Friday, July 31, 2015

  Friday, July 31

Obama's Clean Power Plan Gets a Jolt of Support from Corporations

President Obama's Clean Power Plan got a jolt of support on July 31, after hundreds of corporations rallied behind the carbon regulations. (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst) Click to Enlarge.
Three hundred sixty-five companies and investors sent letters on Friday to more than two dozen governors supporting the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to significantly reduce carbon emissions from power plants, urging even the most recalcitrant states to recognize the economic and environmental benefits of the new rules.

The Clean Power Plan, expected to be issued in final form as early as Monday, has drawn significant opposition, particularly from Republicans and the fossil fuel industry, but the corporate push counters the argument that the regulations are bad for American business. 

"These standards...are critical for moving our country toward a clean energy economy," the companies wrote.

The letters represent the largest backing by American business owners to date for the Obama administration's regulations, the signature component of his agenda on climate change.  They also come just days before the agency is expected to finalize the carbon rules.

Signatories range from local businesses like Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn to Fortune 500 conglomerates like Staples, Gap, L'Oreal and Nestle.

Most of the companies that signed on to the campaign have been adopting sustainability measures for years with no negative impact, said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a Boston-based non-profit that works with the business community on sustainability and climate change issues; Ceres organized the campaign.

Read more at Obama's Clean Power Plan Gets a Jolt of Support from Corporations

Agriculture Might Be Emitting 40 Percent More of One Greenhouse Gas than Previously Thought

Corn (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
Synthetic fertilizers are used throughout agriculture — and especially in the United States’ Corn Belt — to help plants grow.  But the fertilizers also emit a greenhouse gas known as nitrous oxide (N2O) that is almost 300 times more potent, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide.

Now, a recent study out of the University of Minnesota suggests that emissions from nitrous oxide have been severely underestimated, by as much as 40 percent in some places.

Nitrous oxide emissions have historically been calculated in two ways: either by adding up the amount of nitrogen used as fertilizer (known as the bottom-up method) or by taking measurements from the air (known as the top-down approach).  But these two techniques haven’t always yielded compatible results, and regional measurements taken with a top-down approach showed more nitrous oxide emissions than in the bottom-up models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, leading researchers to speculate that the IPCC was likely underestimating global nitrous oxide emissions.

Researchers at University of Minnesota wondered where the discrepancy in the two models came from — what was the top-down model measuring that the bottom-up models were missing?

The answer, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, came from looking at N2O emissions across Minnesota not just from the soil, but also from streams and rivers, where nitrogen fertilizers can often end up due to drainage and runoff.

The researchers found that when these river and stream systems are taken into account, estimates of nitrous oxide emissions tended to increase.  The researchers also noticed a strong relationship between the size of the stream or river and its emissions, finding that small streams close to land had the highest emissions.

Read more at Agriculture Might Be Emitting 40 Percent More of One Greenhouse Gas than Previously Thought

The West Is Still On Fire

A wildfire burns in Napa, California. (Credit: AP Photo/Noah Berger) Click to Enlarge.
Just in time for peak tourist season, Montana’s Glacier National Park is on fire.  As of Tuesday, some 3,200 acres of the park were engulfed by wildfire, which began a week ago and caused park officials to shut down three separate campsites throughout the park as well as close off the St. Mary Visitor Center.  As of Wednesday, the wildfire was 56 percent contained, and portions of the park that were previously closed have been reopened to the public — but firefighters are still working to contain the remaining portion of the fire. According to NPR, travel companies associated with the park earn 90 percent of their revenue between June 20 and August 20.

The Glacier National Park fire is just another example of the disruption the 2015 wildfire season has already caused for Western states.  Plagued by high temperatures, low snowpack, and continued drought, states from Alaska to California are in the midst of one of the earliest and most prolific fire seasons on record.  As of Tuesday, 34,995 large fires had burned over 5,569,671 acres in 2015 — almost 2 million acres above the 10-year average.
Alaska has undergone rapid climatic changes in the past 50 years, warming by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit.  But it has also seen a marked increase in the length and intensity of its fire season — something that climate scientists worry could hasten the melting of Alaska’s permafrost, and, in turn, exacerbate climate change.
Climate change is expected to increase both the length of fire season and the number of large fire events seen each year.  But a longer fire season could also make climate change worse, releasing carbon stored in forests into the atmosphere, hastening climate change that in turn makes wildfires worse.

Read more at The West Is Still On Fire

Drought May Stunt Forests’ Ability to Capture Carbon

Colorado forests are still recovering from drought. (Credit: Leander Anderegg) Click to Enlarge.
Forests are sometimes called the lungs of the earth — they breathe in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and store it in tree trunks until the forest dies or burns.  A new study, however, shows that forests devastated by drought may lose their ability to store carbon over a much longer period than previously thought, reducing their role as a buffer between humans’ carbon emissions and a changing climate.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science by a team of by researchers at the University of Utah and Princeton University, shows that the world’s forests take an average of between two and four years to return to their normal growth and carbon dioxide absorption rate following a severe drought — a finding that has significant climate implications.

“This means that these forests take up less carbon both during drought and after drought,” study lead author William Anderegg, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah and a researcher at Princeton University, said.

Forests act as a carbon sinks by absorbing human-emitted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in trees’ woody roots and stems.  As climate change affects forests, they’ll store less carbon dioxide because drought stresses them and hinders their ability to grow, making man-made global warming even worse.  Eventually, forests could become a source of carbon instead of storehouse of it.

Read more at Drought May Stunt Forests’ Ability to Capture Carbon

Thursday, July 30, 2015

  Thursday, July 30

Hillary Clinton's Climate Change Plan 'Just Plain Silly', Says Leading Expert

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walks away after answering questions from reporters following a town hall campaign stop in Nashua, New Hampshire. (Photograph Credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
Hillary Clinton’s pledge on Sunday to support renewable energy and boost subsidies for solar panels was set up as a great unveiling – the Democratic front runner's first public remarks on how her presidency would tackle climate change.
But for many who study climate change, Clinton’s proposal lacked the ambition and sense of urgency appropriate to the scale of the problem.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben said that while Clinton’s support for solar was necessary, it was far from a comprehensive energy policy.  “Much of the impact of her climate plan was undercut the next day by her unwillingness to talk about the supply side of the equation,” he said. “Ducking questions about the Canadian tar sands or drilling in the Arctic makes everyone worry we’re going to see eight more years of an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, which is what we do not need to hear in the hottest year ever measured on our planet.”

McKibben is not alone in criticizing Clinton’s energy policy for sounding like too little too late.

“It’s just plain silly,” said James Hansen, a climate change researcher who headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for over 30 years.  “No, you cannot solve the problem without a fundamental change, and that means you have to make the price of fossil fuels honest.  Subsidizing solar panels is not going to solve the problem.”

Read more at Hillary Clinton's Climate Change Plan 'Just Plain Silly', Says Leading Expert

Florida Leads Nation in Property at Risk from Climate Change

Rising seas projected under climate modeling could worsen beach erosion, already a problem in South Florida. (Credit: Alexia Fodere / Miami Herald) Click to Enlarge.
Florida has more private property at risk from flooding linked to climate change than any other state, an amount that could double in the next four decades, according to a new report by the Risky Business Project.

By 2030, $69 billion in coastal property in Florida could flood at high tide that is not at risk today, the report found.  That amount is projected to climb to $152 billion by 2050.

While projections for rising seas are not new, for the first time researchers tried to quantify the economic damage wrought by climate change by better understanding the risks to business and a rebounding economy.  Growth in manufacturing and energy production have created a mini boom in the Southeast and Texas, the report said.  But climate change threatens to undo that progress and cause widespread damage to the region’s economic pillars:  manufacturing, agriculture and energy.

For Florida, the blows are significant and not only for property.  Higher temperatures and rising seas could slow labor productivity, stress the energy industry and dry up cash pumped into the state by tourists.

“The sea-rise numbers are out there.  The heat numbers are out there.  What this study has done for the first time is really look at this from a business perspective,” former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who co-chaired the project, said in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Read more at Florida Leads Nation in Property at Risk from Climate Change

Solar Cells Could Capture Infrared Rays for More Power

Nanocrystals and organic materials convert low-energy photons into visible light that a solar cell can capture. Cadmium selenide nanocrystals with one kind of organic coating [left] produced violet light, while cadmium selenide nanocrystals with another type of organic coating [right] produced green. (Images Credit: Zhiyuan Huang/UC Riverside) Click to Enlarge.
Solar cell efficiencies could increase by 30 percent or more with new hybrid materials that make use of the infrared portion of the solar spectrum, researchers say.

Visible light accounts for under half of the solar energy that reaches Earth's surface.  Nearly all of the rest comes from infrared radiation.  However, solar infrared rays normally passes right through the photovoltaic materials that make up today's solar cells.

Now scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have created hybrid materials that can make use of solar infrared rays.  The energy from every two infrared rays they capture is combined or “upconverted” into a higher-energy photon that is readily absorbed by photovoltaic cells, generating electricity from light that would normally be wasted.
The scientists added that the ability to upconvert two low energy photons into one, high-energy photon has potential applications in biological imaging, high-density data storage, and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).  They detailed their findings online July 10 in the journal Nano Letters.

Read more at Solar Cells Could Capture Infrared Rays for More Power

Tiny Grains of Rice Hold Big Promise for Greenhouse Gas Reductions, Bioenergy

In addition to a near elimination of greenhouse gases associated with its growth, SUSIBA2 rice produces substantially more grains for a richer food source. The new strain is shown here (right) compared to the study's control. (Image Credit: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) Click to Enlarge.
Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world's population, but the paddies it's grown in contributes up to 17 percent of global methane emissions -- about 100 million tons a year.  Now, with the addition of a single gene, rice can be cultivated to emit virtually no methane, more starch for a richer food source and biomass for energy production.

With their warm, waterlogged soils, rice paddies contribute up to 17 percent of global methane emissions, the equivalent of about 100 million tons each year.  While this represents a much smaller percentage of overall greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, methane is about 20 times more effective at trapping heat.  SUSIBA2 rice, as the new strain is dubbed, is the first high-starch, low-methane rice that could offer a significant and sustainable solution.

Researchers created SUSIBA2 rice by introducing a single gene from barley into common rice, resulting in a plant that can better feed its grains, stems and leaves while starving off methane-producing microbes in the soil.

The results, which appear in the July 30 print edition of Nature and online, represent a culmination of more than a decade of work by researchers in three countries, including Christer Jansson, director of plant sciences at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and EMSL, DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

Read more at Tiny Grains of Rice Hold Big Promise for Greenhouse Gas Reductions, Bioenergy

Before the Time of Global Warming, Data Show Spring Sprung Later

Plants such as serviceberry now bloom many days earlier on average as temperatures increase due to climate change. Early blooms could portend large disruptions to the ecosystem, scientists say. (Credit: Steven Severinghaus) Click to Enlarge.
If actions do indeed speak louder than words, plants and animals are telling us in no uncertain terms that human-caused climate change is changing their lives—with potentially dire consequences for the ecosystem.

According to one of the largest troves of ecological data from the past, living organisms are already responding to the rise in temperatures from global warming.  By digitizing more than 11,000 records from the 19th century that chronicled the flowering of plants and trees, the springtime arrival of migrating birds, and the annual onset of frog mating calls, researchers at the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program in Harlemville, N.Y. have shown that spring is arriving as much as 14 days early as climate change accelerates.

The observations were recorded at more than 90 scientific academies across New York State between 1832 and 1862 as part of a statewide effort organized by the University of the State of New York.

"As far as we can tell it's the largest [historical] data set from North America," said Conrad Vispo, who recently uncovered the long-forgotten documents and heads the group’s Progress of the Seasons project.

Vispo, an adjunct professor of horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., is working with the New York Phenology Project, a group that tracks the impact of climate change on plants and pollinators, to compare the timing of historical observations with seasonal changes today.  A preliminary analysis of five common species from New York's southern Hudson Valley shows plants and trees are flowering from two days to two weeks earlier than they were in the mid-1800s, as the temperatures recorded in the region increased between 2 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It would suggest that there have been changes in the climate that have had broad impacts on the timing of natural events," Vispo said.
Richard Primack, a professor at Boston University and a co-author on the studies comparing Thoreau’s observations to seasonal changes seen today, said flowers are the canary in the coal mine for more dire changes to come.

Read more at Before the Time of Global Warming, Data Show Spring Sprung Later

  Wednesday, July 29

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Report Reveals the Severe Economic Impacts Climate Change Will Have in the South

A cyclist and vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Miami Beach, Fla. (Credit: Lynne Sladky) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is set to hit the Southeast United States and Texas hard.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Risky Business Project, a nonprofit that focuses on the economic impacts of climate change.  The report, which focused on 12 states — 11 states in the Southeastern United States plus Texas — found that the increased heat and humidity that these states are expected to experience as the climate changes will put the region’s recent manufacturing boom at risk.

“While the Southeast and Texas are generally accustomed to heat and humidity, the scale of increased heat — along with other impacts such as sea level rise and storm surge — will likely cause significant and widespread economic harm, especially to a region so heavily invested in physical manufacturing, agriculture and energy infrastructure,” the report reads.  “If we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway, the southeastern United States and Texas will likely experience significant drops in agricultural yield and labor productivity, along with increased sea level rise, higher energy demand, and rising mortality rates.”

According to the report, by the end of this century, the Southeast and Texas could see 14 times as many days over 95°F each year.  Some regions, the report states, could see as many as 124 of these extremely hot days a year.  And changes could come sooner than the end of the century for some states:  by around 2050, Mississippi is expected to see 33 to 85 extremely hot days each year.  These temperatures will drive up electricity demand, and that increased demand could see an increase in energy costs of 4 to 12 percent by mid-century.

Read more at New Report Reveals the Severe Economic Impacts Climate Change Will Have in the South

Statement by Ceres President Mindy S. Lubber in Response to White House Announcement:  American Business Act on Climate Pledge

"This $140 billion in low-carbon investments are exactly the kinds of commitments we need to boost clean energy projects and other low-carbon solutions globally,” said Mindy Lubber, president of the sustainability advocacy nonprofit group Ceres.  “Scaling such investments by an additional $1 trillion a year - what we call the Clean Trillion - is the only way to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

While this business leadership is encouraging, voluntary commitments alone will not get us the meaningful reductions we need.  Strong carbon-reducing policies are hugely important, beginning with final EPA rules to curb US power plant emissions by 30 percent.

We applaud this effort by these 13 corporate leaders, including five Ceres member companies, Apple, PepsiCo, Bank of America, Coca-Cola and General Motors. With these Fortune 100 companies at its back, the White House is sending a strong signal that America is ready for a serious global climate deal at the upcoming Paris talks."

Read more at Statement by Ceres President Mindy S. Lubber in Response to White House Announcement:  American Business Act on Climate Pledge

Climate Change Skeptics May Be About to Lose One of Their Favorite Arguments

In this Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 photo, provided by Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia. (Credit: AP Photo/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, Andrew Peacock) Click to Enlarge.
There’s no doubt that growing Antarctic sea ice is a mystery in the climate system — and an anomalous, seemingly contrary indicator.  However, if a controversial and much-discussed new paper from famed former NASA scientist James Hansen and 16 colleagues is correct, then actually it could be a troubling climate warning sign.  (Indeed, other scientists have reached similar conclusions.)

According to Hansen’s thinking, expanding Antarctic sea ice is precisely what you would expect to see if the Antarctic continent itself is losing a lot of ice mass from its vast ice sheet, adding to sea level rise.

The thinking goes like this:  as ice shelves melt, and more inland ice slides towards the sea, a gigantic volume of cold, fresh water enters the ocean.  This freshwater pulse, the researchers continue, promotes ocean “stratification,” in which a cold surface layer lies atop a subsurface warmer layer.  The cold surface layer promotes more sea ice growth atop open water, while the warm lower layer sneaks beneath that ice and continues to melt submerged ice shelves, which plunge deep into the water at the fringes of the continent.

The fundamental physical reason for the expansion of sea ice in this scenario is that cold, fresh water is less dense than warmer, salty water.  Or as the National Snow and Ice Data Center explains:

As deep ocean temperatures around Antarctic rise, they increase ice shelf melt, according to a study led by Richard Bintanja.  This meltwater is creating a cool layer near the surface of the ocean that promotes sea ice production.  In addition, the meltwater is fresh, or much less salty and dense than surrounding saline ocean layers.  So fresher meltwater floats upward, mixing with the cold surface layer, lowering its density.  As this fresh layer expands, it forms a stable puddle on top of the ocean that makes it easier to produce and retain sea ice.

In this sense, expanding Antarctic sea ice might be anything but good news.

Indeed, in the troubling scenario outlined by Hansen and his colleagues, it’s part of a series of feedbacks that lead to rapid sea level rise.  “Amplifying feedbacks, including slowdown of [the Southern ocean’s overturning circulation] and cooling of the near-Antarctic ocean surface with increasing sea ice, may spur nonlinear growth of Antarctic ice sheet mass loss,” write Hansen and his colleagues.
Granted, the new Hansen study is simultaneously advancing a gigantic new synthesis of existing research and also pushing the envelope — it will need to be scientifically digested for some time, and has already drawn some critical comments from experts.  However, the Hansen paper also just received its first official peer review by one of several reviewers designated by the journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions – the University of Chicago geoscientist David Archer.  And it is a strong review – Archer says that the paper is a “masterwork of scholarly synthesis, modeling virtuosity, and insight, with profound implications.”

Climate Change Skeptics May Be About to Lose One of Their Favorite Arguments

U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Bulk of Obama Air Pollution Rule

The John Amos coal-fired power plant is seen behind a home in Poca, West Virginia in this May 18, 2014 file photo. (Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith/Files)  Click to Enlarge.
A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday mostly upheld a major federal environmental regulation requiring some states to limit pollution that contributes to unhealthy air in neighboring states.

The U.S. Court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected several broad challenges to the regulation.  But in a partial loss for the government, the court said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have to reconsider the 2014 emissions budgets it set for various states for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

The court said the rule could remain intact while the government revises the emissions budgets.

The case was before the appeals court for a second time after an April 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the justices, on a 6-2 vote, upheld the regulation.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the EPA rule a cost-effective way to allocate responsibility for emission reductions among upwind states, and that the EPA need not consider each state's proportionate responsibility for the emissions in question.

Read more at U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Bulk of Obama Air Pollution Rule

Rain, Storm Surge Combine to Put U.S. Coasts at Risk

As Hurricane Isaac dumped rain on the greater New Orleans area, the storm created a surge on Lake Pontchartrain that officials say was greater than Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This was the scene on the north shore of the causeway. (Credit: Lt. Conrad H. Franz/Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Police) Click to Enlarge.
After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleanians thought they knew what areas were susceptible to flooding during a storm.  So when Hurricane Isaac, a much weaker storm than Katrina, bore down on the city in 2012, those who live to the west of Lake Pontchartrain weren’t worried, as they had been spared the raging waters that inundated so much of the city during Katrina.

But Isaac turned out to be the perfect storm for that area.  The surge that Isaac pushed ahead of it raised lake levels by 6 to 9 feet, and they stayed elevated for an unusually long time.  At the same time, the area around the lake saw 11 or more inches of rain from the storm. Because the lake levels were so high, there was nowhere for the rainwater to drain, and so water flooded the streets and houses to the west of the lake.

“Many people were caught off guard,” Hal Needham, a storm surge scientist at Louisiana State University said, and thousands had to be rescued from the rising waters.  It turns out that many more coastal residents are at threat from the meteorological double whammy of freshwater flooding and storm surge, which a new study finds is a serious threat for large stretches of U.S. coast.

That one-two punch – called compound flooding -- isn’t something that many places in the U.S. plan for, however, as studies of risk tend to look at one danger or the other, Needham said. And global warming-driven sea level rise exacerbates the problem even further.

Read more at Rain, Storm Surge Combine to Put U.S. Coasts at Risk

Roughly 40 Percent of World Population Unaware of Climate Change

Roughly 40 percent of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change, according to an analysis of global climate change awareness and risk perception published in Nature Climate Change.  The percentage of people unaware of climate change rises to more than 65 percent in developing countries such as Egypt, Bangladesh, and India, whereas only 10 percent of the public is unaware in North America, Europe, and Japan.  The findings indicate that strategies for securing public engagement in climate issues will vary from country to country, the researchers say, because different populations perceive climate-related risks very differently. In many African and Asian countries, for example, climate risk is most strongly perceived through noticeable changes in local temperatures.

Read more at Roughly 40 Percent of World Population Unaware of Climate Change, Survey Says

Hillary Clinton’s Climate Denier Horror Movie

Hillary Clinton released a video on Monday mimicking a trailer for an old horror film — except instead of Frankenstein, the monsters were the Republican presidential candidates who deny that human-caused climate change is real.

Specifically, the video mocked candidates who have said “I’m not a scientist” when asked whether they accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that current global warming is primarily caused by carbon emissions.  Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio have all used the response, the video asserts.

The video then goes on to show clips of Republican candidates expressing doubt about climate science.  “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes,” Rubio says in the video.  “There hasn’t been a noticeable change in recent times,” Walker says.
Using the phrase “I’m not a scientist” to respond to questions about climate change has been popular among many Republican politicians, not just those running for president.  Climate scientists themselves have derided the tactic, noting that politicians are frequently presented with information curated by scientists to explain what’s going on with the climate.

Read more at Hillary Clinton’s Climate Denier Horror Movie

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

  Tuesday, July 28

Hillary Clinton Lays Out Climate Change Plan

Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday toured a Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority station with Elizabeth Presutti, general manager, and Keith Welch, building superintendent. (Credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
Setting ambitious goals for producing energy from the sun, wind and other renewable sources, Hillary Rodham Clinton seized on an issue Monday that increasingly resonates with Democratic voters and sets up a stark contrast with the Republican presidential field.

With many Republican candidates saying they do not believe that climate change is a threat or requires government intervention, Mrs. Clinton assailed their logic, saying, “The reality of climate change is unforgiving no matter what the deniers say.”

She set a goal to produce 33 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2027, up from 7 percent today — a higher goal than the 20 percent that President Obama has called for by 2030.

Mrs. Clinton’s strategists see climate change as a winning issue for 2016.  They believe it is a cause she can advance to win over deep-pocketed donors and liberal activists in the nominating campaign, where she is facing Democratic challengers to her left on the issue.  It is also one that can be a weapon against Republicans in a general election.   Polls show that a majority of voters support candidates who pledge policy action on the warming climate.

Mrs. Clinton called for installing a half-billion solar panels by 2020, a sevenfold increase from today, and to generate enough energy from carbon-free sources within 10 years of her inauguration to power every home in America.

Republicans criticized the proposal as an “energy poverty” agenda that could raise utility bills and lead to blackouts.  Policy analysts said it could be tough for Mrs. Clinton to follow through on such ambitious goals.

While Mr. Obama’s climate change goals, driven by regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, would lift the nation’s renewable power to about 20 to 25 percent, according to E.P.A. estimates, the rest of the increase, experts said, will be impossible without new laws requiring renewable power.  Congress has failed over the past decade to pass such laws.

The Clinton campaign emphasized that her targets cleared a bar set last week by the billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who spent $74 million on political races in 2014.  He announced that for candidates to receive his support in 2016, they must offer policies that would lead the nation to generate half its electricity from clean sources by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who has made climate change the center of his Democratic presidential campaign, laid out a plan last month that meets the criteria, winning Mr. Steyer’s blessing.  Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has called for a tax on carbon emissions, draws thunderous applause at rallies by promising bold action to combat climate change.

Although Mrs. Clinton has emphasized fighting global warming as a priority in earlier speeches, the role of a single large donor, Mr. Steyer, in apparently influencing the details of her proposal was suggested by her press secretary, Brian Fallon.  On Twitter he said, “Counting nuclear, as Steyer does, she exceeds his 50 percent goal” for 2030.

Read more at Hillary Clinton Lays Out Climate Change Plan

Toon of the Week - Climate Denial / 100% Unfiltered BS

Koch Bros Climate Denial / 100% Unfiltered BS as Seen on Fox (Credit:

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #30

Quote of the Week - Climate Deniers Who Claim that Thousands of Scientists Are Engaging in a Global Fraud

Climate deniers who claim that thousands of scientists are engaging in a global fraud are "one step way from a conspiracy theory" that is too fantastical to be even feasible, he added.

"Think about it.  We have an administration that could not roll out a proper health care website. You think they can manage a global scientific conspiracy?  They could not do it if they wanted to," said Titley*, who also holds a doctorate in meteorology.  And he scoffed at the idea that scientists are deliberately lying about climate change just to obtain short-term research grants.

*David Titley, Ret. Rear Adm., U.S. Navy

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #30

Poster of the Week - I've starred in a lot of science fiction movies and, let me tell you something, climate change is not science fiction.

Credit: EcoWatch

Read original at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #30

  Monday, July 27

Monday, July 27, 2015

James Hansen Spells Out Climate Danger of the ‘Hyper-Anthropocene’ Age - by Joe Romm

James Hansen testifies in 1981 (Credit: AP / Dennis Cook) Click to Enlarge.
James Hansen and 16 leading climate experts have written a must-read discussion paper on what humanity risks if it can’t keep total global warming below 2°C (3.6°F).  The greatest risk they identify is “that multi-meter sea level rise would become practically unavoidable.”

This is warning everyone should heed — not just because Hansen’s co-authors include some of the world’s top sea-level rise experts, such as Eric Rignot and Isabella Velicogna, but also given Hansen’s prescience on climate change dating back more than three decades.

In 1981, Hansen led a team of NASA scientists in a seminal article in Science, “Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.”

They warned:  “Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climatic zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage.”

Wow.  A 35-year-old peer-reviewed climate warning that is 100 percent dead on.  Is there anyone else on the planet who can has been right for so long about climate change?

Hansen and co-authors deftly dismiss those ill-informed Pollyannas who use Orwellian terms like “good Anthropocene.”  They explain that we are far past “the era in which humans have contributed to global climate change,” which probably began a thousand years ago, and are now in “a fundamentally different phase, a Hyper-Anthropocene … initiated by explosive 20th century growth of fossil fuel use.”

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming this century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature). (Credit: Science & Click to Enlarge.
The “Hyper-Anthropocene” is a very good term to describe the unprecedented acceleration in global warming that humanity has set in motion with the explosive growth of fossil fuels and carbon pollution, as the recent science makes clear:

The fact that warming as high as 2°C should be avoided at all costs is not news to people who pay attention to climate science, though it may be news to people who only follow the popular media.  Indeed, 70 leading climate experts made that point crystal clear in a May report to the world’s leading governments that received embarrassingly little coverage from the mainstream media.

James Hansen Spells Out Climate Danger of the ‘Hyper-Anthropocene’ Age

Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Combat Climate Change with Half-A-Billion Solar Panels

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign event, Sunday, July 26, 2015, at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. On Sunday evening, the Democratic candidate released her plan to fight climate change. (Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall) Click to Enlarge.
Hillary Clinton is going all in on renewable energy.

On Sunday evening, the Democratic presidential candidate released a fact sheet detailing her plan to fight climate change, and it focuses heavily on promoting clean energy generation across the country.

Among other things, the plan includes a promise to install half a billion solar panels by 2021, or the end of Clinton’s first term.  That would represent a 700 percent increase from current installations, she said.  Clinton also promised that, if elected, enough renewable energy would be produced to power every home in the country within 10 years.

“We can make a transition over time from a fossil fuel economy, predominantly, to a clean renewable energy economy, predominantly,” Clinton said in Iowa on Sunday, Yahoo reported.

The aggressive transition to renewables proposed by Clinton would be achieved partially through extending and strengthening tax breaks those industries, Clinton said.  Last week, the Senate proposed renewing two tax incentives for the wind industry, which are currently expired.

Clinton is expected to explain more details of the plan during a Monday event in Des Moines, according to Yahoo’s report.

Though Clinton has been outspoken about the need to address climate change, many environmentalists have expressed doubt that her policies would be as strong as they may like. They often point to her historic “inclination” to approve the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and her support for domestic fossil fuel production, specifically natural gas.

But tackling climate change has been central to Clinton’s campaign so far.  In her campaign kick-off speech, she promised to make America “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century” and condemned Republican politicians for willfully ignoring the science behind human-caused warming.  Her campaign chairman John Podesta was the architect of President Obama’s plan to tackle carbon emissions through regulations, and Clinton has promised to keep those regulations in place “at all costs.”  As ThinkProgress pointed out in April, Clinton’s is the first major presidential campaign ever to make combating climate change a central issue.

Read more at Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Combat Climate Change with Half-A-Billion Solar Panels

U.S. Companies Pledge Financial, Political Support for U.N. Climate Deal

An advertisement for Microsoft is seen over 42nd Street in Manhattan, New York, July 15, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Rickey Rogers) Click to Enlarge.
Thirteen big name American companies on Monday were to announce $140 billion in low-carbon investments to lend support to a global climate change deal in Paris in December, the White House said.

Companies including General Motors (GM.N), Bank of America (BAC.N), Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Coca Cola (KO.N), were to join U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the White House to launch the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to support the administration as it tries to secure a climate agreement.

Under the pledge, the companies announced measures they would take internally to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and deploy more clean energy.

In addition to announcing a collective $140 billion in new low-carbon investments, the companies announced they would bring at least 1,600 megawatts of new renewable energy on line, reduce water use intensity by 15 percent, purchase 100 percent renewable energy, and target zero net deforestation in their supply chains.

United Nations climate change negotiators have called on the private sector to bolster public sector finance to aid efforts globally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developing countries.

Read more at U.S. Companies Pledge Financial, Political Support for U.N. Climate Deal

Sunday, July 26, 2015

  Sunday, July 26

Economic Changes Needed to Tackle Climate Challenges

Looking to capture greenhouse gas emissions with a net (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, says the world needs a whole new economic framework to tackle the consequences of the warming caused by emissions of greenhouse gases.

Speaking at a meeting in Paris, entitled the Summit of Consciences for the Climate, he said this generation could be the last with the chance of responding to the urgent, uncontested effects of climate change.

The challenge of climate change, he said, provided opportunities to construct a new order for humanity and for the planet.

“Climate change is grounded in forms of development and industrialisation that are based on the exploitation of fossil fuels, with an assumption of infinite growth,”  he  told the meeting.

Climate agreement
The Paris summit, attended by religious groups, Nobel  laureates and artists, as well as prominent politicians, was convened by the President of France, François Hollande, and is one of a series of gatherings to be held in the run-up to the UN climate change conference in Paris in December, at which a new global climate agreement is due to be finalized.

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, and Mary Robinson, the UN’s special envoy on climate change, were among those speaking at the meeting.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Higgins said that the neo-liberal model of economic development prevalent in western countries advocated the rolling-back of the state.

Massive movements of capital had created what he termed great fissures of inequality, and such freewheeling capitalism had shown itself capable of dislodging the whole fiscal system.

The global challenges of climate change and inequality could not be met if governments were not in control of their economies, Higgins said.

Besides the year-end Paris summit, several other significant  conferences are being held this year, including a UN meeting focusing on a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.

“The World Bank says we will have to go from billions to trillions to pay for the agendas that will flow from the conferences in 2015,” Higgins said.  “The issue is, can you do this with a minimized state?”

Read more at Economic Changes Needed to Tackle Climate Challenges

A ‘Third Way’ to Fight Climate Change - by Tim Flannery

Looking to capture greenhouse gas emissions with a net (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Two options for dealing with climate change — reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a global agreement, and geoengineering proposals such as injecting sulfur into the stratosphere — tend to dominate current thinking.  But there is a “third way” that is almost entirely neglected in political negotiations and public debate.  It involves capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it or using it to create things we need. Because of the scale of the climate problem, I believe that in coming decades third-way technologies will become a major focus of activity.

Human emissions of greenhouse gases have grown so swiftly over the past decade that they’re following the worst case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In round numbers, humanity is now emitting more than 10 gigatons of carbon (in the form of 40 gigatons of CO2) annually.  The atmospheric CO2 concentration is nearing 400 parts per million, its highest level in millions of years.  Because CO2 lasts so long in the atmosphere, even if no more were emitted, the existing gas would cause temperatures to rise by a further 0.5 degrees Celsius (to about 1.5 degrees above the preindustrial average).

Sadly, emissions will not stop instantly.  Instead, the national pledges being made in advance of the international climate change conference in Paris at the end of this year suggest that not enough will be done to prevent global temperatures from rising beyond the goal of 2 degrees Celsius.

As the years go by, it will become highly desirable to remove some of that CO2.  But it turns out that removing a gigaton of carbon from the atmosphere can be a task of planetary proportions.

Read more at A ‘Third Way’ to Fight Climate Change

Global Coal Boom Ends as China — and World — Wakes Up to Reality of Carbon Pollution

Face masked Chinese (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
“Global coal demand is slowing fast,” is the headline in a June Business Insider Australia story. “The global coal renaissance is the most important climate story today,” is the headline in a July Vox story.

Which is correct?  Mostly the first one.  There was a true global coal renaissance starting around the year 2000, a resurgence due primarily to China.  But it is now stalling.

China was responsible for some 80 percent of the growth in global demand since 2000. You can see that in this June 15 chart from BP’s Group Chief Economist based on their newly-released “Statistical Review of World Energy 2015.”

China, however, has completely reversed its strategy of coal-intensive growth as Climate Progress has been reporting since the U.S.-China climate deal was announced in November. The driving force of this reversal is the terrible toll coal pollution has taken on the health of Chinese citizens in urban or industrialized areas — combined with the growing realization at the highest levels of China’s government that climate change will devastate China and that it must become a leader in avoiding the worst impacts.

The result of two of China’s strategies. (Credit: BP) Click to Enlarge.
You can see in the chart at right the result of two of China’s strategies.  First, they are working to aggressively take market share away from coal and accelerate the transition to low-carbon and zero-carbon sources — natural gas, nuclear, wind power, solar power, and hydropower.

Second, on the industrial side, they are transitioning away from the coal-intensive and energy-intensive industries that have been driving growth and speeding up the transition to a more balanced economy, with much more service sector growth.  Many of the Chinese climate and energy experts I spoke to during my trip last month used the word “sustainable” to describe the economy that the leadership would like.

The result of this second strategy began to bear fruit last year, as this BP chart shows:

These two Chinese strategies combined are a key reason why China cut its coal consumption in 2014, the first drop this century.  And since China has been the engine of the world coal market, it’s no surprise that global coal demand flatlined at 0.4 percent year over year growth in 2014.

Moreover, China’s coal-slashing strategies continue to have a huge impact into this year. Domestic demand continues to drop, and as Platts reported Wednesday, “China’s thermal coal imports in the first six months of 2015 were 42.35 million mt [metric tons], a 44% fall from the year-earlier period.”

China isn’t the only big user moving away from coal.  In the United States, coal growth has been reversed by a combination of the economic slowdown, low natural gas prices, rapid expansion of renewables, and aggressive energy efficiency.  As we reported earlier this month, for the first time ever “In April, 31 percent of electricity generation came from natural gas while 30 percent came from coal.”

“The Latest Sign That Coal Is Getting Killed,” was the headline of a July 13 BloombergBusiness piece, which noted “About 17 percent of U.S. coal-fired power generation will disappear over the next few years, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).”

Read more at Global Coal Boom Ends as China — and World — Wakes Up to Reality of Carbon Pollution

Are Countries Obligated to Fend Off Climate Change?

The Hague, the seat of government in the Netherlands, and the capital city of the province of South Holland. (Credit: Tom Roeleveld/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
On June 24, 2015, a court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to act faster in its duty to protect its citizens against the effects of climate change.  This marks the first time the issue has been legally declared a state obligation, regardless of arguments that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend on one country’s efforts alone.  The decision was based on various branches of law, including, most importantly, human rights.  In effect, it makes the Dutch government accountable for greenhouse gas emissions on its own territory, an outcome other countries may also need to heed.

The government, the court said, must ensure that Dutch emissions in 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990 — the amount the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report says is needed from industrialized countries if the world is to not exceed 2°C (3.6°F) warming and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.  Dutch political leaders had been planning to cut emissions by up to 17 percent within the next five years.

“Our case lets politicians know that they can’t let climate change happen.  They have a duty to act, be it legally or morally,” says Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel to the Urgenda Foundation, which, supported by about 900 co-plaintiffs, initiated the suit.

The Dutch, whose country lies largely below sea level, have reason to worry about climate change.  But they live in a country that has resources to adapt.  People in poorer countries, who have contributed least to climate change and are also often least well prepared to respond, are likely to suffer the most.  It’s for them that the Dutch victory is critical, says van Berkel.  “The rights of our co-plaintiffs are central, but people outside of the Netherlands will be even harder hit by climate change,” he says.  “The ruling will encourage others to appeal to human rights when it comes to climate change threats.”  Which brings up the big question:  Is the Dutch court ruling a landmark for the entire globe?

Read more at Are Countries Obligated to Fend Off Climate Change?

Fewer but Stronger Global Tropical Cyclones (Hurricanes) Due to Ocean Warming

One of the most spectacular images ever captured of a tropical cyclone from space: Category 5 Super Typhoon Maysak as seen from the International Space Station at approximately 6 pm EDT Tuesday March 31, 2015 (just after dawn local time.) At the time, Mayask had top winds of 160 mph as estimated by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, and a central pressure of 905 mb, as estimated by the Japan Meteorological Agency. Image has been brightened and flipped 180 degrees. (Image credit: Terry W. Virts.) Click to Enlarge.
Global ocean temperatures hit their warmest levels in recorded history last month.  Since hurricanes are heat engines which extract heat energy from the oceans and convert it to the kinetic energy of the storms' winds, we should be concerned about the potential for hurricanes to be stronger as a result of global warming.  Indeed, the observed 0.3°C (0.5°F) warming of Earth's oceans over the past 30 years has made more energy available to hurricanes, says a new study published in May in Nature Climate Change by Florida State hurricane scientist James Elsner and the deputy director of the National Typhoon Center in South Korea, Namyoung Kang.  The researchers found that this extra heat energy has led to a change in both the frequency and intensity of global tropical storms and hurricanes. 

Using a new mathematical framework to categorize all global tropical cyclones with wind speeds of at least 39 mph over the past 30 years, the authors showed that the observed warming of Earth's oceans during that time period has led to an average increase in wind speed of about 3 mph (1.3 m/s) for each storm--but there were 6.1 fewer named storms globally each year because of the warmer oceans.  A typical year has about 85 named storms globally, so this represents about a 7% decrease in the number of storms.

Read more at Fewer but Stronger Global Tropical Cyclones Due to Ocean Warming

  Saturday, July 25

Saturday, July 25, 2015

In Swing States, Voters Want Action on Climate Change

People hold a banner reading ' Climate action Now ' in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Voters in key swing states like Iowa say they agree with Pope Francis about climate action. (Photo Credit: AP/Andrew Medichini) Click to Enlarge.
If Republican presidential candidates are looking to win votes in key swing states, they may want to change their tone on climate change.

A poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University found that a majority of voters in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia agree with Pope Francis that the world should increase efforts to combat the phenomenon, which scientists say is caused by carbon emissions.  Those voters also overwhelmingly believe that climate change is caused by human activity, a fact that many Republican presidential candidates have so far been wary to address or accept.

Each of the three states’ voters agreed that climate action is needed by approximately 2-1 margins, with anywhere from 62 to 65 percent of voters agreeing and 25 to 31 percent disagreeing, depending on the state.

Those wide margins were largely decided by Democrats and politically independent voters, who agreed that climate action is important by wide margins in all three states.  Democrats had particularly wide margins, with almost all self-identified Democrats saying that climate action should be a priority.  In Colorado, 93 percent agreed, as did 90 percent of Iowa Democrats and 84 percent of Virginia Democrats.

But a good deal of Republicans also agreed with Pope Francis’ call to do more on climate.  In all three swing states, Republicans disagreed that climate action is important, but by drastically closer margins than by which the Democrats agreed.  In Iowa, only 44 percent of Republicans didn’t want action on climate change, while 40 percent did.  Similarly, only 46 percent of Virginia Republicans disagreed, as did 53 percent of Colorado Republicans.

Read more at In Swing States, Voters Want Action on Climate Change

GAO Report Sees Climate Risks to Army Corps Projects

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shoreline rehabilitation project in Keansburg, N.J. (Credit: Army Corps of Engineers/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Thousands of dams, levees, hurricane barriers and flood walls built across the country by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may be at risk from extreme weather and sea level rise driven by climate change, but the Army Corps has only just begun to assess how vulnerable they are and suffers from a lack of funding, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

The Army Corps may not be the most prominent of federal government agencies, but the dams, levees and other infrastructure it builds, critical to the lives of millions, can be seen everywhere across the United States, often keeping rising waters away from low-lying communities.

Army Corps-built hurricane barriers, tide gates and flood walls helped protect Northeastern communities during Hurricane Sandy.  In New Orleans, levees and flood walls meant to keep the city from flooding in a hurricane were built and, after Hurricane Katrina, rehabilitated by the Army Corps.

But the GAO concludes that many Army Corps projects — most of them built more than 50 years ago — are highly vulnerable to extreme weather and sea level rise brought about by climate change.  Many coastal areas are expected to see between two and seven feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, and the Army Corps doesn’t know if many of its projects could fail in a warming world.  New projects, however, are required to be built with climate change adaptation in mind.

Read more at GAO Report Sees Climate Risks to Army Corps Projects