What's Going On: February, 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.


February, 2015


  • House Passes Bill that Prohibits Expert Scientific Advice to the EPA: While everyone’s attention was focused on the Senate and the Keystone XL decision on Tuesday, some pretty shocking stuff was quietly going on in the House of Representatives. The GOP-dominated House passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice — directly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say. Perversely, all this is being done in the name of “transparency.”


  • I just had to say something about this Bloomberg News item: Alberta in Talks on Climate Policy With Eye to Keystone Approval. Alberta wants to say all the right things about climate so they can go about dredging out all that crappy, carbon-intensive diluted bitumen "oil" and dumping it into our atmosphere. The absurdity boils over.
  • The Warming World: Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet?: Humans are full of contradictions, including the urge to destroy things they love. Like our planet. Take Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Like everyone living Down Under, he's extremely proud of his country's wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. At the same time, though, Abbott believes that burning coal is "good for humanity," even though it produces greenhouse gases that ultimately make our world's oceans warmer, stormier and more acidic. In recent years, Australia has exported more coal than any other country in the world. And the reef, the largest living organism on the planet, is dying. Half of the corals that make up the reef are, in fact, already dead.
    • Might it be enough, though, to fundamentally change the rules by which the global economy functions? That is what Canadian bestselling author Naomi Klein is demanding. (Editors note: SPIEGEL International has also published an accompanying interview with Klein.) The leftist icon's controversial new book, which will be published in Germany next week, is a carefully researched polemic about mankind's collective failure in the face of the greatest challenge it has ever faced. Klein spells out her thesis in the introduction to her book "This Changes Everything": "We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis."
    • In other words, climate protection and capitalism are mutually exclusive. In order to stop global warming, Klein argues, we have to use fewer resources. But in order to prevent the collapse of our capitalist economic system, unlimited growth is necessary. "Only one of these sets of rules can be changed," Klein writes. "And it's not the laws of nature."
  • The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought: Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters, the Siberian Times reported. Dozens more Siberian craters are likely still out there, said Moscow scientist Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, calling for an “urgent” investigation.
    • Making matters worse, the gas is extremely flammable. One of the methane bursts has already caught fire. Nearby residents in a town called Antipayuta say they recently saw a bright flash in the distance. “Probably the gas ignited,” Bogoyavlensky said. “… This shows us that such [an] explosion could be rather dangerous and destructive. Years of experience has shown that gas emissions can cause serious damage to drilling rigs, oil and gas fields and offshore pipelines.” [ael: isn't it ironic that their concerns are for the safety of those manning the gears of the industry causing global warming, and not for the entire rest of the world? See the "capitalism" link above….]
  • Scientists witness carbon dioxide trapping heat in air: A new study in the journal Nature demonstrates in real-time field measurements what scientists already knew from basic physics, lab tests, numerous simulations, temperature records and dozens of other climatic indicators. They say it confirms the science of climate change and the amount of heat-trapping previously blamed on carbon dioxide. Observational determination of surface radiative forcing by CO2 from 2000 to 2010
  • Green groups divided on Hillary Clinton's oil interest ties: The presumptive Democratic presidential candidate's environmental record has come under renewed scrutiny after the Wall Street Journal reported that the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative have accepted large donations from major energy companies Exxon Mobil and Chevron.
    • The groups also got money from foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and from an office of the Canadian government in charge of promoting the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would help transport crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico but is opposed by environmentalists. "It's hard to believe that they don't think they are getting something for their contributions," said Ben Schreiber, head of climate and energy at Friends of the Earth, one of the largest environmental groups in the United States.
    • But she was also an aggressive advocate, while secretary, for expanding the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract shale oil and gas in Eastern Europe, China and India under a program called the Global Shale Gas Initiative.


  • The remote Alaskan village that needs to be relocated due to climate change: “Global warming has caused us so much problems,” said Joseph Swan, Sr., a Kivalina elder, at a town meeting last week. The ice “does not freeze like it used to. It used to be like 10 to 8 feet thick, way out in the ocean.” The question now facing the town, the state of Alaska, and the nation is whether to move the people of Kivalina to a safer location nearby, either inland or further down the coast — and who would pay upwards of a hundred million dollars to do it. It’s a question already facing Kivalina and a handful of other native Alaskan villages, and in the coming decades could apply to numerous other towns along U.S. coastlines. Here, climate change is less a future threat and more a daily force, felt in drastic changes to weather, loss of traditional means of sustenance like whale hunting, and the literal vanishing of land.
  • Democrats Target Climate-Deniers-for-Hire: Over the weekend, The New York Times and The Guardian reported that the fossil fuel industry paid astrophysicist Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon $1.25 million in grants in exchange for 11 scientific papers that cast doubt on the role humans play in climate change. Soon never disclosed the grants from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, ExxonMobil, Southern Company, and American Petroleum Institute, while publishing research that blamed climate change on anything but pollution (Soon faulted the sun) and spun the impact as a net benefit for the environment (helping trees and polar bears thrive, according to Soon).
    • On Tuesday, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, Democratic ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent requests to seven universities that employ academics known to be partial to fossil fuel interests based on their testimony before Congress. Soon's ethical violations “might not be isolated incidents,” Grijalva warned Georgia Tech, MIT, Pepperdine, Arizona State, the University of Delaware, the University of Colorado, and the University of Alabama, naming specific scientists and asking about the sources of his or her outside funding. The goal of the investigation is to "establish the impartiality of climate research and policy recommendations," writes Grijalva. "Companies with a direct financial interest in climate and air quality standards are funding environmental research that influences state and federal regulations and shapes public understanding of climate science. These conflicts should be clear to stakeholders, including policymakers who use scientific information to make decisions. My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships.”
  • President Obama vetoes Keystone bill; GOP plans override vote: President Barack Obama vetoed the Republicans’ Keystone XL pipeline bill Tuesday, rejecting Congress’ attempt to take the project’s fate out of his hands — and leaving the GOP on track for an override vote that will most likely fail.
  • Sea levels in Northeast jumped 5 inches in just 2 years, study finds: The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, found that the temporary acceleration in long-term sea level rise resulted in coastal flooding and beach erosion along the Northeast coast from New York northward to Atlantic Canada. Researchers linked the sea level spike to an unexpectedly rapid slowdown in the Gulf Stream current, which helps transport heat from the tropics toward the colder, saltier waters of the North Atlantic.
    • An extreme event of sea-level rise along the Northeast coast of North America in 2009–2010: The coastal sea levels along the Northeast Coast of North America show significant year-to-year fluctuations in a general upward trend. The analysis of long-term tide gauge records identified an extreme sea-level rise (SLR) event during 2009–10. Within this 2-year period, the coastal sea level north of New York City jumped by 128 mm. This magnitude of interannual SLR is unprecedented (a 1-in-850 year event) during the entire history of the tide gauge records. Here we show that this extreme SLR event is a combined effect of two factors: an observed 30% downturn of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation during 2009–10, and a significant negative North Atlantic Oscillation index. The extreme nature of the 2009–10 SLR event suggests that such a significant downturn of the Atlantic overturning circulation is very unusual. During the twenty-first century, climate models project an increase in magnitude and frequency of extreme interannual SLR events along this densely populated coast.
    • From the extreme to the mean: Acceleration and tipping points of coastal inundation from sea level rise: Relative sea level rise (RSLR) has driven large increases in annual water level exceedances (duration and frequency) above minor (nuisance level) coastal flooding elevation thresholds established by the National Weather Service (NWS) at U.S. tide gauges over the last half-century. For threshold levels below 0.5 m above high tide, the rates of annual exceedances are accelerating along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, primarily from evolution of tidal water level distributions to higher elevations impinging on the flood threshold. These accelerations are quantified in terms of the local RSLR rate and tidal range through multiple regression analysis. Along the U.S. West Coast, annual exceedance rates are linearly increasing, complicated by sharp punctuations in RSLR anomalies during El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phases, and we account for annual exceedance variability along the U.S. West and East Coasts from ENSO forcing. Projections of annual exceedances above local NWS nuisance levels at U.S. tide gauges are estimated by shifting probability estimates of daily maximum water levels over a contemporary 5-year period following probabilistic RSLR projections of Kopp et al. (2014) for representative concentration pathways (RCP) 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5. We suggest a tipping point for coastal inundation (30 days/per year with a threshold exceedance) based on the evolution of exceedance probabilities. Under forcing associated with the local-median projections of RSLR, the majority of locations surpass the tipping point over the next several decades regardless of specific RCP.
  • Massachusetts may cut coastal building: “We as human beings want to live as close to the water as we can, but we have to realize we’re not in control of everything,” said Paul Schrader, a commission member who has lived in Sandwich for 18 years. “Climate change is causing more violent storms. If we don’t take a cautious approach, then we suffer very sad consequences.”
  • Canadian First Nations Seek to Protect Forest Homeland: By winning protection for their boreal forest, indigenous peoples help slow global warming.
  • Colorado anti-fracking groups launch campaign for statewide ban


  • Chinese Plans to Transform Coal Would Worsen Global Warming: Sitting in his office on a recent day, Sun Qiwen, former lead engineer at South African coal conversion industry heavyweight Sasol and current project leader at Yankuang's coal-to-liquids plant, told ClimateWire, "Converting coal into liquid fuels is a must. Maybe it is not a must for Europe or the United States. But it is a must for China." As Sun explained, China's demand for liquid fuels is increasing in line with its growing car ownership. Although the country has been trying hard to replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric ones, Sun said that transition happens largely in passenger cars. In other words, most Chinese trucks will still run on fossil fuel.
  • Shell pulls plug on long-delayed Alberta oil sands mine: Royal Dutch Shell PLC has scrapped plans for a long-delayed oil sands mine, becoming the latest company to pull the plug on a major Alberta expansion as crude prices hover near multiyear lows. The global oil giant said on Monday it is withdrawing an application with federal regulators to build its Pierre River mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta., effectively killing a 200,000 barrel-a-day project that had been dormant for years.
    • Shell joins Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc. and others who have slammed the brakes on growth projects as they seek to protect dwindling cash flows and investor dividends in the face of the eight-month price rout.
  • Wind-and-gas hybrid power -- Wyoming's idea of California dreamin': Marketing electricity from Morley's proposed plant — 300 MW of wind power combined with a 300 MW gas-burning generator — to California, Colorado and other states in the region is critical to attracting a big enough customer base to move forward with the project, said Morley and Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.
    • Wyoming's wind capacity boasts up to a 40 to 50 percent capacity, more than any other state, Drain said. But the unpredictable gusts blow in late afternoon and nighttime, leaving big gaps in electricity production. Battery storage is developing fast but remains expensive. Morley is confident that the 300 MW gas plant on site will iron out the power production when the wind doesn't blow. He hopes to have the plant up and running in 2018.
  • Dozen more mysterious GIANT craters in Russia spark fears of looming natural disaster: Observation from space has revealed the dramatic mushrooming of the holes, believed to be caused by methane gas eruptions in melting permafrost due to climate change, scientists revealed today. A leading Russian expert sounded an alert over safety because one new Siberian crater, surrounded by at least 20 "baby holes", is just six miles from a major gas production plant. He predicts up to 30 more are waiting to be discovered. Scientsts are still baffled by the exact processes causing the craters and respected Moscow expert Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky today called for "urgent" investigation of the new phenomenon amid safety fears.


  • The term that actually makes climate change less political:
    • With the geoengineering group, however, something different happened. The anti-pollution and geoengineering groups were still roughly equally polarized over how risky they think climate change is, relative to the control group. But when it came to the scientific information on climate change that the researchers made all participants read, the geoengineering group was actually less polarized on whether the science is solid than the control group was.
    • What’s going on here? Not only was it a matter of conservative skepticism of climate science shrinking in the geoengineering group, but liberals in the geoengineering group became more likely to question the science. The researchers wonder whether many liberals’ concerns about geoengineering’s potential pitfalls made them more likely to question the science. Meanwhile, more conservatives in the geoengineering group could have accepted the information because geoengineering wouldn’t entail the emissions-cutting policies they oppose.
  • Fossil fuel industry protests over 'risky' assets warning from energy secretary: Oil and gas industry expresses concern in a letter to Ed Davey about his comments on fossil fuel assets becoming unburnable to stop dangerous climate change
    • The strong reactions reveal the depth of concern inside fossil fuel companies at analyses showing there are already three times more fossil fuels in proven reserves than can be burned if global warming is to be limited to 2C, the pledge made by the world’s nations. If a global climate deal makes good on that pledge, those coal, oil and gas reserves could become worthless, potentially losing investors trillions of dollars. Fossil fuel companies, which spent $650bn (£422bn) in 2013, searching for more reserves are also under attack from a fast-growing divestment campaign, which has persuaded over 180 groups to dump their fossil fuel stocks.
  • Canadian mounties' secret memo casts doubt on climate change threat: Intelligence report identifies anti-petroleum movement as a threat to Canadian security and suggests those concerned with climate consequences occupy political fringe
    • The 44-page intelligence assessment of Canada’s environmental protest movement was prepared for the government of Stephen Harper, who is expected to roll out new anti-terror legislation. In the memo, obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, the RCMP repeatedly departs from the conclusions of an overwhelming majority of scientists – and the majority of elected leaders in the international arena – that climate change is a growing threat to global security. Instead, the memo on the “anti-Canada petroleum movement” presents continued expansion of oil and gas production as an inevitability, and repeatedly casts doubt on the causes and consequences of climate change.
    • The RCMP did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
  • California Water Becomes Scarce and Energy Hungry: Supplying Water to Californians Takes a Lot of Energy
    • With water projects currently being planned in California, annual electricity demand of the state’s water supply is expected to increase to 48,000 gigawatt hours from 42,000 gigawatt hours, Averyt said. The largest individual consumer of electricity in California is the State Water Project, the set of pumps and aqueduct system that sends water from Northern California to residents and farmers in Southern California.
    • Water-related energy use represents 19 percent of California’s electricity consumption, using 30 percent of the state’s natural gas and burning 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually, according to a 2014 Congressional Research Service report. Up to 40 percent of a city’s government’s energy bill can be consumed by its water and wastewater treatment systems, and up to 13 percent of U.S. electric power use nationwide is water-related, the report says. Across the West, about 20 percent of total electric power generation is used for supplying and heating water, including the region’s most energy-intensive water project, Central Arizona Project. The CAP stretches 300 miles and climbs 3,000 feet in elevation before delivering Colorado River water to Phoenix.
  • Jeb Bush's private investments in fracking dovetail with public advocacy: "Some states, like yours here in New York, are choosing not to grow. They won't approve fracking," Bush said, his veiled shot at Cuomo drawing roars of approval from Republicans gathered at a Sheraton in Manhattan. "Meanwhile, in parts of New York where huge opportunities exist for the restoration of economic activity, people languish."
    • Bush left unmentioned that fracking in the Marcellus Shale beneath the New York-Pennsylvania border also presented a big opportunity for himself.
    • One of his private equity enterprises at that time was raising $40 million to back a Denver-based company acquiring fracking wells in hopes New York would lift its ban. The company, Inflection Energy, has active leases in Pennsylvania, and one of Bush's equity partners sits on the board. He also has fracking ties through a separate business with both of his sons.
    • The intersection between Bush's private and public life — calls for fracking have been a part of his speeches and came as recently as last month in San Francisco — triggers questions of disclosure.
    • "Voters have long been concerned about financial portfolios of politicians because they want to be assured there is no conflict of interest, that there is no potential personal enrichment involved in their policies," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Is grass-fed beef really better for you, the animal and the planet?:
    • First, let’s establish what we’re talking about. All U.S. beef cattle are started on grass, so “grass-fed” actually means “grass-finished,” or fed grass their whole lives. The USDA specifies that, to qualify as “grass-fed,” the animal has to eat “grass and forage” exclusively (after weaning) and must have “continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” It does not specify how much feed has to be from that pasture; hay and other harvested forage is allowed. (There are also third-party certification programs with varying criteria.)
    • "the answer is complicated." ael: Perhaps the best answer is "it depends", on a lot of things (but primarily management).
  • At last, proof of a climate scientist getting rich pedaling science. Ten quotes from pundits and politicians on the right denouncing climate scientists for selling out for grant money. We have a smoking gun – except it points to one of their own, supported with fossil fuel money.


  • Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher: newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.
    • He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.
    • The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
    • The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Mass., is a joint venture between Harvard and the Smithsonian Institution, housing some 300 scientists from both institutions. Because the Smithsonian is a government agency, Greenpeace was able to request that Dr. Soon’s correspondence and grant agreements be released under the Freedom of Information Act.
    • Though often described on conservative news programs as a “Harvard astrophysicist,” Dr. Soon is not an astrophysicist and has never been employed by Harvard. He is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering. He has received little federal research money over the past decade and is thus responsible for bringing in his own funds, including his salary.
    • Though he has little formal training in climatology, Dr. Soon has for years published papers trying to show that variations in the sun’s energy can explain most recent global warming. His thesis is that human activity has played a relatively small role in causing climate change.


  • Shell and ExxonMobil, as well as the Dutch government, ignored for decades that drilling in Europe’s largest gas field was causing earthquakes that put human lives and property at risk.: That’s the takeaway of a new report out this week from an independent group advising the Dutch government. As the natural gas beneath the Netherlands has dwindled in recent years, residents of Groningen County have experienced an increasing number of earthquakes. Last year, the area was hit with 84. The New York Times summarized what’s going on in
  • Is 'Net-Zero' Carbon Goal to Rescue the Climate Plausible?: Scientists and policy experts say the time has come to phase out carbon emissions entirely; Shell, Exxon and BP call it an unrealistic idea.
    • The most striking recent development to emerge from UN climate negotiations is the growing consensus that within a generation the whole world will have to stop spewing carbon dioxide into the air from energy use. This means that within the lifetimes of today's toddlers we would entirely eliminate CO2 emissions, unless they are offset by subtractions. (Carbon dioxide could be subtracted naturally, for example, by growing more trees.)
  • Global Warming Could Make the Super-Rich Jealous of Rowhouse Residents:
    • The panel, including scientists and infrastructure and risk-management experts, was established during the Bloomberg years to forecast climate trends and advise on resiliency. Its report projects that sea levels will probably rise four to eight inches in New York City in the 2020s and perhaps up to 75 inches by the beginning of the 22nd century. By 2080, mean temperature in New York City during a typical year “may bear similarities to those of a city like Norfolk, Va.,” the report states.
    • Other unsettling predictions (based on NASA modeling tools) abound. From 1971 to 2000, mean annual temperature in New York City was 54 degrees; by 2100, the report said, the mean temperature could be as high as 66 degrees. By the 2050s, the number of heat waves per year is expected to more than double in the city (relative to the 29-year base period between 1971 and 2000) with the number of days at or above 90 degrees reaching somewhere between 32 and 57. By the 2080s, there could be 75 days a year of 90-degree weather. And of course there is no statistical apparatus available to forecast the uptick in distemper likely to accompany these changes.
  • Turning muck into money: the biogas revolution takes off: Waste processing isn’t the sexiest of industries, but it’s crucial to combating climate change. Now governments are investing in technologies like anaerobic digestion
    • New Generation Biogas (NGB), founded in 2009, has developed a new type of anaerobic digestion (AD) plant. AD plants use microbes to process waste, separating out useful gases and nutrients to make energy and fertiliser. NGB’s Archemax system has been created off the back of decades of data, and its inventors say its algorithms make it faster and more efficient than anything else on the market. It can also dramatically reduce methane emissions.
    • However, within the university there was a solution; a technology which turns this liquid into fertiliser pellets. Fivelman licensed the technology to create his business. “Our system is a bolt-on, which can be put at the end of any existing AD plant. It takes the liquid and removes the nutrients to make a product. It’s literally turning muck into money.”
    • ADFerTech has gained grant funding totalling nearly £600,000 from government agencies such as Innovate UK, Invest NI, Waste Resources Action Programme and Climate-KIC, and is set to start selling its prototype model this year. Fivelman expects his units to sell in the £150,000-£200,000 range and says his market research suggests significant demand. “Every AD plant I have spoken to wanted it. It’s a lot cheaper than building a waste water treatment plant, which can cost £1m or more and is still very expensive to maintain. These are a lot cheaper and a lot cleaner.”
  • Influential financiers making their own moves to divest from some fossil fuels: Last week, demonstrators in Toronto decried the financial services industry's involvement with Albertan oil sands at the city's stock exchange, students at Australian National University protested a local bank's involvement with the coal industry, and New Yorkers walked down Manhattan to Wall Street to make their case for fossil fuel divestment.
    • Warren Buffett sold all of his shares from two oil and gas majors — Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips Co. — worth $3.87 billion and $36 million, respectively, according to Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s latest 13F filings. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sold its entire Exxon position, too — jettisoning $765.9 million overall last quarter. And George Soros got out of Exxon, as well, shedding $88 million worth of the stock through a put option. Securities and Exchange Commission filings detail how the Harvard Management Company Inc., which oversees a small slice of the university's finances, sold all its shares of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP, an oil services and transportation firm, amounting to a $97 million sale.


  • Hottest 12 Months On Record Globally Thanks To Warm January, Reports NASA: Even though we just set the 12-month global temperature record, we are all but certain to blow past that record for the period March 2014–February 2015. That’s because February 2015 will replace February 2014 in the 12-month record, and last February was relatively cool globally whereas this February is on track to be on quite warm globally (notwithstanding the U.S. East Coast). “The last 12 months have been the hottest 12 months ever recorded,” said climate expert Professor John Abraham. “So far, this February is much hotter than last year’s. This means that in a month, we will again break the all time record. These records just keep falling.”
  • The weird way that climate change could lead to new disease outbreaks around the world: The basic underpinning of this “climate change causes infectious disease” model is that warming temperatures and other forms of “climatological variation” have the potential to fundamentally change natural habitats. As habitats change, this ultimately leads to wildlife, crops, livestock and humans being exposed to new pathogens. In some cases, these pathogens find new susceptible hosts and are able to spread quickly.
  • Scientists are pushed to leap the gulf between their findings and public opinion on climate change : Most scientists are willing and ready to get involved in public policy debates, finds a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, even as communication experts warned scientists last week of the pitfalls of communicating about political hot potatoes such as climate change.
  • BP: huge rise in energy demand at odds with climate change fight: Rising global demand for energy over the next two decades is at odds with the fight against climate change, the head of BP said on Tuesday, as he outlined the oil giant’s forecasts showing unsustainable increases in carbon emissions. BP’s annual energy outlook predicted that the world economy would double in size in the next 20 years, resulting in demand for energy rising by almost 40%. The company said two-thirds of this demand would be met from fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – and that this would lead to a 25% increase in carbon emissions.


  • Cameron, Clegg and Miliband sign joint climate pledge: Three party leaders make cross-party declaration to tackle climate change in a rare show of unity in the runup to the general election. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition have all clashed over green issues, but the joint declaration states: “Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.”
  • U.S. companies pledge to build 20 GW of renewable energy in India: "The SBI did not disclose the size of the financing package but 1,000 MW of solar typically costs about $1 billion."
  • Wetlands, swamps 'hold great potential' to store carbon, fight climate change: Scientists from Deakin University in Victoria said freshwater wetlands had the potential to capture and store carbon for hundreds of years. "We know from those initial studies that the potential for carbon to be stored in these systems is huge," Deakin academic Rebecca Lester said. "Wetlands can store approximately 50 times as much carbon as quite high carbon sequestration ecosystems such as tropical rainforests.
  • Effort afoot to ramp up study of ocean’s changing chemistry: Members of a multidisciplinary panel tackling the related problems of ocean acidification and low-oxygen zones off the western shore of the continent conceded Sunday they had little to offer yet in the way of solutions beyond what most of us know: We need to dump less carbon dioxide into the air.
  • Germany moves to legalise fracking: Four-year moratorium on shale drills set to be overturned as country initiates process to allow regulated hydraulic fracturing for shale gas
  • Fossil fuel industry must take stranded assets seriously, says Tim Yeo: Tory MP counters position of Shell’s boss, Ben van Beurden, that those who say fossil fuels should be left in the ground are misguided
    • Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, told a dinner of the international petroleum industry last week that those who argued fossil fuels should be kept in the ground were misguided in a world of rising energy demand. Yeo, however, said the company should be wary: “I do believe the problem of stranded assets [where fossil fuels are rendered worthless because they cannot be burned in a world threatened by global warming] is a real one now. “Investors are starting to think by 2030 the world will be in such a panic about climate change that either by law or by price it will be very hard to burn fossil fuels on anything like the scale we are doing at the moment.”
  • Scientists: No, We Can't Fight Climate Change by Burning Trees Dozens of experts are criticizing an EPA memo on biomass. "a November 2014 EPA policy memo … discounts emissions generated by burning biomass, including plants, trees, and other wood products known as sources of biogenic carbon dioxide. Critics said they fear the memo shows how biomass might be treated under the EPA's forthcoming Clean Power Plan, which will set the first regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The EPA is expected to finalize those regulations by summer."


  • World's biggest sovereign wealth fund dumps dozens of coal companies: The world’s richest sovereign wealth fund removed 32 coal mining companies from its portfolio in 2014, citing the risk they face from regulatory action on climate change. Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth $850bn (£556bn) and founded on the nation’s oil and gas wealth, revealed a total of 114 companies had been dumped on environmental and climate grounds in its first report on responsible investing, released on Thursday. The companies divested also include tar sands producers, cement makers and gold miners.
  • Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?: We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from climate change to vaccinations—faces furious opposition. Some even have doubts about the moon landing.
    • In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again.
    • “Everybody should be questioning,” says McNutt. “That’s a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.” We need to get a lot better at finding answers, because it’s certain the questions won’t be getting any simpler.
  • The Cost of Clean Coal: A Mississippi power plant promises to create clean energy from our dirtiest fuel. But it will come at a price.
  • Nebraska Judge Halts TransCanada's Use Of Eminent Domain For Keystone Route: A Nebraska judge has issued a temporary injunction barring TransCanada from using eminent domain to force landowners to sell rights allowing the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on their property. Pipeline owner TransCanada said it will suspend all eminent domain proceedings, including those against landowners who are not among those who sued the company. The company said in a statement that it will seek an accelerated schedule for a trial. TransCanada filed paperwork in late January to begin using eminent domain to acquire land along the pipeline path from owners who didn't agree to sell rights to the company. This came shortly after the Nebraska state Supreme Court issued a decision that essentially cleared the way for the pipeline, though it left some open legal questions about the process the state had used to approve the route.
  • Blowing away myths: Study says wind energy could be even more reliable than baseload power: But in a report releasedThursday and an accompanying webinar, experts with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) explained how wind can actually be seen as a more reliable source than conventional power plants — one that contributes to rather than inhibits the stability of the grid as a whole.
    • The truth about variability: Overwrought concerns about wind’s reliability often center on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the grid works, the report indicates. Since its inception more than a century ago, the grid has inherently handled a constant flux of supply and demand. All power sources involve some level of variability, and demand can vary greatly minute by minute. For example, AWEA points to energy demand during a 1990 World Cup game between England and Germany when demand spiked sharply during breaks, presumably as people quickly turned on appliances or electronics then turned them off once the game resumed.
    • The report notes the strikingly large amounts of wind energy that are already being used in some states. In 2013, Iowa and South Dakota both got more than a quarter of their energy from wind and nine states got more than 12 percent. Texas got 10 percent of its energy from wind last year, an amount expected to increase to 15 or 20 percent by 2017.
    • As wind energy continues to expand, arguments against reliance on wind energy and tax supports for wind farms are likely to continue. The report notes that no “rational voice” would advocate 100 percent of the nation’s or a region’s power come from wind energy… [that's funny — I do!:) Well, actually, I think that wind and solar should be sufficient, but my preference is for wind.]
  • California calls on pension funds to divest from coal in climate change push: Senate bill to force two state pensions funds – largest in US – to ditch coal is part of effort to generate 50% of power from wind and solar and halve gasoline use. America’s biggest state pension funds came under rising pressure on Tuesday to dump coal companies from their combined $500bn portfolio, in a major escalation of the fossil fuel divestment campaign.
  • Droughts Will Hammer U.S. West as 21st Century Unfolds: Human-caused global warming will create conditions more severe than any in past 1,000 years, new research shows.
  • Global warming may be affecting jet stream: A winter of strange weather and turbulent transatlantic flights in the northern hemisphere has scientists asking: Has a predicted climate imbalance of the jet stream begun?
    • The Arctic is warming faster than other parts of the world, and scientists believe that is having a dramatic impact on the jet stream, which may be responsible for the unusual weather and stronger upper atmospheric winds of late. On January 8, thousands of Britons were left without electricity in the aftermath of the most violent storms to hit the isles in more than a century. British Airways Flight 114 carried by strong winds journeyed from New York to London in a record five hours and 16 minutes. Several jetliners flying from Europe to North America in recent weeks faced powerful headwinds, which forced them to make unscheduled mid-flight stops to refuel.


  • Global Warming: What Should Be Done?: The New York Times, Stanford University and Resources for the Future have conducted a nationwide survey about global warming. The poll asked people for their views on whether global warming will be beneficial or detrimental, about how the president and Congress have responded to it, and what they believe government should do about it.
  • Climate may have fluke on the move: Like every other living organism, fish just want to be comfortable. That's why, in the face of warming ocean water, they may be on the move. Dr. Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University, who studies the effects of climate change in fisheries, said many species are shifting to the north at a time when the climate has been warming. "We're seeing a climate fingerprint in many of these shifts in species distribution," Dr. Pinsky said.
  • Sun-free farming: Indoor crops under the spotlight: Stacking plants on electrically lit shelves is a very compact way of growing food
  • Mirroring oil, this fossil fuel is plunging, too: Oil isn't the only fossil fuel that's getting cheaper. The plunge in oil prices is mirrored by the cost of coal, which has been cut in half since 2011 and is expected to keep falling. What's more, the drop in prices is adding pressure to U.S. coal producers. Coal prices are falling for the same reasons crude is selling for half what it did last summer: There's too much supply at a time when global demand for coal is cooling.
  • Changes to algae in remote lakes warning signs of climate change: Queen's researchers:
    • Biology professors Neal Michelutti and John Smol from the university’s Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL) travelled to Cajas National Park in Ecuador last August. The researchers collected core samples from the bottom of the lake, which showed major changes to microscopic algae called diatoms in the past several centuries. “We know there have been big changes in climate in recent years, but we can’t put that in perspective unless you go back hundreds or thousands of years,” Michelutti said. The core samples showed that about 50 years ago, around the 1960s when temperatures began to rise, there was a significant increase in open-water diatoms in all three lakes. These algae are particularly sensitive to changing conditions and are considered sentinels of environmental change, often signalling a change in the physical properties of the water column, which can affect how nutrients circulate through the lake.
    • “The big advantage of lakes is they have a history book at the bottom — the lake sediments. Anyone can measure the temperature now, but no one knows what the temperature was like in the 1850s,” Smol said. “The fact that we can do the paleo record, we can show (that), no, this isn’t part of some long-term cycle. No, this doesn’t happen every 50 years.”


  • Naomi Klein on how to build a more kick-ass climate movement: I feel like it almost needs to be simple enough to fit on a postcard: What is it that we’re fighting for? We’re fighting to leave it in the ground: no new fossil fuel frontiers. We’re fighting for societies powered by 100 percent renewable energy. We’re fighting for free public transit. We’re fighting for the principle that polluters should pay, that how we pay for the transition has to be justice-based. We’re fighting for the principle of frontlines first, that the people who got the worst deal in the old economy should be the first in line to benefit in the new economy. Those are some principles that we can all agree on and rally behind.
  • Climate Intervention: Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration and Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth: Climate intervention is no substitute for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and adaptation efforts aimed at reducing the negative consequences of climate change. However, as our planet enters a period of changing climate never before experienced in recorded human history, interest is growing in the potential for deliberate intervention in the climate system to counter climate change. This study assesses the potential impacts, benefits, and costs of two different proposed classes of climate intervention: (1) carbon dioxide removal and (2) albedo modification (reflecting sunlight). Carbon dioxide removal strategies address a key driver of climate change, but research is needed to fully assess if any of these technologies could be appropriate for large-scale deployment. Albedo modification strategies could rapidly cool the planet’s surface but pose envi­ronmental and other risks that are not well understood and therefore should not be deployed at climate-altering scales; more research is needed to determine if albedo modification approaches could be viable in the future.
  • Map of 73 Years of Lynchings: The most recent data on lynching, compiled by the Equal Justice Initiative, shows premeditated murders carried out by at least three people from 1877 to 1950 in 12 Southern states. The killers claimed to be enforcing some form of social justice. The alleged offenses that prompted the lynchings included political activism and testifying in court. [Why is this here? Because climate change is about social justice; and Americans, though they like to imagine themselves as socially just, are not — and have not been — socially just. This is just one relatively "unknown" story — although it's truly known….]
  • Yellowstone grizzlies exiting winter hibernation early amid mild weather: Grizzly bears at Yellowstone National Park are emerging from winter hibernation weeks earlier than normal because of the arrival of spring-like weather, with warmer-than-usual temperatures and rain instead of snow, a park spokesman said on Tuesday.
  • Solar farm capable of powering 160,000 homes opens in California: One of the largest solar energy farms in the world has opened in Southern California's desert, with 160,000 homes now able to power lights and appliances through sunlight converted into electricity, federal officials said on Tuesday.
    • Project owners, NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, GE Energy Financial Services, and Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, benefited from about $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees from the Department of Energy. The loan program has been derided as a waste of money, with critics pointing to several large startups that took federal money then declared bankruptcy. But in November, a Department of Energy report showed the program was in the black, with interest payments from funded projects bringing in more money than the losses sustained from failed loans.


  • Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Rock, and Burying It: In a test that began in 2012, scientists had injected hundreds of tons of water and carbon dioxide gas 1,500 feet down into layers of porous basaltic rock, the product of ancient lava flows from the nearby Hengill volcano.
  • Ice core suggests humans damaged atmosphere long before the industrial revolution: Hike nearly 5500 meters up in the Peruvian Andes and you’ll find the Quelccaya Ice Cap. The landscape is stark and seemingly pristine, with barely a shrub eking out a living on the rocks surrounding the tropical glacier. But drill into that ice and you’ll find a dirty history: the record of air pollution in South America. New research on an ice core taken from Quelccaya reveals that humans began polluting the region centuries before the industrial revolution arrived with its steam engines and coal plants. The results suggest that the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch defined by humans’ effect on the planet, began at different times around the world.
  • Why climate scientists are right about how hot the planet is going to get: It’s in this context that a new piece of evidence — just published in the journal Nature — backs up the IPCC [in their claim that best estimate right now for this quantity is roughly 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius for a doubling of carbon dioxide]. And it comes, of all places, from a set of tiny microorganisms, preserved in ocean sediments, whose shells hold chemical fingerprints of past carbon dioxide concentrations going back millions of years. An analysis of these carbon dioxide fingerprints, in conjunction with other climate records stretching back millions of years, shows that Earth’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide has long fallen in that familiar 1.5 to 4.5 degree range.
  • Climate at a Glance: (from NOAA — data, analysis, etc.)


  • Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh! This is too beautiful! I had to start off with this comic that my daughter and I found. It speaks for itself…

  • Uncertainty over massive Queensland mine after election shock and concerns over Indian company: Undoubtedly this is a project of national significance. It promises to open the vast inland Galilee Basin. To allow that to happen there is a need for a new coal rail line, hundreds of kilometres long, from the mine to Abbot Point Port north of Mackay. There an already-substantial coal terminal will be expanded to handle Carmichael's huge output. Indian billionaire Gautam Adani. But the significance of Adani's mine, if constructed, is not just the economic boon that producing up to 60 million tonnes of coal a year would bring – increasing Queensland's coal production by one-third and as much as doubling the state's thermal coal exports – but also that the coal will be shipped through the Great Barrier Reef to India.
  • Norway Oil Fund Divests Risky Assets: Norway’s sovereign-wealth fund on Thursday said it divested itself from 49 risky assets in 2014 due to uncertainty about the sustainability of their business models. Norway’s sovereign-wealth fund on Thursday said it divested itself from 49 risky assets in 2014 due to uncertainty about the sustainability of their business models. The world’s biggest fund, which has been built on the country’s oil and gas revenues, said that it divested from companies that could be exposed to new climate and environmental regulations.
  • Science doesn’t mean that much when it comes to arguing with climate deniers: “Believers and sceptics [sic] are united, but only insofar as they are united in opposition to each other,” reads the paper. The problem is something called intergroup conflict,” which psychologist Tom Postmes of the University of Groningen describes as vaguely tribal. Both groups view the issue in terms of “us and them,” and their philosophies “revolve around the awareness of ‘us’ in opposition to ‘them’ with very clear boundaries between groups.” For that reason, “strategies for building support for [climate] mitigation policies should go beyond attempts to improve the public’s understanding of science,” said Ana-Maria Bliuc, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Monash University in Australia.


  • How lowly termites save grasslands for lions, elephants, and people: How lowly termites save grasslands for lions, elephants, and people. New research shows how termite mounds aerate the soil, helping to buffer grassland from the effects of climate change and slow the pace of desertification.
  • Melting ice spells volcanic trouble: Melting ice is causing the land to rise up in Iceland – and perhaps elsewhere. The result, judging by new findings on the floor of the Southern Ocean, could be a dramatic surge in volcanic eruptions. Last week, researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson showed that a recent dramatic uplift of the Earth's crust in parts of Iceland coincided with the rapid melting of nearby glaciers.
  • Undersea Volcanoes May Be Impacting Climate Change: A new study claims that volcanic eruptions along the ocean floor may impact earth’s climate cycle and that predictive models, including those that analyze humanity’s impact on climate change, may need to be modified.
  • Climate change may create a Wild West that cowboys wouldn't recognize, Colo. researchers report: The report "Future climate projections indicate that Colorado is likely to see rising average temperatures, longer and hotter heat waves in summer, and earlier snow melt," the authors write. "Although virtually any aspect of Colorado's economy could be affected by changes in the climate, specific industries that rely on natural resources — agriculture, tourism and recreation, and mining and extraction — are particularly vulnerable."
    • Colorado has seen average annual temperature increases of 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the past 30 years and 2.5 F in the past 50 years. Since 2000, snowpack levels have hovered below average in all eight of the state's major river basins just as snowmelt and peak runoff periods have shifted one to four weeks earlier in the last three decades.
    • Nonetheless, the authors caution, precipitation remains a wild card: The Centennial State's climate history neither provides any information about long-term precipitation trends nor indicates that heavier rains and flooding will come statewide, the report found.
  • BP embraces climate change risk resolution: BP will advise shareholders to back a resolution on climate change at April’s annual general meeting. The resolution, similar to one endorsed by Shell last week, will force the company to reveal the risks climate action poses to its business plan. That is likely to heighten scrutiny on high cost projects like its “Sunrise” venture in Canada’s tar sands. Analysts say these could struggle to turn a profit as governments act to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.
  • Health, environmental groups seek fracking moratorium:Health and environmental advocates are seeking an eight-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland to allow more time for research on its risks.


  • Ancient climate records 'back predictions': The evidence came from ancient plankton fossils drilled from the ocean floor. These creatures' shells contain clues as to how the global climate cycled from cool to warm many times some 2.3 to 3.3 million years ago, across what researchers refer to as the Pliocene and Pleistocene Epochs in Earth history.
    • "We have shown that the change in Earth's temperature for a given change in CO2, once the effect of the growth and retreat of the highly reflective continental ice sheets was taken into account, was not only identical during both the cold Pleistocene and warm Pliocene periods, but was also similar to the understanding recently summarised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)," said co-researcher Dr Gavin Foster of the University of Southampton.
  • CEOs call for zero emissions goal in Paris climate deal: A group of high-profile CEOs on Thursday called on world leaders to agree to bring the balance of greenhouse gas emissions to zero by mid-century in a global climate change deal to be finalized in Paris in December. The leaders of B Team, a coalition about 12 CEOs and policymakers including Virgin founder Richard Branson, Unilever chief Paul Polman and Tata International's Ratan Tata, said a global net-zero emissions goal by 2050 will prompt businesses to embed new investments and clean energy research into their business strategies.
  • Winter Loses Its Cool: Interactive demo showing how winter will change (nights below freezing) at various cities in the U.S.
  • U.S. Coal Declines, Bucks Global Trend: Signs of coal’s decline are written all over the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual coal report released this week, showing that despite a slight increase in coal consumption in 2013, coal production is down and coal mining jobs are down even more. The EIA’s 2014 coal analysis will be released at the end of this year.



  • A Fresh Look at the Watery Side of Earth’s Climate Shows ‘Unabated Planetary Warming’: A fresh analysis of thousands of temperature measurements from deep-diving Argo ocean probes shows (yet again) that Earth is experiencing “unabated planetary warming” when you factor in the vast amount of greenhouse-trapped heat that ends up in the sea. This is not even close to a new finding, but the new study shows more precisely where most of the heat has been going since 2006 (in the Southern Ocean outside the tropics…).
  • Scientists Seeking to Save World Find Best Technology Is Trees: Oxford University scientists, after a year of research, have determined the best technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and try to reverse global warming.
    • It’s trees.
    • They considered methods ranging from capturing emissions from factories and power stations to extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air, and adding lime to oceans to increase their absorption of the gas, a study released on Tuesday showed.
    • None were more promising than planting trees, or baking waste wood to form a type of charcoal that can be added to soil. Relative to other so-called Negative Emissions Technologies, afforestation and biochar are low-cost, have fewer uncertainties and offer other benefits to the environment, the research shows
  • Solving the Human Predicament: Fixed human behaviour tendencies have blocked action toward a sustainable future. Despite over 50 years of effort by scientists and environmentalists, the future of the human endeavour can no longer be taken for granted. This is due primarily to our nature. We have failed to realize our own behaviour patterns are the root cause of our predicament and have mistakenly believed that mountains of evidence would make the difference. For decades scientists have produced evidence describing the serious environmental threats we face. Their work has failed to ignite a significant public response because our message has not been delivered in a manner that addresses the drivers of human behaviour. We now understand humans are confronted with subconscious behaviour tendencies that served us well at an earlier period, but still remain in our incomplete evolutionary development. At our present stage of intellectual development, lingering malignant social constructs, especially capitalism and economic growth, impede our ability to move forward on environmental issues.


  • A 50th anniversary few remember: LBJ's warning on carbon dioxide: "Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places," said Johnson less than three weeks after his 1965 inauguration. "This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels."
    • A report was commissioned: Restoring the Quality of Our Environment. This begs the question: what has happened in 50 years? (Here's a local copy.)
    • ael: in glancing at the report, I find an appendix with names like Revelle, Keeling, and Broecker on it. They say, in particular, that "Through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years."
  • Terrifying video shows smog taking over the earth: The video above, produced by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center between September 2006 and April 2007, shows the paths of air pollution particles (called aerosols) traveling across the globe and, scientists believe, strengthening storms and cyclones.
  • Obama ignores Obama on climate change: “[Obama has] clearly committed to leave a safe and healthy environment for future generations. But then he remains committed to this ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy.” You can’t have it both ways.
  • Fracking set to be banned from 40% of England's shale areas
  • I received the following from a colleague at NKU: it's perfect for today!

January, 2015

What's Going on: 2014

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