Friday, September 30, 2016

  Friday, Sep 30

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

Climate Warnings Masked by Propaganda

Leading scientists say most people remain unaware of the truth that climate change is a stark reality now and will continue to get worse without drastic action.

A bridge washed away by devastating floods in Alberta, Canada, in 2013. (Image Credit: Gregg Jaden via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A rise in world temperatures of 1.5°C degrees can no longer be avoided, according to the world’s leading climate scientists, who say that the majority of people have yet to wake up to the stark realities and dangers of climate change.

In a devastating summary of the crisis the world faces, the seven scientists say that propaganda by the fossil fuel lobby and failure of politicians to take action in the last 10 years means changes in lifestyles and radical action is needed if catastrophe is to be avoided.

Sir Robert Watson, former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says: “Climate change is happening now and much faster than anticipated.”

A doubling or tripling of existing efforts is necessary, he says, to avoid exceeding the 2°C degree danger threshold on global temperature rise agreed by the world’s government at last year’s Paris climate conference.

In a paper titled The Truth About Climate Change, the scientists depart from the normal cautious assessment that has characterised IPCC reports.

Climate experts
Instead, they paint a stark picture of rising temperatures causing floods and wildfires, food and water shortages, damage to human health, and widespread disruption of services and destruction of roads, railways bridges and buildings.

Sir Robert, now director of strategic development at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, UK, was joined in producing the report by Italy’s Dr Carlo Carraro, vice-chairman of the IPCC working group III, and by other expert climate scientists from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, and the US.

The scientists say that the public has misunderstood the imminent dangers of climate change, believing that it will happen sometime in the future rather than now.

Large numbers of people have been misled into believing that economic growth can only be achieved by burning coal, gas and oil.  And despite overwhelming scientific evidence, pressure from sectors benefiting from the use of fossil fuels has halted climate action.

The calculation that the rise to 1.5°C can no longer be avoided is based on the scientific evidence of the time lag between carbon dioxide being emitted by man into the atmosphere and the resultant heating up.  The full effects of the greenhouse gases emitted in 2016 will only be felt in 2030.

The paper says that, by 2015, the global temperature had risen by 1°C above pre-industrial levels, that it is certain to rise another half a degree by 2030. and will continue to rise to 2°C by 2050 unless drastic action is taken to reduce emissions.
Dangerous overheating
With the majority of the world’s energy still coming from fossil fuels, and the expanding population demanding yet more energy generation, the scientists say saving the planet from dangerous overheating is now a daunting task.

To have any hope of solving the problem, the world needs to reach net zero emissions by 2060 to 2075.  Although switching to renewables and planting more forests are important components of how to do this, it cannot be achieved by these methods alone.

Only by carbon capture from the atmosphere and storing it underground, or by some other method of removing carbon from the air, can zero emissions be achieved in time.

Read more at Climate Warnings Masked by Propaganda

Greenhouse Gases from Reservoirs Fuel Climate Change

Lake Travis near Austin, Texas. (Credit: Bobby Magill/Climate Central) Click to Enlarge.
Hydropower reservoirs are considered to be major sources of low-carbon electricity that can be used to cut greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. But those same reservoirs emit global warming gases, and a team of researchers has now tallied just how much those gases impact the climate.

Globally, reservoirs are responsible for about 1.3 percent of the world’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions each year, or about the same as Canada’s total emissions, according to a study to be published in the journal Bioscience next week.  The findings come from a team of researchers led by Washington State University-Vancouver and the Environmental Protection Agency.

That emissions estimate may not sound like much, but the study says reservoir emissions can contribute significantly to carbon budgets countries use to meet their climate goals.  Reservoirs emit mostly methane, a greenhouse gas about 35 times as potent as carbon dioxide in its potential to warm the atmosphere over the course of a century.

Knowing how reservoirs contribute to global warming is critical because there is a dam-building boom occurring worldwide.  Previous research shows that about 3,700 major hydropower dams were planned or under construction globally as of 2014 as countries scramble to generate renewable energy and find new ways to store water during drought.

“To put these reservoir methane emissions in context, they are similar in size to other major human sources such as biomass burning and rice paddies, hence reservoirs are not necessarily the ‘clean’ energy source they are often thought to be,” the study’s lead authors, Washington State University-Vancouver Ph.D. student Bridget Deemer and environmental sciences professor John Harrison, said in an email.

The study’s greenhouse gas estimates include reservoirs built for all uses, including hydropower, drinking water, farm irrigation, and flood control, among others. 
Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said the benefits of building reservoirs in an era of climate change can outweigh the impact of their methane emissions.

“Building reservoirs is essential if we are to manage water — to save the water from the heavier rains that occur for the longer dry spells that are also expected,” Trenberth said. “Water management is a huge issue and this study deals with only a tiny part.”

Read more at Greenhouse Gases from Reservoirs Fuel Climate Change

New Data Show:  China Stokes Global Coal Power Growth

China cuts coal at home but new data show that Chinese state owned companies and banks drive new coal expansion overseas, despite top level promises of green growth for developing countries, writes Beth Walker for China Dialogue

Coal power plant in Henan Province, China. (Photo Credit: V.T. Polywoda, 2014)
Chinese companies and banks are continuing to drive global coal expansion, as state owned companies, backed by state loans, build coal-fired power plants across the world.  This is despite commitments from China’s top leaders to deliver clean energy and low carbon infrastructure for developing countries.

The world’s largest carbon emitter aims to reposition itself as a global green power.  In a joint US-China statement at the White House in September 2015, President Xi Jinping agreed to strictly control public investment for overseas projects with high pollution and carbon emissions.  China won praise for promising to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 at the UN climate summit in Paris in 2015 – and trying to wean itself slowly off coal.  Chinese manufacturers are now major suppliers of cheap solar and wind parts worldwide.

However, these efforts are being undercut by Chinese backed coal power plants planned and under construction from Indonesia to Pakistan, Turkey to the Balkans –as well as in Africa and Latin America.  These could boost global emissions and lock developing countries into fossil fuel intensive energy systems for decades.

New data collected by chinadialogue and the CEE Bankwatch Network shows that since 2015 many new Chinese coal plant project deals have been announced and are under development. “The majority of these projects are under loan consideration by China’s policy-driven financing, and supplied by equipment from the country’s largest power generation manufacturers,” said Wawa Wang, public finance policy officer at CEE Bankwatch Network.

Chinese banks and companies are currently involved in at least 79 coal fired generation projects, with a total capacity of over 52 GW, more than the 46 GW of planned coal closures in the US by 2020.

Beijing has encouraged state owned coal companies and energy intensive industries such as concrete, steel and cement, to “go out” as part of the One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR). This aims to open up new opportunities for Chinese companies and to build infrastructure to link China to European markets and beyond.

Read more at New Data Show:  China Stokes Global Coal Power Growth

Thursday, September 29, 2016

  Thursday, Sep 29

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

Trump Runs Headfirst into the New Politics of Climate Change - by Jeremy Symons, Senior Advisor, EDF Action

Land-Ocean Temperature Index (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
In her first debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton came out firing on climate change, shining a spotlight on Trump’s prior comments that global warming is a “hoax.” Trump interrupted Clinton to deny making these statements.  But he has called climate change a hoax multiple times.  Most recently, he blamed scientists, telling Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that scientists were secretly laughing about the whole thing.
The New Politics of Climate Change
If climate change had a political glass ceiling, Secretary Clinton just shattered it.

Clinton didn’t wait for moderator Lester Holt to bring up climate change, which is how presidential nominees have historically treated the issue in general elections.  But Clinton boldly inserted the issue just 14 minutes into the first debate, watched by an estimated 84 million people.  Her emphasis on climate change reflects the new politics of climate change.

Global warming is now a mainstream political issue due to the growing concern across the political spectrum (which is now at an 8-year high, according to Gallup).  Independent voters’ views tend to mirror Democrats’ strong support for action, and Republican voters are split on the issue, especially along generational lines.  Conservative millennials who otherwise lean toward supporting Republican candidates no longer trust their own party on this issue, according to a recent nationwide poll of 940 young conservatives by Republican pollster AGC Research on behalf of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform.  Sixty-five percent of young conservatives see climate change as a serious concern.  In a sharp departure from their trust in the Republican party on most issues, only 31% of conservative millennials trust the Republican party more than Democrats to do the right thing when it comes to climate change.

Whether a voter prioritizes climate change near the top or bottom of their list of issues, climate leadership boosts a candidate’s credibility with most voters.  Denying or ignoring climate change, on the other hand, will inevitably create doubts and disconnects as voters struggle to understand how candidates process information and make decisions.
What to Believe?  Read The Candidates’ Energy Plans
Trump has not personally clarified his false denial at the debate, but there can be no doubt where his policy agenda would take us.  Trump has put forward an alarming energy plan aimed at erasing the clean energy regulations that President Obama has put in place.  Trump’s plan seeks to return America to the era when energy companies can emit unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

Trump also wants to do away with the breakthrough Paris climate agreement.  Whatever one’s views on President Obama and his climate actions here in the U.S., it would be foolhardy to unravel the first global agreement that secures commitments from China, India, and a host of other nations to do their fair share to combat climate change.  It has long been a goal of Republicans and Democrats alike to make sure there is an effective global response to climate change.  Not only is Trump convinced that climate change is a hoax, but he is so confident that there is so little risk that he is willing to turn the entire world away from the path of cooperation and action.

View Trump’s plan here.

View Hillary’s plan here.

Reality Check
Climate change is not just a fact check issue. It is a reality check issue.  Here are some reality checks on what is really at stake, with links to just a few of the many resources available on these topics:

Read more at Trump Runs Headfirst into the New Politics of Climate Change

Appeals Court Mulls Challenge to Clean Power Plan

A power plant near Carlsbad, Calif. (Credit: Bryce Bradford/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Six hours and 42 minutes.

That’s how long the legal challenge to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan was argued before a federal appeals court on Tuesday — more than double the time the court allotted for the hearing.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s most important greenhouse gas emissions regulation is being challenged by a group of 24 states led by West Virginia with support from the fossil fuel industry.  The challenge was heard before 10 of the 11 judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland recused himself.

“I thought that yesterday’s argument went very well for EPA,”  said Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU.  “The judges were very prepared and very engaged. The strength of EPA’s arguments came through clearly throughout the give and take.”

Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement that the hearing was far-ranging and the judges showed that they understood that the Clean Power Plan establishes achievable and legal emissions cuts.

“This was a good day in court for America’s Clean Power Plan and for healthier air, a safer climate and economic prosperity,” she said.

The hearing’s length shows that the judges were deeply concerned about the Clean Power Plan and major legal issues involved, said Tom Lorenzen, an attorney who argued in court on behalf of the fossil fuels industry.  He spoke Wednesday at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C., with the other attorneys who argued the case.

Read more at Appeals Court Mulls Challenge to Clean Power Plan

No Big Shift in U.S. Flood Patterns Despite Climate Change:  Study

A man wades through a flooded street in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, U.S., August 15, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Bachman/File Photo) Click to Enlarge.
U.S. flooding patterns have shown some regional changes but no countrywide shift despite heavier rains spawned by global warming, a study by U.S. and Austrian researchers said on Wednesday.

Findings that the biggest changes were in the Upper Mississippi Valley, northern Great Plains, and New England could help focus resources in dealing with a changing climate, said Stacey Archfield, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist and one of the study's authors.

"It's a much more nuanced approach than saying, 'We know change is happening everywhere and this is a particular solution for it,'" she said.

In weighing the impact climate change is having on flooding, researchers from the Geological Survey and Austria's Vienna University of Technology analyzed records from 345 stream gauges in the conterminous United States from 1940 to 2013.

The gauges covered 70 percent of the lower 48 states.  The first 30 years served as a base period.

The results concluded that most of the United States had shown no major change since 1970 in the categories of flood frequency, peak magnitude, duration and volume.

The study said that Wyoming and South Dakota had registered a 150 percent increase in peak magnitude.  They joined North Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas in notching significant increases in flood duration along with a fall in frequency.

The duration of flooding in sections of the Great Plains went up two to five times.  Flood volumes in the area rose almost six times above the average in the base period.

New England, on the other hand, showed an increase in the average number of yearly floods to five from two even as duration, magnitude and volume went down.

Read more at No Big Shift in U.S. Flood Patterns Despite Climate Change:  Study

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

  Wednesday, Sep 28

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

Fossil Fuel Majors Ignore Climate Crisis

Eminent US environmentalist warns that fossil fuel use is destroying the planet, and calls for curbs on the political power of the oil industry.

Bill McKibben, pictured speaking at an environmental protest in the US, says civil action can help save the planet. (Image Credit: chesapeakeclimate via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Bill McKibben, the US environmentalist who is one of the world’s foremost authors and activists on issues of global warming, does not mince his words.

“We have to check the power of the fossil fuel industry,” he says.  “It’s going to take an immense amount of work, but if we don’t win, then there won’t be any future.”

In an interview with Climate News Network, McKibben said that oil majors such as ExxonMobil and Shell show no signs of rethinking their policies or re-ordering their activities.

“They are digging deeper and choosing to ignore what’s going on,” he warned.  “Recent work by investigative journalists shows that ExxonMobil knew all about climate change and its effects on the world 40 years ago.

Deep trouble
“If it had spoken out, maybe we wouldn’t be in the deep trouble we’re now in.  It was prepared to keep the fossil fuel industry going, even at the risk of breaking the planet.”
“In terms of saving the planet from the impact of climate change, we are cutting it extraordinarily close,” McKibben says.

“We have an enormous battle on our hands – a battle that’s not going to be won at the UN but by civil society action.”

Read more at Fossil Fuel Majors Ignore Climate Crisis

The Biggest Loser in Monday Night’s Debate?  Climate Change

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands ahead of the first presidential debate. (Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar) Click to Enlarge.
Monday’s presidential debate featured spirited back-and-forths on tax returns, how to heal divides in the U.S., and the candidates’ economic plans.  Notably absent, though, was any thorough discussion about climate change.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump differ wildly on their views on climate policy and whoever is elected president will play a large role in shaping global climate policy in the decades to come.

Despite their differences, debate moderator Lester Holt left climate change by the wayside in favor of other topics.  This follows in the footsteps of the 2012 presidential debates when not a single climate question was asked of either candidate.

“Candidates absolutely should be asked to address the issue of how they will deal with global warming, if elected,” Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication and a collaborator on a project with Climate Central, said.  “By a ratio of about 3-to-1, voters say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports climate action, and are less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes climate action.”

Twitter statistics show that energy and the environment were the third most-tweeted topic during Monday night’s debate (whether they were lamenting a lack of questions, detailed answers or just chatting about climate change using the debate hashtag is unclear).  And a recent Pew Research poll indicates that while climate change wasn’t a top issue for most people, respondents on average wanted seven minutes of the debate devoted to the topic, though that would still rank it near the bottom of voter interests.
That same poll notes a discrepancy between Trump and Clinton supporters’ interest in the hearing about the topic.  Clinton supporters wanted an average of 10 minutes devoted to climate change while Trump supporters only wanted four minutes in comparison. 

That’s perhaps why Clinton pivoted toward the topic multiple times, often framing it largely as a clean energy issue.  She used a question on how to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. to discuss solar panels and upgrading the electricity grid (while also taking a swipe at Trump’s 2012 tweet saying climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese).

"We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels," she said.  "We can have enough clean energy to power every home.  We can build a new modern electric grid.  That's a lot of jobs. That's a lot of new economic activity."

In comparison, Trump denied his climate denying and also took an oblique swipe at Solyndra, a solar manufacturer that received a federal loan but subsequently filed for bankruptcy, as a bad use of taxpayer money.

Overall, both candidates were light on policy specifics for how to address climate change, but they have provided clues as to what they would do if elected.

Clinton has signaled a continued commitment to international cooperation and policies put in place under the Obama administration while Trump has indicated he would likely help prop up the fossil fuel industry at home, roll back clean air regulations and attempt to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement that the U.S. recently ratified.

For election horse race watchers and climate and energy hawks, this isn’t necessarily news. But with more than 80 million people tuning into the debate last night — roughly comparable to the Super Bowl — it offered average voters a chance to directly hear from the candidates about their plans to address one of the world’s most pressing problems.

Read more at The Biggest Loser in Monday Night’s Debate?  Climate Change

Addicted to Oil:  U.S. Gasoline Consumption Is Higher than Ever

U.S. Gasoline Consumption per Day  (Source: Constructed by Lucas Davis (UC Berkeley) using EIA data ‘Motor Gasoline, 4-Week Averages.) Click to Enlarge.
August was the biggest month ever for U.S. gasoline consumption.  Americans used a staggering 9.7 million barrels per day.  That’s more than a gallon per day for every U.S. man, woman and child.

The new peak comes as a surprise to many.  In 2012 energy expert Daniel Yergin said, “The U.S. has already reached what we can call`peak demand.”  Many others agreed.  The U.S. Department of Energy forecast in 2012 that U.S. gasoline consumption would steadily decline for the foreseeable future.
Fast forward to 2016, and U.S. gasoline consumption has increased steadily four years in a row. We now have a new peak.  This dramatic reversal has important consequences for petroleum markets, the environment and the U.S. economy.
Can Fuel Economy Standards Turn the Tide?
It’s hard to make predictions.  Still, in retrospect, it seems clear that the years of the Great Recession were highly unusual.  For decades U.S. gasoline consumption has gone up and up – driven by rising incomes – and it appears that we are now very much back on that path.

This all illustrates the deep challenge of reducing fossil fuel use in transportation.  U.S. electricity generation, in contrast, has become considerably greener over this same period, with enormous declines in U.S. coal consumption.  Reducing gasoline consumption is harder, however.  The available substitutes, such as electric vehicles and biofuels, are expensive and not necessarily less carbon-intensive.  For example, electric vehicles can actually increase overall carbon emissions in states with mostly coal-fired electricity.

Can new fuel economy standards turn the tide?  Perhaps, but the new “footprint”-based rules are yielding smaller fuel economy gains than was expected.  With the new rules, the fuel economy target for each vehicle depends on its overall size (i.e., its “footprint”); so as Americans have purchased more trucks, SUVs and other large vehicles, this relaxes the overall stringency of the standard.  So, yes, fuel economy has improved, but much less than it would have without this mechanism.

Read more at Addicted to Oil:  U.S. Gasoline Consumption Is Higher than Ever

Global Warming Trend Warms the U.S. West, Leaves East Shivering

Weather dichotomy, which leaves two halves of the U.S. in opposite extremes, is a trend tied to climate change, new study says.

A pattern of warm and dry winters in the West, paired with frigid conditions in the East, has become more frequent since 1980, a trend that reflects the influence of global warming on the atmosphere in the Northern Hemisphere.

The pattern, described in a new study in the journal Atmospheres as a "North American winter temperature dipole," has been costly, including a multi-year drought in California and economically disruptive snowstorms in the Northeast, according to the scientists who analyzed climate trends in North America.

"Our historical analysis finds robust changes in the warm-West/cool-East pattern over North America within the last 35 years, " the authors wrote.  "We show that the observed positive trend in the warm-West/cool-East events is attributable to historical anthropogenic emissions including greenhouse gases."

The trend will continue the rest of this century but then level off, as the the East becomes too warm for extreme winter conditions, said Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, one of the study's co-authors.

Read more at Global Warming Trend Warms the U.S. West, Leaves East Shivering

The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently

Carbon Dioxide Moves Permanently Above 400 PPM (Credit: Scripps Institute of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory) Click to Enlarge.
In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate.  At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million.

That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.

Because carbon pollution has been increasing since the start of the Industrial Revolution and has shown no signs of abating, it was more a question of “when” rather than “if” we would cross this threshold.  The inevitability doesn’t make it any less significant, though.

September is usually the month when carbon dioxide is at its lowest after a summer of plants growing and sucking it up in the northern hemisphere.  As fall wears on, those plants lose their leaves, which in turn decompose, releasing the stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.  At Mauna Loa Observatory, the world’s marquee site for monitoring carbon dioxide, there are signs that the process has begun but levels have remained above 400 ppm.

Since the industrial revolution, humans have been altering this process by adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than plants can take up.  That’s driven carbon dioxide levels higher and with it, global temperatures, along with a host of other climate change impacts.

“Is it possible that October 2016 will yield a lower monthly value than September and dip below 400 ppm?  Almost impossible,” Ralph Keeling, the scientist who runs the Scripps Institute for Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program, wrote in a blog post.  “Brief excursions toward lower values are still possible, but it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year – or ever again for the indefinite future.”

We may get a day or two reprieve in the next month, similar to August when Tropical Storm Madeline blew by Hawaii and knocked carbon dioxide below 400 ppm for a day.  But otherwise, we’re living in a 400 ppm world.  Even if the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, what has already put in the atmosphere will linger for many decades to come.

Read more at The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold.  Permanently

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

  Tuesday, Sep 27

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

Mass. Poised to Join Calif. Among Clean Energy Elite

A wind turbine stands in the foreground of Boston. Massachusetts is emerging as a clean energy powerhouse, rivaling even California, experts say. (Photo Credit: AP Images) Click to Enlarge.
Make room, California. Massachusetts is making a run for the top echelon of U.S. clean-energy states.

In an unprecedented string of policy developments this summer, Massachusetts has embraced core elements of what experts describe as a transformational blueprint for how carbon-free electricity flows from power producers and utilities to consumers.  At the same time, the state has backed technology that could sock away vast amounts of electricity to hedge against high prices and weather-related emergencies.

The blueprint, nearly two years in the making, emerged with the passage last month of legislation mandating the procurement of nearly 3 gigawatts of new carbon-free electricity, including 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power and 1,200 MW of so-called Class 1 resources such as onshore wind, solar and hydropower.

The 2016 Energy Diversity Act is expected to stimulate billions of dollars in new investment in Massachusetts that will likely spill over into neighboring states, experts say.

But the renewables mandate is just the tip of the clean energy spear.  A recent comprehensive analysis showed that the Bay State could incorporate up to 1.76 GW of advanced energy storage technology over the coming years, making it a national model for converting intermittent energy — mostly wind and solar — into reliable, on-demand power.

Read more at0 Mass. Poised to Join Calif. Among Clean Energy Elite

Carbon Emissions Not Priced at True Cost to Climate:  OECD

Locations of Carbon Pricing Instruments (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Ninety percent of carbon dioxide emissions by major advanced economies is not priced at a level that truly reflects the actual cost to the climate, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a report on Monday.

A price on carbon is considered an effective tool in curbing greenhouse gases by making polluters pay for emissions blamed for causing global warming.  But worldwide, carbon prices are very low, or even zero.

"New evidence presented...shows that 90 percent of carbon emissions are not priced at a level reflecting even a conservative estimate of their climate cost," the Paris-based OECD said in its first comprehensive analysis of the extent to which countries use carbon prices to tackle emissions.

The OECD said 30 euros (34 dollars) per tonne of emissions represented a conservative minimum estimate of the damage that results from emitting one tonne of carbon dioxide.
The OECD said an effective price on carbon is essential if the Paris Agreement target of curbing emission, limiting global warming and decarbonizing the global economy by the second half of the century is to be reached.

"Pricing carbon can lead to substitution towards less carbon-intensive forms of energy and to lower demand for energy overall."

"Carbon pricing can be strengthened through both taxes and emissions trading... even modest action taken by all countries can translate into strong progress," it said. 

Read more at Carbon Emissions Not Priced at True Cost to Climate:  OECD

Explainer:  How Aviation Could, Finally, Agree a Climate Deal

Growth in origin and destination (OD) passengers by 2034. (Credit: Airports Commission Final Report, based upon IATA, Tourism Economics, “Air Passenger Forecasts”) Click to Enlarge.
In 2010 the aviation industry agreed an aspirational goal to cap its emissions after 2020, so that future growth would have to be “carbon neutral”.

This won’t be easy.  The industry is expected to grow at an average rate of around 5% per year over the next two decades.  This means that it will either have to find a way to drastically increase its efficiency, or balance its own emissions through cuts made in other sectors.
In 2015 aviation emitted 781m tonnes of CO2, which is slightly more than Germany.  If it was a country, it would be the world’s sixth largest emitter.

Despite this, aviation does not feature in the Paris Agreement – as is also the case for shipping.  Instead, it has its own UN body called the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).  Since 1997, when countries adopted the Kyoto Protocol, this group has been tasked with coming up with a way to reduce emissions from aviation.

Almost 20 years later, it might finally agree on a scheme.  From 27 September to 7 October, ICAO member states will meet at its next assembly, where emissions reductions are on the agenda.  Stakes are high, as the assembly only meets once every three years — further delays could push back action by years, during which time emissions will continue to rise.

A lengthy debate
It is worth bearing in mind that any scheme will only apply to international flights, as domestic aviation emissions are already included in countries’ national accounting and targets.  International aviation is responsible for around 62% of total aviation emissions.
[I]t is acknowledged in the industry and by scientists that tinkering with aircraft efficiency will not deliver the types of reductions required to allow the industry to grow without adding to emissions.  Therefore, ICAO is expected to agree some kind of market-based mechanism that would see it buying savings elsewhere to cover its emissions.

Read more at Explainer:  How Aviation Could, Finally, Agree a Climate Deal

Food Supply Fears Spark China Land Grab

With the impacts of climate change threatening food supply as population grows, China is buying land on other continents to grow more crops.

A farmer in China spreads pesticide on her crops. (Image Credit: IFPRI via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
China is protecting itself against future food supply problems caused by climate change by buying or leasing large tracts of land in Africa and South America, a leading UK climate scientist says.

Professor Peter Wadhams, an expert on the disappearing Arctic ice, says that while countries in North America and Europe are ignoring the threat that changing weather patterns are causing to the world food supply, China is taking “self-protective action”.

He says that changes in the jet stream caused by the melting of the ice in the Arctic are threatening the most productive agricultural areas on the planet.

“The impact of extreme, often violent weather on crops in a world where the population continues to increase rapidly can only be disastrous,” he warns.

“Sooner or later, there will be an unbridgeable gulf between global food needs and our capacity to grow food in an unstable climate.  Inevitably, starvation will reduce the world’s population.”

Protect food supply
Professor Wadhams, former head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, says China has already realized this is a threat to its future stability and has been taking over large areas of land in other countries to grow crops to protect its food supply.

The drawback, he says, is that the Chinese are introducing industrial agricultural practices that damage the soil, the water supply, and the rivers.

“But China is positioning itself for the struggle to come − the struggle to find enough to eat,” he says.  “By controlling land in other countries, they will control those countries’ food supply.”
Professor Wadhams has concluded that there is now so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that dangerous warming is inevitable unless more drastic action is taken.  He says reducing emissions will help, along with planting forests, but it will never be enough.

“What is needed is something that has not been invented yet − a large-scale method of passing air through a machine and taking out the carbon dioxide,” he says. 

“In the long run, only by taking carbon out of the air can we hope to get the concentrations down enough to save us from dangerous climate change.

Read more at Food Supply Fears Spark China Land Grab

Monday, September 26, 2016

  Monday, Sep 26

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

America’s Climate Plan Falls Short of Its Promises

A transition to cleaner alternatives for America's electrical grid will need to accelerate if the nation is to live up to its international obligations. (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The federal government will need to ramp up its fight against climate pollution if it wants to keep a key promise under a United Nations pact, new research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows.

The U.S. pledged during United Nations meetings in France last year to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution by a little more than a quarter in 2025, compared with 2005.  When it comes to living up to this commitment, the research showed current rules and policies alone would be insufficient.

“Federal climate policy is falling short of the United States' pledge in Paris — and not by a small amount,” said Danny Cullenward, a Carnegie Institution for Science researcher who helped the national lab scientists develop their study.

Less than a year after it was negotiated, the Paris Agreement is poised to take effect.  Even if all countries keep all promises made under it, the goal of keeping global warming to well below 2°C (3.6°F) isn’t expected to be achieved.  Efforts are being made to improve national pledges in the years ahead.

The research published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change comes one day before the opening of an important chapter in a sprawling court battle that will decide the fate of America’s most important suite of climate change regulations — the Clean Power Plan, affecting power plants.

“I don't envy those planning climate policy,” Cullenward said.  “They’re caught between fierce opposition to the Clean Power Plan and the knowledge that federal climate efforts need redoubling if the U.S. is to fulfill its Paris promise.”

The researchers analyzed federal projections for energy industry changes and the likely effects of climate rules that have been put in place by federal and state agencies.  They projected that greenhouse gas emissions would fall nationwide by the equivalent of 300 million to 350 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2025, compared with 2005.

Living up to America’s new international commitment would require reducing greenhouse gas pollution by about 1,000 million to 2,000 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2025, the researchers calculated.  That means existing climate rules are not enough.

Read more at America’s Climate Plan Falls Short of Its Promises

American Geophysical Union Again Agrees to Continue Accepting Exxon Money

For the second time AGU’s board has decided that accepting money from Exxon, which is under scrutiny over climate change, does not violate its mission.

For the second time in six months, the board of the American Geophysical Union has discussed whether accepting money from Exxon violates its mission and funding policies—and decided it does not. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
The American Geophysical Union announced Friday that it would continue to accept funding from ExxonMobil.  The decision rejects the calls of some scientists, activists and others to refuse the company's sponsorship money because they say the energy giant has helped spread doubt about climate change and stymied effective climate policies.

AGU's board made its decision during its Sept. 14-15 meeting in Washington, D.C.  This is the second time in six months that the board has discussed whether accepting money from Exxon violates its mission and funding policies—and decided it does not.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 56,000 people have signed multiple petitions calling on AGU to stop accepting funding from Exxon.  Petition signatories include hundreds of AGU members and thousands of outside researchers and activists.  (AGU has about 60,000 members.)  The advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter this month to AGU's leaders urging them to cut ties with Exxon.  Two members of Congress, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), sent a letter in May similarly urging AGU to reconsider its relationship with Exxon.
According to previous interviews with AGU members and officials, severing ties with Exxon is not a simple issue even though the sums are relatively small, in part because AGU and the company have been intertwined for at least four decades.  Exxon has long recruited AGU scientists, and they share a common interest in better understanding Earth's geoscience.

Read more at American Geophysical Union Again Agrees to Continue Accepting Exxon Money

Dutch Parliament Votes to Close Down Country's Coal Industry

Non-binding vote for 55% cut in CO2 emissions will require closure of remaining five plants and ensure country meets its Paris climate commitments

Five Dutch coal-fired power stations were closed last year but the country still has another five plants in operation, three of which came online in 2015. (Photograph Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The Dutch parliament has voted for a 55% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030, which would require the closure of all the country’s coal-fired power plants.

The unexpected vote on Thursday night by 77 to 72 would bring the Netherlands clearly into line with the Paris climate agreement, with some of the most ambitious climate policies in Europe.

It is not binding on the government, but the Liberal and Labor parties say they will now push for speedy implementation of the motion.

Five Dutch coal-fired power stations were closed last year but the country still has another five plants in operation.  Three of these came online in 2015, and have been blamed for a 5% rise in the country’s emissions last year.

Read more at Dutch Parliament Votes to Close Down Country's Coal Industry

Terns Flee Warming Temps in Epic Migration to Alaska

In July researchers in Cape Krusenstern national monument on the north-west coast of Alaska were startled to discover a nest containing Caspian terns on the gravely beach of a lagoon.  The birds were an incredible 1,000 miles further north than the species had been previously recorded.

“There was plenty of shock, it is a very unusual situation,” said Dr Martin Robards, Arctic program director at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which found the nest.  “We checked with Caspian tern experts and they were all very surprised they were this far north.  We get Arctic terns here but these terns are much bigger, they really stand out.”

Caspian terns (Credit: Anna Hesser/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The terns, usually found in Washington state, successfully bred and chicks have now flown the nest.  While it remains to be seen whether Caspian terns will become ensconced long-term within the Arctic circle, the epic relocation is emblematic of how warming temperatures are causing a huge upheaval in the basic rhythms of Alaska’s environment.

This week scientists will gather at the White House’s first ever Arctic science meeting to deliver the confronting news.

“I’ve been up here 25 years and the amount of change that has occurred in Alaska is shocking,” said Robards.  “We’ve been focusing on things such as the temperature and sea ice here but now we are thinking ‘oh my God what is going on with the wildlife?’”

Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S., with the winter temperature 6°F (3.3°C) warmer than it was 60 years ago.  Snow and ice has retreated, spring is coming earlier.  The landscape is changing and so are its residents.

“To be 1,000 miles further north attests to how much the globe has warmed,” said Terry Root, a biologist and senior fellow at Stanford University.  “Birds follow their physiology, nothing else.  If they think they should move, they move.  Alaska has warmed so much that it is causing havoc to a lot of nature.”

Read more at Terns Flee Warming Temps in Epic Migration to Alaska

Arctic Melt Shrinks Polar Bears’ Chances

A polar bear and cub traverse floating Arctic sea ice in search of prey. (Image Credit: NOAA Photo Library) Click to Enlarge.
The world of the polar bear is shrinking – everywhere. New research by scientists in the US confirms that each of the 19 known populations of Ursus maritimus is increasingly affected by the earlier sea ice melt in the Arctic spring, and the later arrival of ice every autumn.

The finding is hardly a shock, as there have been warnings from conservationists about such things for years, with the polar bear becoming an icon of climate change concerns.  And in most cases of species threat there are winners as well as losers.

But the latest study − published in the The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Geosciences Union − confirms that there are no winners.  The ice is in retreat for all polar bear populations.

The 25,000 or so surviving Arctic bears rely on the ice for their feeding and breeding success. A few stay on the ice all year round, but southerly populations survive ashore in the summer, and it is the seasonal winter feast upon seals and other sea mammals that gives them the nourishment to make it to the next breeding season.

Read more at Arctic Melt Shrinks Polar Bears’ Chances