The report says the national pledges made in the Agreement two years ago will deliver only a third of the reduction in emissions needed by 2030 to meet the climate targets which governments agreed.  And it says action by the private sector and by cities and other groups below national level is not increasing fast enough to help to close the gap.
But the report does suggest practical ways to make deeper and more rapid cuts in emissions through rapidly expanding action to reduce them, based on existing options in the agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry, and transport sectors.

Strong action on other climate warmers – such as hydrofluorocarbons, through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and other short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon – could also make a real contribution.  The Amendment aims to phase out the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons – chemicals primarily used in air conditioning, refrigeration and foam insulation.

“One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

“This is unacceptable.  If we invest in the right technologies, ensuring that the private sector is involved, we can still meet the promise we made to our children to protect their future.  But we have to get on the case now.”

Read more at Prepare for a World 3°C Warmer in 80 Years

Top 250 Firms Emit Third of CO2; Few Have Strong Goals to Cut

Dragline excavator in a opencast coal mine (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
The world’s 250 biggest listed companies account for a third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions yet few have strong goals to limit rising temperatures, a study showed on Tuesday.

Coal India, Gazprom, and Exxon Mobil topped the list when measuring carbon dioxide emitted by companies and by consumers using their products, it said.

“Without continual reduction in emissions from this group of companies, effectively mitigating the long-term risks of climate change is not possible,” according to the study, a Thomson Reuters Financial & Risk white paper.

In the past three years, emissions from the group of 250 had been flat “when they should have been going down by roughly three percent per year” to limit temperatures in line with goals set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement, it said.

The report, written in collaboration with Constellation Research & Technology, emissions tracking group CDP, and BSD Consulting, found the group emitted a third of world carbon emissions and that only about 30 percent of the 250 firms had set strong goals to curb them.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, almost 200 nations promised to curb emissions to limit more heat waves, downpours and rising sea levels and said they would work to involve the private sector.
Tim Nixon, a co-author at Thomson Reuters, said the study found “no evidence” that companies adopting stronger policies to reduce their carbon emissions paid a penalty in terms of shareholder returns, profits or employment.

And case studies of companies including Xcel Energy, Ingersoll Rand, and Total, which have acted strongly to curb emissions, showed there may even be a significant benefit to action, he said.

Almost 200 nations will meet in Bonn, Germany, next week to work on a detailed “rule book” for the Paris Agreement and ways to bolster the pact after Trump’s planned withdrawal.

Read more at Top 250 Firms Emit Third of CO2; Few Have Strong Goals to Cut:  Study

Impact of Climate Change on Health Is ‘The Major Threat of 21st Century’

 A sign cautions people not to dive from a bridge over the Kern River, which has been dried up by water diversion projects and prolonged drought, in Bakersfield, California. (Photo Credit: Scott London) Click to Enlarge.
The health of millions of people across the world is already being significantly harmed by climate change, a major new report finds.

From driving up the number of people exposed to heatwaves to increasing the risk of infectious diseases, such as dengue fever, climate change has had far-reaching effects on many aspects of human health in last few decades, the authors say.

In fact, the effect of climate change on human health is now so severe that it should be considered “the major threat of the 21st century”, scientists said at a press briefing held in London.

The report is the first from the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, a project involving 24 academic institutions and intergovernmental organisations from across the world.  The project plans to release a report tracking progress on climate change and global health every year.

Feeling the heat
The report uses a set of 40 indicators to track the effects of climate change on global health.  The first of these indicators assesses the “direct impacts” of climate change on human health, including the effects of exposure to extreme heat and natural disasters.

One of the report’s findings is that, from 2000 to 2016, the rise in the average temperatures that humans were exposed to was around three times higher than the rise of average global temperatures worldwide.
The average temperatures that humans are exposed to are significantly higher than the global surface average because most people live on land, where warming happens most quickly, explains Prof Peter Cox, an author of the new report and a climate scientist at the University of Exeter.  He tells Carbon Brief:
“Generally speaking, when you look at where people are, the rate of change appears much larger than when we look at global averages.  So maybe when we think about global targets, we should be always bearing in mind that the global mean temperature doesn’t really mean much to most people.  We don’t live on the ocean, which is two-thirds of the global mean.  We live on the land, and on the land that tends to warm fastest.”
The report also finds the number of “vulnerable” people exposed to “heatwave” events increased by around 125 million between 2000 and 2016.  “Vulnerable” is here defined as being over the age of 65, while a “heatwave” is defined as three consecutive nights where temperatures are in the top 1% of the 1986-2006 average for the region.

In 2015, a record 175 million more people were exposed to heatwaves, when compared to the average for 1986-2008, the report finds.

Read more at Impact of Climate Change on Health Is ‘The Major Threat of 21st Century’

CO2 Levels Rose at Record Rates in 2016

Smokestacks (Credit: e360.yale.edu) Click to Enlarge.
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rose at record-breaking speed in 2016, 50 percent faster than the average over the past decade, according to a new report from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization.  CO2 levels hit 403.3 parts per million last year, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015.

Last year’s record rise in CO2 was driven by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and land use change, and deforestation, as well as by a strong El Niño event, which triggered droughts in the tropics and decreased the ability of forests, vegetation, and oceans in those areas to absorb CO2.

The WMO said the abrupt changes to CO2 in the atmosphere witnessed over the past 70 years are “without precedent” and could lead to “severe ecological and economic disruptions.”  The last time the earth experienced similar CO2 levels was 3-5 million years ago, when temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius hotter and seas were 10-20 meters higher than today, according to the report.

“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” WMO Secretary–General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.  “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”

Read original at CO2 Levels Rose at Record Rates in 2016

World’s 8th Largest Bank Ceases Funding for Tar Sands Pipelines

BNP Paribas (Credit: cleantechnica.com) Click to Enlarge.
On Wednesday October 11th, banking giant BNP Paribas announced that it is cutting ties with companies whose main business is connected with shale and/or oil from tar sands.  The move has been lauded by climate activists around the world, who are calling for other banks to follow BNP Paribas’ example.

The announcement also stated that the bank will stop financing transportation projects for shale oil and tar sands, and will not finance any oil or gas projects in the Arctic.

In a statement, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, director and CEO of BNP Paribas wrote:  “In concrete terms, these decisions mean that we will cease providing finance to a number of companies and organisations that are not making an effort to be part of the transition to a less greenhouse gas-emitting economy.”

This move has been widely welcomed as a huge win for the climate, with many celebrating the decision.  Private finance campaigner Lucie Pinson, from Friends of the Earth France has said it’s “great news for the climate and a huge victory for the groups who have been mobilizing in support of indigenous peoples who are on the front line of the impacts of tar sands, shale gas, and LNG projects in North America.”

Read more at World’s 8th Largest Bank Ceases Funding for Tar Sands Pipelines

CCNY Study Reveals Power Supply Might Not Be as Vulnerable to Climate Change As We Thought

Climate and water resource change impacts on available capacity (Credit: nature.com/nclimate/journal) Click to Enlarge.
Here's a bit of surprising news.  A closer look at how climate change could impact our power supply shows that America's infrastructure might be more adaptable than scientists anticipated.

The results appear in a paper published in Nature Climate Change by Ariel Miara, a PhD Candidate in The City College of New York's Grove School of Engineering and Charles J. Vörösmarty, Presidential Professor of civil engineering in the Grove School.  One of the study's key findings: climate change will negatively affect U.S. power supply reliability.  But maintenance and a commitment to cleaner, more efficient energy technology and infrastructure may in fact result in a more resilient power grid.

Miara and other Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), Graduate Center, CUNY scientists worked with researchers from National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories to do a deeper assessment of U.S. power supply vulnerabilities.  The team analyzed 1,080 thermoelectric plants across the contiguous United States under future climate conditions and evaluated both their individual and collective performance across 19 North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) sub-regions.  Previous studies projecting power supply capacity only considered individual plant capabilities without placing them in a more realistic, regional systems-wide context.

Although the study's findings are encouraging, the paper's authors say further understanding of the collective strengths and vulnerabilities of the U.S. power grid in the face of climate change is essential.

Read more at CCNY Study Reveals Power Supply Might Not Be as Vulnerable to Climate Change As We Thought

Monday, October 30, 2017

  Monday, Oct 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.

Italy to Phase Out Coal by 2025

Coal plant (Credit: cleantechnica.com) Click to Enlarge.
In an announcement widely celebrated as great news for the climate, Italy’s economic development minister confirmed that his country is committed to phasing out coal and will end all use by 2025.  However, the strategy of how the country expects to meet this commitment has yet to be revealed.

The statement on Tuesday the 24th of October adds Italy to the list of countries which have pledged to end coal burning: the UK, Canada, and France.

Coal accounted for roughly 30% of the electricity generated in the UK in 2014, the year before its government made its own announcement to phase out the fossil fuel by 2025.  In  2016 that figure had fallen to 9%, and on April 21st 2017, the UK had its first 24-hour period without coal-fired power generation since shortly after the Industrial Revolution, in 1882.

An abundance of hydroelectric resources in Canada mean that just 20% of the country’s energy use relies on coal.  And France, which made a pledge to phase out coal by 2022 in July 2017, gets just 4% of its power from coal due to its extensive nuclear energy industry.

Italy’s use of coal-fired power falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.  15% is the figure given by Argus, but approximately 90% of the coal burned in Italy is imported from overseas — from countries such as Russia, Australia, the US, and South Africa.  The closure of Italian coal-fired plants by 2025 will therefore have more of an impact on coal exporting countries around the world than on the Italian economy.

Read more at Italy to Phase Out Coal by 2025

Tesla Just Brought Solar to a Hospital in Puerto Rico.  The Rest of the Island Won't Be As Easy.

Tesla solar panels will provide power to a children’s hospital, Hospital del Niño, in Puerto Rico. (Credit: Tesla) Click to Enlarge.
There’s no doubt that the technology to reliably power most of Puerto Rico with distributed renewables exists.

But refashioning Puerto Rico’s grid is not a question of technology.  Rather, the dire state of the territory’s finances poses a significant obstacle to new investment in its energy infrastructure.  Ultimately, building a greener, more resilient, independent grid rests on whether there is enough money and political will to see the vision through.

Puerto Rico’s energy woes predate Maria and go beyond the grid
Though this brutal aftermath of the storm has brought Puerto Rico’s power sector’s weaknesses into sharp relief, it was creaking long before Hurricane Maria struck and even before the island’s financial downturn.

As Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell explained, as tax breaks faded, businesses left the island, and so did workers and utility customers, eating into the revenue of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the unregulated utility monopoly.

The utility spiraled in debt and barely kept up with maintaining the power grid, let alone modernizing Puerto Rico’s energy system, as outlined in a 2016 assessment commissioned by the Puerto Rico Energy Commission.

“PREPA’s fundamental infrastructure is in jeopardy due to a lack of funding and significant workforce reductions,” according to the report.  “PREPA’s generation, transmission, and distribution systems are falling apart and reliability is suffering.”

Judith Enck, who until January ran EPA’s Region II, which includes Puerto Rico, said the utility also failed to make upgrades when times were good, content with its monopoly status.

“This predated the financial collapse in Puerto Rico.  The fundamental problem is PREPA,” Enck said.  “I met regularly with the utility in Puerto Rico and encouraged them to invest in energy efficiency and renewables, but there was tremendous resistance.”

Despite ample wind and sun, some of the highest electricity prices in the country, and the steep cost decline in renewable energy technologies, Puerto Rico has fallen far behind other US regions in renewable energy investment, forming barely 2 percent of its generation mix.
Yet to many people outside the island, the destruction to such a beleaguered power system appears to be an opportunity to rebuild better and cleaner.  “The only silver lining, if there is one, is that they have an opportunity to completely change how they generate and distribute electricity on the island,” said Enck.
And shifting away from big, centralized power plants and large power grids toward smaller distributed systems does confer some advantages when it comes to standing up to storms and rebuilding after.
Revamping the grid will cost Puerto Rico dearly.  And no one seems to have a plan to pay for it.
Battery-backed microgrids are predicted to attract $22.3 billion in investment over the next 10 years, spurred in part by the outages after recent storms.

But switching to a distributed grid dominated by renewables and energy storage systems won’t make Puerto Rico invincible to storms, and they also introduce their own problems.

The biggest issue is cost.

“We can build power systems that are almost 100 percent reliable but they are not going to be cost-effective,” said Schneider.
The Trump administration has also shown a questionable commitment to recovery in Puerto Rico, with the president threatening on October 12 to withdraw FEMA and military responders.  But Trump also broached forgiving Puerto Rico’s debt.

That means the default solution — rebuilding the island’s electrical grid the way it was — may end up becoming the likeliest scenario.

For now, the US Army Corps of Engineers is concentrating its power restoration work across four fronts: providing emergency power, getting existing power plants up to speed, rebuilding power transmission lines, and repairing distribution systems.

Read more at Tesla Just Brought Solar to a Hospital in Puerto Rico.  The Rest of the Island Won't Be As Easy.

Even Climate Deniers Seem to Think Scott Pruitt Is Bullshitting - by David Roberts

His inquiries into climate science may not be entirely good-faith.

“I just want more better sciencing, is what I’m saying.” (Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Click to Enlarge.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said that he wants “true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion” of climate change — something that, in his opinion, the US has never had.

He has proposed a “red-team, blue-team” exercise, modeled on military and cybersecurity decision-making, with one team making the case for climate change (its reality and urgency) and one team against.  A series of public exchanges between these teams, he said in a recent interview, would be like “peer review happening in real time.”

Anyone with any faith or confidence in American scientific institutions and practices will recognize that this is terrible idea.  But here’s the funny thing.  They’re not the only ones.

Guess who said this:  “EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposal for a Red Team-Blue Team exercise is vague, probably would not be effective, and is unlikely to come about.”

That’s Joseph Bast, CEO of the Heartland Institute, a think tank specializing in climate denial, recording his impressions in a leaked email to staff after discussing the red-team idea with Pruitt.

Bast and the fellow deniers in his circle would very much like a public debate of climate science — they are nothing if not true believers.  But if there is to be one, Bast said, it will likely come from some other agency “with more interest than Pruitt has shown in the scientific debate and more likely to stick around to see the results.”


The question before us, then, is this:  just how much of a party hack do you have to be for the Heartland guy to see that you’re bullshitting?

That is the subject I would like to explore with you here today.

Read more at Even Climate Deniers Seem to Think Scott Pruitt Is Bullshitting

How Fossil Fuel Allies Are Tearing Apart Ohio's Embrace of Clean Energy

With scare studies, policy drafts and political donations, industry groups turned Ohio lawmakers against policies they once overwhelmingly supported.

Ohio's Electricity Mix:  Coal Is Losing Ground (Credit: Paul Horn / InsideClimate News) Click to Enlarge.On March 30, Bill Seitz, a charismatic Republican, took to the floor of the Ohio House to make a case for gutting a 2008 law designed to speed the adoption of solar and wind as significant sources of electricity in the state.  The law, he warned, "is like something out of the 5-Year Plan playbook of Joseph Stalin."  Adopting a corny Russian accent, he said, "Vee vill have 25,000 trucks on the Volga by 1944!'"

Nine years before, Seitz and his colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, had voted overwhelmingly for the measure he now compared to the work of a Communist dictator. It made Ohio the 25th state to embrace requirements and inducements to lure utilities away from coal, a major contributor of the gases fueling global climate change.  Studies suggested the law would help create green energy jobs and boost the Ohio economy—and it has.Now, Seitz said, it was obsolete.  Natural gas, rapidly displacing coal, was the resource Ohio ought to foster, he said.  He also argued the law gives an unfair advantage to wind and solar when the state's last nuclear plant is fighting for its life.  Most important, Seitz insisted, the government had no business telling anyone what kind of energy to buy.  By the time he was done, he had secured a veto-proof majority to undo key parts of the law.

What happened to turn lawmakers so decisively against a statute they'd adopted 93-to-1 less than a decade ago?

The answers begin with the 2008 financial crisis, which hit Ohio hard and greatly depressed energy demand, and they include the shale gas boom, which benefited Ohio producers and made coal uncompetitive.

Choke Hold Series
But there's more to the story, too.

As fossil fuel interests mobilized at the national level to fight proposals to mitigate climate change that would undercut their profits, they made Ohio a priority for fighting clean energy policy at the state level.  Beginning in earnest in 2011, a network of coal companies, utilities, think tanks, nonprofit foundations and political action committees coalesced to roll back Ohio's alternative energy initiatives.

Industry-supported think tanks provided highly questionable research purporting to show big job losses.  An industry group claiming to represent consumers—and accused of using fraudulent tactics before regulatory agencies—advised Seitz's staff on how to water down the definition of alternative energy.  And industry sources donated to the campaigns of state politicians, like Seitz, who've kept the repeal-and-replace bills coming, even after Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed a similar effort.

This network includes Americans for Prosperity, a foundation funded by the energy magnates Charles and David H. Koch; the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group known for its criticism of climate change science; and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), another conservative nonprofit in Washington with Koch ties that frequently spoon-feeds draft legislation to state politicians.

Seitz is on ALEC's national board of directors, but he bristles at the suggestion that he relies on the council for guidance.  "ALEC doesn't drive me," he told InsideClimate News.  "If anything I drive ALEC."  Either way, in 2012 ALEC adopted an "Electricity Freedom Act" that reads like a declaration of war against the kind of energy rules on the books in Ohio and calls for the effort to reject them that Seitz leads.

The Rise of Clean Energy Scare Studies
"Ohio has a legitimate claim to being a leader in renewable energy, which is what makes the effort to stymie renewables here all the more ironic," said Bill Spratley, former executive director of Green Energy Ohio, an advocacy organization in Columbus.  He said if the Seitz bill became law, "we might end up supplying everyone else with these wonderful technologies while we don't get to benefit from them ourselves."

Spratley testified against Seitz's bill.  He noted that there are roughly 80 companies making parts for wind power systems in Ohio and scores of engineers and sales representatives installing solar, "and those jobs aren't going anywhere," he said.  "Those are local jobs."

Ten years ago, more Ohio politicians embraced Spratley's message.  In 2007-08, as the "Energy, Jobs and Progress" plan made its way toward law, energy demand was strong, prices were expected to remain high, and awareness of coal's contribution to climate change had peaked.  The law committed Ohio to cutting energy consumption by 22 percent by 2025 and diversifying sources so that 12.5 percent of its electricity would come from alternative energy sources—geothermal, biomass, wind, solar.

Ohio Renewable Energy Law at a Glance
Demand and prices fell with the recession and the shale gas boom, but the promise of more jobs and less global warming continued to resonate.  Or it did until studies started showing up that warned that the law would do more harm than good.

Read more at How Fossil Fuel Allies Are Tearing Apart Ohio's Embrace of Clean Energy

Climate Change and the Human Mind:  A Noted Psychiatrist Weighs In

Author Robert Jay Lifton has probed the psyches of barbaric Nazi doctors and Hiroshima survivors.   Now, he is focusing on how people respond to the mounting evidence of climate change and is finding some reasons for hope. 

Robert Jay Lifton (Credit: e360.yale.edu) Click to Enlarge.
Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton has delved deep into the some of the darkest issues and most traumatic events of the 20th century with his research into the mindset of Nazi doctors, terrorism, the experiences of prisoners of war, and the aftermath of nuclear attack, which he chronicled in Death in Life:  Survivors of Hiroshima, winner of a National Book Award.

Now, at the age of 91, Lifton has turned his attention to climate change.  In his new book, The Climate Swerve:  Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, Lifton argues that we are living through a time of increasing recognition of the reality of climate change, a psychological shift he refers to as a “swerve,” driven by evidence, economics, and ethics. 

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lifton talks about how far into this swerve we are, how natural disasters are critical in changing people’s minds about climate change, and the losing battle the Trump administration is fighting by continuing to deny the science behind global warming.  “It’s becoming more and more difficult to take the stand of climate rejection,” he says, “because there is so much evidence of climate change and so much appropriate fear about its consequences.”

Read more at Climate Change and the Human Mind:  A Noted Psychiatrist Weighs In

Sunday, October 29, 2017

  Sunday, Oct 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.

Tropical Forest Reserves Slow Down Global Warming

This is an image of a deforested area of Brazilian forest. (Credit: Dan Bebber) Click to Enlarge.
National parks and nature reserves in South America, Africa and Asia, created to protect wildlife, heritage sites and the territory of indigenous people, are reducing carbon emissions from tropical deforestation by a third, and so are slowing the rate of global warming, a new study shows.

An audit of the role protected areas of tropical forest play in preventing global warming shows they are preventing the release of three times as much carbon into the atmosphere as the UK emits each year.

Protected areas account for 20 per cent of the world's tropical forest and play a crucial role in providing habitats for species including tigers, Asiatic lions, jaguars, and forest elephants.  They are also designated to conserve world heritage sites such as the historic Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, and to preserve territory for indigenous peoples in South America.

Research by the University of Exeter and University of Queensland Australia shows that protected areas of forest are preventing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions from being lost through logging and deforestation.  The study, published in Scientific Reports, is the first to analyze the impact of all protected areas of tropical forest on reducing carbon emissions.

Tropical forests account for around 68 per cent of global forest carbon stocks, including trees, canopy and root systems.  But rainforests are under pressure from clearing to produce cash crops such as soya beans in South America and palm oil in South East Asia.  In Africa, tropical forest is being cleared for agriculture and to produce charcoal for local use in cooking.  Deforestation releases nearly twice as much carbon than is absorbed by intact forests, further highlighting the importance of protected areas.

Read more at Tropical Forest Reserves Slow Down Global Warming

Saturday, October 28, 2017

  Saturday, Oct 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.

How Cities Can Fight Climate Change Most Effectively

What are the best ways for U.S. cities to combat climate change?  A new study co-authored by an MIT professor indicates it will be easier for cities to reduce emissions coming from residential energy use rather than from local transportation — and this reduction will happen mostly thanks to better building practices, not greater housing density.

Researchers looked at 11 metro areas — including Atlanta, Georgia, pictured — to examine how much local emissions-reductions programs can help combat climate change. They found that there is likely to be greater impact in the area of residential energy rather than transportation, especially given local hurdles against more compact development. (Credit: MIT News) Click to Enlarge.
The study analyzes how extensively local planning policies could either complement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) of 2015 or compensate for its absence.  The CPP is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.  In early 2016 a U.S. Supreme Court ruling halted the measure’s potential enactment; the legal case is unresolved and the Trump administration has announced it intends to unwind the CPP.

“Our take-home message is that cities can do a lot at the local level with housing stock,” says David Hsu, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and one of three co-authors of a new paper detailing the study’s findings.  However, he adds, “In transportation, cities can’t make up for the loss of a national strategy.”

The researchers also found that policies with the biggest local impact vary from city to city, with faster-growing Sun Belt cities such as Houston and Phoenix having the potential to enact a bigger reduction in residential emissions than older cities such as Boston or Philadelphia, which see less change in their housing stock.

“For some cities, some policies will clearly be more effective than others,” Hsu observes.

The paper, “Intersecting Residential and Transportation CO2 Emissions,” appears online in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, with print publication forthcoming.  Hsu’s co-authors are John D. Landis, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania, who is the corresponding author, and Erick Guerra, an assistant professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania.
In any case, as Hsu notes, the impact of policies related to construction standards and retrofitting alone is significant:  “You can do a lot of things at the local level to affect housing stock that are basically equivalent or even more aggressive than the Clean Power Plan.”

All told, housing accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  As the researchers state in the paper, the “full suite of residential energy conservation programs” could lower total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 12 percent compared to the “business-as-usual” projections for 2030, when coupled with the CPP, and by 9 percent even without implementation of the CPP.
The paper also makes clear that the average effects found across the 11 cities vary considerably.  Mandating that newly built homes be more energy efficient would reduce residential emissions by 10 to 13 percent in Houston and Phoenix, but only by 3 to 5 percent in slower-growing metro areas, including Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

Read more at How Cities Can Fight Climate Change Most Effectively

Rising Seas May Bring More Superstorms

Superstorms as severe as Sandy, the monster which swamped New York City in 2012, could become more frequent because of rising sea levels.

Superstorms sow havoc: Repair work on the New York metro in Sandy’s devastating wake. (Image Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of NY via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
New York City – hit by Superstorm Sandy five years ago at a cost of $50bn – could be under water again soon.  What 200 years ago would have been regarded as the kind of flood that happened only once in 500 years could, by 2030, bring superstorms every five years or so.

It won’t be that 2.8 meter storm surges of the kind that delivered floodwater to the streets and subways of America’s iconic city will be any more frequent.  It will be the impact of sea level rise, as a consequence of global warming driven by ever higher greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, in response to the profligate global consumption of fossil fuels.

Although researchers have repeatedly warned that global warming could bring more hurricane and storm hazards to the US northeast, the latest study based on computer simulations predicts that the expected stronger storms of tomorrow are likely to shift offshore, in theory reducing the risk to New York City.  But sea levels are rising rapidly, to increase the risk of flooding.

“If we cause large sea-level rise, that dominates future risks, but if we could prevent sea-level rise and just have the storm surge to worry about, our projections show little change in coastal risk from today during most years,” said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology and atmospheric science and director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, and one of the authors.

“While those storms that strike New York City might be bigger and stronger, there may be fewer of them as changing storm tracks increasingly steer the storms away from NYC and toward other regions.”

It takes two things to flood a coastal city.  The tide must be high, and ferocious winds must pile up the water to unusual heights at the same time:  this is the storm surge.

In 2012 Superstorm Sandy piled the tide up to 2.8 meters above its average level off the coast of New York.  Researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at the history of sea level and storm surges from the year 1800 to 2300, and then simulated the pattern of events in a world in which humans abandoned the vows made in Paris in 2015 and went on burning fossil fuels under the notorious “business as usual” scenario.

Narrowing odds
They found that what had in 1800 been the chance of the one-in-500-years flood event – 2.25 meters above mean tidal height – increased with time and sea level.  By the period 1975 to 2005, the chance of such flooding had fallen to every 25 years.  By 2030 to 2045 it could happen every five years.

But sea level rise would continue as yet more glaciers melted and the Greenland and Antarctic ice packs became less stable.  By 1970 to 2005, the one-in-500-years event would bring a flood of 3.4 meters.  By 2080 to 2100 this could reach from four to 5.1 meters and by 2300 the flood hazard could have increased to between 5 meters and 15.4 meters, depending on what happened as global warming affected Antarctica.

“Sea level is rising and higher sea level increases the damages from coastal storms,” said Richard B. Alley, Professor of Geosciences, Penn State.

“Human decisions about energy will be important in determining how much the sea rises and thus how much damage we face, and accurate projections of storms will help in minimizing the risks.” 

Read original at Rising Seas May Bring More Superstorms

Friday, October 27, 2017

  Friday, Oct 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.

U.S. Wind Concerns Ease as Trump Cabinet Calls on Denmark to Help Boost Offshore Output

A boat sails past DanTysk wind farm, 90 kilometres west of Esbjerg, Denmark, September 21, 2016. Picture taken September 21, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Nikolaj Skydsgaard) Click to Enlarge.
The United States signed a deal with Denmark on Thursday to expand cooperation on offshore wind power, giving a boost Europe’s biggest green energy players.

Danish companies DONG Energy and Vestas had feared the nascent U.S. offshore wind sector would be stymied after President Trump vowed to revive the coal industry, challenged climate-change science and blasted renewable energy as expensive and dependent on government subsidies.

But both companies now say the Trump administration is increasingly looking at Europe’s experience as it seeks to kick-start the sector.

“We see some positive initiatives coming out of the administration in Washington,” the head of DONG’s U.S. business, Thomas Brostroem, told Reuters.  He pointed to measures being taken on a federal level to streamline and speed up the process to obtain permits to build offshore wind farms.

“They’ve been really receptive to talk to European countries and developers to get know-how from the past decades,” he said.

The U.S. offshore wind sector, which has lagged behind Europe, is at a critical juncture, with the first large-scale offshore wind auction in Massachusetts coming up in December.

But to gain traction, industry executives and experts say the United States will need to replicate the dramatic cost cuts which Europe has implemented.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

“Something that is important for the new administration is jobs, jobs, jobs and that is something that will come from the supply chain around the turbines,” Adam Thomsen, head of U.S. growth implementation at MHI Vestas, told Reuters, but declined to quantify any numbers.
Vestas already produces onshore turbines at four factories in the United States, but large offshore turbine parts like the nacelles, towers, and rotors would be made at existing facilities in Europe, said Thomsen.

“We need a much more stable market development before we can talk factories.”

Record low subsidy prices in Europe, home to more than 12 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind, has increased confidence in the sector but also prompted European developers to search for new revenue streams in the United States and China.

Read more at U.S. Wind Concerns Ease as Trump Cabinet Calls on Denmark to Help Boost Offshore Output

Tipping Point?

Nearly all coal emissions need to stop by 2050 to avoid accelerating ice loss that could lead to 4 feet of sea level rise this century, scientists say.

“Parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appear to already be in substantial decline. If that continues, it’s not a matter of how much, but how fast sea level will rise,” climate physicist Carl-Friedrich Schleussner said. (Credit: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA) Click to Enlarge.
The world needs to eliminate nearly all carbon dioxide emissions from coal burning by 2050 to avoid pushing Antarctica's ice sheets past a tipping point that could cause a major surge in sea level rise, new research shows.

If CO2 emissions from fossil fuels continue at their present pace, many Pacific islands and millions of people along low-lying shores like the U.S. Gulf Coast and the Bay of Bengal could be swamped by 1.3 meters (more than 4 feet) of sea level rise before the end of this century, an international team of scientists found in a new study published Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The researchers said their work supports evidence that global warming of more than 1.9 degrees Celsius could push parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet past a melting threshold that would rapidly increase the pace of sea level rise.

"What we are increasingly seeing is that we have been on the conservative side in estimating sea level rise," said study co-author Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, a climate physicist at Climate Analytics, a climate science and policy institute.  "Parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appear to already be in substantial decline.  If that continues, it's not a matter of how much, but how fast sea level will rise."

Keeping within a strict carbon budget, including steep and rapid reductions of CO2 from fossil fuels, might limit this century's sea level rise to just half a meter, or 1.6 feet—still a hazard for many low-lying communities, but not as catastrophic elsewhere.

The new estimate of the worst-case scenario is more alarming than the consensus view of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2014 assessment, but closer to the increases anticipated by more recent research, Schleussner said.  That's largely because the new study incorporates recent science showing the risk of more severe melting of Antarctic ice under future warming, even if the Paris climate agreement is somewhat successful in keeping warming moderately under control.

The study also uses a newer, more sophisticated approach to assessing the various pathways the world could take as governments struggle to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.  Which pathways policy makers follow would influence how much and how fast the planet warms.

What 2 Degrees Could Mean for the Ice Sheets
Key to the new projections is a March 2016 study in the journal Nature suggesting that even the large ice sheets of Antarctica could be susceptible to large-scale collapse at a warming threshold of about 2 degrees Celsius.

At that point, giant ice cliffs at the ocean's edge could start to crumble from above and below.  From the surface meltwater will pour down into deep cracks and pry the ice apart; from below, tongues of warmer ocean water will free the floating shelves from rocky anchors, speeding the flow of the ice sheets into the sea.

Data from University of Massachusetts-Amherst climate scientist Rob DeConto, lead author of the 2016 Nature study, shows that the Antarctic ice sheets and glaciers get more sensitive to higher levels of warming, Schleussner said.  "Antarctica is the main driver of the risk of really high sea level rise, so we really need to understand what's happening there." 

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Thwaites Glacier appear especially vulnerable to the 1.9 degree Celsius tipping point, said Ted Scambos, a polar ice expert with the National Snow and Ice Data Center.  The Thwaites Glacier has accelerated.  Other glaciers in the area are getting thinner, and their floating extensions, the ice shelves, are thawing from beneath and losing hold of their fixed anchor points.

"It looks like it (Thwaites Glacier) could express this kind of rapid retreat in the coming few centuries.  The physics are certainly plausible," said Scambos, who was not involved in the new study.  Other scientists have found deep gouges on the Antarctic sea floor caused by icebergs during ancient times of temperature change, signs that are consistent with the theory of rapid ice shelf disintegration, he said.

If summer temperatures in that region warm by about 2 degrees Celsius, it would lead to a drastic increase in the amount of water in the snowpack on the surface of the Thwaites Glacier.  The water eventually pools in reservoirs that can then take a toll on the ice.

"Those lakes are like sledgehammers.  They crack the glacier open," Scambos said.  He said an international effort is planned to explore the Thwaites ice field system from its where it begins all the way out to where it meets the Amundsen Sea.

A Case for Quickly Cutting Emissions
The melting ice cliffs at the edge of the ocean become yet another self-reinforcing climate feedback, said co-author Matthias Mengel, an ice sheet modeler with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research.

"What is directly behind the ice cliff is an even higher ice cliff, and it will also break off.  If an ice front is too high, it can't carry its own weight.  To us, this new approach was really kind of a bomb.  It changed our idea completely about how Antarctica could change in the future," he said.  "This means a big change in the numbers of the amount of sea level rise we could get from Antarctica.  It's a new twist for ice loss, but we also have to wait for results to come in.  This is new science, and it's evolving."

Right now, the thick coastal ice shelves are still frozen in place to rocks on the sea floor, holding back the land-based ice sheets, but if the ice shelves start to disappear, the scientists expect the ice flow from the interior will accelerate, he said.

Read more at Tipping Point?

It’s Big and Long-Lived, and It Won’t Catch Fire:  The Vanadium Redox-⁠Flow Battery

Move Over, Lithium Ion: Vanadium Flow Batteries Finally Become Competitive for Grid-Scale Energy Storage.

This factory produces vanadium redox-flow batteries destined for the world’s largest battery site: a 200-megawatt, 800-megawatt-hour storage station in China’s Liaoning province. (Photo Credit: Rongke Power) Click to Enlarge.
The factory sprawls over an area larger than 20 soccer fields.  Inside, it’s brightly lit and filled with humming machinery, a mammoth futuristic manufactory.  Robot arms grab components from bins and place each part with precision, while conveyor belts move the assembled pieces smoothly down production lines.  Finished products enter testing stations for quality checks before being packed for shipping.
Opened in early 2017, in the northern Chinese port city of Dalian, this plant is owned by Rongke Power and is turning out battery systems for some of the world’s largest energy storage installations.  It’s on target to produce 300 megawatts’ worth of batteries by the end of this year, eventually ramping up to 3 gigawatts per year.

The scale of this “other” gigafactory may be impressive, but the core technology it makes is even more compelling.  The Dalian factory produces vanadium redox-flow batteries, a specialized type whose time has finally come.  The VRFB was invented decades ago but has emerged only recently as one of the leading contenders for large-scale energy storage.

How large?  VRFBs are being touted for grid-scale uses in which they would store up to hundreds of megawatt-hours of energy.  In these applications, they may be charged by large baseload power plants, which generate electricity cheaply but are too sluggish to accommodate sharp increases in demand during peak hours.  Or they may be charged by renewable sources like wind farms, whose generation doesn’t always align well with demand.  Like most batteries, VRFBs can deliver power nearly instantaneously, so they can stand in for the traditional means of meeting peak demand: fossil-fueled “peaker” plants that, in comparison with batteries, are costly to maintain and operate and not as fast.

Lithium-ion batteries, too, have been proposed for grid-scale uses.  But here they are no match for VRFBs, which have longer lifetimes, can be scaled up more easily, and can operate day in, day out, with no significant performance loss for 20 years or more.

Soon this technology will be the cornerstone of the largest battery installation in the world:  a ­200-MW, 800-megawatt-hour storage station being built in Dalian.  The first 100 MW will be installed by the end of this year, with the remainder coming on line in 2018.  The station will help balance supply and demand on the Liaoning province power grid, which serves about 40 million people, filling the same function as a peaker power plant but without using scarce water.  Furthermore, if the batteries are charged by the wind-generated power that’s abundant in northern China, no fossil fuels will be burned.  Should demand spike or the supply dip suddenly, the battery station will be able to dispatch all or just part of its 200 MW within milliseconds.

The result will be a stable grid that can integrate more renewable energy.  At times, wind generation in Liaoning province tops 7 GW, or about 15 percent of total generation.  But much of that power isn’t used because other sources already meet grid demand.  Earlier this year, the amount of wind power in Liao­ning that was curtailed, or wasted, reached 15 percent; in the neighboring province of Jilin, it was 30 percent.  The Dalian site will store that wasted energy for later use, adding up to a few hundred gigawatt-hours per month.

The Dalian site is just one of several big VRFB installations being built in China, so its reign as the world’s biggest battery may be short.  Meanwhile, other countries are adopting VRFBs.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s global energy storage database, since 2014, more than 30 VRFB projects in 11 countries have been deployed or begun construction; these range in power from a few tens of kilowatts up to Dalian’s 200 MW.  While these projects reflect the surging interest in all forms of energy storage, what’s driving the renewed push toward VRFBs are important technological distinctions.

Read more at It’s Big and Long-Lived, and It Won’t Catch Fire:  The Vanadium Redox-⁠Flow Battery