April 2015

Much of my news comes from The Daily Climate, whose wonderful subscription service clues me in to what's going on each day. Another great source of stories (and commentaries) comes from my friend Jim Poyser, at Apocadocs.

2015

April, 2015

4/28/2015

  • Audi Just Invented Fuel Made From CO₂ and Water: [ael: basically green energy to hydrogen to a combo with CO2]
    • [ael: from an Audi publication]: Production of Audi e-diesel involves various steps: First, water heated up to form steam is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen by means of high-temperature electrolysis. This process, involving a temperature in excess of 800 degrees Celsius, is more efficient than conventional techniques because of heat recovery, for example. Another special feature of high-temperature electrolysis is that it can be used dynamically, to stabilize the grid when production of green power peaks. In two further steps, the hydrogen reacts with the CO2 in synthesis reactors, again under pressure and at high temperature. The reaction product is a liquid made from long-chain hydrocarbon compounds, known as blue crude. The efficiency of the overall process – from renewable power to liquid hydrocarbon – is very high at around 70 percent. Similarly to a fossil crude oil, blue crude can be refined to yield the end product Audi e-diesel. This synthetic fuel is free from sulfur and aromatic hydrocarbons, and its high cetane number means it is readily ignitable. As lab tests conducted at Audi have shown, it is suitable for admixing with fossil diesel or, prospectively, for use as a fuel in its own right.
  • Shell lobbied to undermine EU renewables targets, documents reveal: Weak renewable energy goals for 2030 originated with Shell pitch for gas as a key technology for Europe to cut its carbon emissions in an affordable way
  • Coffee production slipping in Tanzania as temperatures rise: Warmer weather means that Tanzania is producing less coffee as higher temperatures affect yields, hurting both the nation’s producers and coffee drinkers who may pay more per cup, a South African university has found.
    • According to the study, published in the journal Agricultural and Forests Meteorology, for each 1-degree Celsius rise in mean minimum (night-time) temperature, farmers in Tanzania are likely to see a loss of approximately 137 kilograms of coffee per hectare. That is almost half the average small producer’s production, which is currently 225 kilograms per hectare.
    • Negotiators at U.N. climate talks are working toward a global agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius – but the world is currently on a path toward at least 4 degrees Celsius of warming by the turn of the century, scientists say.
  • Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives’ Alarm: “The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” Joseph Bast, the president of the Heartland Institute, said in a statement. “Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”
    • “I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’?”
    • “I think this moves the needle,” said Charles J. Reid Jr., a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “Benedict was an ivory-tower academic. He wrote books and hoped they would persuade by reason. But Pope Francis knows how to sell his ideas. He is engaged in the marketplace.”
    • Can the 'Green Pope' Change Minds on Climate Change? Pope Francis will shape the climate fight, but he may not move any skeptics.
  • 75% of Heat Waves Are Attributable to Climate Change: Heat waves and heavy storms are occurring at least four times more often than they did before carbon pollution started driving up thermometers. Global average temperatures are now about 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) higher than before industrialization.
    • The authors said that their results may be of use to policy makers, by sharpening their understanding of risk as climate change worsens. “With every degree of warming,” they wrote, “it is the rarest and the most extreme events — and thereby the ones with typically the highest socioeconomic impacts — for which the largest fraction is due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.”
  • Cool homes, hot planet: How air conditioning explains the world
  • Microbes play villainous role in Arctic climate change: By releasing methane from newly thawed soil or by absorbing the sun's heat and warming the ocean around them, tiny microbes and marine phytoplankton leave a significant mark on the Arctic environment – with a potentially global impact. Mette Svenning from the University of Tromsø in Norway and her team show that soil microbe communities become greenhouse gas factories as soon as the surrounding soil thaws. They already knew that higher temperatures cause microbes in the Arctic soil to release methane – a greenhouse gas some 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide – at a faster rate as they feed on underground carbon stores. What they didn't expect was just how effective they are at lower temperatures. Microbes from warmer climates grind to a virtual standstill at 4 °C, but their Arctic relatives continue producing methane at a quarter of the rate that they would at 27 °C.
  • 'It doesn't even smell': a ride on the Bristol bus powered by human poo: Biomethane, on the other hand, is produced through anaerobic digestion: micro-organisms, in the absence of oxygen, break down human sewage and food waste to produce a methane-rich biogas, which is then cleansed of CO2 and other impurities. As a result, the bus emits less greenhouse gases than a conventional diesel engine – 80% less nitrogen oxide and 20-30% less CO2 – and is almost completely free of harmful particulates. The technology itself is nothing new: Oslo already employs 100 poo buses. But the renewable energy company behind the Bio-Bus, GENeco, is betting it has a bright future.

4/27/2015

  • U.S. Maps Pinpoint Earthquakes Linked to Quest for Oil and Gas:
  • Texas moving away from coal without federal mandates: More Texas homes will be powered by cleaner-burning natural gas with or without stringent new federal regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants, a panel of Texas regulators and electricity company chiefs said Thursday. “We haven’t seen permits come across our desk for new coal plants,” said Toby Baker, commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental regulator. “My guess is we’re not going to see permits for new coal plants. We are now in a gas/renewable world. And that’s where we’re going to be.”
  • Drought Frames Economic Divide of Californians:
    • Still, in a sign that even the wealthy have their limits, the drought is exacerbating a dispute between Cowan Heights residents and their for-profit water provider, the Golden State Water Company, offering a glimpse of fights to come as local water agencies impose higher prices to meet California’s new conservation mandates. The neighborhood is bristling with lawn signs reading, “Stop the Water Ripoff!”
    • “Water is a necessity of life,” said Mr. Sears, the retired food-company executive, whose bimonthly water bills regularly run $400 or $500 but went as high as $756 last September. “It should not be sold as a commodity.”

4/24/2015

  • Jeb Bush, 'concerned' about climate change, tries to stake out middle ground on the issue: The former Florida governor also said that he's "concerned" about climate change, signaling a strategic decision to reinforce his establishment position before other candidates can make a play for centrist voters, said Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute.
  • Are we reaching a positive climate change tipping point?: Are we tipping the right way? One of the great environmental stories is of how catastrophe can creep up and be noticed only when it is too late to act. Examples range from the sudden, inexplicable collapse of bee colonies, to ice cores revealing the potential for dramatic climatic upheavals that happen not in millennia or centuries, but the time it takes to pass through a coalition government or two. It is hard enough to identify tipping or “inflection” points when you are consciously looking, like monitoring the so-called known unknowns of future forest die-back, deep-sea methane release, ice melt and sea level rise. Worse, in complex systems, are the unknown unknowns. All you have is nebulous worry. It’s why we are supposed to obey the precautionary principle relating to any activity which at scale is capable of altering whole systems. But this is only half the story, because when something tips, it might well fall to the floor and smash but it might also fall comfortably into your lap. It’s possible we have become so hypnotised by real and serious negative tipping points, that we’ve forgotten that things can turn out unexpectedly well too.
    • Solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett argues in his forthcoming book, The Winning of the Carbon War, that three mostly independent dynamics are at play driving the change. Firstly, the numbers no longer add up in the old fossil fuel model. The costs of new acquisitions become unmanageable in a system that feasts on debt. Secondly, costs in solar and the vital link of a green energy system, battery storage, are plummeting while the sector offers attractive, reliable rates of return to investors. The Swiss bank UBS famously predicted the rapid “extinction” of the old fossil fuel system as battery costs as much as halve over the next five years. And, finally, there is movement internationally on climate policy. “We are now in danger of winning the carbon war,” says Leggett. ”Would I like to be running an oil company now? Defending their case is becoming untenable.”

4/23/2015

4/22/2015

  • Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris: There is a one-in-ten chance of the world being 6C warmer than it is today by 2100 which would lead to cataclysmic changes in the global climate with unimaginable consequences for human civilisation, leading climate researchers have warned in an “Earth Statement”.
    • The Earth Statement lists eight areas of action needed to be agreed on in Paris. This includes the agreement that countries will only be able to emit about half of the carbon dioxide – about 1,000 gigatonnes – that has already been released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. This would mean leaving three quarters of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
    • Professor Sir Brian Hoskins of the Grantham Institute for climate change at Imperial College London, one of the 17 signatories, said that climate change has had too little recognition as an election issue in Britain despite its huge significance for future generations. “It’s like the Titantic sailing into waters with icebergs and yet what we hear is a debate in the bar about who’s going to buy the drinks. Get real. We are all on this boat and there’s some pretty nasty stuff out there and yet the conversation is at a trivial level,” Sir Brian said. Dr Rockstrom added: “We are on a trajectory that will leave our world irrevocably changed, far exceeding the 2C mark. This gamble risks disaster for humanity with unmanageable sea-level rise, heat waves, droughts and floods.”
    • Eight-point plan to save the world:
      1. Governments must limit global warming to below 2C in order to limit unprecedented climate risks.
      2. The limit of future CO2 emissions must be well below 1000 gigatonnes of CO2 to have a reasonable chance to hold the 2C line.
      3. Countries must commit to deep decarbonisation, starting immediately and leading to a zero-carbon society by 2050.
      4. Every country must formulate an emissions pathway consistent with deep decarbonisation. For the sake of fairness, rich countries and progressive industries can and should take the lead and decarbonise well before mid-century.
      5. Targeted research, development, demonstration and diffusion of low-carbon energy systems and sustainable land use are prerequisites to unleash a wave of climate innovation.
      6. A global strategy to limit vulnerability, build resilience and deal with loss and damage of communities from climate impacts.
      7. Countries must agree to safeguard carbon sinks and vital ecosystems, such as forests.
      8. Governments must urgently encourage new sources of climate finance for developing countries to enable our rapid transition to zero-carbon, climate-resilient societies.
  • California isn’t the only state with water problems: While any given person may not be directly causing these water issues, everyone plays a role in how much drinkable water there is in the US. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the average American used 88 gallons of water per day in 2010, the latest year it surveyed water use. The entirety of humanity in America uses 27,400 million gallons per day around the house, for stuff like preparing food, washing clothes, flushing toilets, and watering lawns.
  • The surprising reason why Arctic warming could be worse than previously thought:
    • The new study, just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that as the Arctic Ocean warms and loses its sea ice cover, populations of phytoplankton will boom. This will, in turn, further amplify warming in a region that’s already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The reason is that phytoplankton, when they are more numerous, lead to a warmer upper layer of the ocean, because more radiation from the sun is trapped in that layer. Phytoplankton are thus changing the “physical property of the ocean,” says lead study author Jong-Yeon Park of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany.
  • A Challenge From Climate Change Regulations: As President Obama prepares to unveil his climate change regulations on coal-fired power plants, the nation’s electric utilities are preparing to transform the system that keeps the lights on in America. But some companies fear that in the process, the lights may go out.
    the-states-of-coal-1429736450861-blog427.png

4/21/2015

  • Oklahoma Recognizes Role of Drilling in Earthquakes: Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma’s government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.
    • The state’s energy and environment cabinet introduced a website detailing the evidence behind that conclusion Tuesday, including links to expert studies of Oklahoma’s quakes. The site includes an interactive map that plots not only earthquake locations, but also the sites of more than 3,000 active wastewater-injection wells.
    • [ael: as usual, the industry just can't quite figure out what science is, unless it involves something like pumping millions of gallons of poison into the Earth under high pressure — what could possibly go wrong?:] Tuesday’s actions met a mixed response from the oil and gas industry and the governor’s critics. The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association disputed the Geological Survey’s conclusions, saying in a statement that further study of the state’s quakes remained necessary. “There may be a link between earthquakes and disposal wells,” the group’s president, Chad Warmington, said in the statement, “but we — industry, regulators, researchers, lawmakers or state residents — still don’t know enough about how wastewater injection impacts Oklahoma’s underground faults.”
  • Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes: Rooftop systems now sit atop roughly 12 percent of Hawaii’s homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, by far the highest proportion in the nation.
    19SOLARsub1-articleLarge.jpg

4/20/2015

  • Cheap coal is a lie – stand up to the industry’s cynical fightback: Vested interests are pushing the dirtiest fossil fuel as the energy solution in poor nations. In fact, the argument for investing in solar is overwhelming
    • It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the reality that the days of coal as a source of energy are numbered. In a world where carbon emissions will increasingly have to be constrained, coal, as the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, is the energy asset most vulnerable to becoming “stranded” – the most vulnerable, in other words, to seeing its market value collapse well ahead of its previously anticipated useful life.
    • The true cost of coal cannot be calculated without including the so-called airpocalypse. Air pollution is already reducing life expectancy in northern China by five and a half years, and in India (whose capital, New Delhi, has the worst air pollution of any large city in the world) by 3.2 years. The price of coal would increase dramatically if it reflected the cost borne by society from the pollution that causes hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year in coal-dependent countries.
    • the World Bank, whose very mandate includes solving energy poverty, has restricted further coal financing to “rare circumstances”. Credible voices from both public and private sector agree: a coal-free energy future is the path forward. And low-income nations deserve access to low-cost capital to rapidly expand their investments in renewable energy.
  • Obama will visit the Florida Everglades on Earth Day — to talk about climate change:
  • California Releases Revised Water Consumption Rules: The original set of four tiers, with cuts ranging from 10 percent to 35 percent, has been expanded to nine tiers, with cuts ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent. The amount of water that communities would have to conserve was reduced for some, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, and was slightly increased for others, like Beverly Hills.
  • AIP Endorsement of American Geophysical Union Climate Change Statement: [ael: Historical stuff, from 2004, but came across my radar today.]
  • The Most Influential Climate Science Paper Today Remains Unknown to Most People:
    • The paper, "Greenhouse-Gas Emission Targets for Limiting Global Warming to 2C," was published in April 2009 in Nature, the prestigious science journal. It was the work of researchers from Germany, the UK and Switzerland, led by Malte Meinshausen, a climatologist at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact.

4/17/2015

  • Arctic Matters: The Global Connection to Changes in the Arctic
  • TransCanada’s Pipeline Benefit Vows Fail to Sway Quebec’s Arcand: TransCanada is delaying Energy East’s startup by more than a year to 2020 after abandoning plans earlier this month for a marine oil facility in the Quebec town of Cacouna because of risks to endangered beluga whales. That was the latest setback in the province, where utilities oppose the conversion of an existing TransCanada gas pipeline into a stretch of the oil-shipping project.
  • In historic move, BP's shareholders adopt global warming resolution: BP's shareholders overwhelmingly supported a resolution on Thursday that would force the company to disclose some of its climate change-related risks. The shareholder vote was extraordinarily lopsided, with about 98% of shareholders approving the resolution, which had the backing of BP's chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg.
  • Abbott government gives $4m to help climate contrarian set up Australian centre: Bjørn Lomborg has been given money from the hard-pressed federal budget to set up a ‘consensus centre’ at the University of Western Australia
    • Pyne’s spokesman said the federal government’s $4m was “around a third of the total cost” of the new Australia Consensus Centre, with the university also contributing and “committed to raising external funds.
  • Company bosses pledge emission cuts, call for strong Paris climate deal: Bosses from more than forty global companies called on negotiators to agree a United Nations climate change deal in Paris in December and pledged to make their own emission cuts, they said in an open letter published on Thursday. The group of 43 chief executives, representing firms which generated a combined $1.2 trillion in 2014, said they would set internal emission reduction targets and called on negotiators to make sure a new international climate deal limits the global rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Australia’s AGL to Close Coal Plants by 2050: Power company says it will shut all of its existing coal-fired power plants to curb greenhouse gas emissions
  • The Hidden Ocean Patch That Broke Climate Records: Why the recent global warming hiatus may have ended.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Return for Another Run:
    • To answer a vexing chicken-and-egg question, automakers are providing seed money to operate fueling stations, reassuring energy providers that if they build them, cars and customers will eventually come. California has committed up to $20 million a year to develop stations, with perhaps 40 expected to be in operation by the end of 2016.
    • Today, most hydrogen is derived from natural gas production, diminishing its environmental edge. But backers see promise in producing hydrogen by splitting water using solar, wind or other renewable power. In Fountain Valley, Calif., Mr. Uselton fills his Tucson from a demonstration station, created via an Energy Department grant, that turns municipal waste into enough hydrogen to fuel up to 50 cars a day.

4/16/2015

  • Price on carbon key to Canada tackling global warming, say researchers: Report says a carbon fee is vital and country should exploit renewable energy to decarbonize electricity grid – but doesn’t discuss highly polluting tar sands
    • 65 researchers from provinces across Canada have published a report, Acting on Climate Change, that details how the country can successfully decarbonize its electric grid to slow global warming. The team unanimously endorsed putting a price on carbon pollution as a key strategy. Without a carbon fee, the price of electricity on the market doesn’t reflect its true costs to society. This is a market failure that economists call an “externality,” where the costs associated with a product (in this case, damages incurred via climate change) aren’t captured in its market price. Instead they’re paid by taxpayers in what could be considered a massive subsidy to the fossil fuel industry.
    • Since the report focuses on the electricity grid, it doesn’t discuss the Alberta tar sands. Expanding crude oil production from the tar sands has seemed to be a higher priority to the Canadian government than slowing global warming, and in fact the two goals seem incompatible. By shifting its focus away from the tar sands and instead following the Acting on Climate Change roadmap, Canada could get back on track to meet its pledges to address the growing threats posed by global warming.

4/15/2015

  • Scientists Pore Over Warm West, Cold East Divide:
    4_15_15_Andrea_Febtemps_720_482_s_c1_c_c.jpg
    How temperatures across the U.S. varied compared to normal during February 2015, with red denoting hotter temperatures and blue colder. Credit: NOAA
  • More German power plant projects not viable - producer lobby: The economic viability of some 53 percent or 39 of the power plants planned for construction in Europe's largest economy by 2025 has been called into question, German energy industry association BDEW said in a statement on Monday.
  • The Pacific Ocean has been slowing global warming down. That could be about to change: climate scientists are increasingly pointing the finger at a cool phase of this oscillation to explain an apparent “pause” or “slowdown” in the warming of the planet’s surface (although not the deep oceans!) since around the year 2000. And if this argument is correct, it’s not good news for anybody. For with the PDO now apparently switching back to a warm mode, it would mean that global warming could soon burst forth again, as heat temporarily sequestered in the oceans reemerges into the atmosphere.
    • Sure enough, the PDO — or what the authors call the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation or IPO to denote its presence in both hemispheres — explained a large part of the deviance from what the climate models expected. In particular, this mode of variability shifted into a cool phase right at the end of the 1990s or the start of the 2000s, slowing down the rate of surface warming. “During a cold or negative PDO/IPO phase, the tropical Pacific remains in relative cold condition while the central North Pacific is warm,” explained lead author Aiguo Dai by email, “but the global-mean temperature tends to be lower during the negative phase, as shown in our study. Because of this, phase changes of the PDO/IPO have implications for the global warming rate.”
    • Ted Cruz says satellite data show the globe isn’t warming. This satellite scientist feels otherwise
  • Permafrost holds key to release of trapped carbon: The frozen soil of the northern polar regions holds billions of tonnes of organic carbon – and global warming could speed its escape into the atmosphere.
    • Around half of the world’s buried organic carbon is locked away in the soils of the northern circumpolar permafrost, and this huge vault of deep-frozen peat and leaf litter – more than 1,000 billion metric tonnes in the top three metres, at the latest estimate − contains twice as much carbon as is held in the atmosphere.
  • Climate change and the permafrost carbon feedback: Large quantities of organic carbon are stored in frozen soils (permafrost) within Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. A warming climate can induce environmental changes that accelerate the microbial breakdown of organic carbon and the release of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. This feedback can accelerate climate change, but the magnitude and timing of greenhouse gas emission from these regions and their impact on climate change remain uncertain. Here we find that current evidence suggests a gradual and prolonged release of greenhouse gas emissions in a warming climate and present a research strategy with which to target poorly understood aspects of permafrost carbon dynamics.

4/14/2015

  • This cement alternative absorbs CO2 like a sponge: When you talk to anybody about concrete, the first thing that they will ask you is, what’s the strength? We have found out in our work that this is about five times tougher than your conventional Portland cement concrete.
  • If We Dig Out All Our Fossil Fuels, Here’s How Hot We Can Expect It to Get: the use of all reserves and resources would lead to a total increase of 16.2 degrees. Today’s climate and planet would very likely be unrecognizable.
    • The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C: Regarding the production of unconventional oil, open-pit mining of natural bitumen in Canada soon drops to negligible levels after 2020 in all scenarios because it is considerably less economic than other methods of production. Production by in situ technologies continues in the 2 °C scenario that allows CCS, but this is accompanied by a rapid and total decarbonization of the auxiliary energy inputs required (Extended Data Fig. 2). Although such a decarbonization would be extremely challenging in reality, cumulative production of Canadian bitumen between 2010 and 2050 is still only 7.5 billion barrels. 85% of its 48 billion of barrels of bitumen reserves thus remain unburnable if the 2 °C limit is not to be exceeded. When CCS is not available, all bitumen production ceases by 2040. In both cases, the RURR of Canadian bitumen dwarfs cumulative production, so that around 99% of our estimate of its resources (640 billion barrels), remains unburnable.
  • In Wyoming, climate change is all too real:
    • A new research paper has come out showing that snow melt in the northwest region of that state is occurring earlier all the time, exactly as you’d expect with warmer winters and spring. The scientists used satellite data to measure snow extent over time and found that snow is melting 16 ± 10 days earlier in the 2000s compared with 1972 to 1999.
      wyoming_snowmelt-crop-original-original.jpg?w=590&h=393
      This plot shows the amount of snow cover (vertical axis) over the day of year (horizontal). The red line is the average from 1972 to 1999, and the purple from 2000 to 2013. The purple line is lower, meaning that at the same time of year, there was less snow in the more recent measurements than there used to be. Snow is melting earlier.
    • Detection of earlier snowmelt in the Wind River Range, Wyoming, using Landsat imagery, 1972–2013

4/13/2015

  • China's coal imports fall nearly half in 12 months as anti-pollution drive bites: A slowing economy and tougher environmental checks to curb chronic air pollution problems are behind the 42% drop in imports
    • China’s coal imports fell by nearly half in the first three months of the year as the slowing economy and tougher rules on pollution took their toll. Imports by the world’s biggest coal consumer reached 49.07m tonnes in the first quarter, a fall of 42% on the same period a year ago according to data from the Chinese customs office.
  • Hillary Clinton to make climate ‘top of agenda’ for White House run: Presidential bid could be first in US history to make global warming key election issue, highlighting differences with Republicans
  • Mighty Rio Grande Now a Trickle Under Siege: Drought’s grip on California grabs all the headlines. But from Texas to Arizona to Colorado, the entire West is under siege by changing weather patterns that have shrunk snowpacks, raised temperatures, spurred evaporation and reduced reservoirs to record lows.
    • Experts say water users should stop fighting and start preparing together for a much drier future. “Individually, the American culture of using as much water as you want has got to stop,” said Pat Mulroy, a veteran Nevada water regulator who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
  • David Roberts’ top 13 greatest hits: Grist climate and energy writer David Roberts is leaving us after more than a decade on staff. He’ll be sorely missed. But we have 6,400 blog posts to remember him by. Here’s a baker’s dozen of our favorites.
  • Beneath the tar sands is even dirtier oil, and industry is salivating over it: The price of crude oil has slumped to its lowest point in six years, and that has sent some major oil companies scrambling to get out of expensive tar-sands projects in Alberta, Canada. Shell has pulled out of one of its largest lease applications, and Petrochina is attempting to get rid of its tar-sands assets. Environmentalists have watched the slowdown with great hope. Yet at the same time, some of those very same companies are positioning themselves to tap into an even more dirty and expensive kind of oil in Alberta: bitumen carbonates.
    • The stratospheric numbers thrown around by excited industry insiders should galvanize anyone already familiar with climate scientist James Hansen’s warning from back in 2012, telling us that full development of the tar sands would mean “game over for the climate.” What would he say about these tar sands 2.0, the bitumen carbonates?

4/12/2015

  • Losing Streak Continues for U.S. Coal Export Terminals: Grassroots campaigns keep 'coal on its heels' as major carbon source loses its economic appeal.
    • The developments continue a string of victories for environment groups fighting the export of coal to developing economies such as China. Of 15 proposals to build major new coal export facilities across the U.S., all but four have been defeated or canceled within the past two years. And only a few existing facilities have won approval to expand. "This is an ugly, ugly time for coal exports," said Clark Williams Derry, research director for the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, a nonprofit think tank that promotes sustainable policies for the Pacific Northwest.
    • These local fights against export terminals have compounded the industry’s economic challenges. Once the nation’s primary source of energy, coal has lost more than half its value in just the last four years as demand dropped. Coal now sells for $58 a ton, down from $130 in 2011. Cheaper, cleaner options such as vast new supplies of natural gas unlocked by fracking have come to dominate U.S. energy.
    • "Louisiana already has all this capacity to move coal, but the fact is it isn't moving," Morris said. "It really begs the question: With no economic incentive to export the coal, why put these communities who are already being gravely affected by climate change—we lose a football field of coastal wetlands every hour—at risk?"
  • Methane Leaks From Gas Pipelines Far Exceed Official Estimates, Harvard Study Finds: Boston-area infrastructure loses 2-3 times more gas than state authorities say, adding to evidence of downstream systems' role in greenhouse emissions.
  • EPA plan needs a debate based on reason
    • The great Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in 1805 that in debate over “any political proposition,” an individual’s judgment will be greatly “influenced by the wishes, the affections, and the general theories of those by whom” it is to be discussed and decided. He might have added that less dignified, self-interested motives can be at play as well. The “political proposition” Marshall had specifically in mind was whether federal legislation creating a national bank is constitutional, a question hotly debated in the early Republic but one as to which Marshall had no doubt whatever about the right answer (yes, emphatically). But however obviously correct he thought that answer, Marshall insisted “a contrariety of opinion on this great constitutional question ought to excite no surprise.” In private, Marshall harbored dark suspicions about the motives of the bank’s greatest constitutional opponent, Thomas Jefferson, but he did not regard his suspicions as relevant to public debate.
  • Want to fix the climate? First, we have to change everything: There was an important launch earlier this week where a bunch of high-profile figures came together to sign on to a new game-changing enterprise. No, I’m not talking about the gathering where Jay-Z, Beyonce, Madonna, and a dozen other artists announced their new music streaming service Tidal. I’m talking about The Next System, a project that seeks to disrupt or replace our traditional institutions for creating progressive change. Its backers include Greenpeace President Annie Leonard, clean energy champion Van Jones, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, climate activist (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben, and Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase, and hundreds of others.
  • Editorial: Provinces lead but Ottawa must act on climate: When provincial premiers meet in Quebec City next week to discuss plans for combating climate change, they will be filling a leadership vacuum in Canada on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. With the federal government missing in action on this key global challenge, the provinces have been taking crucial actions on their own that help move the country toward its emissions-reduction targets.
    • [There's no excuse for] the Conservative government’s reluctance to address a pressing global issue. Canada is going to miss its Copenhagen commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Since taking office, the Conservatives have not made good on a vow to set emissions standards for the oilpatch. And while the European Union, the United States, Mexico and other countries are busy filing their proposed new targets for the next major round of climate talks in Paris in December, the federal government is letting the deadline slip past.
  • Agriculture poses immense threat to environment, German study says: According to the researchers, the use of moors and clear-cutting for agriculture, as well as fertilisers, soil cultivation and animal husbandry produce a high level of emissions that impact the climate. In 2012, agriculture-related emissions were around 70 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – about 7.5% of the year’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This means that after industry, which made up 84%, agriculture was the second largest emitter in Germany.
  • Fracking Study on Water Contamination Under Ethics Review: Chesapeake Energy paid undisclosed fees to the lead author, whose study was based on water samples provided by the company.
    • Drinking-water wells in Pennsylvania close to natural gas sites do not face a greater risk of methane contamination than those farther away, according to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T). But the study is now being called into question because of its methodology and some undisclosed ties to energy giant Chesapeake Energy. The findings contradict recent studies that identified a correlation between proximity to natural gas wells and higher methane levels in well water. The new study analyzed more than 11,000 water samples collected by Chesapeake and provided to researchers.
  • New study raises possible link between gas drilling and radon levels:
    • Radon levels in buildings near unconventional natural gas development in Pennsylvania are higher than those in other areas of the state, suggesting that hydraulic fracturing has opened up new pathways for the carcinogenic gas to enter people’s homes, according to a study published on Thursday. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed radon readings taken in some 860,000 buildings, mostly homes, from 1989 to 2013 and found that those in rural and suburban areas where most shale gas wells are located had a concentration of the cancer-causing radioactive gas that was 39 percent higher overall than those in urban areas. It also found that buildings using well water had a 21 percent higher concentration of radon than those served by municipal water systems. And it showed radon levels in active gas-drilling counties rose significantly starting in 2004 when the state’s fracking boom began.
  • 8 things you need to know about Hillary Clinton and climate change: Clinton shares what David Roberts has identified as Obama’s split personality on climate change — tackling it aggressively on the consumption side but continuing to boost fossil fuel supplies. That’s not as bad as the science deniers on the Republican side, or the climate curmudgeonliness of likely Democratic candidate Jim Webb. But it’s also not quite the climate hawkishness we need.

4/10/2015

  • Sneak Peek: Naomi Klein's 'This Changes Everything' Documentary
  • The car of the future — the very near future — might be driven by the wind: [there is a] small but growing hydrogen infrastructure in Germany. Hydrogen generated by wind-power is virtually carbon-free, and can be used to regenerate electricity to drive vehicles, power houses and other buildings, or even combine with natural gas for heating.
  • When the grid says 'no' to wind and solar power, this company's technology helps it say 'yes' again: The problem is that the grid was built for that old system — a few big, predictable sources of electricity. Renewable sources, on the other hand, are relatively unpredictable. They come and go on nature’s rhythms, not humans’. And more than a bit of intermittent power can cause real problems for the grid—worst case, even a blackout. So to keep the grid stable, Germany’s had to slow down the introduction of some new renewable sources. Sometimes, Triebel says, it even has to shut some wind and solar generators down.
    • Bottom line, Younicos’s work involves massive banks of batteries overlain by sophisticated software and algorithms that work together to suck up excess renewable power when it isn’t needed, store it and push it back out again when it is needed, and switch back and forth almost instantaneously to help keep the grid stable and the lights on.
  • New records detail how climate-change views scuttled artist's grant: Franke James found herself on the federal government’s radar in the spring of 2011 after Canadian diplomats agreed to offer a $5,000 grant in support of a European art tour featuring James’s artwork. The grant was revoked a few days later by a senior director of the Foreign Affairs Department’s climate change division, who felt the funding would “run counter to Canada’s interests.”
  • Scientists seek source of giant methane mass over Southwest: The releases can happen naturally, especially where coal seams reach the earth's surface. They also occur deliberately when energy companies extract methane — the primary component of natural gas — from coal beds. The region is home to the San Juan Basin, North America's most productive area coal bed methane extraction area. Methane also is released by coal mining and oil and gas drilling systems, and cattle produce large amounts of the gas. Scientists can pinpoint the kind of methane created by fossil fuels by looking for the presence of associated hydrocarbons.
  • ‘We’re Going to Be Out of Water’: Navajo Nation Dying of Thirst: “When you’re living in the desert, you don’t expect it to get even worse,” said Russell Begaye, a Navajo Nation Tribal Council Delegate from Shiprock, NM. He pointed out that reservoir levels are dropping, farming plots are becoming sandier, and the rain- and snowfall have declined. “Some of our leaders, and some of our people concerned about environmental issues are trying to make people aware,” he said. “It's going to get progressively worse, we know that. But as a nation, the government, we are simply not ready.”
    • Whitehair is very serious about climate change and its impacts on the Navajo people—and other American Indian communities. “We know what the long-term effects are going to be: We’re going to be out of water. That has to be everybody’s concern,” Whitehair said. The Navajo Nation does have a drought task force and, she said, tribes need to be talking with their partners and other tribes. “If these long-term impacts are going to be happening for decades, those conversations need to be happening right now.”
    • [ael: then, without apparent irony, the followup story:] Indian coal economy has suffered because of EPA regs, tribes say. The coal economy on Indian reservations is being endangered by tougher Environmental Protection Agency clean air laws, tribal officials told U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., on Wednesday. Billings Gazette, Montana
  • Rapid global warming may be coming sooner than you think: A new study bolsters the case that a period of much faster global warming may be imminent, if not already beginning. The study, published Wednesday in Geophysical Research Letters, uses climate records gleaned from coral reefs in the South Pacific to recreate sea surface temperatures and ocean heat content dating back to 1791. The corals examined were from Fiji, Tonga and Rarotonga.
    • When the PDO flips to positive, that heat gets withdrawn from the heat savings account, accelerating manmade global warming.
    • The study shows that when it’s warm in the South Pacific, the waters at the equator tend to be cooler than average. In addition, when ocean temperatures are milder than average in the South Pacific, the North Pacific also tends to be unusually mild, which is a hallmark sign of the PDO’s positive phase. “The recurring decadal SST pattern in the Pacific also suggests that the pause in global warming (the "hiatus") will end when the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) next reverses phase,” Linsley wrote to reporters. “With a mean PDO recurrence interval of about 20 years between PDO phases, and with the most recent PDO phase switch occurring in about 1999, this suggests the hiatus will end in about 2020. A stretch, but a prediction from this work.”
  • California faces 'Dust Bowl'-like conditions amid drought, says climate tracker: With a slew of statistics projected on the slideshow behind him, California's state climatologist had a stark warning during a Thursday presentation on the severity of the drought. "You’re looking on numbers that are right on par with what was the Dust Bowl," said the climatologist, Michael Anderson. The presentation was part of a briefing organized by the Assn. of California Water Agencies and attended by top state officials.
  • Canada and Russia beat tropical countries to top global deforestation list:
    • Boreal forests are burning at rates not seen for at least the past 10,000 years, according to a 2013 study, with climate change projections showing the likelihood of both more frequent and larger fires to come as the climate warms and these areas experience a longer and drier warm season.
    • Increased burning of these forests releases carbon into the atmosphere, helping to warm the planet, which in turn ends up favoring more fires. A spike in forest fire activity, much of it manmade, has been seen in recent years in parts of Canada and especially in Siberia, and these fires account for much of the tree loss, as well as logging activities, said WRI's Anderson.
  • Word of Oil Find Near Gatwick Excites Britain: [ael: the ironies abound! We need to stop burning the stuff, but everytime someone finds more they get all excited. So pathetic, and utterly human….]
  • US carbon pollution set for 2015 drop as coal plants close: US efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions look set for a huge boost this year, with carbon pollution from the power sector set to fall to its lowest level since 1994.

4/9/2015

  • Barclays ends financing of controversial mountaintop removal mining: Bank was biggest financier of MTR in 2013 but now expects method used to extract coal in Appalachian mountains will soon be phased out
  • Bloomberg Pours $30 Million More Into Fighting Coal: Billionaire’s grant to Sierra Club continues support for Beyond Coal campaign and attracts another $30 million in matching gifts.
    • The money will support the environmental group's Beyond Coal campaign, which uses grassroots activism to fight coal-based power and push wind, solar and geothermal projects. The Sierra Club said it will also use the funds to counter fossil fuel industry opposition to President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which requires existing coal-fired power stations to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
    • "Coal's days are numbered,” Bloomberg said. “It is an outdated technology, it is holding back our economy, and it is hurting our health." The Sierra Club's anti-coal work has had a "measureable, big difference in a short amount of time," he said. Two months ago, Bloomberg and California climate advocates Mark Heising and Elizabeth Simons gave $48 million to launch a program to help states and municipalities shift to renewable energy.
    • The Sierra Club launched its Beyond Coal campaign in 2002 in response to policy changes by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that fostered continued growth of the coal industry. Fossil fuel companies spent millions of dollars over the past decade fighting proposed greenhouse gas regulations and the expansion of renewable energy.
  • Can the world economy survive without fossil fuels?: The past three centuries of progress have been powered by coal, oil and gas. Burning much of what’s left will lead to environmental and economic catastrophe. Here’s how to save the earth without giving up on growth
    • “For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world’s systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes – population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels – concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.” That was Margaret Thatcher, in a speech to Britain’s scientific elite in 1988. Thatcher was no climate change denier. She told the Royal Society that her government supported the idea of sustainable economic development, and concluded: “Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world, provided the environment is nurtured and safeguarded. Protecting this balance of nature is therefore one of the great challenges of the late 20th century.”
    • To have a realistic prospect of preventing global temperatures from rising by more than the previously recognised danger threshold of 2C, scientists say it is not possible to burn all the proven fossil fuel reserves owned by companies and governments. Between two-thirds and four-fifths will need to be left in the ground.
    • Over the years, the idea that all growth is good became embedded. Parents expected their children to be better off than they were. Businesses that did not expand were viewed as failures. One four-letter word underpinned economics: more. And this, notwithstanding the corporate sustainability reports and the greenwashing, remains the case for even the most right-on companies. Unilever wants to sell more soap and deodorant. John Lewis commissions expensive ads to encourages us all to spend more at Christmas. Here at the Guardian, we want to sell more newspapers, and more ads to companies selling their own goods and services to readers. But the economics of more, together with a rapidly rising population, have created problems unforeseen at the time of James Watt’s steam engine. At the end of the 18th century there were fewer than 1 billion people on the planet. Today there are more than 7 billion. The energy needs of a bigger and richer global population have risen sixfold in the past 50 years. Almost 90% of that energy is provided by fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil. Global temperatures have risen by almost 1C above pre-industrial levels, and the number of weather-related natural disasters has increased. Those who say manmade global warming isn’t happening look more and more certain to end up on the wrong side of history – which will harshly judge our failure to act until the threat had become so obvious that we had no other options.
    • There are only three ways of reducing our carbon footprint: reduce the amount each person consumes, reduce the number of people, or make each unit of growth less carbon-intensive. Those who want to cut consumption and restrict population growth have the same question to answer: unless you are prepared to use draconian methods, how do you do it? Historical evidence shows there is a link between income and population: as people become richer, they have fewer children. That is why Japan’s population is ageing and shrinking. So if reducing living standards is a political non-starter and repression is spurned as a way of controlling population growth, that leaves reducing the carbon-intensity of growth.
    • The IEA also makes the point that it is time the world got its act together. “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.” Fossil fuels are not going to disappear overnight, but the phasing-out process needs to start immediately, and that process could be hastened if governments used the opportunity provided by the recent halving of global oil prices to remove the $1tn annual subsidies for fossil fuels.
    • The IEA is right: further delay will be costly. Obama could do his bit by making climate change a mission for the US – similar to the way that John F Kennedy vowed to put a man on the moon in the early 1960s. The mission could be to phase out domestic use and export of coal by a fixed date, or to set a deadline for shifting 50% of US energy consumption to renewable sources. Washington could then invite other nations to sign on to the same commitment. That message would be reinforced by putting a price on carbon. This could be achieved in one of two ways: through a carbon tax, or through a cap-and-trade scheme. Either way, it would suggest that governments had started to take seriously what Stern calls one of the greatest market failures in history: the failure to take account of the damage caused by burning fossil fuels.
    • So what will the world look like in 2043? The future sketched out in The Bone Clocks is only fiction. It does not have to be that way. We could be living through the green technological revolution, in which energy has been decarbonised. Atlanta and Barcelona have the same number of people and share the same per-capita incomes, but Atlanta’s carbon emissions are 10 times those of Barcelona. We need more Barcelonas and fewer Atlantas, because that will encourage us to change the way we live: walking more, using public transport more, sharing cars, cycling. All of this is important, because ultimately Helm is right. This is not just about carbon taxes. It is not just about R&D. It is not just about divestment. If we really want the fossil fuels to be left in the ground, it is about us.
  • Scientists confirm that the Arctic could become a major new source of carbon emissions: Now, a new overview of what we know about the permafrost carbon problem has just come out in Nature, written by a group of 17 experts on the matter. In other words, this is probably the most thorough scientific look at the issue yet. And the researchers, led by Edward Schuur of Northern Arizona University, basically confirm that we have a serious problem — if not necessarily a catastrophe — on our hands.
    • Overall, it’s a troubling large amount of carbon — especially in light of numbers presented by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggesting that if we want to have a good chance of holding global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, we probably have only about 500 more gigatons of carbon in total that we can emit. “We’ve gone back with this whole synthesis effort, looked through all the data, and synthesized, and yeah, this problem is not going away,” says lead study author Schuur. Fortunately, the new study also finds that any sudden or catastrophic release of Arctic carbon stores is unlikely. Rather, the experts estimate that by 2100, somewhere between 5 and 15 percent of the 1,330-1,580 gigatons could be emitted. Ten percent of the total would equate to around 130 to 160 gigatons of carbon emitted this century — which is both good news and bad news at the same time. The good news is that the permafrost emissions are “unlikely to occur at a speed that could cause abrupt climate change over a period of a few years to a decade,” as the study puts it. The bad news, though, is that 160 gigatons, even though it’s less than we’re expected to emit from fossil fuels in coming decades, is still a large enough amount to really matter for the planet — especially given the relatively tight carbon budget that we have remaining.
  • There’s an emerging right-wing divide on climate denial. Here’s what it means (and doesn’t):
    • Now you have a paragon of Beltway sensibilities like Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank writing that “climate-change deniers are in retreat.” A self-styled centrist like Milbank would not be taking a clear stand like this unless Village opinion had shifted.
      • What began as a subtle shift away from the claim that man-made global warming is not a threat to the planet has lately turned into a stampede. The latest attempt to deny denial comes from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful group that pushes for states to pass laws that are often drafted by industry. As my Post colleagues Tom Hamburger, Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney report, ALEC is not only insisting that it doesn’t deny climate change — it’s threatening to sue those who suggest otherwise.
      • At ALEC’s December meeting, a climate-change contrarian got applause for declaring in his presentation that “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is a benefit. It is the very elixir of life.” For politicians and climate-denial groups, the elixir of life is money. Now that corporations are becoming reluctant to bankroll crazy theories, the surrender of climate-change deniers will follow.
    • Now that the public and the media are paying more attention, denial is starting to make the GOP look like, to borrow a phrase from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the stupid party. Denialism is increasingly seen, not only among elites but in popular culture, as atavistic and conspiracy-minded. Climate has become one of those issues where the gulf between the insular far right and the rest of American (to say nothing of Western) culture has become so vast that it is serving like a moat, keeping out the very demographic groups the GOP needs in coming years.

4/8/2015

  • Desperate from Drought, California Turns to Desalination
  • California can't catch a break: State sets another heat-related milestone: New data released on Wednesday shows the state continues to have its warmest year on record so far, with statewide average temperatures coming in nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous record set just last year.
    Statewideavg.gif
  • Nobel prize winners join call for charities to divest from fossil fuels: Laureates, including former Wellcome Trust employee Sir John Sulston, argue that investments by charities conflict with their aims of improving public health
  • Earth science is not hard science, congressional Republicans declare:
    • Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX), the new chair of the science and space panel within the Senate commerce committee and an unofficial presidential candidate, asserted yesterday at a hearing that the earth sciences are not “hard science.” Freshman Senator Cory Gardner (R–CO), a member of the panel and a rising star within the Republican Party, echoed Cruz’s words. And the new chair of an important science spending panel in the House of Representatives, Representative John Culberson (R–TX), has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the earth sciences don’t meet his definition of “the pure sciences.”
    • The idea that the geosciences aren’t hard science comes as a shock to Margaret Leinen, president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and a former head of the National Science Foundation’s geosciences directorate. “Of course the geosciences are part of the hard sciences,” says Leinen, head of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and vice chancellor for marine sciences at the University of California, San Diego. “They provide us with very fundamental knowledge about the way the planet works, knowledge grounded in the physical sciences.”
    • The 60,000-member AGU reinforced Leinen’s message today in a letter to Cruz. “Earth sciences are a fundamental part of science,” writes CEO Christine McEntee. “They constitute hard sciences that help us understand the world we live in and provide a basis for knowledge and understanding of natural hazards, weather forecasting, air quality, and water availability, among other concerns.”
  • Top academics ask world's universities to divest from fossil fuels: It is unethical and untenable for universities, that seek to advance global development and health, to invest in the fossil fuels that cause climate change, say a group of 2,000 researchers at Academics Stand Against Poverty
  • Are we reaching a positive climate change tipping point?: Despite low oil prices, the latest figures reveal a striking turnaround in solar and wind power investment, but are we really about to win the carbon war?
    • “There’s a quiet revolution going on,” says Nick Robins, co-director of the Unep Inquiry into a Sustainable Financial System (pdf), “with central banks and financial regulators starting to incorporate sustainability into their core activities”. For example, “In China, there’s growing momentum for building a ‘green financial system’ to tackle the country’s serious environmental problems,” he says.
  • Republicans try to prevent Wisconsin official working on climate change: Critics say Matt Adamczyk’s proposal to prohibit Tia Nelson from ‘engaging in global warming or climate change work’ on the job is politically motivated
    • State treasurer Matt Adamczyk, a Republican, says his plan to prohibit Tia Nelson, the executive secretary of the state’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, from “engaging in global warming or climate change work” on the job is part of an attempt to trim government spending, which has included fighting for his own office to be eliminated.
    • Adamczyk alleges that Nelson’s co-authoring of a report on policy recommendations for the state to address climate change amounted to theft of the state’s time.
  • TransCanada applies Keystone's lessons to Energy East pipeline

4/7/2015

  • Laurence Tribe Fights Climate Case Against Star Pupil From Harvard, President Obama: Next week Mr. Tribe is to deliver oral arguments for Peabody in the first federal court case about Mr. Obama’s climate change rules. Mr. Tribe argues in a brief for the case that in requiring states to cut carbon emissions, thus to change their energy supply from fossil fuels to renewable sources, the E.P.A. is asserting executive power far beyond its lawful authority under the Clean Air Act. At a House hearing last month, Mr. Tribe likened the climate change policies of Mr. Obama to “burning the Constitution.”
    • [ael: which is worse — burning the Constitution, or burning the planet? In the end, history will not be kind to Mr. Tribe, nor the GOP. "History" may not even matter, of course, if life — or the lack thereof — gets ugly enough. If Mr. Tribe proves to the satisfaction of a court of law that gravity does not exist, does that make him culpable if someone steps off a 7th floor balcony on the basis of the ruling? Lawyers must ask themselves these questions….]
  • Utility Giant Cuts Ties With Willie Soon: Southern Company supplied nearly $470,000 for research by climate contrarian affiliated with Harvard-Smithsonian, now conducting an ethics investigation
    • Southern's decision comes at a time when the company finds itself in the midst of a firestorm of controversy surrounding revelations that Soon failed to divulge that fossil fuel interests were a primary source of funding for 11 studies published in nine scientific journals beginning in 2008. Soon did not respond to a request for comment. In an earlier interview with InsideClimate News, Stephen Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said a Southern Company executive told him the company is severing ties with Soon because it does not want to be associated with his brand of research any longer.
    • The Smithsonian Institution opened an ethics investigations in February, two days after the allegations surfaced that Soon failed to disclose his funding sources.
  • Fracking criticism spreads, even in Alberta and Texas: Canadian, U.S. studies raise concerns that chemicals used in process make people sick
    • In a March 2015 study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, researchers took six-hour average measurements of air pollution instead of the traditional 24-hour averages. They found pollution levels tend to spike at certain times of the day and under certain weather conditions, which previous studies had ignored. The study found that the closer people live to drilling sites and other gas production facilities, the more likely they are to exhibit symptoms of toxic exposure. The study was based on observed conditions in Washington County, Pa., population 28,000, using emissions reports from nearby fracking sites and weather conditions over 14 months. The researchers also compared illness reports to the weather conditions and time of day. They found that residents living in the area would have 300 toxic-level exposures, more than enough to account for the reported illnesses.
  • Great Barrier Reef: new report slams government's 'weak' recovery plan: Experts call for greater action on climate change, and warn that opening up huge new coalmines in Queensland could cause permanent damage to the reef
    • The set of recommendations, compiled by three of the reef’s most experienced scientists, warn that opening up huge new coalmines in Queensland is “too risky” for the Great Barrier Reef. They also say that it “will not be possible to develop and operate the largest coal ports in the world along the edge of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area over the next 60 years without causing permanent damage to the region”. The report, published in Nature Climate Change, calls for a shift towards better conservation values, Australia playing a “more active role in transitioning away from fossil fuels” and advocates a bans on the dredging and dumping of seabed spoil within the world heritage area.
  • Everybody needs a Climate Thing: In my response to Jonathan Franzen, I said that birds are his Climate Thing — that one angle at which climate has intersected with his interests and caught his attention. He now uses it as a proxy, a lens through which to view the entire issue. Everyone who writes or thinks about climate change for a living knows what a Climate Thing is and has encountered many on their travels. Some of them are, to put it kindly, eccentric.
    • [ael: Roberts argues that we need to connect the dots for each person and their "climate thing". It's like six degrees of separation, or the Kevin Bacon number, or the Paul Erdos number.]

4/6/2015

  • Thawing permafrost could be the worst climate threat you haven’t heard of: thawing permafrost would classify as one of those juicy “positive feedback” cycles that make climate change so exciting in that life-is-an-action-movie-and-someone-will-save-us-in-the-end-right?-RIGHT?!! sort of way
    • More global warming could cause more thawing of Arctic permafrost, leading to more emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, leading to more warming and more thawing of Arctic permafrost — this does not end in a good place. The Arctic climate threat that nobody’s even talking about yet. The quotes that follow are from this article.
    • [ael: It's annoying when we have been talking about this, but no one's wanted to listen — e.g. Congress, e.g. my family, e.g. my friends, e.g. my kids….]
    • Indeed, scientists have discovered a simple statistic that underscores the scale of the potential problem: There may be more than twice as much carbon contained in northern permafrost as there is in the atmosphere itself. That’s a staggering thought.
    • “None of the climate projections in the last IPCC report account for permafrost,” says Schaefer. “So all of them underestimate, or are biased low.”
    • The concern is whether such an agreement will arrive soon enough to stop or at least blunt the permafrost problem. It’s “a true climatic tipping point, because it’s completely irreversible,” says Schaefer. “Once you thaw the permafrost, there’s no way to refreeze it.”
    • To put the Arctic soil carbon reservoir into perspective, the carbon it contains exceeds current estimates of the total carbon content of all living vegetation on Earth (approximately 650 Gt C), the atmosphere (730 Gt C, up from ~360 Gt C during the last ice age and 560 Gt C prior to industrialization, Denman et al., 2007), proved reserves of recoverable conventional oil and coal (about 145 Gt C and 632 Gt C, respectively), and even approaches geological estimates of all fossil fuels contained within the Earth (~1,500 – 5,000 Gt C). It represents more than two and a half centuries of our current rate of carbon release through fossil fuel burning and the production of cement (nearly 9 Gt C per year, Friedlingstein et al., 2010). referenced link
  • 5 years after a deadly coal mine disaster, what’s changed?: It was mid-afternoon on the Monday after Easter, April 5, 2010, when a 1,000-foot longwall shearer, a massive piece of industrial coal-mining equipment, bit into sandstone, kicking up sparks and igniting a methane fireball that traveled down the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., into an area rich with coal dust. The resulting explosion ricocheted in several directions, tearing through two and a half miles of mine, killing 29 of 31 men working in the area and searing the mine into history as the site of the most deadly coal-related disaster in nearly 40 years.
    • Former Upper Big Branch supervisor Gary May was sentenced to 21 months in prison after pleading guilty to disabling a methane gas monitor, falsifying mine records, and generally obstructing safety inspectors. David Hughart, a former Massey Energy executive, was sentenced that same year to 42 months on conspiracy charges for making sure officials at Massey mines were warned ahead of safety inspections. Hughart never worked at Upper Big Branch, but state and federal investigators reported a similar warning system contributed to the explosion. May and Hughart are minnows compared to Appalachian coal’s longtime apex predator, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, aka the Dark Lord of Coal Country, who faces criminal charges that could put him behind bars for 30 years. [ael: my loving emphasis!]
    • The 29 miners who perished in the Upper Big Branch disaster are still dead. Much has changed in the five years since April 5, 2010. That part, sadly, has not.
  • Goodbye, glaciers?: The world's glaciers are disappearing. Climate change skeptics are not.
    • "95% of the world's glaciers that are monitored currently are retreating. And it is happening so fast," he tells me. "It's 20 times faster than any natural temperature change before human beings became so active." My mountain guides, Seb and Fleur listen and nod. The professor's statistics confirm what they have seen in the glaciers above their town and in the ice beneath their boots.
  • Ocean Changes Linked to 2010 Hurricanes, Bitter Winters: New analyses of data are linking a recent year-long AMOC slowdown with cold winters across Europe, with the frenetic 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, and with a spike in sea levels on the East Coast of the U.S. The pioneering analyses are offering clues as to how a more permanent slowdown could reshape the region. They’re being hobbled, however, by the fact that only one such abrupt slowdown has been recorded so far, and that a more permanent slowdown could behave differently.

4/3/2015

  • California Facing Extreme Heat Waves and Rising Seas: The average number of days with temperatures higher than 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) may double or even triple by the end of the century, threatening one of the world’s richest agricultural regions. At the same time, $19 billion in coastal property will likely disappear as sea levels rise, the study found.
    • About 80 percent of California’s water goes to its $48 billion agriculture industry, which supplied almost two-thirds of U.S. fruits and nuts in 2012 and more than one-third of the country’s vegetables. The report predicts “a dramatic increase in extreme heat,” especially in the San Joaquin Valley that’s home to much of the state’s farming, and the Inland South area.
  • Exclusive: California used 70 million gallons of water in fracking in 2014: California oil producers used 214 acre-feet of water, equivalent to nearly 70 million gallons, in the process of fracking for oil and gas in the state last year, less than previously projected, state officials told Reuters on Thursday. The practice of fracking has been criticized in the state, which is suffering from a drought so severe that Governor Jerry Brown announced the first-ever mandatory 25 percent statewide reduction in water use on Wednesday. Despite pressure from environmentalists, Brown has not called for a halt to fracking in the state, saying it is not a major drain on water supplies. California oil producers used 214 acre-feet of water, equivalent to nearly 70 million gallons, in the process of fracking for oil and gas in the state last year, less than previously projected, state officials told Reuters on Thursday. The practice of fracking has been criticized in the state, which is suffering from a drought so severe that Governor Jerry Brown announced the first-ever mandatory 25 percent statewide reduction in water use on Wednesday.
  • Energy East pipeline completion date pushed back to 2020: TransCanada Corp. abandons plan for terminal in Cacouna, Que., due to concern about beluga whales
  • Jonathan Franzen is confused about climate change, but then, lots of people are:
    • Despite the many valid criticisms, I find myself nursing some small ember of sympathy for Franzen. His essay reminds me of lots of conversations I’ve had over the years. I’ll be talking with someone — a smart, well-read person — and when they find out I write about climate change, they’ll kind of hesitate, and I’ll prod, and they’ll tell me their Climate Thing…. lots of people have a Climate Thing, that one tidbit of info or argument that they read somewhere, or heard somewhere, the thing that somehow resonated with their own concerns and beliefs. It’s the thing they latched onto, the thing they know about climate, like the proverbial blind people surrounding the elephant. They build on it and it becomes their Climate Thing.
    • A Climate Thing is not always wrong, though it frequently is. Just as often, it’s a kind of distortion, a lens that magnifies one aspect of the issue at the expense of all others. For some people it’s nuclear power. For some people it’s about models, how there was no warming when the models said there would be. For some people it’s Al Gore, or solar power, or consumerism, or population, or “I heard that we’re basically fucked no matter what,” which I’ve heard more times than I can count.
    • But … and here’s where I have a germ of sympathy … there’s a reason people — even lots and lots of greens — have a Climate Thing. It’s not some defect or species of ignorance. The fact is, Franzen is right when he says that climate change is “imponderable,” though he’s wrong that it is “usefully” so. He’s right that “the problem can be framed in many different ways—a crisis in global governance, a market failure, a technological challenge, a matter of social justice, and so on—each of which argues for a different expensive solution.” Those are all Climate Things, different ways for the blind people to describe the elephant. Each has its committed constituencies. Each has an element of truth.
    • But people need more than a team to join. They need a story to tell themselves, a way of fitting climate change into their world. Knocking down bad stories will be ineffective unless there are more, better stories available. So let’s be better storytellers.

4/2/2015

  • Study: Coal industry lost nearly 50,000 jobs in just five years: a new study out in the journal Energy Policy seeks to quantify the effect these changes have had on coal — and its electricity generating competitors – from 2008 through 2012. The paper, by Drew Haerer and Lincoln Pratson of the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, estimates jobs lost or gained in these industries — and the result is pretty dramatic:
    • Employment trends in the U.S. Electricity Sector, 2008–2012: Between 2008–2012, electricity generated (GWh) from coal, the longtime dominant fuel for electric power in the US, declined 24%, while electricity generated from natural gas, wind and solar grew by 39%, 154%, and 400%, respectively. These shifts had major effects on domestic employment in those sectors of the coal, natural gas, wind and solar industries involved in operations and maintenance (O&M) activities for electricity generation. Using an economic input–output model, we estimate that the coal industry lost more than 49,000 jobs (12%) nationally over the five-year period, while in the natural gas, solar, and wind industries, employment increased by nearly 220,000 jobs (21%). We also combine published ratios for jobs per unit of fuel production and per megawatt of power plant capacity with site-specific data on fuel production and power plant retirements, additions and capacity changes to estimate and map direct job changes at the county level. The maps show that job increases in the natural gas, solar and wind industries generally did not occur where there were significant job losses in the coal industry, particularly in West Virginia and Kentucky.
  • The whole world is breaking the law by ignoring climate change: The countries of the world are violating national and international law by polluting the atmosphere and heating up the planet, according to a group of respected lawyers. Regardless of what kind of climate deal the U.N. comes up with in Paris later this year, governments already have a legal responsibility to take action, the jurists argued today in London as they launched what they’re calling the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations.
  • Brown orders California's first mandatory water restrictions: 'It's a different world': Standing in a brown field that would normally be smothered in several feet of snow, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered cities and towns across California to cut water use by 25% as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions, the first in state history.
    • Brown issued his order at Phillips Station, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, where state workers conducted a manual snow survey as part of statewide readings that revealed that the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was only about 5% of the average for April 1. That is the lowest for the date in records going back to 1950. The Sierra snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state's water supply, and although major reservoir storage is better than it was last year, there will be little snowmelt to replenish reservoirs this spring.
  • Syracuse University to divest $1.18bn endowment from fossil fuels: Following a two-year student campaign, the American university has publicly committed to divestment and to investing in clean energy technologies
    • In a statement, the university said it will “not directly invest in publicly traded companies whose primary business is extraction of fossil fuels and will direct its external investment managers to take every step possible to prohibit investments in these public companies as well”.
    • Syracuse to Drop Fossil Fuel Stocks From Endowment: At $1.2 billion, Syracuse’s is the largest endowment to divest entirely of fossil fuel stocks. (Stanford University last year pledged to drop coal stocks from its $21.4 billion endowment.)
  • Can Hydrogen-Fueled Cars Rise in China?: Air Liquide notes that some Chinese car companies such as state-owned SAIC Motor Corp. are exploring manufacturing hydrogen-fueled cars. Last fall, SAIC teamed with Air Liquide to sponsor a 10,000-kilometer (6,200-mile) tour in which three hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles – recharged by a mobile hydrogen station – drove through 10 major cities from Beijing to Chengdu. SAIC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
  • Catholics prep for Pope Francis to tackle climate in upcoming encyclical: A papal encyclical is meant to provide spiritual guidance to the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, but among advocates of climate action hopes are high that this one will resonate far beyond the church. They are hoping the pope's moral authority can help break the intractable global political gridlock over reducing fossil fuel emissions.

4/1/2015

  • What this NASA scientist meant about California having a year of water left: On March 12, Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at UC Irvine, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. Online it was given this headline: "California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?"
    • Famiglietti: The online headline, written (and now corrected) by the LA Times, was misleading. It originally read "California has 1 year of water left," which I did not write nor did I intend to convey. My real point: at the time of writing, statewide, California's surface water reservoirs held about a year's worth of water supply, perhaps plus or minus a couple of months. Of course, our surface water reservoirs are not designed to provide long-term water supply, and really cannot hold more than about 3 year's worth. So after 3 years of drought, it is understandable that our reservoirs are very low.
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  • Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben call on Paris to divest in Le Monde letter: Printed in the newspaper on Tuesday, the letter begins: "People concerned about climate change were so happy to hear the news that the Paris City Council had gone on record as favouring divestment from fossil fuel companies. It’s imperative that the city government now agrees to implement this wise recommendation, and ensures that the newly created endowment fund never invests in fossil fuel companies (and refuses their donations), while making sure that the council members’ pension fund divests from the sector."
  • Republicans warn world that Obama U.N. plan could be undone: The Obama administration's plan for U.N. climate change talks encountered swift opposition after its release Tuesday, with Republican leaders warning other countries to "proceed with caution" in negotiations with Washington because any deal could be later undone. [ael: at what point does sabotage of foreign policy become treason?]
  • Antarctica records unprecedented high temperatures in two new readings : Two temperature readings register ominous new potential measurements of accelerating climate change

What went on: March, 2015

What went on: February, 2015

What went on: January, 2015

What went on: 2014

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