Tuesday, March 31, 2015

United States Submits Formal Plan for Paris Climate Talks

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters in New York, in September 23, 2014 (Credit: file photo, Reuters/Mike Segar/Files) Click to Enlarge.
The United States on Tuesday formally submitted its climate change strategy to the United Nations, outlining domestic measures it is taking to achieve up to a 28 percent greenhouse gas emissions cut by 2025.

The submission lays out how the United States "will roughly double the pace" at which the country reduces its greenhouse gas emissions "through cost-effective measures using laws already on the books," said Brian Deese, adviser to President Barack Obama, in a blog post unveiling the strategy.

The United States will rely on existing measures such as fuel economy standards for vehicles and improved appliance efficiency to help meet the target, according to the submission.

It will also pursue proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants and methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, the plan said.

Read original article at United States Submits Formal Plan for Paris Climate Talks

Florida’s Climate Denial Could Cause Catastrophic Recession - by Joe Romm

Florida, Texas, and Louisiana lead the nation in the value of property covered by the National Health Insurance. (Credit: thinkprogress.org/Federal Emergency Management Agency) Click to Enlarge.
The joke is on all of us:  Florida has led the way in all but ignoring the growing twin threats created by human-caused climate change — sea level rise and superstorm surge — thereby creating a trillion-dollar real-estate bubble in coastal property.  When the next superstorm like Katrina or Sandy makes its target Florida and bursts that bubble, the state can declare bankruptcy.  So too could some insurance companies.  But taxpayers — you and I — will get the several hundred billion dollar bailout bill.

And a bailout will be the best-case scenario for all of us.  When the coastal property real estate bubble bursts, what measures do we have in place to stop another catastrophic recession like the most recent one, which was also driven by a real estate bubble bursting?

Let’s do the math.  There is now at least $1.4 trillion in property within 660 feet of the U.S. coast, a detailed analysis of the data by Reuters found.  Worse, “incomplete data for some areas means the actual total is probably much higher.”

While Florida is denying the very existence of climate change, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is here to remind us that, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”  And what science told us in the last 12 months about likely sea level rise has been shocking.  It’s the kind of news that should have stopped coastal development cold.
A January study found that global sea level rise since 1990 has been speeding up even faster than we knew.  “The sea-level acceleration over the past century has been greater than had been estimated by others,” explained lead writer Eric Morrow.  “It’s a larger problem than we initially thought.”

The recent findings have led top climatologists to conclude we are headed toward what used to be the high end of projected global sea level rise this century: four to six feet or more.  A 2013 NOAA study found that, under such sea level rise, the areas that received the very worst storm surges from Superstorm Sandy — such as devastated places like Sandy Hook and The Battery — will be inundated by such storm surges every year or two.  In fact, in that scenario, the New Jersey shore from Atlantic City south would see Sandy level storm surges almost every year by mid-century

Worse, as discussed above, the East Coast of the United States is very likely headed toward considerably higher sea level rise over the next century than the planet as a whole.  If we don’t take very aggressive action to slash carbon pollution, we could be facing a rise upwards of 10 feet.  And considerably more than that after 2100 — sea level rise exceeding a foot per decade.

And so we are in a major coastal real estate bubble.
It’s a trillion-dollar bubble. And it looks like American taxpayers are on the hook for much of it.

Read more at Florida’s Climate Denial Could Cause Catastrophic Recession

Latin American Mayors Avow Clean Bus Transit

Electric bus (Credit: thinkprogress.org) Click to Enlarge.
On Friday, CleanTechnica brought you news of an exciting commitment to sustainability by big-city mayors in the European Union.  Also news last week: Latin American mayors racked up wins for joining the international Compact of Mayors, the world’s largest cooperative city effort to date to implement meaningful, sustainable local actions that will help address climate change globally.

At the same meeting, 20 global C40 cities signed a powerful agreement to a City Clean Bus scheme that could green 142,217 municipal buses all over the world by 2020.  Shifting all of them to zero-emission buses would reduce emissions to 2.28 million tons of CO2 equivalent annually.

The international C40 group includes 75 large and engaged cities, five of them (Amman, Durban, Jaipur, Quito, and Salvador) inducted just two weeks ago.  UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and C40 Board President Michael R. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, commented:
The C40 network keeps growing because more and more cities are finding opportunities to confront climate change in ways that improve people’s lives today.  For the U.N. climate treaty negotiations this December to be successful, nations will have to commit to doing more and acting faster to shrink their carbon footprints—and cities, including the five new members of C40, are helping point the way forward.
Latin American Mayors Avow Clean Bus Transit

Global Wind Energy Installations Grow by 42% in 2014

Top 10 Wind Turbine Suppliers, World Markets: 2014 (Credit: Navigant Research) Click to Enlarge.
Navigant Research has published its 20th edition of the annual World Wind Energy Market Update report, and it shows that worldwide wind power installations grew by 42% in 2014.

The report, which covers developments in the wind energy sector throughout 2014, also highlights the importance of China, Germany, and the United States in the global wind industry’s “remarkable comeback in 2014,” thanks to “policy-driven acceleration of installations.”

Furthermore, countries such as Brazil, Turkey, France, and Canada “also helped sustain a strong foundation for the industry” as it continues to mature, both technologically, financially, and in terms of its general reliability around the world.

“The wind power industry achieved a record year of installations in 2014, setting the stage for steady growth in the coming years,” said Jesse Broehl, senior research analyst with Navigant Research.  “The industry’s development is being bolstered by key established markets and increasingly supported by new and diversified global markets.”

Read more at Global Wind Energy Installations Grow by 42% in 2014

   Monday, March 30

Monday, March 30, 2015

Two Years After Exxon's Mayflower Spill, Will Tougher Pipeline Rules Go Beyond Talk?

Two years ago, a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline sent a river of oil into a Mayflower, Ark., neighborhood, uprooting 22 families. The Pegasus pipeline failure became a cautionary tale that exposed—not for the first time—critical limitations of today's pipeline safety regulations. (Credit: Workers clean up the March 29, 2013 oil spill in Mayflower/Faulkner County Concerned Citizens Advisory Group) Click to Enlarge.
It's been two years since a broken 1940s ExxonMobil pipeline flooded an Arkansas neighborhood with Canada's heaviest oil, and the ripple effects of the spill have made it to Washington D.C., where regulators are poised to end decades of complacency by addressing the dangers of older pipelines across the country.

For the first time, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is proposing a rule to address problematic vintage pipe and other obvious risks that were factors in the rupture of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.

"The Pegasus spill seemed to be a tipping point," said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group.  "PHMSA is now telling pipeline companies, 'here's what you should think about if you have older pipelines, and when you should replace them,'—and you never would have heard that coming out of their mouths before Mayflower."

The effort by PHMSA is in the early stages, and there's no guarantee that it will result in new mandatory measures for pipeline owners.  But if the rule takes effect, about 95 percent of all hazardous liquid pipelines would be subject to stricter safety verification because of their age, location or other factors, according to PHMSA.  Separately, new guidelines just for pre-1970 pipelines could affect more than half of the nation's 484,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids such as oil and gasoline.

The ExxonMobil line was made from pipe that was manufactured nearly 70 years ago and widely known to be prone to dangerous cracking along its lengthwise seams.  The line had split open or leaked nearly a dozen times during the oil company's own testing a few years before the spill.  Despite those factors, ExxonMobil gave little weight to the threat of cracks or seam failure in its testing, spill prevention and maintenance plans for the Pegasus, according to PHMSA.

Read more at Two Years After Exxon's Mayflower Spill, Will Tougher Pipeline Rules Go Beyond Talk?

Canada Pushes Ahead with Alternatives to Keystone XL

Canada's Keystone XL Alternatives (Credit: Climate Central) Click to Enlarge.
A decision on whether to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to be built in the U.S. could come at any time, but there are myriad other projects on the table designed to do exactly what Keystone XL was designed to do:  transport Canadian tar sands oil to refineries.

Those pipelines, both in the U.S. and Canada, are being designed to move the oily bitumen produced from the tar sands to refineries in Texas and eastern Canada, and to ports on the Pacific Coast where the oil could be shipped to Asia.

Combined, the pipelines would be able to carry more than 3 million barrels of oil per day, far in excess of the 800,000 barrels per day that TransCanada’s Keystone XL is designed to carry.

Canada is sitting on about 168 billion barrels of crude oil locked up in the Alberta tar sands northeast of Edmonton — a trove of carbon-heavy fossil fuels bested in size only by oil reserves in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.  Today, the roughly 2 million barrels of tar sands oil produced each day in Alberta is sent to refineries in the U.S. and Canada via rail or small pipelines, none of which are adequate to carry the 3.8 million barrels of oil per day expected to be produced in the oil sands by 2022.

With Keystone XL’s future in question, Canada has a huge economic incentive to find alternative routes to markets.  The tar sands represent a windfall of revenue for Alberta, which could see $350 billion in royalties and $122 billion in total tax revenue if they are fully developed over the next 25 years, according to Alberta government statistics.

But Keystone XL has famously run up against the politics of climate change where the Obama administration must approve the pipeline crossing into the U.S.  The tar sands are one of the most carbon-heavy kinds of oil found on Earth, and processing and burning it will help accelerate an already rapidly changing climate, scientists say.  Of course, the U.S. already refines and burns tar sands oil, but Keystone XL has become a symbol for accelerated tar sands development to the detriment of the climate.
As a way around those challenges, other pipelines are in the works.  One pipeline is already operating and sending hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands bitumen to Texas every day.

Read more at Canada Pushes Ahead with Alternatives to Keystone XL

How Long Can Oceans Continue to Absorb Earth’s Excess Heat?

The main reason soaring greenhouse gas emissions have not caused air temperatures to rise more rapidly is that oceans have soaked up much of the heat.  But new evidence suggests the oceans’ heat-buffering ability may be weakening.

This map shows trends in global ocean heat content, from the surface to 2,000 meters deep. Yellow, orange, and red zones represent increases in ocean temperatures since 2006, as measured by the Argo network of 3,500 floating sensors. Green, blue, and violet zones depict temperature decreases, as measured in watts per square meter. The map shows that much of ocean warming in the past decade has occurred in the Southern Hemisphere. (Image credit: Roemmich et al., Nature Climate Change) Click to Enlarge.
For decades, the earth’s oceans have soaked up more than nine-tenths of the atmosphere’s excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions.  By stowing that extra energy in their depths, oceans have spared the planet from feeling the full effects of humanity’s carbon overindulgence. 

But as those gases build in the air, an energy overload is rising below the waves.  A raft of recent research finds that the ocean has been heating faster and deeper than scientists had previously thought.  And there are new signs that the oceans might be starting to release some of that pent-up thermal energy, which could contribute to significant global temperature increases in the coming years. 

The ocean has been heating at a rate of around 0.5 to 1 watt of energy per square meter over the past decade, amassing more than 2 X 1023 joules of energy — the equivalent of roughly five Hiroshima bombs exploding every second — since 1990.  Vast and slow to change temperature, the oceans have a huge capacity to sequester heat, especially the deep ocean, which is playing an increasingly large uptake and storage role. 

That is a major reason the planet’s surface temperatures have risen less than expected in the past dozen or so years, given the large greenhouse gas hike during the same period, said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  The phenomenon, which some call the “hiatus,” has challenged scientists to explain its cause.  But new studies indicate that the forces behind the supposed hiatus are natural  Ocean heat accumulation is the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs exploding every second since 1990. — and temporary — ocean processes that may already be changing course.

Read more at How Long Can Oceans Continue to Absorb Earth’s Excess Heat?

Rich Nations' Fossil Fuel Export Funding Dwarfs Green Spend

An electricity pylon is seen above a newly-built solar power plant on a hill during sunset in Wuhu, Anhui province, China, January 2, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Stringer) Click to Enlarge.
Rich nations provided around five times as much in export subsidies for fossil-fuel technology as for renewable energy over a decade, according to OECD data seen by Reuters.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) figures on export credits are central to a debate on targeting funding ahead of U.N. climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.

Just when the European Union is leading the push for a new global deal on curbing emissions and is phasing out domestic coal subsidies, the documents underline the scale of the developed world's investment in exporting technology for the most polluting fossil fuel.

Earlier this year, a document seen by Reuters provided the closest yet to official figures on coal export credits.

Further documents give the context of all energy export subsidies.

One, dated March 4, when the OECD held closed-door talks on the issue, shows OECD governments provided preferential loans and state-backed guarantees worth $36.8 billion between 2003 and 2013 for exporting fossil fuel power-generation technology, including almost $14 billion for coal.

A document from October 2014 shows another $52.6 billion in export credits was allocated for the extraction of fossil fuels, including coal, taking the fossil fuel total to $89.4 billion.

Export credits for technology for renewable energy, which has no extraction costs, were $16.7 billion.

Read more at Rich Nations' Fossil Fuel Export Funding Dwarfs Green Spend: Documents

Despite Deforestation, the World Is Getting Greener

Forest distribution of China in 2001. Green (Unchanged) indicates that both data sets classify this land as forest. Blue (Increased) indicates that the area is classified as forest in the histogram results but not in MODIS. Red (Decreased) indicates that the area is classified as forest in the MODIS landcover data but not in the histogram results. (Credit: mdpi.com) Click to Enlarge.
Carbon flows between the world's oceans, air and land.  It is present in the atmosphere primarily as carbon dioxide (CO2) - the main climate-changing gas - and stored as carbon in trees.

Through photosynthesis, trees convert carbon dioxide into the food they need to grow, locking the carbon in their wood.

The 4-billion-tonne increase is minuscule compared to the 60 billion
tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning and cement production over the same period, said Yi Liu, the study's lead author and a scientist at the University of New South Wales.

"From this research, we can see these plants can help absorb some carbon dioxide, but there's still a lot of carbon dioxide staying in the atmosphere," Liu said by telephone from Sydney.

"If we want to stabilize the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - and avoid the consequent impacts - it still requires us to reduce fossil fuel emissions."

Liu, who specializes in observing the water cycle including rainfall and soil moisture, used a new technique of collecting satellite data on radio frequency radiation naturally emitted by the Earth to calculate the amount of vegetation in a given area.

Before, scientists measured vegetation through satellite images and other techniques, looking at canopy greenness and plant height, he said.

Read more at Despite Deforestation, the World Is Getting Greener: Scientists

Thirty Major European Cities Pledge to Take on Climate Change

Thirty Major European City Representatives (Credit: news.vice.com) Click to Enlarge.
Representatives from thirty European cities gathered in Paris on Thursday to formalize their commitment to eco-friendly policies and to emphasize the role of major urban centers in the fight against climate change.

Delegates also signed a declaration, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 percent by 2030, in line with the European Union's climate change roadmap, and to use an estimated nearly $11 billion combined purchasing power to invest in green products and services.

In a joint statement published Wednesday in French daily Le Monde, mayors from 26 European cities — including Rome, Athens, Madrid, Geneva, and Stockholm — said they had "decided to join forces and strengthen the instruments that will lead us toward the energy and environmental transition."

Read more at Thirty Major European Cities Pledge to Take on Climate Change

New Marine Electric Propulsion System Uses 25% Less Installed Power

Azipod D (Credit: ABB) Click to Enlarge.
An impressive new offering for the good of marine electric propulsion systems was recently unveiled by ABB — one that requires, quite impressively, up to 25% less installed power than earlier models.

This new model, known as the Azipod D, also allows for greater design flexibility, as compared to other systems — as the design precludes the need for rudders, stern transversal thrusters, and/or long shaft lines.
Given the ABB Azipod D’s improved energy efficiency, use of the system will allow ship owners and operators to lower operation costs — via lower fuel use.  Lower fuel use also, of course, means lower carbon emissions — which are worth making note of and taking into account when considering what system to use.

Read more at New Marine Electric Propulsion System Uses 25% Less Installed Power

Toon of the Week - All that Extra Surface Sea Ice Proves There's No Global Warming

All that Extra Surface Sea Ice Proves There's No Global Warming (Credit: Washington Post Writers' Group)

All that Extra Surface Sea Ice Proves There's No Global Warming - Antarctica Then / Antarctica Now

2015 SkS Weekly Digest #13

Poster of the Week - Ted Cruz Just Compared Himself to Galileo Because He Doesn't Believe in Climate Change.

Poster of the Week - Ted Cruz Just Compared Himself to Galileo Because He Doesn't Believe in Climate Change.

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #13

   Sunday, March 29

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Media Contributing to ‘Hope Gap’ on Climate Change

Newsstand (Credit: benben/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The latest evidence that media outlets deem the myriad problems posed by climate change more newsworthy than solutions to it was contained in a study published this week in Nature Climate Change.

Researchers analyzed media coverage in the U.K. and the U.S. of three different reports published as part of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent climate change assessment.  Their findings were a reminder that American outlets are bigger laggards on climate change coverage than their British counterparts.  “The prominence of the IPCC reports was fairly low, particularly in the U.S.,” wrote the authors of the peer-reviewed paper, from the University of Exeter and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Perhaps more provocatively, the results of the detailed analysis also suggest that newsrooms on both sides of the warming pond are struggling to produce stories about climate change in ways that are engaging for their audiences.  Instead, they’re fueling senses of hopelessness on the issue.

“I don’t find their major findings surprising,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, said of the study, with which he was not involved.  “We find in our audience research that even the alarmed [those most concerned about climate change] don’t really know what they can do individually, or what we can do collectively.  We call this loosely ‘the hope gap,’ and it’s a serious problem.  Perceived threat without efficacy of response is usually a recipe for disengagement or fatalism.”

The findings were consistent with research published a little over a year ago by researchers from the University of Michigan and Rutgers University, in Science Communication, which found that most evening TV news reports dealing with the impacts of climate change failed to mention steps that can be taken to address the problem. This week’s study suggests journalists could help their audiences better grapple with the subject by reporting more on how pollution levels can be slashed and how communities can adapt to climate change.

Read more at Media Contributing to ‘Hope Gap’ on Climate Change

Episcopal Presiding Bishop, a Former Oceanographer, Makes Religious Case Against Climate Denial

Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, right, told The Guardian that denying climate change is akin to turning one’s back on God’s gift of knowledge. (Credit: AP Photo/ Tony Avelar) Click to Enlarge.
One of the most powerful women in American Christianity is condemning the path of the climate denier.

In an interview with the Guardian published Tuesday, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said people who reject climate science are turning their backs on one of God’s most generous gifts:  knowledge.

“Episcopalians understand the life of the mind is a gift of God and to deny the best of current knowledge is not using the gifts God has given you,” she said.  “I think it is a very blind position.”

Jefferts Schori — the first woman elected as a primate in the Anglican Communion and a former oceanographer — also called climate change a “moral issue, in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”

“It is in that sense much like the civil rights movement in this country where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place,” she said.

Jefferts Schori’s comments to the Guardian come as the Episcopalian church is strengthening its voice in the fight against human-caused climate change, a phenomenon that is expected to have the worst impacts on developing countries.  On Tuesday, the church is holding a 90-minute webcast to discuss both the regional impacts of atmospheric warming and the moral implications of those impacts.

The webcast also kicks off a 30-day campaign by the Episcopal church to raise awareness of climate change, called 30 Days of Action.  The campaign calls on Episcopalians to address the issue in some way each day for the next months — to “learn, advocate, act, proclaim, eat, play and pray.”

“Focusing on environmental change on a personal, community and global level for 30 days can help Episcopalians proclaim a commitment to caring for God’s creation,” the church’s website reads.

Read more at Episcopal Presiding Bishop, a Former Oceanographer, Makes Religious Case Against Climate Denial

China Ramps Up the Rhetoric on Climate Change

Senior Chinese official warns that climate-related temperature rises could seriously affect the country’s harvests and major infrastructure projects.

Global warming threatens the high-altitude Qinghai to Tibet railway line, stretches of which are built on permafrost. (Credit: Image: Jan Reurink via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
Zheng Guogang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, says future variations in climate are likely to reduce crop yields and damage the environment.

In one of the strongest official statements to date on the challenges faced, Zheng told China’s official Xinhua news agency that climate change could have a “huge impact” on the country, with a growing risk of climate-related disasters.

“To face the challenges from past and future climate change, we must respect nature and live in harmony with it,” Zheng said.  “We must promote the idea of nature, and emphasise climate security.”

Violent rainstorms
Zheng said temperature rises in China over the past century have been higher than the global average.  He warned that river flows and harvests are likely to suffer as the incidence of droughts and violent rainstorms across the country increases.

Read more at China Ramps Up the Rhetoric on Climate Change

A Way to Get Power to the World’s Poor Without Making Climate Change Worse - by David Roberts

Angaza in Africa (Credit: grist.org) Click to Enlarge.
Back on October, I did a couple of posts ... on the Scylla and Charybdis of modern times:  energy, poverty, and climate change.  On one hand, nearly a third of the human family lacks access to basic energy services like light, refrigeration, and charging for cell phones (which have become a necessity almost everywhere).  On the other hand, lifting all of those people up to the level of energy access enjoyed by wealthy Westerners, even the least wealthy and most thrifty of wealthy Westerners, would produce enough carbon pollution to fry the planet.

Debate around this issue has been somewhat polarized, since the gloomy assumption shared by both sides is that if you avoid one danger, you run headlong into the other.  More energy for the poor means more climate pollution.  It’s Scylla or Charybdis, a choice of what (or who) to sacrifice.

But a new paper in Nature Climate Change brings a welcome note of calm and hope to the proceedings.  It’s somewhat technical, but boiled down, it does two key things.

First, it shows that on-grid and off-grid technologies are not distinct choices but a continuum, a ladder of energy access, everything from consistent grid access to partial grid access to mini- or micro-grids to home solar systems.  And second, it shows how at least the first few steps up that ladder can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The authors begin by demonstrating two things I discussed in my earlier posts:  first, that electricity access is directly correlated with quality of life; and second, that there are limitations on the expansion of centralized grids that have left millions with insufficient energy access, and threatens to leave millions that way even decades into the future.

One purpose of the paper is to argue that new policies and technologies make it possible to fill that access gap.  Here’s what they envision:

Combined with policies recommended by the International Energy Agency (IEA), new technologies can bring everyone now lacking energy access onto the energy ladder.

What enables this shift is an intersection of several trends, including:
  • much cheaper solar panels, batteries, and other distributed-energy tech,
  • hyper-efficient end-use appliances,
  • new models of financing that allow people to pay as they go (like they do with liquid fuels) rather than muster large chunks of capital up front,
  • developments in information technology that reduce the transaction costs of coordination among small-scale energy users and producers.
These trends can come together behind a nonlinear shift in how energy works in the developing world.

Read more at A Way to Get Power to the World’s Poor Without Making Climate Change Worse

   Saturday, March 28

Saturday, March 28, 2015

California Just Had a Stunning Increase in Solar

California is now the first U.S. state to get 5 percent of its annual utility-scale electricity from the sun. But that's really understating what just happened.   The chart above, released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shows that in just one year, big solar jumped from 1.9 percent to 5 percent of the state's total power generation. California isn't just producing the most utility-scale solar electricity of any state; it's producing more than all the other states combined.   And that's only what the major electricity producers are generating—it doesn't include rooftop solar, in which California is also leading the nation. In small-scale solar, capacity for another 2.3 gigawatts has been installed, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.   Renewable energy, including hydro power and rooftop solar, now constitutes about a third of California's electricity, a remarkable feat accomplished through renewable requirements for utilities and incentives for homeowners.   But even that understates California's recent gains in renewable energy. Because as solar has bloomed, hydroelectric power has been slashed by more than half, by what's been called the state's worst drought in at least 1,200 years.
California is now the first U.S. state to get 5 percent of its annual utility-scale electricity from the sun.  But that's really understating what just happened. 

The chart right, released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shows that in just one year, big solar jumped from 1.9 percent to 5 percent of the state's total power generation.  California isn't just producing the most utility-scale solar electricity of any state; it's producing more than all the other states combined. 

And that's only what the major electricity producers are generating—it doesn't include rooftop solar, in which California is also leading the nation.  In small-scale solar, capacity for another 2.3 gigawatts has been installed, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. 

California electricity generation from renewable sources (2010-14) (Credit: EIA/Annotations by Bloomberg Business) Click to Enlarge.
Renewable energy, including hydro power and rooftop solar, now constitutes about a third of California's electricity, a remarkable feat accomplished through renewable requirements for utilities and incentives for homeowners. 

But even that understates California's recent gains in renewable energy.  Because as solar has bloomed, hydroelectric power has been slashed by more than half, by what's been called the state's worst drought in at least 1,200 years.

Read more at California Just Had a Stunning Increase in Solar

Do Biofuel Policies Seek to Cut Emissions by Cutting Food?

What will happen to food prices as more agricultural land is used for biofuel instead of growing food? What are the other trade-offs? (Credit: © janifest / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
A study published Friday in the journal Science found that government biofuel policies rely on reductions in food consumption to generate greenhouse gas savings.

Shrinking the amount of food that people and livestock eat decreases the amount of carbon dioxide that they breathe out or excrete as waste.  The reduction in food available for consumption, rather than any inherent fuel efficiency, drives the decline in carbon dioxide emissions in government models, the researchers found.

"Without reduced food consumption, each of the models would estimate that biofuels generate more emissions than gasoline," said Timothy Searchinger, first author on the paper and a research scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy.

Read more at Do Biofuel Policies Seek to Cut Emissions by Cutting Food?

Mexico Announces “Landmark” Greenhouse Gas Target — a Cut of 22 Percent by 2030

President Barack Obama hosted a bilateral meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in January. (Credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)  Click to Enlarge.
Mexico vowed Friday to slash its output of greenhouse gases and make 2026 its peak emissions year, an ambitious goal and the first one submitted by an emerging market country in the runup to the global climate conference in Paris in December.

Mexico said it would reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 22 percent and its emissions of black carbon or soot by 51 percent by the year 2030.

Hitting that target will mean sharply raising vehicle fuel efficiency to bring standards in line with those in the United States and adopting appliance standards.  Mexico also set goals for increasing the share of renewable and nuclear energy in its electric power sector.

The government said it would reduce emissions as a percentage of gross domestic product by 40 percent.

A White House official called Mexico’s plan a “landmark” and “pace-setting commitment” in preparation for the December climate conference.  He said that Mexico had “come forward with timely, clear, transparent and unconditional goals backed by strong policies.”

Read more at Mexico Announces “Landmark” Greenhouse Gas Target — a Cut of 22 Percent by 2030

Two Maps Show Countries’ Plans for CO2 Pledges

New UNEP site tracks current country pledges and the remaining gap for reaching global climate change mitigation goals. (Credit: UNEP) Click to Enlarge.
International climate negotiations include every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.  And as the world gears up for Paris, climate watchers will be looking to see how (or if) each country plans to rise to the challenge of reducing the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The next major climate talks are still nine months down the road, but commitments are starting to trickle in from around the globe.  New maps from World Resources Institute let you track in almost real time the greenhouse gas cuts proposed for Paris as well as from previous climate meetings.

Read original article at Two Maps Show Countries’ Plans for CO2 Pledges

Beijing's Effort to Reduce Coal Burning Shows Results

Coal Power Plant in China (Credit: businessgreen.com) Click to Enlarge.
China is reducing the use of coal for power generation faster than expected, as the nation turns to cleaner-burning fuels and economic growth slows.

Beijing said this month that it would go all out to curb its addiction to coal to reduce pollution, raising fresh doubts about demand just after China’s coal imports had slumped a third in February from the level of a year earlier.  China is the world’s top coal consumer.

The Chinese economy is growing at its slowest pace in 25 years, and power companies are using a greater mix of hydro, nuclear and renewable options, especially wind.

Coal still makes up nearly two-thirds of China’s energy mix.

“The demand situation in China has deteriorated over the last few months much faster than we had expected,” said Georgi S. Slavov of the commodity brokerage Marex Spectron.

Last year, utilization rates at China’s thermal power generators fell to a record low 53.7 percent, down from 57.3 percent in 2013 and resulting in coal for power use dropping 18 million tons or 1.3 percent last year compared with 2013.

Many analysts said until recently that the burning of coal would soar into the 2020s as China’s effort to cut pollution was secondary to industrial growth.  But Beijing has started taking ever more aggressive steps to rein in coal use.

China’s coal imports fell 11 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, the first annual decline in at least a decade.

“In 2014, Chinese coal imports decreased year on year for the first time in many years, and the prognosis is for more of the same, at least, in 2015,” the French bank Société Générale said in a report this month.

The market is taking note.  Australian coal prices — a benchmark for Asia — slumped 30 percent last year and dropped below $60 a ton this month to the lowest level since May 2007.  Producers are now holding back shipments to China amid uncertainty over quality checks under new ash and sulfur restrictions imposed in January.

Read original article at Beijing's Effort to Reduce Coal Burning Shows Results

   Friday, March 27

Friday, March 27, 2015

Gallup Poll Finds Americans’ Worries About Environmental Threats Easing

Trends in Americans' Worry about environmental problems (Credit: Gallup) Click to Enlarge.
Americans’ concern about several major environmental threats has eased after increasing last year, according to Gallup’s annual Environment survey, conducted March 5-8.  As in the past, Americans expressed the greatest worry about pollution of drinking water, and the least about global warming.  Gallup trends on many of these items stretch back more than two decades.  Last year’s increased worry proved temporary, with the current level of worry on each of the problems back to about where it was in 2013.

Despite ups and downs from year to year in the percentage worried about the various issues, the rank order of the environmental problems has remained fairly consistent over the decades. Americans express greater concern over more proximate threats—including pollution of drinking water, as well as pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs, and air pollution—than they do about longer-term threats such as global warming, the loss of rain forests, and plant and animal extinction.

The amount Americans worry about the various threats tends to rise and recede in unison, with concern higher in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the revival of environmentalism, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s amid the economic boom.  Since then, Americans’ worry has fallen, with concern dipping to record lows on most issues in 2010 or 2011.  The current level of worry on each issue remains at or near those record lows.

Global warming:  more specifically, Gallup also found that Americans are no more likely today (55%) than in the past two years to believe the effects of global warming are occurring.

The 2014-2015 winter season brought record warm temperatures to the Western US while it delivered record cold to much of the rest of the country and record snowfall in the East. However, this winter has neither created an uptick in new believers that the effects of global warming are manifest nor reduced the ranks of skeptics.  Most of those in the cold regions believe the extreme cold reflected normal variations in weather.  At the same time, just half of those in the warm spots attribute the unusual heat to global warming; the other half think it was normal variation.

A third of Americans believe the effects of global warming will either never happen (16%) or not happen in their lifetime (17%), about the same as in March 2014.

Read more at Gallup Poll Finds Americans’ Worries About Environmental Threats Easing

Climate Change Is Spreading Diseases You Haven’t Even Heard of Yet

Daniel Brooks, happy and healthy in Hungary … for now. (Credit: Zsuzsanna Agoston) Click to Enlarge.
[A]ccording to Daniel Brooks, who’s been studying the rise of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) for 40 years, the Hollywood model needs to be recalibrated in light of climate change.

“It’s not that there’s going to be one Andromeda Strain that will wipe out everybody on the planet,” says Brooks, professor emeritus at Toronto University and a senior research fellow at the University of Nebraska’s H.W. Manter Parasitology Lab.  “There are going to be a lot of localized outbreaks that put a lot of pressure on our medical and veterinary health systems.  There won’t be enough money to keep up with all of it.  It will be the death of a thousand cuts.”

Brooks, whose article on the relationship between these new diseases and climate change was published last month in the journal Philosophical Transactions, claims that evolutionary history suggests EIDs spike along with major climate change events.  When organisms flee their native habitats in search of more amenable climates, they expose themselves to pathogens they’ve never encountered — and to which they haven’t developed a resistance. Human activities only serve to accelerate this process, Brooks says, scattering organisms across the planet at an unprecedented rate.

The idea — called the “Stockholm Paradigm,” by Brooks and coauthor Eric Hoberg — runs counter to earlier host-pathogen theories, which generally assumed that because pathogens evolve in tandem with their hosts, they couldn’t easily switch to new ones.  Under the new paradigm, diseases can and do jump hosts when given an opportunity, leading to crossover diseases we may have never dealt with before.
“Pathogens that jump into human beings, like Ebola or West Nile Virus — they’re only part of a larger story,” Brooks says.  “If you think of every species of plant and animal on this planet that human beings depend on — every single crop, livestock, wild species, everything — all of them are going to experience some kind of emerging disease over the next 35 to 50 years.”

Regardless of the severity of each individual outbreak, humans will be left to foot the economic bill, to clean up what Brooks and his colleagues call “pathogen pollution.”  And the costs could add up quickly.

“Either these diseases are going to reduce the population of the animals or the plants, and that’s going to hurt people economically, or it’s going to cost people a lot of money to try to treat them,” he says.  “Either way, because most of the world’s biodiversity is where most of the world’s poor people live, disproportionately poor societies are going to be hit the hardest.”

Read more at Climate Change Is Spreading Diseases You Haven’t Even Heard of Yet

Antarctica's Melting Edges Bad News for Sea Level Rise

'Within a lifetime of people who read this story, many of these shelves will be gone...This is real rapid environmental change," says reviewer of new study.

Eighteen years of change in thickness and volume of Antarctic ice shelves. Large, deep red circles correspond to the biggest melting of ice shelves, while smaller, blue ones mark those areas that gained a bit of thickness in the last two decades. (Credit: Paolo, et al./Science/Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego) Click to Enlarge.
The edges of Antarctica's ice sheets have been thinning at a rapid rate over the past decade—up to 70 percent faster than average in some spots—due to warming oceans and air.

Known technically as ice shelves, these edges float just offshore in bays or fjords and act as barriers that keep larger, land-based ice sheets from slipping into the ocean.  Once they are gone, there will be nothing to hold back the continent-sized ice masses from sliding into the warmer oceans and melting, raising sea levels precipitously.

According to a new study published in the journal Science this week, this could happen by the end of the century.
Researchers have historically focused their attention on land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica because they are massive contributors to sea level rise, said Fernando Paolo, a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego and the lead author of the new paper.

When ice shelves melt, however, they don't raise sea levels directly because they are already in the ocean.  But Paolo calls them an "overlooked, yet fundamental piece in the whole sea level rise process."  Monitoring them could yield clues as to when this climate impact will go from bad to worse.

The paper comes two weeks after it was revealed that a glacier the size of California in East Antarctica has experienced rapid melting in recent years.  If this particular glacier, the Totten Glacier, reaches the ocean, it could cause sea level to rise more than 11 feet.

Read more at Antarctica's Melting Edges Bad News for Sea Level Rise

   Thursday, March 26

Thursday, March 26, 2015

49 Senators Back Budget Amendment to Bring Down Carbon

U.S. Capitol Building (Credit: Architect of the Capitol) Click to Enlarge.
Nearly half the Senate voted last night for an amendment to the nonbinding fiscal 2016 budget resolution that calls on Congress to address carbon emissions.

The amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was defeated with a vote of 49-50.  In language tailored to the underlying resolution, it calls for policies "protecting Americans from the impacts of human-induced climate change, which include action on policies that reduce emissions by the amounts that the scientific community says are needed to avert catastrophic climate change."

The measure was meant to come to the floor side-by-side with one by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would have barred enactment of a federal carbon tax.  But Blunt pulled his amendment at the last minute because it was ruled nongermane to the underlying budget resolution. Meanwhile, the measure has been redrafted and could receive a vote tonight.

Blunt said prior to the votes that his amendment made an important statement even though no legislation to price carbon emissions is expected to move anytime soon.  He noted that the nation's largest grid operator, PJM Interconnection, has modeled pricing carbon through an interstate program as a means of complying with U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan.

"I think the administration's trying to do a carbon tax by any other name, and if there's no carbon tax movement out there, it should be really easy for members of the Senate to vote not to allow one to go forward," he said.

But there is scant evidence of a "carbon tax movement," though a handful of conservative economists and think tanks have proposed a revenue-neutral model either as a substitute for EPA's existing power plant rule or to comply with it.  Jerry Taylor, president of new libertarian think tank Niskanen Center, is the latest to propose that idea.

And one of the few carbon price bills introduced in the last Congress was offered by Sanders, who quipped before the Blunt amendment was pulled that "I'm probably not going to vote for it."

He said before the votes that Republicans "continue to show themselves to be the anti-science party" when it comes to climate change.  But five Republicans did cross the aisle to vote for Sanders' amendment:  Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Read more at 49 Senators Back Budget Amendment to Bring Down Carbon

Tritium and ChargePoint Partner for Fast Charging Across the US

Chargepoint Veefil (Credit: ChargePoint) Click to Enlarge.
Under a newly signed agreement, ChargePoint will install Australia-based Tritium’s Veefil DC fast charging stations across the US.  The 50 kW Tritium stations are able to charge all cars equipped for DC fast charging, using the included SAE-Combo connector or a CHAdeMO connector.  Tesla drivers will be able to use the CHAdeMO connector with an adapter slated to go on sale shortly.

The stations will be installed on major routes across the country and will be part of the ChargePoint network of more than 21,000 EV charging stations.  ChargePoint recently partnered with Volkswagen and BMW to build express charging corridors on both the east and west coasts of the US.  The stations will be ChargePoint-branded, clearly marked as DC Fast stations and the connectors will be labeled so drivers know which is compatible with their car.

To use the stations, drivers just have to sign up for a ChargePoint membership.  Drivers can find charging stations and see their availability in real-time at ChargePoint.com or with the free ChargePoint mobile app.  To start a charging session, drivers wave their ChargePoint card in front of the station, use the ChargePoint mobile app or call the 1-888 number printed on the ChargePoint station.

Veefil is the only liquid-cooled fast charger, and delivers robust charging over a wide range of environmental conditions, including temperature, humidity and corrosive conditions, thereby increasing reliability and reducing maintenance.

Read more at Tritium and ChargePoint Partner for Fast Charging Across the US

The Real Cost of Coal:  NY Times Op-Ed

Open pit coal mining (Credit: headwaterseconomics.org) Click to Enlarge.
Congress long ago established a basic principle governing the extraction of coal from public lands by private companies: American taxpayers should be paid fair value for it.  They own the coal, after all.

Lawmakers set a royalty payment of 12.5 percent of the sale price of the coal in 1976.  Forty years later, those payments remain stuck there, with actual collections often much less. Studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s inspector general and nonprofit research groups have all concluded that taxpayers are being shortchanged.

This is no small matter.  In 2013, approximately 40 percent of all domestic coal came from federal lands.  A recent study by the independent nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics estimates that various reforms to the royalty valuation system would have generated $900 million to $5.6 billion more overall between 2008 and 2012.

This failure by the government to collect fair value for taxpayer coal is made more troubling by the climate-change implications of burning this fossil fuel.  Taxpayers are already incurring major costs in responding to the effects of global warming.  Coastal infrastructure is being battered by sea rise and storm surges; forests are being devastated by climate-aided pest infestations; and studies are suggesting that temperature rises have increased the likelihood of devastating droughts in California.

Moreover, as the Council of Economic Advisers documented in a report last July because of the long-lived nature of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, these costs will continue to rise.

The Interior Department, which manages energy resources on federal lands, has acknowledged that reforms are needed.  In January, the department took a first step by proposing more scrutiny on the self-reported sales that coal companies use as the basis for royalty payments.  It also must address other well-documented problems, including large discounts routinely applied to these payments, and noncompetitive lease sales.

But the department should not stop there.  The federal government should also take into account the economic consequences of burning coal when pricing this fuel.  The price for taxpayer-owned coal should reflect, in some measure, the added costs associated with the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is not a novel concept.  Some utilities and other businesses already are applying a so-called carbon adder to account for the environmental costs of greenhouse gas emissions. These adders are used for planning purposes to compare the costs of fossil fuel and renewable electricity generation and have not been charged to consumers.

But the Interior Department should take a cue from the private sector and go a step further by imposing a carbon adder on coal sales.  Money collected from the adder could be phased in to avoid sharp price disruptions and used to help defray the growing, uncompensated costs that the government is incurring in responding to climate change.

Read more at The Real Cost of Coal:  NY Times Op-Ed

Plan to Expand Regional Support for Wind Power Takes Shape in the Midwest

To be sure, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and Bob Inglis, the former Southern Republican congressman and free-market enthusiast, are not political soul mates.  So when they got together in the Twin Cities last week for a discussion about the future of U.S. energy, their banter at times showed they were two distinct political species.
While wind power is experiencing solid growth in parts of the Midwest and Great Plains, its prospects for growing outside core states like Texas, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota are less certain.

That's because many of Inglis' fellow Republicans have soured on the idea of extending a key tax incentive that has been a primary driver of wind energy's phenomenal rise from a niche technology 25 years ago to a mainstream energy source today, with more than 65,000 megawatts being delivered to the grid.

Former Rep. Bob Inglis proposes cutting all energy tax breaks from the tax code. Photo courtesy of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative. (Credit: eenews.net) Click to Enlarge.
The tax break paid wind energy developers 2.3 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power produced by a wind farm for the first 10 years of operation.  AWEA has credited it with spurring more than $15 billion in annual investment over the last five years, but it expires Dec. 31.

Kiernan worries that would set the industry up for another crash landing, much like what occurred in 2013 after Congress allowed the PTC to sputter into the final days of 2012, before giving it a last-hour reprieve in early 2013.

New wind farm completions fell from a record 13,082 MW of capacity in 2012 to just over 1,100 MW in 2013, the steepest drop in the industry's history.  Last year, with the tax credit back in place, an additional 12,700 MW entered the development pipeline.

Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, seeks new federal support for wind power production. (Credit: Wind on the Wires) Click to Enlarge.
Kiernan wants to avoid further uncertainty, hoping to lure enough moderate Republicans to support another multi-year extension of the production tax credit for wind power.

Inglis sees an alternate path, one he believes will draw in conservatives and even libertarians on Capitol Hill.

Rather than pursue another divisive round of tax incentives for various energy sectors, why not strip the tax code of all its energy-related tax breaks, he said, including those that subsidize the cost of oil and gas exploration or that support low-cost coal and mineral leases on federal lands.

"We want to break through this mental logjam, which is about the government favoring one energy fuel over another," Inglis said.  "We get a lot of buy in for that proposition with fellow conservatives who understand that we're singing the song of our tribe, that there shouldn't be any subsidies for any fuels, period."

Read more at Plan to Expand Regional Support for Wind Power Takes Shape in the Midwest