Friday, February 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Ivanka and Jared Saved the Paris Agreement — for Now

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

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

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

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

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

Stark Warning on Atlantic Cooling

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at Stark Warning on Atlantic Cooling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

  Thursday, Feb 23

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Liquid Hydrogen May Be Way Forward for Sustainable Air Travel

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

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

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

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

Warming Temperatures Could Trigger Starvation, Extinctions in Deep Oceans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is What 4 Million Solar Panels Look Like from Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

  Wednesday, Feb 22

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Bill Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2045

Under legislation proposed by State Sen. Kevin de Leon, the state would dramatically ramp up efforts to decarbonize its grid.

California, already using massive solar facilities like Ivanpah to power thousands of homes, proposes a bill to rid its grid of fossil fuels by 2045. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
California's Senate leader has introduced legislation that would require the state to draw all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045.  If passed, the bill would make the nation's largest state the second to commit to a carbon-free grid.

State Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Democrat, introduced the bill last week as a placeholder ahead of a filing deadline, with more detailed language to come, spokesman Anthony Reyes said in an email.

The legislation makes California the latest in a small number of states this year to propose dramatically ramping up renewable energy, even as President Donald Trump stresses primarily fossil fuels in his energy plan.

In January, lawmakers in Massachusetts filed legislation that would go even further, requiring fossil fuel-free electricity by 2035, and asking the same from other sectors, including transportation and heating, by 2050.

 Read more at California Bill Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2045

Automakers Urge New EPA Chief to Withdraw Obama Car Fuel-Efficiency Rules

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017. (Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts) Click to Enlarge.
A trade association representing General Motors Co (GM.N), Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) and nine other automakers on Tuesday asked new Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to withdraw an Obama administration decision to lock in vehicle emission rules through 2025.

On Jan. 13, then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy finalized a determination that landmark fuel efficiency rules instituted by President Barack Obama should be finalized through 2025, a bid to maintain a key part of his administration's climate legacy.

Read more at Automakers Urge New EPA Chief to Withdraw Obama Car Fuel-Efficiency Rules

UK Tidal Project Could Spark Global Revolution

The UK is poised to exploit tidal energy, a new renewable source that is cheaper than nuclear and more reliable than wind.

 The proposed tidal lagoon would enclose Swansea Bay with a rock wall incorporating 16 turbines and generating 320MW of electricity. (Image Credit: Tidal Lagoon Power) Click to Enlarge.
Ambitious plans have been drawn up for a network of “tidal lagoons” around the UK coast that could provide up to a quarter of the country’s electricity – and there is potential to roll out the technology in many parts of the world.

Tidal lagoons work by using a wall to capture a body of water in the sea or a tidal estuary pushed in on the rising tide.  The water drives turbines as the tide comes in, and then, as the tide falls, the turbines are reversed and the energy from the falling tide is harnessed again.

As Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the earliest English poets put it: “Time and tide wait for no man.” Unlike with wind and solar, the amount of energy being produced from tides is predictable months in advance and is now being recognized as a major renewable resource.

More tidal lagoons
Planning approval has already been given for a £1.3bn ($1.62bn) pathfinder project at Swansea Bay, south Wales, described by developers as “a scalable blueprint for a new, global, low-carbon power industry”.  Another nine lagoons are planned around tidal hotspots in the Severn estuary and north-west England/north Wales.  These would have the potential to generate 25,000MW of electricity – enough to provide 12% of the UK’s electricity needs.

The company behind the proposals, Tidal Lagoon Power, already has teams working in northern France and India, and is studying opportunities in Mexico and Canada’s Atlantic coast.  Further tidal lagoon markets may exist in South America, China, south-east Asia and Oceania.

Read more at UK Tidal Project Could Spark Global Revolution

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

  Tuesday, Feb 21

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.

Battery Power Boost to Renewables

Researchers have moved one step closer to the dream of the renewables industry: batteries that can store large amounts of energy cheaply for extended periods.

Winds of change … a storage system for energy generated by renewables is closer to being realized. (Image Credit: Sheila Sund via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
For years, scientists have struggled to develop storage systems capable of handling the peaks and troughs of renewable power so that an even supply can be guaranteed.

Researchers at the John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University in the US say in an article published in ACS Energy Letters that they have now developed a long-lasting flow battery capable of storing renewable power that­ could operate for up to 10 years, with minimum maintenance required.

A flow battery is a cross between a conventional battery and a fuel cell.  Flow batteries store energy in liquid solutions in external tanks and are regarded as one of the primary ways of storing renewable energy.  The bigger the tanks, the more energy can be stored.

But flow batteries are costly.  Most use expensive polymers that can cope with the potent chemicals inside the battery.

Battery capacity
The battery’s components and materials, such as membranes and electrolytes, have to be frequently replaced in order to retain capacity.

The Harvard team modified molecules used in the electrolyte solutions to make them soluble in water and so vastly increase the battery’s ability to retain power.

“Because we were able to dissolve the electrolytes in neutral water, this is a long-lasting battery that you could put in your basement,” says Roy Gordon, a professor of chemistry and materials science and a leading member of the research team.

“If it spilled on the floor, it wouldn’t eat the concrete and, since the medium is non-corrosive, you can use cheaper materials to build components of the batteries, like the tanks and pumps.”

Reducing the cost of the battery is vital.  The US Department of Energy says that in order to make stored energy from wind and solar competitive with fossil fuels, a battery needs to be able to store energy for less than $100 per kilowatt hour.

“If you can get anywhere near this cost target then you can change the world,” says Michael Aziz, another lead researcher in the battery project and a professor of materials and energy technologies at Harvard.

“It becomes cost effective to put batteries in so many places – this research puts us one step closer to reaching that target.”

Read more at Battery Power Boost to Renewables

Antarctica Is Undergoing an Extraordinary Melt - by Dr Reese Halter

Last year, all signs were pointing towards this shattering event.

Last December, 2016, the crack in the Larsen C ice shelf grew by 10.5 miles. (Photo Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The area of sea ice surrounding Antarctica is the lowest since the inception of continuous record keeping began in 1979, and it’s still tumbling.

Last year, all signs were pointing towards this shattering event.  In May, 2016, the massive West Antarctic ice sheet began tearing apart.  My colleagues sounded the alarm that the melting could destabilize enormous areas of ice, resulting in global sea rise of more than 10 feet.

“We present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,” said NASA’s Dr Eric Rignot.  “It has passed the point of no return.”

The only unknown is how quickly a 10-foot sea level rise will occur.

Rignot and his coauthors cautiously estimate an epic sea level rise in the coming centuries.

Eminent climate scientist, Dr James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has spent his entire career tracking the effects of climate-altering carbon dioxide released from burning subsidized fossil fuels.

In the lead-up to the Paris Climate Agreement, Hansen warned:  “It’s crazy to think 2C is a safe limit.”

Man-made heat, infused into the oceans from heat-trapping fossil fuels, has doubled since 1997.  That’s the equivalent energy of detonating one atomic Hiroshima-style bomb every second for 75 straight years.

“The ice sheets are losing mass faster and faster, with a doubling time of about 10 years,” Hansen said.  “If that continues, we would get sea level rise of more than six feet by 40 to 50 years.”

Since 2011, the Larsen C ice shelf, West Antarctica, developed a rift of approximately 110 miles in length.  Any day now it will calve an iceberg four times the size of Los Angeles.

Read more at Antarctica Is Undergoing an Extraordinary Melt

Monday, February 20, 2017

  Monday, Feb 20

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.

Al Gore:  ‘Horrific’ Health Risks from Climate, but ‘We Have Solutions’

More infectious disease and health problems from extreme heat and air pollution are possibilities.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. (Credit: Climate Reality) Click to Enlarge.
The climate crisis will have significant effects on health, but “we do have solutions at hand,” former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said today.

Some of the health risks that Gore, an environmental expert, a book author, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, highlighted in his speech included the spread of infectious disease, the dangers of extreme heat, and the health effects of air pollution.

These health risks, and their potential solutions, were discussed here today (Feb. 16) at the Climate & Health Meeting, a gathering of experts from public health organizations, universities, and advocacy groups that focused on the health impacts of climate change.

The problems are already here, Gore said, as infectious diseases are now spreading to areas where they previously were not found.  In addition, heat stress from extreme heat waves causes more deaths each year in the United States than all other extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, combined, he said.  And certain types of air pollution around the world kill about 6.5 million people each year, he said.

“It’s hard to focus on some of these horrific consequences of the climate crisis on health, but hope is justified,” Gore said in his keynote address.  “We are going to win this,” he said.

Solutions to combat climate change are readily available, Gore said.  Since 2001, the U.S. has significantly increased its wind and solar energy capacities, and goals that were set for 2010 were met and surpassed by then, he said.

In addition, global carbon dioxide emissions have leveled off in the last three years, Gore said. “For the first time in the absence of an economic crisis, there has been no increase” in global carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

And although these emissions are still very high, “we’re now at an inflection point and it is going to start going down,” Gore said.

Read original at Al Gore:  ‘Horrific’ Health Risks from Climate, but ‘We Have Solutions’

America Third:  Donald Trump Is Giving the Phrase “Multipolar World” New Meaning - By Michael T. Klare

Chinese President Xi Jinping at Davos. (Photo Credit: World Economic Forum)  Click to Enlarge.
As President Trump has made clear in recent weeks ... his primary strategic priorities do not include the advancement of America’s status in the race for global strategic preeminence. Instead, as indicated by the outline of his “America First Foreign Policy” posted on the White House website, his top objectives are the extermination of what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” and the enhancement of America’s overseas trade balance.  Just how vital these objectives may be in the larger scheme of things has been the subject of considerable debate, but few have noted that Trump has completely abandoned any notion that the U.S. is engaged in a global struggle for power and wealth with two potentially fierce competitors, each possessing its own plan for achieving “greatness.”

And it’s not just that Trump seems to have abandoned the larger geopolitical playing field to America’s principal rivals.  He appears to be doing everything in his power to facilitate their advance at the expense of the United States.  In just the first few weeks of his presidency, he has already taken numerous steps that have put the wind in both China’s and Russia’s sails, while leaving the U.S. adrift.

Trump’s China-First Foreign Policy
In his approach to China, Donald Trump has been almost exclusively focused on the issue of trade, claiming that his primary goal is to combat the unfair practices that have allowed the Chinese to get rich at America’s expense.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that his nominee as U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, is an outspoken critic of that country’s trade behavior. “It seems clear that the U.S. manufacturing crisis is related to our trade with China,” he told Congress in 2010.  But while trade may be an important part of the U.S.-China relationship, Trump’s single-minded fixation on the issue leaves aside far more crucial political, economic, diplomatic, and military aspects of the Sino-American competition for world power and influence.  By largely ignoring them, in just weeks in the Oval Office, President Trump has already enabled China to gain ground on many fronts.

This was evident in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  While no senior representative of the soon-to-be installed Trump administration even put in an appearance, China was represented by no less than President Xi Jinping himself, a first appearance for a Chinese head of state.  In a major address, denouncing (no names mentioned) those who seek to turn away from globalization, Xi portrayed China as the world’s new exemplar of free trade and internationalism. “Say no to protectionism,” he insisted. “It is like locking yourself in a dark room. Wind and rain are kept out, but so are light and air.” For many of the 1,250 CEOs, celebrities, and government officials in the audience, his appearance and remarks represented an almost mind-boggling shift in the global balance of political influence, as Washington ceded the pivotal position it had long occupied on the world stage.

Read more at America Third:  Donald Trump Is Giving the Phrase “Multipolar World” New Meaning

Trump Admin Mounts Defense of Obama's HFC Crackdown

 Montreal Protocol Then-Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks about the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda, last fall. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State, courtesy of Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The Trump Justice Department defended an Obama administration rule today for phasing out potent heat-trapping chemicals.

Two manufacturers of the chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons, have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to kill the rule.

President Obama's 2013 Climate Action Plan called for cutting HFC use at home and abroad. The 2015 U.S. EPA regulation at issue eliminated some uses for HFCs, which were previously accepted as alternatives to ozone-depleting substances, and approved substitutes for the chemicals.

"This isn't a stretch of the statute," DOJ's Dustin Maghamfar told a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh appeared to side with the companies at times, saying EPA's rule would force firms that switched from ozone-depleting substances to HFCs to "spend a lot more money."

EPA's regulation — and a similar rule last year phasing out other uses of HFCs — was issued in the runup to the October international agreement to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs globally.

Read more at Trump Admin Mounts Defense of Obama's HFC Crackdown

Hundreds Rally to Defend Science in Boston Protest

Look how packed the #standupforscience rally is. A couple of thousands of scientists & science supporters gathered in Boston (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Hundreds gathered in Boston on Sunday to speak out in defense of research and against what they view as the Trump administration’s war on evidence-based science.

“When science and research are under attack, what do we do?  Stand up, fight back,” protesters chanted in the city’s Copley Square as part of the Rally to Stand up for Science.  The gathering was organized by; the mobile, pop-up Natural History Museum; the Union of Concerned Scientists; and several other groups. 

The demonstration was a way for scientists and science defenders to respond to policies implemented under President Donald Trump, including a gag order at the Environmental Protection Agency, social media censorship of the National Parks, and the removal of climate change information from federal websites. 

“This is about freedom of inquiry,” NHM director Beka Economopoulos told the crowd,  The Boston Globe reported.  “From the muzzling of scientists and government agencies, to the immigration ban, the deletion of scientific data, and the defunding of public science, the erosion of our institutions of science is a dangerous direction for our country.  Real people and communities bear the brunt of these actions.”

The rally comes days after sources said Trump would soon hand down executive orders to “reshape” the EPA and after the Senate narrowly confirmed Scott Pruitt ― who has sued the EPA 13 times ― to be the agency’s chief. 

Read more at Hundreds Rally to Defend Science in Boston Protest

As Seas Rise, City Mulls a Massive Sea Barrier Across Boston Harbor

After Hurricane Katrina, the federal government built a 1.8-mile barrier along Lake Borgne, a lagoon of the Gulf of Mexico. (Credit: Lee Celano/AFP/Getty Images/File) Click to Enlarge.
As rising sea levels pose a growing threat to Boston’s future, city officials are exploring the feasibility of building a vast sea barrier from Hull to Deer Island, forming a protective arc around Boston Harbor.

The idea, raised in a recent city report on the local risks of climate change, sounds like a pipe dream, a project that could rival the Big Dig in complexity and cost.  It’s just one of several options, but the sea wall proposal is now under serious study by a team of some of the region’s top scientists and engineers, who recently received a major grant to pursue their research.

With forecasts indicating that Boston could experience routine flooding in the coming decades, threatening some 90,000 residents and $80 billion worth of real estate, city officials say it would be foolish not to consider aggressive action, no matter how daunting.

Read more at As Seas Rise, City Mulls a Massive Sea Barrier Across Boston Harbor

Sunday, February 19, 2017

  Sunday, Feb 19

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.

Under Trump, Scientists Could Face More Sweeping Challenges Than They Did Under George W. Bush - The Washington Post

People hold signs as they listen to a group of scientists speak during a rally in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union’s meeting on Dec. 13, 2016, in San Francisco. (Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
A group of scientists and their supporters are set to march Sunday in Boston’s Copley Square in an event they’ve dubbed “a rally to stand up for science” in the Trump years.

Inside a large nearby convention center, meanwhile, the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the United States’ largest general scientific society, has featured speeches and panel sessions further underscoring the sense that under President Trump, scientists could face wide-ranging political conflicts and challenges, and will have to decide how to meet them.

At the opening plenary, the chair of the board of the AAAS criticized Trump’s executive order on immigration; the next night, a prominent historian suggested to scientists that there’s nothing wrong with taking political stands.  Einstein did it, after all, over the atomic bomb.

“We live in a world where many people are trying to silence facts,” said Harvard scholar Naomi Oreskes.  She told a vast hall of hundreds of scientists that history does not support the idea that “taking a public position on an urgent issue undermines the credibility of science.”

And yet the challenges for scientists during the Trump administration could not only be bigger, but also potentially more diverse, than those seen during George W. Bush’s administration — a key reference point in the research community for thinking about problems at the intersection between science and politics.

During the Bush years, a number of science controversies arose related to suppression of scientific information or interference with its dissemination, as numerous government scientists and experts charged they’d been blocked from speaking to the media, or that scientific documents had been politically edited.

In those days, the threat of deep cuts to research funding didn’t loom so large as it does now. And today’s science world has also mobilized over Trump’s immigration executive order; more than 100 scientific societies and universities registered their concern in a recent letter to the president.  The anticipation of a multi-pronged battle is shared by the marchers, organized by the Natural History Museum, ClimateTruth, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and numerous other groups.

“It’s so many different fronts — subtle, not so subtle, things that can affect directly or indirectly the health, the environment, the economy, all of these things,” said Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists who was set to speak at the march. “Depending on if we are talking about an executive order, or the gutting of EPA.  So it’s a complex situation, and it’s a unique situation.”

The organizers of the march — a smaller scale version of a major March for Science planned for Earth Day — charge that “from the muzzling of scientists and government agencies, to the immigration ban, the deletion of scientific data, and the de-funding of public science, the erosion of our institutions of science is a dangerous direction for our country.”

Inside the conference Friday, however, more cautious science policy experts warned that Bush-style problems over the suppression and interference with science have not yet clearly emerged under Trump.  They stressed that temporary communication freezes during a government transition are not abnormal, and that there are new protections in place for scientists, such as federal scientific integrity directives, that didn’t exist in the Bush years.

“It’s too early to say that there is going to be some across-the-board freeze on the ability of scientists to communicate,” said Joanne Carney, director of the office of government relations at the AAAS, at the Friday science policy panel.  “We have [government] scientists attending the conference here.  I think it’s a little too early to say that scientists are going to be inhibited and incapable of speaking or publishing their research.  But we are monitoring it.”

Granted, that doesn’t mean that federal researchers aren’t already self-censoring out of concern for what they may face.

“Fear is higher,” said Robert Cook-Deegan, a science and health policy expert at Arizona State University, at the Friday session.  “If you’re a federal employee, I think there’s going to be a level of self-scrutiny that is higher than it has been in past administrations.”

Read more at Under Trump, Scientists Could Face More Sweeping Challenges Than They Did Under George W. Bush