Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Solar May Become Largest Global Power Source by 2050

Evolution of total installed PV capacity  (Credit: santamarta-florez.blogspot.com) Click to enlarge.
Solar power might become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050 as falling costs boost installations, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photovoltaic plants may provide as much as 16 percent of global electricity, and concentrating solar facilities could generate another 11 percent, the IEA said in an e-mailed statement Monday.  The Paris-based organization details what is required to reach these figures in two scenarios it sets out to reach the goal.

“The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity,” Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said.

The technologies are expensive to develop, so lowering the cost of capital is of primary importance to achieve this vision, she said.

The IEA is the latest organization to suggest the potential of renewable energy, particular solar, to transform the global power system.  Solar power will take a bigger share of the energy market shake up the industry by 2030, with panels reaching a 6 percent share of electricity from 0.3 percent now, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts.  Solar plants and batteries will be disruptive technologies for the power system, UBS AG said last month.

Photovoltaic installations have grown much faster than the agency expected when it released its first outlook for solar in 2010, when it saw them covering 11 percent of global power by 2050.  More solar capacity has been added since 2010 than in the previous four decades, the IEA said.

Solar May Become Largest Global Power Source by 2050

Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change

Scientists agree that the immediate cause of the California drought is a particularly stubborn "blocking ridge" over the northeastern Pacific - popularly known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, or "Triple R" - that prevented winter storms from reaching California during the 2013 and 2014 rainy seasons. (Credit: Daniel Swain, Stanford School of Earth Sciences) Click to enlarge.
The extreme atmospheric conditions associated with California's crippling drought are far more likely to occur under today's global warming conditions than in the climate that existed before humans emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases.

Associate Professor Noah Diffenbaugh and graduate student Daniel Swain explain the 'ridiculously resilient ridge' and its role in the California drought.

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are "very likely" linked to human-caused climate change, Stanford scientists write in a new research paper.

In a new study, a team led by Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh used a novel combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean that diverted storms away from California was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.

The research, published on Sept. 29 as a supplement to this month's issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is one of the most comprehensive studies to investigate the link between climate change and California's ongoing drought.

Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change

Oil Company Occidental Petroleum Cuts Ties with ALEC

Pumpjacks  (Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
A large oil and natural-gas company is parting ways with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Occidental Petroleum sent a letter Friday to an investment-management company indicating its intention to sever ties with ALEC, a conservative coalition of state legislators and major corporations that actively opposes environmental regulations.

"There are no plans to continue Occidental's membership in, or make further payments to, ALEC," the company said in a letter to Walden Asset Management obtained by National Journal. Occidental declined to comment on the letter.
But Occidental's letter notes a concern that it could be "presumed to share the positions" on global warming and regulations to limit air pollution from the nation's fleet of power plants held by organizations of which the company is a member, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry.

Environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, have accused ALEC of denying climate change, a charge the organization denies.  Its model legislation for state lawmakers, however, runs counter to the scientific consensus on climate change, saying it remains unclear whether human emissions are changing global temperatures.

Watchdog organizations say Occidental's departure could indicate the start of a broader trend of companies not tied to Silicon Valley leaving the free-market organization due to public backlash against the company over its environmental policies.

"It says something that oil companies are leaving now," said Jay Riestenberg, a research analyst with Common Cause, a progressive organizing group that works to pressure companies to divest from ALEC.  "They just don't see it as worth it anymore."

Oil Company Occidental Petroleum Cuts Ties with ALEC

   Monday, September 29

Monday, September 29, 2014

Toon of the Week - A Generation Ago

It was here when, a generation ago, they set aside partisan ideological infighting and united against the dire existential threats of ISIS and ebola.
It was here when, a generation ago, they set aside partisan ideological infighting and united 
against the dire existential threats of ISIS and ebola.

Toon of the Week - A Generation Ago

New York’s Bold New Plan to Expand Solar Energy

Constellation Installs 2.7-MW Ground-Mounted Solar Array at Owens Corning Plant  (Credit: ny-sun.ny.gov) Click to enlarge.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported a ramp-up in his state’s solar capacity Friday, an announcement that rounded out a big week for the state’s environmental initiatives.

The governor announced new NY-Sun awards for large solar electric projects that will increase the solar capacity in New York State by 68 percent, or more than 214 megawatts.  Cuomo in April had announced a commitment of $1 billion to NY-Sun, the state’s initiative for increasing solar energy.  The plan announced Friday includes a $94 million investment by New York State, along with private investments that total $375 million.

“Today we are making another long-term investment in our clean energy economy — with nearly $100 million in funding that will dramatically increase our capacity to generate and utilize solar energy across the state,” Cuomo said in a statement.  “New York is quickly becoming a national leader in renewable energy by building a competitive solar industry, and today’s award recipients are an example of how that progress continues to grow.  As we recognize Climate Week, this is a significant step forward in our goal of creating a better place for New Yorkers to live and work, and I look forward to seeing these projects contribute to a cleaner environment.”

The new solar will be installed at 142 project sites, with 50 of the sites located at businesses, 41 at schools, 36 at government facilities and 15 at nonprofits, colleges and health care facilities.  The project sites are also spread across the state, with 32 in New York City, 23 in the Hudson Valley, 13 in the Finger Lakes and the rest scattered throughout New York.

Also late last week, Gov. Cuomo signed into law a bill that extends property tax breaks for New York residents and business-owners who install solar panels.  The law also doubles the amount of tax breaks possible from the installation.

New York’s Bold New Plan to Expand Solar Energy

Beijing Says Emissions Fell During First Year of Carbon Trading

Xie Zhenhua (R), deputy head of China's National Development and Reform Commission, and Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun attend the inaugural ceremony for Beijing's carbon emission trading in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 28, 2013. (Credit: Xinhua/Hu Qingming) Click to enlarge.
Carbon dioxide emissions from Beijing's major polluters fell 4.5 percent in 2013 as a nascent emissions trading scheme cut compliance costs for firms, the Chinese capital's municipal government said on Monday.

Beijing is one of seven cities and provinces in China that have launched pilot emissions trading schemes ahead of a national market to be launched in the world's biggest-emitting nation in 2016.

The Beijing market began in November, but with caps on CO2 emissions for participating companies backdated to the beginning of the year.

Beijing Says Emissions Fell During First Year of Carbon Trading

Big Business Climate Change Movement Grows in Size and Heft

Chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, Philip K. Ryan, is seen here (on the right) talking at the launch of RE100, an initiative whose backers pledge to derive 100% of their company’s power from renewable sources by 2020. The launch was part of Climate Week NYC (Sept. 22-28).  (Credit: insideclimatenews.org) Click to enlarge.
Climate Week presented a two-front push for nations to take action on climate change.  The moral case was emphatically made by a record-setting, 400,000-person march through Manhattan.  What followed was a similarly unprecedented barrage from investor groups and corporations to convince world leaders that there's also a compelling economic case for taking steps against global warming.

The business presence last week was particularly striking because of its breadth and heft, and because of its extension well beyond the so-called "green bubble" that surrounds companies, investors and advocacy groups who embraced the cause long ago.

Signatories representing $26 trillion in investment funds called on world leaders to enact strong policies, cut fossil fuel subsidies and make polluters pay for the effects of their emissions. There were commitments and pledges from the likes of General Motors, food makers Mars Inc. and Nestle, and consumer products giant Unilever.  And a string of corporate CEOs joined early-adopters like Ikea Group in supporting renewable energy and citing proof that companies and countries can tackle climate change and prosper at the same time.

"More and more businesses are coming forward and saying look, we can do this.  We can cut energy use, we can become more efficient, and we can provide solutions—and this represents an enormous biz opportunity," said Paul Simpson, chief executive officer of London based CDP, a company that collects corporate climate change data on behalf of shareholders. "That's not a completely new message, but I think there are far more companies on board with saying it, and that's really a fundamental shift."

Big Business Climate Change Movement Grows in Size and Heft

   Sunday, September 28

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Americans Growing More Worried About Climate Change, New Polls Reveal

Protestors at the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014.  (Credit: Dominique Mosbergen/The Huffington Post)  Click to enlarge.
Americans are getting increasingly worried about climate change and its impacts, according to results from at least two nationwide polls released this week.

A New York Times/CBS News poll found that nearly half of Americans believe that global warming is causing a serious impact now, while about 60 percent said that protecting the environment should be a priority "even at the risk of curbing economic growth."

Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said that global warming is caused by human activity. This, the New York Times notes, is the "highest level ever recorded by the national poll."

Those results echo those of another survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which found that more than 70 percent of Americans believe climate change is either a critical or an important threat "to the vital interests" of the country, while more than 80 percent said that combating climate change is either a "very important" or "somewhat important" goal for the U.S.

Americans Growing More Worried About Climate Change, New Polls Reveal

California Burning Points to More Intense Wildfires

Razed alarm: wildfire rages through part of California’s Yosemite National Park this month (Credit: PBJamesPhoto via Wikimedia Commons)  Click to enlarge.
Smoke from fires burning at present in northern California has been detected as far north as Canada, as thousands of firefighters battle to contain blazes that together cover nearly 300,000 acres of forest and shrub wood. And it looks like things are going to get worse.

A new report by the US-based Cost of Carbon Pollution project forecasts that such fires are going to become ever more intense in the years ahead – not just in the western US, but elsewhere round the world, and particularly in areas of southern Europe and in Australia.

The ongoing drought across much of the western US has had a serious impact on the region’s agricultural industry, and has resulted in the build-up of vast amounts of tinder-dry material on the land.

“We haven’t been out of fire season for a year and a half,” a leading fire official told the Washington Post. “There is no end in sight.”

Incidence doubles

The new report says the incidence of wildfires – unrestrained fires that burn predominantly in areas of forests, woodlands, grasslands, peat or shrubs – has doubled in the US since the 1990s.

In total, between seven and nine million acres in the US are burned as a result of wildfires every year – an area equivalent to one-and-a-half times the size of the state of Massachusetts.

“These amounts are expected to increase significantly due to climate change and other factors,” the report says. And, overall, there is likely to be a 50% increase by 2050 in the area of North America burned, with more large and potentially catastrophic wildfires.

Not only will more valuable forest be lost, the fires will also have an increasing impact on the economy - with important industries such as tourism suffering serious losses.

California Burning Points to More Intense Wildfires

China Embraces Carbon Pricing and UN Takes a Shine to Plan

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) is greeted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (R) before addressing the Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters in New York, September 23, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)  Click to enlarge.
Millions of visitors and residents could hardly miss the message projected on the side of the world famous United Nations building in New York this week:  “Put a price on carbon.”

At the UN's Climate Summit this week a diverse group of global leaders, from World Bank president Jim Yong Kim to California Governor Jerry Brown, spoke of the need for polluters to pay for each ton of carbon they emit.  More than 1,000 companies pledged their support for the effort.

Carbon pricing, largely rejected by the United States and struggling in Europe, is suddenly all the rage, with China leading the charge.  The world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter plans to establish a national market for carbon permit trading in 2016 and has already launched seven regional pilot markets.

Boosters of carbon pricing policies say that once China sets a national price on carbon, others will follow.

“Once China goes live, that will establish a major price (signal) that will affect all the other markets and all other (carbon) prices," said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

China’s top economic planning agency has said its planned carbon trading scheme will cover 40 percent of its economy and be worth up to $65 billion.

“You will see a shift in the fulcrum toward China and that will attract other countries,” Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group special envoy for climate change, told Reuters.

Governments like Chile and Mexico and U.S. states like California will be keen to link their emerging carbon markets to the Chinese model, Kyte said.

South Korean Environment Minister Yoon Seong-kyu said his country, which in 2015 will be the first in Asia to launch a national carbon market, wants to eventually link its scheme to China’s.

Kyte said emerging economies have shown a strong interest in using measures like markets and taxes to rein in pollution, and have joined the Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness for help to shape their carbon pricing policies.

The initiative is helping countries like Vietnam design and pilot carbon pricing instruments in its steel, solid waste and power sectors, Colombia explore the launch of a carbon tax and Kazakhstan fix problems with the pilot emissions trading scheme it launched in 2013.

China Embraces Carbon Pricing and UN Takes a Shine to Plan

Why It Matters That Statoil Just Shelved Its Multi-Billion-Dollar Tar Sands Project

An aerial view of a mining site for Canadian tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Tar sands are the type of fuel that would be transported in Keystone XL. (Credit: Josh Burstein/Nextgen Climate Action)  Click to enlarge.
In what’s being hailed as a huge win for environmentalists, Norwegian oil company Statoil announced on Thursday that it would postpone a planned multi-billion dollar tar sands oil development project in Fort McMurray, Alberta for at least three years.  The major project, when completed, was supposed to produce 40,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands, or oil sands, crude oil every day.

Statoil is putting the project on hold for a few reasons, but the most notable is the company’s assertion that there is “limited pipeline access” for the oil.  In other words, Statoil is not sure there is enough pipeline capacity for it to actually get the oil out of northern Canada.  According to Reuters, Statoil is the first company to explicitly cite pipeline access as a reason for delaying or cancelling a project.

For environmentalists and advocates opposed to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, this decision is huge.  A group of six environmental organizations including the Sierra Club and 350.org are calling it “tangible proof” that strong, coordinated opposition to big pipeline projects like Keystone XL “lead to real reductions in tar sands investment and associated carbon pollution.”

Over its lifetime, Statoil’s project would have emitted 777.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the groups said — the equivalent to 164 million cars, or one year’s worth of emissions from 204 U.S. coal plants.

It’s important, however, to emphasize that Statoil’s postponement probably didn’t have to do with the fact that Keystone XL itself has not been approved.  Andrew Leach, a professor of energy and climate policy at the University of Alberta, told ThinkProgress that Statoil did not secure an agreement with Keystone operator TransCanada to transport its oil on the pipeline. “So even if Keystone XL got built … [Statoil was] still potentially left without a home for the barrels they want,” Leach said.

While Statoil’s decision to halt its project does not have to do specifically with the Keystone XL pipeline, there are nevertheless several reasons why the postponement matters for the environmental community.
  1. It shows that pipeline protests really can impact the future of oil sands development

    The momentum surrounding opposition to Keystone XL has done more than just delay the one pipeline — it’s made companies extremely wary of pursuing pipeline projects that cross the border to bring Canadian tar sands oil into the United States.  According to Leach, that broader fact is now making some companies rethink tar sands production projects.

Why It Matters That Statoil Just Shelved Its Multi-Billion-Dollar Tar Sands Project

How to Make Stronger, 'Greener' Cement:  New Formula Could Cut Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

Concrete is the world's most-used construction material, and a leading contributor to global warming, producing as much as one-tenth of industry-generated greenhouse-gas emissions. (Credit: © sframe / Fotolia)  Click to enlarge.
Concrete is the world's most-used construction material, and a leading contributor to global warming, producing as much as one-tenth of industry-generated greenhouse-gas emissions. Now a new study suggests a way in which those emissions could be reduced by more than half -- and the result would be a stronger, more durable material.

The findings come from the most detailed molecular analysis yet of the complex structure of concrete, which is a mixture of sand, gravel, water, and cement.  Cement is made by cooking calcium-rich material, usually limestone, with silica-rich material -- typically clay -- at temperatures of 1,500 degrees Celsius, yielding a hard mass called "clinker."  This is then ground up into a powder.  The decarbonation of limestone, and the heating of cement, are responsible for most of the material's greenhouse-gas output.

The new analysis suggests that reducing the ratio of calcium to silicate would not only cut those emissions, but would actually produce better, stronger concrete.  These findings are described in the journal Nature Communications by MIT senior research scientist Roland Pellenq; professors Krystyn Van Vliet, Franz-Josef Ulm, Sidney Yip, and Markus Buehler; and eight co-authors at MIT and at CNRS in Marseille, France.

"Cement is the most-used material on the planet," Pellenq says, noting that its present usage is estimated to be three times that of steel.  "There's no other solution to sheltering mankind in a durable way -- turning liquid into stone in 10 hours, easily, at room temperature.  That's the magic of cement."

In conventional cements, Pellenq explains, the calcium-to-silica ratio ranges anywhere from about 1.2 to 2.2, with 1.7 accepted as the standard.  But the resulting molecular structures have never been compared in detail.  Pellenq and his colleagues built a database of all these chemical formulations, finding that the optimum mixture was not the one typically used today, but rather a ratio of about 1.5.

As the ratio varies, he says, the molecular structure of the hardened material progresses from a tightly ordered crystalline structure to a disordered glassy structure.  They found the ratio of 1.5 parts calcium for every one part silica to be "a magical ratio," Pellenq says, because at that point the material can achieve "two times the resistance of normal cement, in mechanical resistance to fracture, with some molecular-scale design."

The findings, Pellenq adds, were "validated against a large body of experimental data." Since emissions related to concrete production are estimated to represent 5 to 10 percent of industrial greenhouse-gas emissions, he says, "any reduction in calcium content in the cement mix will have an impact on the CO2." In fact, he says, the reduction in carbon emissions could be as much as 60 percent.

In addition to the overall improvement in mechanical strength, Pellenq says, because the material would be more glassy and less crystalline, there would be "no residual stresses in the material, so it would be more fracture-resistant."

How to Make Stronger, 'Greener' Cement:  New Formula Could Cut Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

Crazy Weather Traced to Arctic's Impact on Jet Stream

Sticky weather: the normal gentle curve of the jet stream is forced into becoming steeper and slower, causing hot or cold weather to "stick" for longer periods than normal  (Credit: newscientist.com) Click to enlarge.
The rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change may be to blame for more frequent prolonged spells of extreme weather in Europe, Asia and North America, such as heat waves, freezing temperatures or storms.

These are relatively short-term periods of bizarre weather, like the cold snap that paralysed North America earlier this year, rather than longer-term rises in temperature.

They are related to "stuck" weather patterns, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told a conference on Arctic sea ice reduction in London on 23 September.  "Is it global warming?  I think it's safe to answer yes," she told the meeting.

Francis said a growing number of studies, including her own, suggest that the melting Arctic is having knock-on effects on the jet stream, the river of air that snakes around the northern hemisphere at an altitude of around 5 to 6 kilometres, and which has a profound impact on the world's weather.

Crazy Weather Traced to Arctic's Impact on Jet Stream

   Saturday, September 27

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Climate Advocates Need to Embrace Carbon Tax

Charles Komanoff  (Credit: insideclimatenews.org)  Click to enlarge.
Which is mightier—the obstacles to enacting a U.S. carbon tax, or the tax’s unique capacity to drive down global-warming emissions quickly, massively and equitably?

At the Carbon Tax Center we’ve bet on the latter.  And our bet will only get better if the climate movement coalesces its advocacy and organizing around a carbon tax.

Making polluters pay to emit carbon isn’t just textbook economics and basic fairness—though it is those things.  A carbon tax is the only way for the climate damage caused by burning fossil fuels to be brought inside the arc of individual and societal decision-making that determines how much of those fuels society uses and, thus, how much carbon it emits.

These decisions range from the immediate and quotidian:  take transit vs. car, refill at the tap vs. buy bottled water; to institutional and far-reaching: build airplane frames with ultralight composites vs. aluminum, locate in town vs. on the outskirts, contract with a wind farm vs. a coal generator.

Without a tax on carbon emissions, every choice like these - and billions are made daily - will remain so rigged that fossil fuels will never yield their central position in world energy supply—or at least not fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control.  But a tax gives us a fighting chance to keep climate tipping points at bay and stave off global warming’s most dire effects.

Climate Advocates Need to Embrace Carbon Tax

TV Dwells on Disaster in Covering Climate Science: Study

FLOODY HELL: Drivers negotiate a flooded road beneath a railway bridge in Wymondham (Credit: dailystar.co.uk/Alamy)  Click to enlarge.
Television news tends to focus on disasters such as droughts or floods in covering scientific findings about climate change, an approach that may exaggerate pessimism about the subject, according to a new study.

The review of coverage by leading television news shows in Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, Germany and India found that they most often framed reports about the science of global warming in terms of crisis.

The report, by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, said disaster scenarios were played up over themes of scientific uncertainty, risks of global warming or opportunities for solving the problems.

"For television, which is driven by pictures and the need for strong, engaging narratives in a short space of time, disaster-type approaches are going to be very attractive," author James Painter told Reuters.

Some scientists say the media focus on disaster may warp public understanding of climate change and complicate decision-making on effective solutions.  A Yale University study in July found that only one in 10 Americans understand that more than 90 percent of scientists blame man-made emissions, rather than natural variations in climate, for causing global warming.

TV Dwells on Disaster in Covering Climate Science: Study

Climate Change Could Cause 250K More Annual Deaths by Midcentury -- WHO

Malaria, the mosquito-borne disease blamed for the deaths of more than 1 million young children every year, is expected to become more pronounced under climate change.  (Credit: Jez via flickr)  Click to enlarge.
The World Health Organization predicts that an additional 250,000 people will die annually between 2030 and 2050 from conditions caused or exacerbated by climate change, the Geneva-based agency reported Thursday in an update of climate mortality estimates.

But the causes of sickness and death will shift over that period as child deaths from malnutrition and diarrheal disease decline across much of the world, while mortality rises from things like mosquito-borne malaria, heat exposure and other conditions, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

"Overall, climate change is projected to have substantial adverse impacts on future mortality, even considering only a subset of the expected health effects," the agency said in its latest Quantitative Risk Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on Selected Causes of Death.  And those impacts are expected to be felt even "even under optimistic scenarios of future socioeconomic development."

At the same time, the agency said, adverse health effects from climate change "will be distributed unequally within and between populations," with wealthier countries and regions generally being better able to adapt to and mitigate against the harshest effects.

According to WHO, deaths from heat exposure will be especially pronounced over the coming decades, from 92,000 to as much as 250,000 deaths worldwide per year by midcentury, with the greatest rates of death occurring in the world's poorest regions.

Wealthy nations not spared

But the developed world won't be spared from the effects of rising temperatures, according to WHO.

"An increase in acute mortality associated with high temperatures has been observed in nearly all populations where it has been studied," the authors state.  And while human populations are largely adapted to local climates, researchers point to "an increase in mortality risk observed at both high and low temperatures in populations in temperate and cold climates ... and tropical and subtropical areas."

For example, nearly 3,000 heat-related deaths are expected annually among elderly populations in the United States and Canada by 2030, even with modest adaptation levels.  Europe, meanwhile, could see 5,500 heat-related mortalities each year through 2020.

By 2050 North American and European annual heat deaths should rise to roughly 6,100 and 10,500, respectively, even with modest adaptation.  Under a no-adaptation scenario, the projected mortalities for North America and Europe shot to 16,000 and 27,300, respectively.

Climate Change Could Cause 250K More Annual Deaths by Midcentury -- WHO

Ancient Records Reveal Scary Sea-Level Scenarios

Ice towering over ocean (Credit: Pauline Askin / Reuters File) Click to enlarge.
Sediment cores from below the Red Sea bolster two key tenets of climate experts, scientists reported Thursday: a three-foot sea level rise in a century is by no means extreme, and once ice sheets start to melt, that process is likely to accelerate for several centuries.

Using 500,000-year-old sediment cores, scientists from Australian National University reported that data covering more than 120 episodes of sea level change support those predictions of what Earth’s near future might hold.

“We can quantify how fast sea level rose in the past, in response to natural climate processes,” study co-author Katharine Grant, a climate researcher at the Australian National University, told NBCNews.com.

And that, the team said, offers parameters for what to expect in a world that most scientists believe is warming because of man-made emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Times with close to the modern amount of ice on Earth show sea-level rise rates of up to about 1 meter per century,” Grant said.  “This is in the range of sea-level rise predictions for the coming century, so what our study shows is that rise rates of this order of magnitude are not at all excessive or extreme but within the range of ‘normal’ climate variability for present-day-equivalent ice volumes.”

Co-author Eelco Rohling, also of the Australian National University and the University of Southampton, said the study is the first to show how long ice-sheet melting can persist.

"This happened within 400 years for 68 percent of all 120 cases considered, and within 1,100 years for 95 percent,” he said in a statement issued with the study.  “In other words, once triggered, ice-sheet reduction, and therefore sea-level rise, kept accelerating relentlessly over periods of many centuries."

What does that mean for Earth today?  "Man-made warming spans 150 years already and studies have documented clear increases in mass-loss from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets,” Rohling said.  “Once under way, this response may be irreversible for many centuries to come."

Ancient Records Reveal Scary Sea-Level Scenarios

   Friday, September 26

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tech Companies Are Dropping ALEC En Masse

Tech giants quitting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)  (Credit: Andrew Breiner)  Click to enlarge.
Which tech giant is quitting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) this time?  It’s Yahoo, coming after Google and Facebook announced they were cutting ties with the conservative corporate lobbying group on Monday and Tuesday of this week, respectively.

Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt was the most explicit in his reasoning, indicating it was related to ALEC’s advocacy for climate denial and attacks on renewable energy.  “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place,” he said on NPR’s Diane Rehm show.  “And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

Others quitting ALEC seem to be similarly motivated, as activists have stepped up pressure on companies that strive to appear green while supporting an organization that encourages state legislatures to limit renewable energy, oppose the EPA, and teach climate denial in schools.  ALEC also supports a wide variety of other far-right legislative initiatives.

This is the second major wave of companies to abandon ALEC, after many cut ties in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing in 2012.  ALEC’s sponsorship of controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws brought widespread condemnation of the group and public pressure on companies to stop giving it money.

Tech Companies Are Dropping ALEC En Masse

Scientists:  Fracking Wastewater Poses Threat to Drinking Water

A jar holding waste water from hydraulic fracturing is held up to the light at a recycling site in Midland, Texas, Sept. 24, 2013.  (Credit: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan) Click to enlarge.
Every year, hundreds of billions of gallons of wastewater are produced by fracking operations across America. Some of that water gets stored in manmade ponds, some of it is injected underground, and some of it is treated and put back into rivers.

For the people whose drinking water systems are downstream of those rivers, scientists have some bad news.

New peer-reviewed research from Stanford and Duke University scientists shows that even when fracking wastewater goes through water treatment plants, and is disposed of in rivers that are not drinking water systems, the treated water still risks contaminating human drinking water.  That’s because there are generally drinking water systems downstream of those rivers, and treatment plants aren’t doing a good job of removing contaminants called halides, which have the potential to harm human health.

The scientists say halides — which are salts like bromide, chloride, and iodide — are often found in fracking wastewater, and the concern about them is that their presence in the water can promote the formation of something called “disinfection byproducts,” or DBPs.  These chemicals — trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids, bromate, and chlorite — are formed when the disinfectants used in water treatment plants react with halides, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology and released by the American Chemical Society on Wednesday, the research showed that toxic compounds formed in water even when fracking wastewater made up only 0.01 to 0.1 percent of the waters’ volume.  To prevent this from happening, the researchers recommended that fracking wastewater should not be discharged into surface waters, even when it is treated.

Scientists:  Fracking Wastewater Poses Threat to Drinking Water

The Gathering Storm:  U.S. Must Lead Action on Climate Change - by Daniel Kammen of U.C. Berkeley and Dr. Michael Mann

Throngs at the People's Climate March Sunday in New York City. The march filled 80 blocks. (Credit: Climate Action Network International/Flickr)  Click to enlarge.
Winston Churchill saw the gathering storm long before the rest of the world.  Europe sacrificed millions of people before it openly acknowledged and then directly confronted the crisis.  Yet, even after the Allies responded, the outcome was uncertain.  Only when the U.S. entered the fray could the Allies see a clear path to end the threat.

While meeting that threat, the war mobilization also provided employment for millions and pulled the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression, leading to a half-century of prosperity.  Americans mostly look back fondly on that period, as the world became a better place in many ways for the changes that were made.

Today, we face another threat, this time from climate disruption.  Again, the U.S. must lead – this time to a clean energy future and a healthier world.  As we experience more intense and longer heat waves, prolonged drought, crop failures, rising seas, increasing wildfires and floods, and as natural systems begin to crash, we will see profoundly destabilizing effects. (Take quiz: What You Don’t Know About Climate Change Science.)

The scientific debate about whether human-caused global warming exists is long over. The remaining window of time for the needed transformation is short, and the only real issue is how we respond.  This is where U. S. leadership is most critical.

Global warming already directly impacts public health, our economy, food and water supplies, and national security.   What’s more, a recently leaked UN report details how global warming now most assuredly will lead to “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.”  In an attempt to alert the public to the danger, it was released by scientists prior to its being substantively amended by government representatives who might feel tempted to censor critical information.

In response to the scale and urgency of the threat, and in solidarity with our colleagues, we call on our fellow scientists to speak clearly to the nation and the world, and if so moved, to sign on to our Scientific Statement on Climate Stabilization.  To successfully combat global warming and stay below the 2-degree C heat ceiling, the statement calls for these actions:

First, carbon emissions should peak now.  Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions must begin at once in industrialized nations, and within a few years in developing nations.  Second, we must reduce emissions by several percent per year and quickly transition away from fossil fuels.  Third, the United States must lead.  The U.S. must embrace the Copenhagen Accord, shape the upcoming 2015 Paris accords, and lead this next great industrial transformation. Our capacity to innovate is unmatched, which means that U. S. industry will benefit from political clarity around climate stabilization.

The Gathering Storm:  U.S. Must Lead Action on Climate  Change - by Daniel Kammen of U.C. Berkeley and Dr. Michael Mann

   Thursday, September 25

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio Pivots Toward a Sustainable New York City

New York City  (Credit: NYC Sustainability/shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
Nine months into his mayoralty, with over 300,000 climate marchers having massed in Manhattan, and a U.N. climate meeting just finished, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio decided the time was right to renew the city's sustainability effort.  The mayor and his team have announced the goal of reducing New York City's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2050.  The mayor deserves high praise for articulating these new goals.  The major focus of the program is increasing the energy efficiency of our built environment.   According to New York Times reporter Matt Flegenheimer:
New York would become the largest city in the world to make the commitment, according to the city's leaders.  Though the proposal is likely to rankle some residential and commercial building owners, who will bear a portion of its cost, officials have framed the issue in part as an extension of the citywide focus on income inequality since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in January.  High energy costs, the de Blasio administration argues, amount to a regressive tax, because lower-income residents by and large pay a higher share of their rent for energy than wealthier residents, and often live in less-efficient buildings...Such ambitions, though, will come at a significant near-term price:  at least $1 billion of its capital funding alone will be devoted to enhancing the city-owned buildings over the next decade, the administration said, excluding the cost of the private building alterations and other changes.
With this week's emphasis on climate and environment, and the mayor's long background as one of the city's sharpest political minds, the timing of this announcement is no surprise. However, in addition to the words of the new and far-reaching policy design, we are starting to see some movement in staffing the city's sustainability offices and working to integrate sustainability into the mayor's broader economic policy priorities.  These are important signals that the mayor is about to get serious about sustainability.

Mayor Bill de Blasio Pivots Toward a Sustainable New York City

World's Largest Coal Company Plans Billion-Dollar Solar Project in India

Gevra mine, operated by Coal India Limited  (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge.
Continuing its push to increase investment in renewable energy, India’s energy ministry is working with the state-controlled coal mining company Coal India Limited — the largest coal mining operation in the world — to install solar power projects worth $1.2 billion.  The company is in the process of selecting sites for solar plants, which are expected to have a combined total energy-generating capacity of 1,000 megawatts, the Times of India reports.

India currently has roughly 2,200 megawatts of grid-connected solar power capacity, so Coal India Limited's contribution would be a substantial increase.  When prime minister Narendra Modi took office earlier this year, he pledged to bring electricity to the homes of the nation's entire population of 1.2 billion — 400 million of whom lack any access to electricity — within the next five years, largely through solar installations.

World's Largest Coal Company Plans Billion-Dollar Solar Project in India

Insurers, After White House Meeting, Emerged Worried About More 'Extreme Weather' Events

Thunderstorm near Glasgow, Montana  (Credit: s.ngm.com) Click to enlarge.
Five insurance trade groups are promoting stronger building decisions to help counter a sharp rise in losses from extreme weather, prompted by a meeting on climate change between senior White House officials and industry leaders in June.

The groups, whose memberships represent a large share of U.S. insurance companies, released a position statement yesterday that expresses their concern about climbing damage from weather events like hurricanes, floods, downpours and wildfires.

It does not mention climate change explicitly, making some observers bristle, but instead emphasizes an ambitious transition toward damage prevention by improving land-use policies, strengthening building codes and funding stronger construction methods.  The statement's subtext takes aim at federal policies that the insurance industry has long said contribute to poor development decisions that increase losses.

"What we're talking about are extreme weather, adaptation, resilience, mitigation, climate-related issues -- whatever you'd like to call it," said Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.  "The administration calls it climate change.  I think, from our perspective, it's really about weather events."

Insurers, After White House Meeting, Emerged Worried About More 'Extreme Weather' Events

   Wednesday, September 24

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Memo To Obama: Expanded Natural Gas Use Worsens Climate Change - by Joe Romm

Man at end of road (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
A new study confirms that “increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.”

This Environmental Research Letters study should be sobering to fans of expanded gas use who care about global warming — such as the Environmental Defense Fund and President Obama — because it is true even if methane leakage from gas production and delivery could somehow miraculously be reduced to zero.

“Natural gas has been presented as a bridge to a low-carbon future, but what we see is that it’s actually a major detour,” explained lead author Christine Shearer in the news release.  “We find that the only effective paths to reducing greenhouse gases are a regulatory cap or a carbon tax.”

Although many fracking advocates pretend otherwise, this is not a new finding.  Indeed, most claims that shale gas will significantly reduce U.S. carbon emissions in the future are based on little more than hand-waving and wishful thinking, as the literature makes clear.   That’s because — even if we ignore methane leaks — those claims assume natural gas is replacing coal only, rather than replacing some combination of coal, renewables, nuclear power, and energy efficiency, which is what is happening in the real world.

Last year, Stanford’s Energy Modeling Forum published the results of economic modeling by more than a dozen different expert teams.  The figure below shows the results of the models that extend to 2050 (though the results are not substantially different if the modeling stops at 2035).
More abundant, cheaper shale gas (dark blue) has little impact on annual growth in U.S. CO2 emissions through 2050 compared to low shale gas case (light blue). This is true for all six energy-economy models featured here. Deep cuts in CO2 require a rising carbon price (green).  (Credit: emf.stanford.edu) Click to enlarge.

Why doesn’t cheap, abundant natural gas matter much for long-term U.S. CO2 trends?  Over time, and especially post-2020, “natural gas begins to displace nuclear and renewable energy that would have been used otherwise in new power plants under reference case conditions.”

“Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” explains Prof. Steven Davis, the principal investigator of the new study.  “It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”

To extend the metaphor, those reduced-fat cookies are not simply replacing full-fat ones, they are also replacing fruits and other healthy snacks.

Dr. Shearer explains the study’s findings in this video:

It bears repeating that natural gas is mostly methane, (CH4), a super-potent greenhouse gas, which traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period.  So even small leaks in the natural gas production and delivery system can have a large climate impact .

Observations and analysis make clear that methane leakage is actually quite high — enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas for decades.  Sadly, the kind of national regulations that could seriously cut leakage are not in our foreseeable future.

Memo To Obama: Expanded Natural Gas Use Worsens Climate Change - by Joe Romm

Tackling the Oil Industry on Climate Change

Bill McKibben Interview

‘Protect our climate’ was the rallying cry heard across New York City Sunday, but the underlying message really was ‘stop using fossil fuels.’

Here is the plain truth – and you’ve heard it before:  We won’t solve climate change unless we wean ourselves off oil and coal and use cleaner energy sources.

But there is a novel solution, and it’s not the one hundreds of thousands of people were talking about on the streets of Manhattan.  Take the people making the most money off the extraction of vast oil and coal reserves – the investors who own oil and coal companies – and show them how they stand to lose billions if these companies get it wrong in navigating the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Oil and coal reserves that fossil fuel companies already have are enough to cook the planet.  They spend more than half a trillion dollars a year to develop new reserves.  The International Energy Agency says that two-thirds of proven coal and oil resources should remain underground if we want to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the goal set by world leaders attending a United Nations Climate Summit here tomorrow.

Investors are starting to connect the dots.  Many of the world’s largest investors are voicing concern that fossil fuel companies are grossly underestimating the financial risks they face as the global economy shifts from high-polluting energy to cleaner alternatives.  They’re especially focused on curbing investments in expensive, high-carbon oil projects that simply won’t make economic sense as global oil demand is constrained by carbon emission limits, more competitive clean energy technologies and other factors.

Last fall, these investors, which collectively manage $3.5 trillion in assets, wrote to the world’s 45 largest fossil fuel companies, asking them to disclose how climate change will affect their businesses, including the potential of current and future reserves becoming unusable – or “stranded.”  They also filed shareholder resolutions with a dozen companies and held face-to-face meetings with oil giants such as Exxon and Shell.

In their responses to investors, Exxon and Shell argue that a low-carbon economy – and declining global oil demand – are unlikely until the distant future, which is why they’re continuing to invest billions in increasingly expensive, carbon-intensive oil plays.  In short, they said, ‘We don’t think world governments will limit carbon pollution anytime soon and until they do, we’ll keep drilling.’

Royal Dutch Shell: Annual Capital Expenditure per Barrel of Production Versus Production  (Credit: msn.com) Click to enlarge. We think this ‘business as usual’ thinking is fraught with risks.  Even without a global carbon price, the industry’s financial standing is significantly weaker than it was just a decade ago, when high oil prices guaranteed high profits.  Companies are seeing weaker profits, even with oil prices hovering around $100 a barrel.  In the case of Shell, which is especially dependent on oil that is expensive to develop, its profits are lower today than they were in 2009, despite a $40 jump in the price per barrel of oil.  Exxon’s annual returns in the past five years, like Shell’s, are also lagging behind the S&P 500 index.

A big reason for the weaker returns is that ‘expensive’ oil is the new norm.  More than ever before, oil majors are spending significantly more capital on harder-to-get oil.  Capital expenditures by the largest oil companies are now five times the levels they were in 2000.

Tackling the Oil Industry on Climate Change

U.N. Climate Summit Falls Short for Marchers, World's Poorest

Activists hold a banner as they lead a march of tens of thousands down 6th Avenue during the People's Climate March through Midtown, New York September 21, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Adrees Latif)  Click to enlarge.
Leaders at the U.N. climate summit in New York made too few commitments on curbing climate change to meet the demands of the hundreds of thousands of people who flooded streets worldwide on Sunday calling for bold action, civil society groups said.

But they took some heart from the limited pledges made by governments on Tuesday, together with signals that countries are serious about agreeing a new global climate deal next year in Paris, aiming to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

For example, several states - including Mexico and South Korea - promised to put money into the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund, which is intended to help vulnerable countries adapt to extreme weather and rising seas, and develop cleanly.

According to a tally by aid agency Oxfam, fresh pledges in New York totaled $1.325 billion, with France making the largest contribution of $1 billion over the next four years.

"The cash is starting to land in the Green Climate Fund, albeit at little more than a trickle," said Tim Gore, Oxfam's head of climate policy.  "All eyes are now on those yet to stump up, including the United States, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, and on the devil in the detail of those pledges made (on Tuesday)."

Developing countries have called for an initial capitalization of the fund of $15 billion, and the U.N.'s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, said it should be at least $10 billion.

The total promised so far to the fund - which will hold its first pledging conference in November ahead of annual U.N. climate talks in Peru - is just over $2.3 billion.

Separately, Norway said it would spend up to $300 million to support a program in Peru to reduce emissions from the destruction of the world's fourth largest tropical forest, and up to $150 million to tackle deforestation caused by logging, agriculture and charcoal production in Liberia.

Meanwhile, the European Union said it aims to allocate more than 3 billion euros ($3.8 billion) in grants to support sustainable energy in developing states over the next seven years.

U.N. Climate Summit Falls Short for Marchers, World's Poorest

China, U.S. Make Treaty Pledges During Climate Summit

Obama speaking during the U.N. Climate Summit (Credit: John Gillespie/flickr)  Click to enlarge.
The world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, the U.S. and China, on Tuesday threw their political and climate-changing weight behind an effort to strike an international deal to slow global warming.

“We cannot condemn our children, and their children, to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair,” President Obama said during his speech at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York.  “Not when we have the means, the technological innovation and the scientific imagination to begin the work of repairing it right now.”

Speaking just two days after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of New York and other cities in marches demanding action to protect the climate, Obama and a senior Chinese official made important announcements about their efforts to do so.

Both countries have long lagged on climate action, angering the leaders and citizens of other nations.  Without the support of China and the U.S., there can be no real hope of a climate treaty that effectively slows climate change.  But, as the price of renewables has fallen and the impacts of climate change and air pollution have become more clear in recent years, both countries have begun striving to replace energy from coal and other fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives.

“Today I am here, personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that we have begun to do something about it,” Obama said.  “We will do our part, and we will help developing nations do theirs.  But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”

Obama said that, by early next year, the U.S. would outline its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas pollution under a treaty that’s scheduled to be finalized in Paris next December.  The overall goal of the treaty is to keep global warming to within 2°C, or 3.7°F. The world is currently on track to blow way past that goal.

Announcements about pending announcements might not sound exciting, but negotiation watchers said the statement was important, showing that the U.S. is keeping to a negotiations timeline that was agreed upon during talks in Warsaw last year.

Unrelated to the planned climate treaty, Obama announced that he would sign an executive order directing federal agencies to consider climate change and climate impacts when making decisions about international development projects.  The order would also direct agencies to share American climate adaptation technology and knowhow with other countries.
Obama announced that the U.S. would meet a 2010 commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution levels by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, which is when the planned new climate treaty would take effect.

Minutes after Obama walked away from the podium, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli indicated China might do the same.

When China’s Vice Premier spoke, he went further than China has gone before in indicating that its upcoming commitment, which he said would be announced “as soon as we can,” would include a carbon emissions peak.

“Peaking would set an absolute limit on emissions levels, which is an important shift,” said David Waskow, the director of the World Resource Institute's international climate initiative. “That’s the highest-level political signal that’s been sent by the Chinese government about peaking.”

China, U.S. Make Treaty Pledges During Climate Summit

U.N. Climate Summit Sets Goals to Save Forests, Use Clean Energy

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the Climate Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 23, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)  Click to enlarge.
A United Nations summit on climate change agreed on Tuesday to widen the use of renewable energy and raise billions of dollars in aid for developing countries in an effort to increase the prospects for a wide-ranging deal to slow global warming.

The one-day summit, hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, set goals to halt losses of tropical forests by 2030, improve food production, and hike the share of electric vehicles in cities to 30 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030.

The non-binding initiatives were set by various coalitions of governments, multinational companies, cities, financial groups, investors, environmental organizations and other groups.

The targets are meant to help prepare a 200-nation summit in Paris in late 2015 to finalize a deal to slow rising greenhouse gas emissions.  Until now, work has been slow with many countries more focused on improving economic growth and creating jobs.

Governments and investors said they would raise more than $200 billion in climate financing by the end of 2015, including $30 billion in green bonds by commercial banks and $100 billion from a group of development banks.
Separately, an alliance of about 30 countries including the United States and a coalition of multinational companies set a goal of halving losses of forests by 2020 and halting losses by 2030.  If fully implemented, this would stave off between 4.5 billion and 8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, equivalent to emissions by all the world's one billion cars.
Companies, including Walmart, Unilever, Wilmar International, General Mills, Asia Pulp and Paper, and Nestle, many non-governmental organizations, and indigenous peoples' groups signed up for the plan.

The declaration is backed by more than $1 billion from countries including Britain, Germany and Norway.  Norway said it would provide up to $300 million to Peru and $150 million to Liberia.

"The actions agreed today will reduce poverty, enhance food security, improve the rule of law, secure the rights of indigenous peoples and benefit communities around the world," Ban said.

Among initiatives to curb the use of fossil fuel, one project would raise the share of renewable energy used in power generation in 19 countries in eastern and southern Africa to 40 percent by 2030 from 10 percent.

U.N. Climate Summit Sets Goals to Save Forests, Use Clean  Energy