Monday, July 16, 2018

Trump Is Wrecking the Climate and Free Trade.  Here Is a Common Solution for Both.

Instead of tit-for-tat retaliation to US tariffs, trade partners should link their response to climate goals and kill two birds with one stone.

A tax on the carbon footprint of goods traded across national borders is one way to enforce climate commitments (Pic: NOAA/Captain Albert E. Theberge)A tax on the carbon footprint of goods traded across national borders is one way to enforce climate commitments (Picture Credit: NOAA/Captain Albert E. Theberge) Click to Enlarge.
Countries affected by US tariff increases are weighing their options for retaliation. Many of the same countries have pledged to lead the fight against climate change.  By basing their countermeasures on the carbon footprint of US goods, these countries can defend their trade interests and underscore their commitment to climate action.

Last week, the simmering trade conflict between the US and many of its trade partners entered into a new phase.  After increasing tariffs on imports such as washing machines, solar cells, soya beans, steel, and aluminium during the first half of 2018, the White House announced on July 10 that it would target an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese imports with new tariffs. China has already promised to strike back in kind.

As countries consider how to respond to US protectionism, they have a rare opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.  So far, trade partners have taken the traditional route of dollar-for-dollar counter-tariffs on politically sensitive goods.  The result is a trade war that risks spiralling out of control.  A better option would be to target US goods based on their carbon intensity, drawing attention to climate priorities in a language the White House understands.

In a new comment in Nature magazine, we discuss the potential for so-called “border carbon adjustments” (BCAs) to strengthen climate action in the current tariff standoff.  BCAs are tariffs or other carbon constraints imposed on carbon-intensive imported goods.  They help prevent relocation of jobs and investment due to uneven climate action, and thereby alleviate a central hurdle for political leadership on climate change.  They also incentivize laggard countries to engage in climate cooperation as a way of averting such constraints.

The Nature comment links our research on BCAs with the ongoing trade conflict prompted by US tariff increases.  Economic studies have shown that properly designed BCAs can be an effective tool to level the competitive playing field and enable sustained climate leadership.  Unlike existing measures to address uneven climate efforts, including exemptions and rebates, they do not mute the effect of emission-curbing policies.  With adequate procedural safeguards, moreover, BCAs can be implemented in a way that respects international trade law requirements.

Read more at Trump Is Wrecking the Climate and Free T rade.  Here Is a Common Solution for Both.

Buried Internet Infrastructure At Risk As Sea Levels Rise

Seawater inundation projected for New York City by 2033 and its effect on internet infrastructure. Anything in the blue shaded areas is estimated to be underwater in 15 years. Credit: Paul Barford) Click to Enlarge.
Thousands of miles of buried fiber optic cable in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be inundated by rising seas, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

The study, presented July 16, 2018 at a meeting of internet network researchers, portrays critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas in as soon as 15 years, according to the study's senior author, Paul Barford, a UW-Madison professor of computer science.

"Most of the damage that's going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later," says Barford, an authority on the "physical internet" -- the buried fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges and termination points that are the nerve centers, arteries and hubs of the vast global information network.  "That surprised us.  The expectation was that we'd have 50 years to plan for it.  We don't have 50 years."

Read more at Buried Internet Infrastructure At Risk As Sea Levels Rise

China, EU Reaffirm Paris Climate Commitment, Vow More Cooperation

Wind turbines in Tianjin. China and the EU say they are determined to forge ahead with Paris and accelerate the global transition to clean energy. (Photograph Credit: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
China and the European Union on Monday reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate change pact and called other signatories to do the same, saying action against rising global temperatures had become more important than ever.

Following President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the United States from the agreement, China and the European Union have emerged as the biggest champions of the 2015 accord, which aims to keep global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. 

Read more at China, EU Reaffirm Paris Climate Commitment, Vow More Cooperation

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunday 15

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.

Clean Energy Is Catching Up to Natural Gas - by David Roberts

The natural gas “bridge” to sustainability may be shorter than expected.


A bridge to nowhere (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
In its role as a bridge natural gas seems to have a comfortable future. First, it will replace coal and nuclear “baseload” plants, and then, as renewables grow to supply the bulk of power, it will provide flexibility, filling in the gaps where variable renewables (wind and solar) fall short. By playing these multiple roles, natural gas will long outlive coal and prove useful well into the latter half of the 21st century.  It will enjoy a long, slow exit.

Or so the story goes.

Around 2015, though, just five years into gas’s rise to power, complications for this narrative began to appear.  First, wind and solar costs fell so far, so fast that they are now undercutting the cost of new gas in a growing number of regions.  And then batteries — which can “firm up” variable renewables, diminishing the need for natural gas’s flexibility — also started getting cheap faster than anyone expected.  It happened so fast that, in certain limited circumstances, solar+storage or wind+storage is already cheaper than new natural gas plants and able to play all the same roles (and more).

The cost of natural gas power is tethered to the commodity price of natural gas, which is inherently volatile.  The price of controllable, storable renewable energy is tethered only to technology costs, which are going down, down, down.  Recent forecasts suggest that it may be cheaper to build new renewables+storage than to continue operating existing natural gas plants by 2035.

That means natural gas plants built today could be rendered uncompetitive well before their rated lifespan.  They could become “stranded assets,” saddling utility ratepayers and investors with the costs of premature decommissioning.

Meanwhile, gas’s environmental reputation has suffered from a series of reports, most recently a study in Science, showing that gas’s lifecycle methane emissions are much higher than previously estimated and could virtually erase any climate advantage gas has over coal, rendering it a bridge to nowhere.  (See author and activist Bill McKibben for an extensive exploration of this point.)

Even if methane emissions are reduced, they can’t be reduced to nothing.  And the US needs to completely decarbonize — get to net-zero carbon emissions — by mid-century.  Natural gas simply isn’t compatible with a net-zero-carbon future unless a massive infrastructure is built to capture and bury its carbon emissions.  Until and unless that happens, natural gas must eventually be eliminated.

Luckily, there is good news.  While it is far too early to say that we’ve reached the end of the natural gas bridge, we can perhaps say that the end has come into sight — somewhat hazy, but you can see it if you squint just right.

Here’s how this post is going to go.  We’ll take a look at recent prices of renewable energy and storage relative to natural gas.  We’ll run through several recent examples of regulators or utilities either turning against natural gas or enduring political blowback for supporting it.  Then we’ll check out a couple of recent reports that try to quantify the threat to natural gas.  And then we will conclude with some big takeaways.
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One thing we know:  energy changes faster than we think it will
Of course, we shouldn’t forget that forecasts out to 2050, like BNEF’s, are best seen as a genre of science fiction.  Nobody knows what the world is going to look like in 2050.  The energy sector is already changing with vertiginous speed.  In the past 10 years, developments in clean energy have come so fast and furious that forecasts have been revised again and again.  Even 10-year forecasts have been rendered goofy.

There’s no reason to think the pace of change will slow any time soon.  Quite the opposite.

So there’s a great deal we do not, and cannot, know.

We don’t know where the price of natural gas will go, what policymakers will do, or what kinds of economic or other disruptions might be in store.  More to the point, though, we scarcely have any idea what clean energy is capable of.

We don’t know what’s possible once gigawatts worth of electric vehicles are connected to the grid and charged or discharged depending on needs.  We’ve barely scratched the surface on demand response and have only the faintest glimmer of what we can do with millions of appliances hooked up to the grid for use as thermal storage or flexible demand.

We cannot predict what new industries or uses might arise around dirt-cheap renewable energy, or what kind of demand might swarm in to absorb the abundant energy underneath the duck curve, once markets are properly aligned.  We talk a lot about smart grids that can support transactive power systems, but have barely begun to build and connect them.

We have no idea what’s going to happen.

But we do know a few things.  We know the US needs to decarbonize as fast as possible (as all developed nations do), and that eventually the federal government will get its act together.  We know that natural gas, at least without carbon capture and sequestration, is not compatible with a zero-carbon future and must eventually be eliminated.

We know that clean energy resources, in all their varied glory, can do all the things natural gas power plants can do.  We know that the cost of natural gas power is tethered to the price of natural gas and has little room to fall, while the cost of clean energy is tethered only to technology, which has gotten and is continuing to get cheaper and cheaper.

And we know that clean energy has defied all our forecasts, maturing and falling in cost faster than even the most optimistic advocates predicted.  We should have some confidence that will continue.

Natural gas still has enormous global momentum.  But it has already gotten risky to build a new gas plant in the US.  The UK is turning away from gas.  So is South Australia.  It will happen first in developed markets that already have adequate capacity and then, depending on how cheap clean alternatives get, growing markets next.

Clean energy is approaching in natural gas’s rearview mirror, fast, always faster than anticipated.  Think about what today’s forecasts will look like in 10 years.  Which side would you bet they err on?

Read more at Clean Energy Is Catching Up to Natural Gas

Heat Records Falling Around the World in 2018

The first five months of 2018 were the fourth warmest in global records going back to 1880, according to NOAA.  Along the way, a number of extreme heat events have occurred already this year.  In recent weeks across the Northern Hemisphere, these records have included an impressive number of all-time highs (an all-time high is the warmest temperature reported on any date at a given location).

Setting an all-time high is no small accomplishment, especially for locations that have long periods of record (PORs). All-time highs are especially noteworthy when you consider that, on average, the planet is warming more during winter than during summer, and more at night than during the day.  Urban heat islands are no doubt contributing somewhat to the heat records achieved in large urban areas, but the extreme heat of 2018 has also played out in remote rural areas without any urban heat islands.

As of July 13, the U.S. Records summary page maintained by NOAA showed that 18 U.S. locations had set or tied all-time highs so far this year, as opposed to 10 locations that set or tied all-time lows.  There is an even sharper contrast between the number of all-time warm daily lows (40) and all-time cool daily highs (5), which has been a common pattern in recent years.
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The increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves is among the most obvious and well-documented effects of climate change.  For the globe, The 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report noted that “a large amount of evidence continues to support the conclusion that most global land areas analyzed have experienced significant warming of both maximum and minimum temperature extremes since about 1950” and concluded that “it is . . . very likely that human influence has contributed to observed global scale changes in the frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes since the mid-20th century, and likely that human influence has more than doubled the probability of occurrence of heat waves in some locations.”

Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh published a 2017 study showing how a relatively small shift in the global average surface temperature of just 1°C (1.8°F) in the past century has dramatically increased the odds of extreme heat events.  In the case of the July 2018 California heat wave, Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who is working to conduct extreme event attribution studies in advance of an event, said in an interview with axios.com, "[i]n probabilistic terms, climate change increased the chances of the heat wave by about 20 to 50 times," adding that there is at least a 99% likelihood that human-induced climate change "increased the severity of this heat wave."

Read more at Heat Records Falling Around the World in 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday 14

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

Exxon Leaving ALEC:  Important But Insufficient Step in Addressing Company's History of Climate Science Denial, Campaigners Say

ExxonMobil has announced it will leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobby group known for its attempts to block climate action.  Campaigners cautiously welcomed the decision, though said Exxon had to do more to prove it was committed to addressing climate change.

Exxon’s decision comes after opposition to ALEC’s attempt last December to get the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its position that climate change proposes a risk to human health.

ALEC links corporations to state legislators with the aim of drafting legislation to inhibit or repeal pro-climate policies.  The group is bankrolled by the Koch brothers, the US’s leading climate science denial funders.  The Nation reports that “no-one knows how much the Kochs have given ALEC in total, but the amount likely exceeds $1 million”.

ALEC also has strong support from a US “web of denial” in its mission to block climate action, with backing from climate science denial organisations such as the Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation.

Exxon’s decision to leave ALEC comes after other corporate giants also decided to cut ties with the group, including BP, Royal Dutch Shell Group, and Ford.

The decision to split from ALEC has been cautiously welcomed by environmental organisations as a significant step towards climate action from Big Oil companies.

Ben Ratner, Senior Director of the Environmental Defence Fund, described it in a press release as an “important statement”, since companies “seeking to show corporate social responsibility” should “distance themselves from groups that pursue agendas harmful to public health and the environment”.

Read more at Exxon Leaving ALEC: Important But Insufficient Step in Addressing Company's History of Climate Science Denial, Campaigners Say

Strengthening West Winds Close to Antarctica Previously Led to Massive Outgassing of Carbon

Stronger westerly winds in the Southern Ocean could be the cause of a sudden rise in atmospheric CO2 and temperatures in a period of less than 100 years about 16,000 years ago, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

The westerly winds during that event strengthened as they contracted closer to Antarctica, leading to a domino effect that caused an outgassing of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean into the atmosphere.

This contraction and strengthening of the winds is very similar to what we are already seeing today as a result of human caused climate change.

"During this earlier period, known as Heinrich stadial 1, atmospheric CO2 increased by a total of ~40ppm, Antarctic surface atmospheric temperatures increased by around 5°C and Southern Ocean temperatures increased by 3°C," said lead author Dr Laurie Menviel, a Scientia Fellow with the University of New South Wales (Sydney).  Stronger westerly winds in the Southern Ocean could be the cause of a sudden rise in atmospheric CO2 and temperatures in a period of less than 100 years about 16,000 years ago, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

The westerly winds during that event strengthened as they contracted closer to Antarctica, leading to a domino effect that caused an outgassing of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean into the atmosphere.

This contraction and strengthening of the winds is very similar to what we are already seeing today as a result of human caused climate change.

"During this earlier period, known as Heinrich stadial 1, atmospheric CO2 increased by a total of ~40ppm, Antarctic surface atmospheric temperatures increased by around 5°C and Southern Ocean temperatures increased by 3°C," said lead author Dr Laurie Menviel, a Scientia Fellow with the University of New South Wales (Sydney).

Read more at Strengthening West Winds Close to Antarctica Previously Led to Massive Outgassing of Carbon

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday 13

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.

A World-First:  Ireland Plans to Exit Fossil Fuel Investments Entirely

Solar panels (Credit: oilprice.com) Click to Enlarge.
Ireland could become the first country in the world to quit fossil fuel investments completely, after the Fossil Fuel Divestment bill was passed by the country’s lower house, the Dáil Éireann.

The BBC reports that Ireland’s Strategic Investment Fund will put an end to oil, gas, and coal investments in five years if the upper house of parliament passes the bill, which is expected to happen soon and without any problems.

The fund, worth around US$10.4 billion, has an exposure of almost US$400 million (300 million euro) to the fossil fuel industry, which it will have to eliminate after the upper house—the Seanad—passes the legislation, which will probably take place in September.

Ireland is one of the worst performers in the European Union in the race to hit the Paris Agreement climate change targets.  It was ranked 49th out of 59 signatories to the agreement in the latest Climate Change Performance Index, and also happened to be the lowest-ranked EU member on this list.

The Fossil Fuel Divestment bill, according to proponents, will help the country meet its obligation sunder the agreement.

Ireland may become the first country to fully exit fossil fuels, but it is not the first one to consider the move.  Last November, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway’s US$1-trillion Government Pension Fund Global, recommended the removal of oil and gas stocks—US$35 billion worth of shares—from its equity benchmark index to make Norway’s wealth and economy less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil and gas prices.

“This advice is based exclusively on financial arguments and analyses of the government’s total oil and gas exposure and does not reflect any particular view of future movements in oil and gas prices or the profitability or sustainability of the oil and gas sector,” said Egil Matsen, Deputy Governor at Norges Bank, the manager of the fund that has accumulated its wealth from Norway’s oil revenues over the past two decades.

Read original at A World-First:  Ireland Plans to Exit Fossil Fuel Investments Entirely

Hold on to Your Snowballs:  More Americans Accept the Reality of Climate Change than Ever Before

James Inhofe (Credit: C-Span) Click to Enlarge.
Seventy-three percent!  That’s the proportion of Americans who now think there is “solid evidence” of global climate change, according to a new report released by National Surveys on Energy and the Environment (NSEE).  It’s the highest percentage since the survey started in 2008.

Good news?  Sort of.  Even those who accept the reality of climate change are still hazy on the causes.  Only 34 percent of those sampled believed that climate change is due primarily to human activity, as established science indicates.  As for the rest, 26 percent thought it was partially due to humans and 12 percent blamed natural causes.  Come on, people!

Before you tear your hair out, here’s a quick lesson in the types of climate denial.  “Trend deniers” are people who question whether the climate is changing at all — like the infamous snowball-throwing James Inhofe.  “Attribution deniers,” on the other hand, question whether the changes can be linked to human influence — more in line with Scott Pruitt’s oh-so-vague climate beliefs.

Evidence suggests that trend deniers are on a sharp decline.  Only 15 percent of those sampled in this study believed the climate was not changing at all.  “That’s the lowest percentage since we started the survey,” says Barry Rabe, coauthor of the report and professor at the University of Michigan.

This has been a long time coming.  Americans are experiencing more extreme weather on a personal level (heat waves, anybody?) and are seeing a growing number of reports about rising sea levels and melting polar ice.

Read more at Hold on to Your Snowballs:  More Americans Accept the Reality of Climate Change than Ever Before

UK Seeks Post-Brexit Climate Tie-Up with EU

Cooperation on climate change is a “shared interest” between London and Brussels, according to a paper released by the UK government on Thursday.


UK prime minister Theresa May meets European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Photo Credit: Number 10) Click to Enlarge.
The UK will seek to continue its climate change cooperation with the EU after it leaves the union in 2019.

That’s one of the few climate takeaways from a white paper on the future relationship, released on Thursday by Theresa May’s government.

The document, which sets out in the most detail yet the UK’s ambitions for a deal it will negotiate with Brussels in the coming months, said the government “recognises the UK’s and the EU’s shared interest in global action on climate change and the mutual benefits of a broad agreement on climate change cooperation”.

The UK’s domestic laws are already “more stretching than those that arise from its current obligations under EU law”, said the government.  “The UK will maintain these high standards after withdrawal.”

What a future broad agreement could look like, said think tank E3G’s Pete Clutton-Brock, was a continuation of the UK’s involvement in the EU’s interaction with the Paris climate agreement.

Read more at UK Seeks Post-Brexit Climate Tie-Up with EU

Scientists May Have Solved a Huge Riddle in Earth’s Climate Past.  It Doesn’t Bode Well for the Future.

An ancient flood seems to have stalled the circulation of the oceans, plunging the Northern Hemisphere into a millennium of near-glacial conditions.

Thirteen thousand years ago, an ice age was ending, the Earth was warming, the oceans were rising.  Then something strange happened – the Northern Hemisphere suddenly became much colder, and stayed that way for more than a thousand years.

For some time, scientists have been debating how this major climatic event – called the “Younger Dryas” – happened.  The question has grown more urgent:  Its answer may involve the kind of fast-moving climate event that could occur again.

This week, a scientific team made a new claim to having found that answer.  On the basis of measurements taken off the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada in the Beaufort Sea, the scientists say they detected the signature of a huge glacial flood event that occurred around the same time.

This flood, they posit, would have flowed from the Arctic into the Atlantic Ocean and shut down the crucial circulation known as the “Atlantic meridional overturning circulation” (or AMOC) – plunging Europe and much of North America back into cold conditions.

“Even though we were in an overall warming period, this freshwater, exported from the Arctic, slowed down the vigor, efficiency of the meridional overturning, and potentially caused the cooling observed strongly in Europe,” said Neal Driscoll, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The work, published in Nature Geoscience, was led by Lloyd Keigwin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution along with researchers at that institution, Scripps and Oregon State University.

The result remains contested, though, with other researchers still arguing for different theories of what caused the Younger Dryas – including a very differently routed flood event that would have entered the ocean thousands of miles away.

Nonetheless, the story is relevant because today, we’re watching another – or rather, a further – deglaciation, as humans cause a warming of the planet.  There is also evidence that the Atlantic circulation is weakening again, although scientists certainly do not think a total shut-off is imminent, and are still debating the causes of what is being observed.

Either way, the new research underscores that as the Earth warms and its ice melts, major changes can happen in the oceans.  And could happen again.

The researchers behind the current study, working on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, analyzed sediments of deep ocean mud, which contain the shells of long-dead marine organisms called foraminifera.  In those shells the scientists detected a long-sought-after anomaly recorded in the language of oxygen atoms.

The shells contained a disproportionate volume of oxygen−16, a lighter form (or isotope) of the element that is found in high levels in glaciers.  That is because oxygen−16, containing two fewer neutrons and therefore lighter than oxygen−18, evaporates more easily from the ocean but does not rain out again as readily.  As a result, it often falls as snow at high latitudes and is stored in large bodies of ice.

“This is the smoking gun for fingerprinting glacial lake outbursts,” Driscoll said.  And that means the findings may also represent the trigger for the Younger Dryas.

Read more at Scientists May Have Solved a Huge Riddle in Earth’s Climate Past.  It Doesn’t Bode Well for the Future.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday 12

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.

California’s Carbon Emissions Are Back to ’90s Levels.  It Can Be Done, People!

California flag (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill / Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The California Air Resources Board said Wednesday that the state had hit its goal of bringing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels four years ahead of schedule.  The drop came thanks to a boom in renewables and improving efficiency.

“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress and delivered results,” said Governor Jerry Brown in a statement.

The state actually hit the goal in 2016 and is only reporting it now because it takes a while to crunch the numbers.  A 2006 law set the target and put the Air Resources Board in charge of charting the state’s progress.

The board’s report shows that carbon emissions dropped 13 percent from their recent peak, while the average Californian’s carbon footprint shrank 23 percent, to 10.8 metric tons per person — about half the national average.

Read more at California’s Carbon Emissions Are Back to ’90s Levels.  It Can Be Done, People!

The Downfall of U.S. Nuclear Power

A new, shocking report by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP), Harvard University, and the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy discovered that the U.S. nuclear power industry could be on the verge of a collapse — a reality that many have yet to realize.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), “US nuclear power:  The vanishing low-carbon wedge” examined 99 nuclear power reactors in 30 states, operated by 30 different power companies.  As of 2017, there are two new reactors under construction, but 34 reactors have been permanently shut down as many plants reach the end of their lifespan.

We’re asleep at the wheel on a very dangerous highway,” said Ahmed Abdulla, co-author and fellow at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego.  “We really need to open our eyes and study the situation.”

For more than three decades, approximately 20 percent of U.S. power generation has come from light water nuclear reactors (LWRs).  These plants are now aging, and the cost to service or upgrade them along with fierce competition from Trump’s economic order to prop up failing coal and heavily indebted shale oil/gas companies make nuclear power less competitive in today’s power markets.

In return, the American shale boom could trigger a significant number of US nuclear power plant closures in the years ahead, the researchers warned.  The country is now at a critical crossroad that it must abandon nuclear power altogether or embrace the next generation of miniature, more cost-effective reactors.

The researchers noted that small modular reactors might play a significant role in US energy markets in the next few decades.  This new design would effectively swap out the current aging, LWRs that the Atomic Energy Commission allowed to rapidly expand across the country in the 1960s and after.  The researchers described several scenarios where new nuclear power plants could be used to back up wind and solar, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases.

Given the current market structure and policy dynamics, the researchers were not convinced that nuclear power would be competitive in the future power market.

While efforts continue to advance batteries for storing electricity from solar and wind, utilities have made an impressive push into natural gas.  As of 2018, fossil fuel now produces nearly 32 percent of US power.

Given the impending collapse of the nuclear industry, the researchers questioned whether renewable energy would be enough to offset losses from retiring nuclear power plants.

“The reality is you cannot actually replace 20 percent of the need with wind and solar, unless you want to wallpaper every square inch of many states,” said Christian Back, vice-president of nuclear technologies and materials at General Atomics.  “It’s not efficient enough.”

Read more at The Downfall of U.S. Nuclear Power

UN Security Council Considers ‘Cycle of Conflict and Climate Disaster’

Climate change is contributing to instability in many parts of the world, the UN security council heard on Wednesday, in its first debate dedicated to the topic in seven years.

A community advocate from Chad and Iraq’s water minister testified to the interplay of water scarcity and conflict in their homelands.

Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström and UN deputy chief Amina Mohammed, fresh from a trip to the drought- and terrorist-stricken Lake Chad basin, led calls for a coordinated international response.

“It is past time for us to deepen our understanding of how climate change interacts with drivers of conflict,” said Wallström, chairing the meeting.

Wallström, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the security council this month, announced the launch of a Stockholm-based climate security knowledge hub later this summer and proposed that Mohammed provide an “institutional home” for the issue at the UN.

“Fragile countries are in danger of becoming stuck in a cycle of conflict and climate disaster. Where resilience is eroded, communities may be displaced and exposed to exploitation,” said Mohammed, a former environment minister for Nigeria.

Read more at UN Security Council Considers ‘Cycle of Conflict and Climate Disaster’

Big Oil’s Explore Offshore Propaganda Is Corporate Ventriloquism

A couple of weeks ago, Reuters reported on a new effort by the American Petroleum Institute:  Explore Offshore.  It’s goal is “to convince Hispanic and black communities to support the Trump administration’s proposed expansion of offshore drilling.”

Per Reuters, a key part of API’s effort to convince minority communities to support a product that disproportionately hurts them is through a series of op-eds.  Media Matters took a look at the pieces that have been published so far, and surprise! they’re misleading.  They can’t even get the API talking points, which are going to be biased, right, as one API stat about economic benefits of drilling was exaggerated “ by a factor of 20.”
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Clearly, then, this movement seems to be an inauthentic and cynical attempt to use minority communities as pawns of the pro-oil agenda.  Typically, this type of thing might fall under the banner of “astroturfing,” the name for advocacy efforts that appear as grassroots but are in reality a corporate PR campaign.

But API isn’t even bothering to cover its tracks.  In fact, though Media Matters mentions that some of the op-eds don’t disclose Explore Offshore’s API backing, API has been relatively vocal about its new project.

While Explore Offshore may not be strictly astroturfing, it has the characteristics of something similar:  corporate ventriloquism.  This term was coined by a team of four writers in a book on the coal industry’s rhetoric responding to environmental concerns, Under Pressure.  In it, they describe how companies are moving beyond secretive astroturf campaigns and into more overt advocacy campaigns.

After the embarrassment of the 2009 “Faces of Coal” campaign, in which the coal lobby’s attempt to show real everyday Americans supporting coal was exposed as an astroturfed, stock photo farce, the industry appears to have learned that a sliver of honesty is the best policy.

In a way, Under Pressure explains, that’s even more dangerous.  Once astroturfing is exposed (and at this point, it pretty much always is) it tends to lose all potency and backfire.  When corporations are upfront about their backing of advocacy that advances their interests, though, they still get to control the message (like a ventriloquist) while also entering into the public discourse as though they’re a neutral party.

Instead of hiding its influence, a corporation’s engagement sends the message that it is just another voice, with the right to free expression just like anyone else once SCOTUS ruled corporations are people.  This “flattening,” as it’s described in Under Pressure, glosses over the vast difference between industry will millions to spend on free speech, and the general public’s relatively limited ability to do the same. 

Corporate ventriloquism allows industries to spread their exact message through a secondary source, just like astroturfing, but without threat of embarrassing expose that would undo the messaging work already accomplished.  And in the process, this technique further legitimizes their profit-driven pursuits as just another voice in the crowd, as though those who seek to protect public health from pollution and those who only want to protect polluters are equally valid.

Read more at Big Oil’s Explore Offshore Propaganda Is Corporate Ventriloquism

Scientists May Have Solved a Huge Riddle in Earth’s Climate Past.  It Doesn’t Bode Well for the Future.

An ancient flood seems to have stalled the circulation of the oceans, plunging the Northern Hemisphere into a millennium of near-glacial conditions.


In 2013 a team of researchers set sail to the eastern Beaufort Sea in search of evidence for the flood near where the Mackenzie River enters the Arctic Ocean, forming the border between Canada's Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories. From aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in ice-covered waters, the team gathered sediment cores from along the continental slope east of the Mackenzie River. Above, the piston corer is shown in horizontal position, with the gravity corer hanging vertically, ready to be launched. (Credit: Lloyd Keigwin/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) Click to Enlarge.
Thirteen thousand years ago, an ice age was ending, the Earth was warming, the oceans were rising.  Then something strange happened – the Northern Hemisphere suddenly became much colder, and stayed that way for more than a thousand years.

For some time, scientists have been debating how this major climatic event – called the “Younger Dryas” – happened.  The question has grown more urgent:  Its answer may involve the kind of fast-moving climate event that could occur again.

This week, a scientific team made a new claim to having found that answer.  On the basis of measurements taken off the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada in the Beaufort Sea, the scientists say they detected the signature of a huge glacial flood event that occurred around the same time.

This flood, they posit, would have flowed from the Arctic into the Atlantic Ocean and shut down the crucial circulation known as the “Atlantic meridional overturning circulation” (or AMOC) – plunging Europe and much of North America back into cold conditions.

“Even though we were in an overall warming period, this freshwater, exported from the Arctic, slowed down the vigor, efficiency of the meridional overturning, and potentially caused the cooling observed strongly in Europe,” said Neal Driscoll, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The work, published in Nature Geoscience, was led by Lloyd Keigwin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution along with researchers at that institution, Scripps and Oregon State University.

The result remains contested, though, with other researchers still arguing for different theories of what caused the Younger Dryas – including a very differently routed flood event that would have entered the ocean thousands of miles away.

Nonetheless, the story is relevant because today, we’re watching another – or rather, a further – deglaciation, as humans cause a warming of the planet.  There is also evidence that the Atlantic circulation is weakening again, although scientists certainly do not think a total shut-off is imminent, and are still debating the causes of what is being observed.

Either way, the new research underscores that as the Earth warms and its ice melts, major changes can happen in the oceans.  And could happen again.

The researchers behind the current study, working on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, analyzed sediments of deep ocean mud, which contain the shells of long-dead marine organisms called foraminifera.  In those shells, the scientists detected a long-sought-after anomaly recorded in the language of oxygen atoms.

The shells contained a disproportionate volume of oxygen−16, a lighter form (or isotope) of the element that is found in high levels in glaciers.  That is because oxygen−16, containing two fewer neutrons and therefore lighter than oxygen−18, evaporates more easily from the ocean but does not rain out again as readily.  As a result, it often falls as snow at high latitudes and is stored in large bodies of ice.

“This is the smoking gun for fingerprinting glacial lake outbursts,” Driscoll said.  And that means the findings may also represent the trigger for the Younger Dryas.

Read more at Scientists May Have Solved a Huge Riddle in Earth’s Climate Past.  It Doesn’t Bode Well for the Future.

University of Montana Ecology Professor Helps Map Climate Corridors

Explore and summarize current and projected future climate data for North American ecoregions and LCCs at the watershed level. (Credit: adaptwest.databasin.org) Click to Enlarge.
The corridors of land vital for many wildlife species in the face of climate change often are unprotected.  Now, a recently published study from a University of Montana ecology professor and other researchers has tracked these shifting North American habitats.

Solomon Dobrowski, an associate professor of forest landscape ecology in UM's W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, was part of a team that used high-performance computing methods to map "climate corridors."  Global Change Biology recently published the study.  Climate corridors form the best route between current and future climate types.  Because organisms need to avoid inhospitable climates, the corridors are often circuitous.  Although previous studies have mapped climate connectivity areas over smaller regions, this is the first time scientists have mapped these areas over entire continents.

The researchers found that routes funneled along north-south trending passes and valley systems and along the leeward or drier slopes of north-south trending mountain ranges.  Climate connectivity areas, where many potential dispersal routes overlap, often are distinct from protected areas and poorly captured by existing conservation strategies.  Many of these merit increased levels of protection due to pressures from human land use.
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The researchers hope results from this study will help land managers create more effective responses to climate change by identifying landscape features that promote connectivity among protected areas.

Read more at University of Montana Ecology Professor Helps Map Climate Corridors

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday 11

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.

Report:  The High Cost of Hot

As additional carbon pollution continues to trap more and more heat in the atmosphere, the higher temperatures that result can come with a hefty price tag.  Some of those costs hit our wallets in the form of higher energy bills from greater use of air conditioning.  Warmer temperatures can also have major health impacts, increasing our vulnerabilities to allergies, asthma, heat stroke and even death.  To better understand how this is impacting local communities, Climate Central analyzed trends in cooling degree days and minimum temperatures.  Of the 244 cities analyzed, 93 percent had an increase in cooling degree days.  Much of this warming occurs at night, demonstrated by the fact that of those same cities, 87 percent see an increase in the occurrence of overnight low temperatures above a threshold of either 55°F or 65°F.

Warm Nights
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the optimal temperature for sleeping is around 65°F.  Unfortunately, daily minimum temperatures, which most often occur at night when our bodies rest and recover, have been increasing as a result of climate change.  And in many places, those minimums have been increasing at a faster rate than the average temperature.  The jump in overnight lows is driving much of the overall temperature increase in the United States.  According to calculations by NOAA/NCEI, the rate of warming for overnight temperatures since 1900 is more than 20 percent higher than the daytime rate.

Read more at Report:  The High Cost of Hot

Nobel-Winning Economist to Testify in Children’s Climate Lawsuit

Joseph Stiglitz writes in a court brief that fossil fuel-based economies impose ‘incalculable’ costs on society and shifting to clean energy will pay off.


Economist Joseph Stiglitz writes of climate change: “There is a point at which, once this harm occurs, it cannot be undone at any reasonable cost or in any reasonable period of time. Based on the best available science, our country is close to approaching that point.” (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
One of the world's top economists has written an expert court report that forcefully supports a group of children and young adults who have sued the federal government for failing to act on climate change.

Joseph Stiglitz, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics in 2001 and has written extensively about environmental economics and climate change, makes an economic case that the costs of maintaining a fossil fuel-based economy are "incalculable," while transitioning to a lower-carbon system will cost far less.

The government, he writes, should move "with all deliberate speed" toward alternative energy sources.

Read more at Nobel-Winning Economist to Testify in Children’s Climate Lawsuit

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday 10

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

The Number of AC Units Installed Worldwide Could Quadruple by 2050

Window air conditioning units in East Harlem, New York. (Credit: Jason Kuffer / Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
As global temperatures rise due to climate change, the number of air conditioning units in use globally is expected to quadruple by mid-century, increasing from 3.6 billion today to 14 billion in 2050, according to a new report by scientists at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.  As a result, the world will consume five times more energy for cooling than it does today.

The report includes air conditioning units in homes and workplaces, as well as those used for activities like food and medicine storage and industrial processes.  It estimates that in the next 30 years, 19 cooling appliances will be installed every second.  With no advances in cooling technology, the report finds air conditioning could consume 19,600 terrawatts of energy per year globally, up from 3,600 terrawatts today.  Electricity for cooling alone could consume more than 80 percent of the International Energy Agency’s projected total renewables capacity for 2050.

“With significant areas of the world projected to experience temperature rises that place them beyond those which humans can survive, cooling will increasingly make much of the world bearable—or even safe—to live in,” energy expert Toby Peters of the University of Birmingham, wrote in the report’s foreword.  “Yet the growth of artificial cooling will create massive demand for energy and… cause high levels of CO2 and pollution.  The world must not solve a social crisis by creating an environmental catastrophe.” 

Read original at The Number of AC Units Installed Worldwide Could Quadruple by 2050