March 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

March, 2015

3/31/2015

  • Retro news: Cronkite's 1980 global warming alert: This Friday is the 35-year anniversary of a climate change preview from Walter Cronkite and CBS News. On April 3, 1980, Cronkite tossed to a news piece from CBS veteran Nelson Benton. Thirty-five years ago, for two and half minutes – an eternity even then by TV news standards and a near-impossibility today – a broadcast anchored by The Most Trusted Man in America tried to warn us about climate change.
    • Walter Cronkite: "… a coal burning society may be making things hot on itself."
    • Paul Tsongas: "Possible, probable, we really don't know. But if it happens it means goodbye Miami, goodbye Corpus Cristi, goodbye Sacramento, goodbye Boston …, goodbye New Orleans, goodbye Charleston, Savannah, and Norfolk. On the positive side, it means that we could enjoy boating at the foot of the capital and fishing on the South Lawn."
    • Scary Maps From 1980 Show How Long Scientists Have Been Warning About Rising Sea Levels
    • "Noah knew trouble was coming, and he prepared for it."
  • Climate Change Threatens to Kill Off More Aspen Forests by 2050s, Scientists Say
  • The central Victorian sun powers world's first concentrated solar power station: This is the world's first concentrated solar photovoltaic (CSPV) power station just launched by research and development company, RayGen Resources…. "The collector field focuses the light on the receiver. The receiver directly converts that light to electricity," said co-founder and technical director of RayGen, John Lasich.
  • USC study finds urchins work overtime to cope with rising ocean acidity: They found urchins living in acidic waters need to work harder at a basic life function – growing and rebuilding cells by processing protein. Manahan and his team found that urchins are working a little more than twice as hard – leaving less energy to fight other environmental stressors like disease and pollution.
  • Despite deforestation, the world is getting greener: scientists: The world's vegetation has expanded, adding nearly 4 billion tonnes of carbon to plants above ground in the decade since 2003, thanks to tree-planting in China, forest regrowth in former Soviet states and more lush savannas due to higher rainfall. Scientists analyzed 20 years of satellite data and found the increase in carbon, despite ongoing large-scale tropical deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia, according to research published on Monday in Nature Climate Change.
  • Canada Pushes Ahead with Alternatives to Keystone XL:
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  • Poll Finds Strong Majority Of Americans Support An International Climate Agreement: Sixty-five percent of respondents said they thought the United States “should take the lead and make meaningful reductions in its carbon emissions and other gases that may cause global warming.” Even a majority of Republican respondents — 52 percent –- expressed support for the U.S. joining an international agreement on climate change. A much stronger percentage of Democrats, at 88 percent, supported it, as did 73 percent of independents.
  • Limiting climate change could have huge economic benefits, study finds: Stopping global warming at two degrees would create nearly half a million jobs in Europe and save over a million lives in China, analysis of emissions pledges says
  • Dilbit in Exxon's Pegasus May Have Contributed to Pipeline's Rupture: Experts say the heavier, high-sulfur oil from Canada could have created bigger pressure swings and promoted crack growth in the old, flawed pipe.
  • Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change:
    • In 1972, John Stanley Sawyer, a prominent British meteorologist, predicted in the journal Nature (accurately, as it would turn out) that the planet would warm by about 0.6 degrees Celsius by the year 2000, as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increased by 25 percent because of fossil-fuel use. The National Research Council reported in 1977 that warming from carbon dioxide emissions was likely—a clear sign that the problem was becoming a significant concern.
    • Related: 40 Years On: 'It's Time We Start Listening' to Global Warming Prediction: Paper written four decades ago warned of global warming, accurately predicted temperature rise
    • [ael: This on-line book has a wonderful backgrounder to the political machinations that have gotten us to this horrid place.]
  • UN green climate fund can be spent on coal-fired power generation: Rules agreed a meeting of fund’s board described by Friends of the Earth as ‘like a torture convention that does not forbid torture’
    • Japan designated $1bn in loans for coal plants in Indonesia as climate finance, according to reporting by the Associated Press. Last week Japan counted another $630m in loans for coal plants in India and Bangladesh as climate finance. Japan claims the projects are less polluting than older coal-fired plants and so qualify as clean energy. “Japan is of the view that the promotion of high-efficiency coal-fired power plants is one of the realistic, pragmatic and effective approaches to cope with the issue of climate change,” Takako Ito, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, told AP.
  • Dubai buildings must use green concrete: all new buildings coming up in Dubai will have to use green alternatives for original Portland cement (OPC), the major component of concrete mix that is found to emit toxic gases. With each tonne of OPC produced puffing out more than one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other toxic gases, the Dubai Municipality (DM) has made it mandatory for consultants and contractors to use more of greener and safer alternatives like Fly Ash, and Ground Granulated Blast Furnace Slag (GGBFS), officials said at a Press conference.
    • When one tonne of cement is produced, studies have found, 164kg of dust is also dumped to the air, which contributes to intensifying the phenomenon of global warming and also causes several diseases including cancer…. With a minimum of 66 per cent of these materials in the concrete, which are recyclable byproducts from other industries, the concrete mix becomes stronger. Apart from causing less emission of dust and fume, they are better resistant to water, salt and sulfate. Raffia said the ash and slag are considered lifetime materials that give 40 more years for buildings. “We have calculated an estimated saving of Dh192 billion for Dubai because of the extended durability of buildings.”

3/30/2015

  • Heat Tolerant, Tough Teeth, Lots Of Milk — They're Supergoats!:
    • Villagers in a rural district of Kenya are getting a helping hoof to adapt to climate change. A newly introduced breed of "supergoat" is cutting the number of months per year that villagers in the district of Nyando go hungry. Galla goats are tough, but loving. They tolerate heat and drought and have great teeth (which means they rarely need to be culled due to worn-down chompers). The goats also produce a lot of nutritious milk and mature more quickly than the old straggly looking breeds that the Nyando farmers are used to keeping. And the females are really good moms, breeding and rearing kids for up to 10 years.
  • Rockefeller family tried and failed to get ExxonMobil to accept climate change: Founding family of the US oil empire Exxon, begged the company to give up climate denial and reform their ways a decade ago – but attempts at engagement failed
    • The US environmentalist Bill McKibben says the failure of the family’s efforts is telling and signals the limits of shareholder engagement with some fossil fuel companies. “It makes a very clear point that engaging with fossil fuel companies to somehow get them to change their ways is unlikely to work if the family of the founder can’t get Exxon to shift.” The Rockefeller heirs also tried private and public pressure. Nearly 100 direct descendants also signed a letter expressing concern as investors and begging the company to stop funding climate deniers, Goodwin said.
    • “I was pretty discouraged. Exxon has an extremely strong culture of believing that they are right and know what they are doing and really don’t need to listen to anybody else,” Goodwin went on. “It was clear that we didn’t have an ability to make more of a dent in that.”
    • When the Guardian asked for a comment on the Rockefellers’ attempts to engage with the company it issued this statement. “ExxonMobil will not respond to Guardian inquiries because of its lack of objectivity on climate change reporting demonstrated by its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers.”
  • Media Contributing to ‘Hope Gap’ on Climate Change: News cycles tend to be dominated by horror and carnage — a recipe for depression that spills into climate change coverage, fueling what some experts call a ‘hope gap’ that can lead people to fret about global warming but feel powerless to do anything about it.
    • “I don’t find their major findings surprising,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, said of the study, with which he was not involved. “We find in our audience research that even the alarmed [those most concerned about climate change] don’t really know what they can do individually, or what we can do collectively. We call this loosely ‘the hope gap,’ and it’s a serious problem. Perceived threat without efficacy of response is usually a recipe for disengagement or fatalism.”
  • Republicans With a College Degree Are Less Likely to Worry About Global Warming: Education appears to deepen the divide between Democrats and Republicans over climate change.
    • Gallup concludes that "partisanship rather than education is a main lens through which Americans view global warming and its effects." Only 8 percent of Republicans with a college degree said that they "worry about global warming a great deal," compared with 23 percent of Republicans who had finished high school or dropped out without receiving a diploma. On the other end of the political spectrum, 50 percent of college-educated Democrats said that they "worry about global warming a great deal," compared with just 45 percent of Democrats with a high school diploma or less.

3/28/2015

  • California drought: Sierra Nevada snowpack hits historic low: The abominable snowpack in the Sierra Nevada reached an unprecedented low this week, dipping below the historic lows in 1977 and 2014 for the driest winter in 65 years of record-keeping.
    • “It’s certainly sobering when you consider that the snowpack in a normal year provides about 30 percent of what California needs in the summer and fall,” said Doug Carlson, the spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. “What this suggests is that we will have very little water running off. It accentuates the severity of the drought and emphasizes the importance of people cutting back on their water use.”
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3/27/2015

  • Antarctic ice shelves melting 70% faster, study shows: the frozen fringes of western Antarctica have been melting 70% faster in the last decade, raising concern that an important buttress keeping land-based ice sheets from flowing to the sea could collapse or vanish in coming decades, a new study shows.
    • The study adds to growing concern that climate change has altered the equilibrium of growth and melt on a part of the continent holding an estimated 530,000 cubic miles of ice. That's enough ice to raise the sea level by 11 feet, by some estimates.
    • His research, which analyzed 40 years of data, suggests that many glaciers already have reached a point of no return.
  • Record warmth reported in Antarctica as Melbourne shivers: To call this week's wintry chill across southern Australia a "burst from Antarctica" would be doing a disservice to parts of the usually frigid continent. Melbourne's meagre maximum of 15.3 degrees on Tuesday was actually more than 2 degrees cooler than Esperanza Base, an Argentine research station on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Victorian capital may be famous for its temperature swings – often within a day – but the 17.5 degree reading at Esperanza was outlandish even by Melburnian standards. That maximum is likely to be the highest ever recorded on the Antarctic continent, according to the Weather Underground blog.
    • Reports of the record warmth in Antarctica come as a study published on Thursday in the journal Science found the region's massive floating ice shelves are shrinking as the globe warms up. "Satellite data from 1994 to 2012 reveals an accelerating decline in Antarctica's massive floating ice shelves, with some shrinking 18 per cent, in a development that could hasten the rise in global sea levels, scientists say."
  • Japan Uses Climate Cash for Coal Plants: Despite mounting protests Japan continues to finance the building of coal-fired power plants with money earmarked for fighting climate change, with two new projects underway in India and Bangladesh
  • Pakistan shelves six coal-fired power projects: Pakistan has halted work on six coal-fired power projects of some 14,000 megawatts due to environmental concerns, lack of needed infrastructure and foreign investment.
  • Ted Cruz invokes Galileo to defend climate skepticism — and historians aren’t happy:
    • A number of science historians whom I contacted suggest otherwise. “Galileo was not attacked by his fellow scientists, he was attacked by the Catholic Church, the power structure of his day,” explains Naomi Oreskes, also a Harvard science historian. ” Climate contrarians are on the side of, and are supported by, the power structure of our day, which is the Republican Party and the carbon-combustion complex.”
    • “It may be convenient to portray climate change skeptics as the Galileos of our day, but it hardly fits with the available evidence,” says John Durant, a science historian and director of the MIT Museum. “Climate change skeptics are not pointing, as Galileo did, to telling observations that the rest of the scientific community is systematically ignoring; on the contrary, they’re peddling a kind of conspiracy theory that simply invites people to reject or ignore the vast quantities of scientific evidence — freely available in the peer reviewed literature — on which the scientific community bases its current knowledge about climate change.”

3/26/2015

  • Meet The Cool Beans Designed To Beat Climate Change:
    • A planet that is warming at extraordinary speed may require extraordinary new food crops. The latest great agricultural hope is beans that can thrive in temperatures that cripple most conventional beans. They're now growing in test plots of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, or CIAT, in Colombia.
    • Mejia-Jimenez, meanwhile, was drawn to the small bean's ability to tolerate harsh conditions, such as heat and drought. He wanted to transfer these genetic traits into the common bean. With persistence and a little help from technology, he succeeded. First, he used pollen from a tepary bean plant to fertilize the flower of a common bean. An embryo formed. In nature, that hybrid embryo would not survive to form a seed, but Mejia-Jimenez stepped in to rescue it. He carefully cut the immature embryo from the plant and placed it in a laboratory dish filled with nutrients, where it grew into a new plant. After several generations of such cross-breeding, he ended up with viable seeds that combined genetic traits from both the tepary bean and the common bean.
    • An international research network called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research sponsored a close look at how rising temperatures might affect bean production. The results were shocking. "It looked like we could lose 50 percent of our cropping area in one generation, by mid-century," says Beebe. This could be a disaster for the estimated 400 million people around the world who rely heavily on beans for nourishment.
    • Planting those new varieties has revealed that heat already may be seriously cutting into bean production. Farmers in Nicaragua recently started cultivating one of these black bean varieties — and it produced harvests twice as large as other beans that farmers had been planting. Similar results were observed in Costa Rica. "You put two and two together; they must have some heat stress out there," Beebe says.
  • Australia's $16B Carmichael Mine Blocked By Aboriginal Groups: Wangan and Jagalingou elder Adrian Burragubba reportedly wrote to the Queensland premier to warn that the mine would “tear the heart out of our country.” He told the Guardian that the mine threatened the Aboriginals’ way of life. “The mine will destroy the natural environment, it will damage our laws and customs beyond repair and further dispossess our people.
  • These scientists studied journalists covering science. Whoa, meta.: “Science is not finished until it’s communicated.” Indeed, as complicated as climate science is, the problem of how to communicate said science can sometimes seem even more complicated — which is a pretty big problem, considering that the fate of our species rests on how well we understand this stuff.

3/25/2015

  • UN climate chief joins alumni calling on Swarthmore to divest from fossil fuels: Figueres, in her letter said she shared the campaigners view that there was a “moral imperative” to quit the companies responsible for climate change.
  • Scientists Urge Museums to Sever Koch Ties: Dozens of scientists have signed an open letter to museums urging them to cut ties with donors and board members who deny climate change, singling out billionaire political donor David Koch, who sits on the boards of the two of the nation's largest natural history museums.
    • [ael: this is the true crux of it: conflict of interest in the most brutal sense.] "We are deeply concerned by the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science," says the letter, published Tuesday at thenaturalhistorymuseum.org. "David Koch’s oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States."
  • US coal sector in 'terminal decline', financial analysts say: Over 200 mines shut down and industry loses 76% of its value in five years, report finds
  • Is climate change denial immoral? US Episcopal Church says yes.
    • One of the most powerful women in Christianity, US Episcopal church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, told the Guardian that climate change denial amounts to denying God's gift of knowledge. An oceanographer before being ordained, Bishop Jefferts Schori says she wants to use her influence as the head of a church to influence others to take action to stop climate change.
    • The church hosted a webcast on Tuesday to encourage church members to lobby their legislators to do more to stop climate change. The webcast also provided suggestions how members could reduce their personal carbon footprint. Jefferts Schori said in her interview with the Guardian that, for many in the developing world, the effects of climate change are already a threat to their survival.
  • Arctic Ice Reaches a Low Winter Maximum: The winter ice covering the Arctic Ocean has reached its annual peak, but the extent of sea ice cover this winter is smaller than it has been at the end of any winter since 1978, when scientists began keeping consistent satellite records.
    • The center said that recent weather patterns partly explain why the maximum this year is smaller than in previous winters. The North Pacific was warm this year because the atmospheric jet stream of cold air looped farther north in that region than is typical. The jet stream also plunged farther south than usual near the United States, bringing cooling temperatures and triggering heavy snows in much of the country.

3/24/2015

  • Groups Want David Koch Unseated From Smithsonian, AMNH Boards: A new campaign urging science museums to cut ties with David Koch has thrown a spotlight on the billionaire Koch brothers' enormous philanthropic footprint and their oil interests, as they continue to undercut climate science, environmental regulations and clean energy.
    • At the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History… a video about global climate change runs in an endless loop. The video's text explains that the Earth's climate has been changing for millions of years and that while the shifts posed challenges for early humans, they adapted over time to survive. Beneath the video screen, a timeline shows the spikes and dips in the Earth’s average temperature over millions of years––including the steep increase of the last 100 years. Yet the climate display says nothing about the cause of the current era's higher temperatures: the enormous use of fossil fuels, the kind that form a core business of Koch Industries. Instead, the exhibit leaves visitors with the impression that climate change is part of the Earth's natural cycle and that humans can adapt to it.
  • Florida's unspeakable issue leaves climate change official tongue-tied: [ael: this one is funny — check it out! Love the inquisitor….]
    • The latest victim of Florida governor Rick Scott’s unwritten ban on state officials using the words “climate change” is his own disaster preparedness lieutenant, who stumbled through verbal gymnastics to avoid using the scientific term in a newly surfaced video. Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management chief, was testifying before the state senate’s budget subcommittee on Thursday, answering questions about the news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) will pull federal funding from states that refuse to directly address climate change.
    • Koon affirmed that the state’s next plan would be required to include “language to that effect”. Clemens came back, saying: “I used ‘climate change’, but I’m suggesting, maybe as a state we use ‘atmospheric re-employment’, that might be something the governor can get behind” – to laughter among committee members and the audience. But Koon charged on, clarifying that “future versions of our mitigation plan will be required to have language discussing that issue”. “What issue is that”? Clemens asked with a smile. “The issue that you mentioned earlier, regarding …” Koon said, before being drowned out by laughter at his obvious discomfort.
    • Scott and his staff have repeatedly denied that they have instituted a ban on allowing local officials to say “climate change”, “global warming” or “sustainability” in public, but the governor has not shied away from publicly expressing scepticism about the science of climate change on the campaign trail.
  • Oil Giant BP Drops Membership With ALEC: BP's departure is likely the most substantial yet, because ALEC works aggressively on climate issues and relies heavily on funding from huge fossil-fuel companies. The London-based company is among the world's largest players in the oil-and-gas arena, generating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue annually.
  • Beijing to Shut All Major Coal Power Plants to Cut Pollution: The capital city will shutter China Huaneng Group Corp.’s 845-megawatt power plant in 2016, after last week closing plants owned by Guohua Electric Power Corp. and Beijing Energy Investment Holding Co., according to a statement Monday on the website of the city’s economic planning agency. A fourth major power plant, owned by China Datang Corp., was shut last year.
  • US coal crash ‘serves as a warning’ to fossil fuel investors: At least 26 US coal companies have gone bankrupt in the last three years, finds Carbon Tracker, in a sign of things to come
  • The Real Cost of Coal: CONGRESS long ago established a basic principle governing the extraction of coal from public lands by private companies: American taxpayers should be paid fair value for it. They own the coal, after all.
    • Lawmakers set a royalty payment of 12.5 percent of the sale price of the coal in 1976. Forty years later, those payments remain stuck there, with actual collections often much less. Studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s inspector general and nonprofit research groups have all concluded that taxpayers are being shortchanged.
    • The federal government should also take into account the economic consequences of burning coal when pricing this fuel. The price for taxpayer-owned coal should reflect, in some measure, the added costs associated with the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • An 'extension cord' remedy for coal plant retirements:
    • If all goes as planned, a virtual 1,000-megawatt power plant will "open" for business near Erie, Pa., in 2019. It would be just in time to help fill the void left by some of the coal-fired plants that are shuttered or scaled back in the PJM Interconnection in response to U.S. EPA's climate and environmental rules. The power will originate not in Pennsylvania, but in Ontario, Canada, transmitted beneath Lake Erie on a billion-dollar, high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) power line.

3/23/2015

  • Frackman's accidental activist: 'There's blood in the water and I'm the shark': His house has been broken into, his emails get hacked, but unlikely documentary hero Dayne Praztky isn’t stopping his fight against fracking any time soon
    • The Australian documentary Frackman … picks up where GasLand left off. The film’s subject, former pig shooter and self-professed “world’s worst environmentalist” Dayne Pratzky, is waist-high in Queensland’s Condamine river. He’s holding a candle lighter. Forget about a tap in the kitchen: when he ignites the lighter a small part of the river itself catches fire.
    • Unsurprisingly, the gas companies aren’t happy. The Energy Resource Information Centre (which is funded by the natural gas industry) has responded to Frackman’s claims with a “fact check” document published online. It asserts, among other things, that the flammable Condamine river and the bubbles in it “pose no risk to the environment or to human and animal health” and that “methane naturally occurs in groundwater”. Pratzky, of course, isn’t buying it. “Oil is actually a natural product too, and so is gas,” he says. “It’s all natural, so don’t be fooled by a play on words. We know arsenic is natural, but it doesn’t mean you want to drink the shit.”
  • The Day After Tomorrow Might Kinda, Sorta Come True:
    • The study uses a library of ice cores, tree rings, coral, and sediments to generate a new reconstruction of the historical strength of the Atlantic’s circulation based on temperature changes. The team found recent changes in ocean circulation are “unprecedented” since at least the year 900 A.D., about as far back as these proxy data can reliably go. According to the paper, the probability of a similar circulation slowdown caused by natural variability alone (with no influence from human-caused climate change) was less than 0.5 percent. The effect they identified is “stronger than what current state-of-the-art climate models predict,” said Mann, likely due to the increasing influence from a melting Greenland.
    • Article: Exceptional twentieth-century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation
    • [ael: related] Global warming is now slowing down the circulation of the oceans — with potentially dire consequences
  • Climate-sceptic US senator given funds by BP political action committee: Senator Jim Inhofe, who opposes climate change regulation, has received $10,000 from PAC funded by donations from US staff at oil group
    • Last week Obama said it was “disturbing” that Inhofe had been made chair of the senate environment committee. In broader criticism of unnamed political opponents, he then went on to say: “In some cases you have elected officials who are shills for the oil companies or the fossil fuel industry. And there is a lot of money involved.”
  • Fossil fuels: Scientists draw up investment principles: Over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are "unburnable" under the goal to limit global warming to no more than 2C, according to one recent analysis.
  • Top Beijing Scientist: China Faces 'Huge Impact' From Climate Change: Zheng Guogang, the head of China's meteorological administration, tells Xinhua news agency that China is already experiencing temperature increases that outpace those in other parts of the world. As a result, China — the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases — faces a possible "ecological degradation," he says. "As the world warms, risks of climate change and climate disasters to China could become more grave," Zheng said.
  • A warming climate allowed pine beetles to ravage the West. Now they’re spreading east across Canada.:
    • Unlike other organisms that have been ravaging the American landscape—Asian carp, kudzu—the mountain pine beetle isn’t an immigrant. It’s native to western pine forests, especially lodgepole and ponderosa forests, where it normally lives in relatively small numbers, killing a tree or two here and there. It’s been normal too for the beetle’s population to boom every now and then, and for it to kill large swaths of forest. But mainly in a single region—not across half a continent.
    • In 2008 Carroll and other researchers produced a report for the Canadian government, concluding that the risk of the mountain pine beetle infesting jack pines in the boreal forest—which stretches right across Canada, covering a quarter of the country—was small but significant. But the beetle is already in jack pines. It has now colonized Alberta all the way east to Saskatchewan and north to the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Unlike lodgepoles, jack pines live as far east as Nova Scotia and down into the upper Midwest and New England.
  • Brazil’s Deforestation Rates Are on the Rise Again:
    • After increasing slightly in 2013, the pace of deforestation has more than doubled in the past six months, according to an analysis of photographs from Brazil’s SAD monitoring system, which analyzes NASA satellite imagery and provides monthly updates on the state of the forest. Most of the recent clearing is to create cattle pasture in the “frontier states” of Para and Mato Grosso in the eastern and southern Amazon, respectively. “I don’t like to look at the Amazon forest as something that could be gone in 30 or 40 years,” says Rita Mesquita, a senior researcher with Brazil’s National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA). “But that may be where we are headed if we don’t change course."
  • Florida coral restoration may take $250 million, and 400 years: No one expected it would be easy to restore elkhorn and staghorn corals, the once-abundant, reef-building species that since the 1970s have vanished from almost all of their old range. A recovery plan released this month by the National Marine Fisheries Service says the biggest current threat is climate change, a problem beyond its power to solve.
    • The plan puts a price tag of $254,540,000 for recovery but admits it is "an extreme underestimate," considering what other countries in the Caribbean also would have to spend.
  • Today’s Rout Is a Far Cry From Wildcat Years for Oil Sands: The collapse in the market for Canada’s heavy crude below $30 a barrel last week is hammering home a harsh reality for the nation’s oil-sands producers: There’s no one to save them this time.
    • The rule of thumb for new projects in Canada’s oil sands is that a West Texas Intermediate crude price of about $80 a barrel is needed to earn a return. The paste-like fossil fuel from northern Alberta is selling at a discount of about $13 a barrel compared to U.S. crude, which is now well under $50. Western Canadian Select oil closed Friday at $33.62.
    • Husky Energy Inc. pushed back its timeline to start up its C$1.6 billion Sunrise 2A expansion from as early as 2017 to some time next decade. Cenovus Energy Inc. cut spending on new projects by 46 percent this year, halting construction of an expansion of its Christina Lake development and putting its Telephone Lake project on hold.

3/20/2015

  • Costa Rica Powered By 100% Renewable Energy For First 75 Days Of 2015 [ael: and counting! They're into the 80s last night, as I heard on MSNBC.]
  • Arctic Sea Ice Hits All-Time Winter Low: The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Thursday that this year's Arctic ice cover hit a peak of 5.61 million square miles at the end of February, an alltime winter low since records began in 1979.
  • Fla. official says he was punished for using ‘climate change’ in report: Bart Bibler said he was suspended and told to get a mental health evaluation after he refused to remove the term “climate change” from a report.
  • COAL: When legally liable, companies don't dispute global warming :
    • Peabody repeatedly questioned climate science in its December 2014 comments on U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, a regulatory effort meant to force states to cut emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide released from existing coal-fired power plants. "The climate science upon which EPA relies cannot sustain this dramatic step to remake a significant sector of the American economy," the company said in a 145-page attack on the proposed emission limits.
    • In a section of Peabody's 2014 10-K report that discusses risks that "could materially and adversely affect our business," the company acknowledges that IPCC reports have "engendered concern about the impacts of human activity, especially fossil fuel combustion, on global climate issues." No mention was made of the allegedly unreliable science that underpinned those reports from the IPCC. The company then said "increasing government attention is being paid to global climate issues and to emissions of what are commonly referred to as greenhouse gases, including emissions of carbon dioxide from coal combustion by power plants." It went on to downplay the impact any potential climate laws, regulations or other actions could have on its bottom line.
  • Feds Document Seabird Loss in North Pacific Waters: The number of seabirds, including gulls, puffins and auklets, has dropped significantly in the Gulf of Alaska and northeast Bering Sea, a possible consequence of warmer waters, according to a preliminary federal analysis of nearly 40 years of surveys. U.S. Geological Survey experts found the seabird population density declined 2 percent annually from 1975 to 2012 in the northeast North Pacific, said John Piatt, research wildlife biologist at the USGS Alaska Science Center.
  • Hydrogen, hydrogen everywhere...: Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. And when you burn it or use it to produce electricity, the only waste product is water. In the era of global warming, it would seem to be the perfect fuel. So why aren't we all driving round in hydrogen-powered cars, moving our goods in hydrogen-powered lorries, and heating our homes and offices with this wonder element? In short, fossil fuels got there first.
  • Revealed: Gates Foundation's $1.4bn in fossil fuel investments: Analysis of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s most recent tax filing reveals huge investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies
    • The charity run by Bill and Melinda Gates, who say the threat of climate change is so serious that immediate action is needed, held at least $1.4bn (£1bn) of investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, according to a Guardian analysis of the charity’s most recent tax filing in 2013.
  • Climate: Amazon forest losing carbon-storing capacity: The Amazonian rainforest has lost much of its ability to absorb climate-altering greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, scientists reported on Wednesday. In the 1990s, the great forest was able to store as much as two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year, they said. Now, though, the uptake has halved, and for the first time is being outstripped by fossil-fuel emissions from Latin America. The evidence, reported in the journal Nature, comes from a 30-year survey that brought together nearly a hundred researchers working in eight countries.

3/19/2015

  • Canada regulator probing TransCanada over safety allegations: It marks the second time in recent years the regulator has probed safety practices at Canada's second-largest pipeline company following complaints by a whistleblower. Documents reviewed by Reuters showed the allegations include faulty or delayed repairs, sloppy welding work and a failure to report key issues to the regulator.
  • McConnell Urges States to Help Thwart Obama’s ‘War on Coal’: Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, urged the nation’s governors not to comply with President Obama’s climate rules.
    • To make his case, Mr. McConnell is also relying on a network of powerful allies with national influence and roots in Kentucky or the coal industry. Within that network is Laurence H. Tribe, a highly regarded scholar of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and a former mentor of Mr. Obama’s. Mr. Tribe caught Mr. McConnell’s attention last winter when he was retained to write a legal brief for Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal producer, in a lawsuit against the climate rules.
  • When It Comes To Climate Change, These Canadian Scientists Will Not Be Ignored:
    • Have you ever had something really important to say–I mean really important–but the person you had to say it to just wasn’t paying attention? That, in essence, is what a group of Canadian scientists and academics experienced recently, prompting them to leapfrog what they saw as their government’s insufficient response to global warming, and release their own policy proposal for combating climate change.
    • As The New York Times reported in 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it increasingly difficult for scientists whose work is supported by the Canadian government to speak out on issues of environmental policy, at the time calling it "more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance." While Harper’s government has made moderate efforts to reduce the carbon released in certain industries, Sciencemag.org explains “it has yet to develop a plan for curbing emissions from its biggest contributor: the oil and gas industry.”

3/18/2015

  • Gov. Brown declares drought emergency in two counties (of Oregon).
    • NW winter was second-warmest on record, behind Dust Bowl — found this on that story…
    • As of March 1, 32 sites in Oregon, or 45 percent, set new record lows for snowpack, and many more are near record low, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service.
    • "Basinwide, across the Willamette, our 13 reservoirs are about 28 percent below where we would like them to be right now," Clemens said. "The rainfall we get between now and May will be the deciding factor."
  • Report: Developers Are Cancelling More Coal Plants Than They Build: Worldwide, two-thirds of coal-fired power plants proposed since 2010 have stalled or been cancelled, says a new report from the Sierra Club and Coalswarm. However, those cancellations haven’t been enough to significantly reduce carbon emissions from coal. Despite the increase in projects being cancelled, coal capacity has still grown nearly 50 percent in the last 10 years, according to the report. “Boom and Bust: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline” looks at every proposed coal plant since 2010, and analyzes data between geographic regions. The data will continue to be updated and available at the Global Coal Plant Tracker website.
  • New watering restrictions imposed amid California drought: Local agencies that don’t currently limit watering days will have to restrict landscape irrigation to no more than two days a week if they don’t adopt their own curbs before the new rules go into effect in 45 days. Cities with limits can maintain them, even if they permit watering on more than two days a week. Additionally, the board prohibited landscape irrigation during and in the 48 hours after a measurable rainfall, directed restaurants to serve patrons water only upon request and told hotels to offer customers the option of not having their linens and towels washed daily.
  • Republicans Push Climate Change Cuts at CIA, Defense Department: House Republicans want to eliminate climate research.

3/17/2015

  • What’s the greenest way to travel?: Your best bet, according to several analyses (including this one by the Union of Concerned Scientists) is taking the bus. (I’m assuming you’re traveling alone for this discussion; the math changes a bit if you’re on the road with a crew.)… the UCS report says a bus ticket will cut your carbon in half over driving a hybrid car and by up to 75 percent over flying, so do give it some thought.
    • The train generally comes in second place for emissions for trips under about 1,000 miles, and it’s usually faster. And the nice thing about both buses and trains is that they run regardless of how fully booked they are, so by hopping into a seat that would’ve otherwise been empty, your ride doesn’t really add any more carbon to the air. You can’t get everywhere on public transportation, true. But the climate savings you earn this way are so great, it’s well worth taking the bus/train as far as you can, then renting as fuel-efficient a vehicle as possible to go the final distance. I don’t know your taste in travel destinations, Kris, but I’ll bet you’d discover all sorts of fascinating places if you chose your trips based on their transit accessibility.
  • The New Optimism of Al Gore: Mr. Gore has seen support for his views rising within the business community: Investment in renewable energy sources like wind and solar is skyrocketing as their costs plummet. He has slides for that, too. Experts predicted in 2000 that wind generated power worldwide would reach 30 gigawatts; by 2010, it was 200 gigawatts, and by last year it reached nearly 370, or more than 12 times higher. Installations of solar power would add one new gigawatt per year by 2010, predictions in 2002 stated. It turned out to be 17 times that by 2010 and 48 times that amount last year.
    • At age 66, he is also trimmer than he was during his bearish, bearded period after the 2000 election, thanks in part to a vegan diet he has maintained for two years. In this city? Home of heavenly meat-and-three platters? He smiles and says proudly, “There are 10 vegan restaurants in Nashville now.”
  • The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse.: when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.
    • A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise. Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again.
    • the [Totten] glacier holds back a much more vast catchment of ice that, were its vulnerable parts to flow into the ocean, could produce a sea level rise of more than 11 feet — which is comparable to the impact from a loss of the West Antarctica ice sheet. And that’s “a conservative lower limit,” says lead study author Jamin Greenbaum, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Norway's sovereign wealth fund drops over 50 coal companies: Government Pension Fund Global sold off coal holdings in 2014, but campaigners are disappointed that investment in coal is only down marginally
    • The GPFG sold off its holdings in 53 coal companies in 2014, dumping 16 US companies including Peabody Energy and the mountain-top-removal companies Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. The fund also dropped 13 Indian companies, including the giant Coal India. But only three Chinese coal companies were removed from the fund’s portfolio and the total value of its coal holdings fell by only 5% to £6.5bn. On Friday, it was revealed that the fund’s stake in major oil and gas companies rose to £20bn in 2014.

3/16/2015

  • Op-Ed: California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?: Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain. In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.
  • Lake Tahoe: Drought, climate change threatening winter, way of life at iconic landmark: There's something disconcerting about life at Lake Tahoe these days.
    • It's still winter, but visitors are renting bikes instead of snowshoes and kayaks instead of skis. Come summer — without last-ditch torrential rains — the lake level is expected to be at such a historic low that some marinas will have to dredge for boats to launch. Jumping off the end of a pier could result in a rock-hard landing. California's epic drought, entering its perilous fourth year, has combined with a pattern of warming temperatures to cast a "Twilight Zone" quality on one of the state's most popular winter destinations and iconic landmarks.
  • Feeding a Warmer, Riskier World: Artificial meat. Indoor aquaculture. Vertical farms. Irrigation drones. Once the realm of science fiction, these things are now fact. Food production is going high tech – at least, in some places. But the vast majority of the world’s farmers still face that old and fundamental fact: their crops, their very livelihoods, depend on how Mother Nature treats them. Over 80 percent of world agriculture today remains dependent on the rains, just as it did 10,000 years ago.
  • Climate change: UN backs fossil fuel divestment campaign : The UN organisation in charge of global climate change negotiations is backing the fast-growing campaign persuading investors to sell off their fossil fuel assets. It said it was lending its “moral authority” to the divestment campaign because it shared the ambition to get a strong deal to tackle global warming at a crunch UN summit in Paris in December. “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).
  • Batteries Paired With Solar Panels Could Shake Up Electric Utility Sector:
    • Emerging plans to pair residential solar panels with mass-produced residential batteries are on the verge of confounding the electric power industry. Hoping to protect its business model, the industry is throwing support behind changes to state laws and public utility commission regulations that would limit the revenue homeowners with solar panels can receive by selling excess power to the grid. But decreasing solar revenue may spur households with solar panels to install batteries to store their excess electricity for their own use at night or when grid power is interrupted. Such a change could dramatically alter the shape of the U.S.’s electric power industry. At the epicenter of this shake-up are thermally stable, long-lasting, and safe power-storing lithium-ion batteries. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla Motors, has committed to mass producing them in a gigantic “gigafactory” now under construction in Sparks, Nev. Tesla is partnering with Panasonic to ensure that more than 6,500 workers produce 500,000 lithium iron phosphate battery packs annually. About a third of them, with a capacity of 60 kWh, are destined for homes. Tesla has announced that it will produce batteries for households even before the factory is complete, beginning in the fall of 2015.

3/13/2015

  • Carbon emissions stop growing globally: The growth in global carbon dioxide emissions stalled in 2014 for the first time in the 40 years, and the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has been tracking it, said the slowdown wasn't connected to an economic downturn. The IEA said the news shows promise that economic progress does not necessarily have to be tied to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, as it has been for decades.
    • Global emissions were 32.3 billion metric tons, or the annual emissions of about 6.8 billion American cars [ael: interesting metric!], the same volume as 2013. Meanwhile, the world’s economy grew by about 3 percent. The IEA attributed the carbon stall to shifts that China and major developed economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) undertook last year.
    • [ael: I've noticed that The Hill tends to have a little conservative bent — for that reason I look at that headline — Carbon emissions stop growing — and wonder why they don't declare a global pause….]
  • Improperly disposed radioactive oil field waste found in North Dakota: Officials on Thursday said up to 100 filter socks were found in a property within the city limits of Williston. The socks are the nets that strain liquids in the oil production process…. Radig says the waste was found in a facility used by Green Diamond Environmental Trucking Services, LLC. He says the company has told state investigators that another corporation dropped the socks at the site. [ael: who done that? who done that? Couldn't be us…. Must be some other corporation….]
  • US and Chinese companies dominate list of most-polluting coal plants: Warren Buffet-owned Berkshire Hathaway on list of top 25 companies with least efficient and oldest ‘sub-critical’ coal power plants
    • The 100 global power companies most at risk from growing pressure to shut highly polluting coal plants have been revealed in a new report from Oxford University. Chinese companies dominate the top of the ranking but US companies, including Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, occupy 10 of the top 25 places. The analysis, produced to help investors assess the risk of major financial losses, also found French energy giant GDF Suez was third in the list of most polluting coal station fleets in the world.
  • Can I recycle all these plastic food wrappers?: We recently looked at the recyclability of the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag. (The gist: YES, you can probably recycle them at drop-off locations around town. NO, you probably can’t put them in the curbside bin.) Now it’s time to shine a light on their even more confusing cousins, those “other” plastic bags and flexible films. Cheese wrappers, Ziploc baggies, the plastic wrap that comes around your toilet paper — what’s to be done with them?
  • All oil is bad, but some is worse. Here’s the difference.: Though all oils are dirty, some are dirtier than others. High-profile case in point: the Canadian tar sands. The fact that tar-sands oil is one of the filthiest oils in the world has helped fuel the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline.
    • The good folks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace thought someone had better analyze which oils were a bad idea to extract, and which oils were a really, really, really bad idea to extract. CEIP teamed up with Stanford and the University of Calgary to develop an oil-climate index; the result of their work is documented in a new report titled “Know Your Oil.”
    • One particularly carbon-intensive crude comes from California’s Midway Sunset oil field. (“Yes, some of the worst oil for the climate is pumped out of one of America’s greenest states,” Brian Merchant points out at Motherboard. In fact, it’s the top-producing field in the state. Ha! Irony!) This oil needs to be softened with steam before it can be extracted, and the water to make that steam is heated using huge quantities of natural gas. The oil, once flowing, is heavy and waterlogged, and takes an unusual amount of energy to be lifted out of the ground. And after that, it’s complex to refine. “The combination of energy used in extraction and refining means almost half of Midway Sunset’s total greenhouse gas emissions are released before the resource even gets to market,” says the report.
    • Examples like the Canadian tar sands and California’s Midway Sunset field underscore one of the report’s main points: “The fate of the entire oil barrel is critical to understanding and designing policies that reduce a crude oil’s climate impacts.” When thinking about these oils, it’s not just the oil itself that threatens the environment. It’s the whole process of getting it out of the ground, getting it to a refinery, refining it, and getting it to consumers — all of that spews carbon into the air, contributing significantly to oil’s role in fueling climate change.
  • This rusty steelworks is about to become a kaleworks: A defunct steel factory in Newark, N.J., is slated to become the world’s largest indoor farm. It’s hard to think up a more hopeful image: greens sprouting in the ruins of the decaying industrial economy. There’s a description of the $30 million project here, with renderings that make the whole thing look a little like farming as designed by the Container Store.
    • Because of these inefficiencies, produce from indoor farms hasn’t been able to compete on price with the stuff grown outdoors. It’s unclear whether indoor farming can be economically and environmentally sustainable — but the only way to figure that out is to try it. Progress here will require companies like AeroFarms to dive in and struggle with these problems. It will be fun to see if they can make it work.
  • Modi's budget slashes environmental funding for India: The budget for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for the fiscal year beginning April 1 has been reduced by 25 percent, from 22.6 billion Indian rupees ($360 million) to 16.8 billion rupees ($268 million).
    • In his budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced an increase in the target for renewable energy generating capacity, to 175,000 megawatts by 2022. But the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy will see its funding for the coming year reduced by more than two-thirds, to 3 billion rupees ($48 million).
    • [ael: serious disconnect between what India's saying and what India's doing….]
  • Russian scientists say climate change to blame for mysterious Siberia craters: The seven holes discovered are not the work of aliens or meteorites, but rather explosions of methane accumulated as underground ice melts
    • “We have just learnt that in Yakutia, new information has emerged about a giant crater 1km [0.6 miles] in diameter,” the deputy director of the Oil and Gas Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vasily Bogoyavlensky, told AFP. He said this brought to seven the number of reported pits. “The phenomenon is similar to the eruption of a volcano,” said Bogoyavlensky. As the ice melts, methane gas is released, which builds up pressure until an explosion takes place, leading to the formation of a crater.
    • It may be hard to identify other craters which may have formed into lakes over time, said Bogoyavlensky. “When they appear the craters are empty, and little by little they fill up with water. In the space of two or three years they become lakes and it is difficult to study them.” He said some may have formed dozens or hundreds of years ago, but went unnoticed in such remote regions.
  • NASA chief has perfect comeback to Ted Cruz's attack on Earth science: "I'd like to start by asking a general question," said Cruz on Thursday during a subcommittee hearing on the Obama administration's $18.5 billion budget request for NASA for fiscal year 2016, which includes funding increases for Earth science research. "In your judgment, what is the core mission of NASA?" Cruz asked.
    • "Our core mission from the very beginning has been to investigate, explore space and the Earth environment, and to help us make this place a better place," Bolden said. NASA studies everything from the depths of the oceans to the solar energy coming into the Earth's atmosphere.
    • Cruz pushed back against the "Earth" part of NASA's mission. "Almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space," he said. "That's what inspires little boys and little girls across this country."
    • "We can't go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater and we don't know it — and that's understanding our environment," Bolden said, in a clear reference to global warming-related sea level rise. "It is absolutely critical that we understand Earth's environment because this is the only place that we have to live."
  • Arctic Melt Brings More Persistent Heat Waves to U.S., Europe:
    • With heat-trapping gases from burning oil, coal and natural gas at record levels, global temperatures are set to warm by 3.6 degrees Celsius (6.5 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s the quickest climate shift in 10,000 years. Temperature gains can disrupt air flows that govern storm activity, the Potsdam report showed. “When the great air streams in the sky above us get disturbed by climate change, this can have severe effects on the ground,” lead author Dim Coumou said. The study used data on atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere from 1979 to 2013.
  • NMSU researcher creates material to help slow climate change: Khazeni said he focused on carbon capture because of its importance in tackling climate change.
    • “We should bear the burden of the disaster that industrialization and dependence on fossil fuels have put on the shoulders of the environment, the results of which can be observed in the form of water, soil, and air pollution, global warming, and climate change,” he said by email. “I believe chemistry and materials science have played a major role in the disaster. Now, it is time that chemistry and materials science takes the responsibility and mitigates the catastrophe that it participated in developing.” ​

3/12/2015

  • Climate Change Is Altering Everything About The Way Water Is Provided In Salt Lake City:
    • Threats to Utah’s snowpack levels are the biggest climate change challenge facing Salt Lake City, according to Mayor Ralph Becker, a member of the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and this year’s National League of Cities president. “The way we provide all of our water for well over a century now is changing,” he told ThinkProgress after Monday’s general session at the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C., which focused on how climate change is affecting infrastructure across the nation. Utah is the second-most arid state in the nation, and its water supply comes largely from the snowpack left in the surrounding mountains at the end of winter. “We have built all our infrastructure for water around the snowpack,” Becker said.
    • Other states are also dealing with low water supplies, and are expecting more shortages in the future: according to a Government Accountability Office report from 2014, 40 states expect to experience water shortages in the next 10 years. Snowpack in California and other western states has also been in decline. “Climate change is most significantly affecting our water infrastructure,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said during Monday’s session for city leaders. “What you all invested in 40, 50 years ago is now needing significant repair, as well as looking at the new challenges we’re seeing on the drinking water side.”
    • But in a state that gets more than three quarters of its electricity from coal, a water-intense power source, it will take more than planting cactus and taking shorter showers to solve Utah’s water worries. Salt Lake City is one of the more than 1,000 U.S. cities that pledged to meet carbon emission reductions set by the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States did not ratify alongside 141 other countries in 2005. In 2008, Becker and the Salt Lake City Council signed a resolution committing that the city will work to reduce its carbon footprint to 20 percent below the 2005 level by 2020, 50 percent below the 2005 level by 2040, and 80 percent below the 2005 level by 2050. Under these commitments, the city is home to the country’s first net-zero public safety building, a standard the mayor says all new city projects will have to meet.
    • Despite what the mayor says is general public support for addressing climate change, the city isn’t getting much help at the state level. The Utah House of Representatives passed a bill last week supporting a state request that the EPA withdraw carbon reductions under the proposed Clean Power Plan.
  • North Carolina Fines Duke Energy $25.1 Million:
    • The $25.1 million penalty, announced Tuesday by the State Department of Environment and Natural Resources, addresses the contamination of groundwater by coal ash from a single facility — the company’s Sutton Plant near Wilmington, N.C. Federal prosecutors are pursuing a separate, much larger action against the company stemming from its spill of millions of gallons of toxic coal ash from a plant on the Dan River, near the Virginia border. The company said in an earnings statement that it expected to pay about $100 million in that action, which was expanded to concern Duke Energy plants across the state.
    • [ael: clean coal strikes again….]
  • Gov. Rick Scott’s ban on climate change term extended to other state agencies:
    • Now, employees from other state agencies have come forward to FCIR to confirm the unofficial policy not to use these terms. Bill Taylor was the assistant district right of way manager for the Florida Department of Transportation's District 4 office in Fort Lauderdale. He retired last year after 19 years with the DOT. He said he was told not to use certain terms during a meeting of district managers. “It was at a routine meeting in probably 2012 or 2013,” Taylor said. “At one point, it was mentioned very casually that in our future dealings with the public, we were not to use the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming.’ But it was OK to talk about sea-level rise, because for some projects that had to be taken into consideration.” “DOT has no such policy,” spokesman Dick Kane said. The department has worked with universities and communities to study sea-level rise, he said.
    • In an episode at the Florida Department of Health this year, first reported in the Washington Post on Tuesday, an epidemiologist was told to remove all instances of “climate change” from a study on ciguatera poisoning in Florida. Elizabeth Radke, who was writing the paper as a chapter in her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Florida, collaborated with a DOH employee for the study. As a result, it had to be reviewed by DOH officials in Tallahassee. “The last round of revisions were sent at the end of January,” Radke told FCIR. “Each reference to climate change was underlined and the reason why was explained to me verbally.” She had to delete the words.
    • In January, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a DOH grant program “to explore the health impacts of a warming world.” A DOH spokesperson “was careful to avoid using the term ‘climate change’ in explaining its goals,” the Times reported. Instead, she said it's focused on “health effects related to weather events.” “It is not true; there is no such policy at the department of health,” said Nathan Dunn, a DOH spokesman. He referred to a January press release that included the term “climate change.”
    • At the South Florida Water Management District, a former employee said that terms like “climate change” and “global warming” were never used in documents. “It was widely known that you couldn't put those words into a report, said the former employee, who asked not to be identified because of an ongoing relationship with the agency. “They just wouldn't make it through the editing process.” The unofficial policy not to use the terms climate change and global warming seems to have created a censorship system that is somewhat porous. State documents are still being produced with those terms — but their use has decreased dramatically. FCIR conducted a year-by-year keyword analysis of PDF files on DEP’s public website — which included reports, agendas, correspondence and other communications. The analysis shows a steep decline in the use of the term “climate change” after Scott took office.
  • Baked Alaska: If the Last Frontier is the canary in the climate coal mine, we’re in trouble.
    • Something does seem to be going on in Alaska. Last fall, a skipjack tuna, which is more likely to be found in the Galápagos than near a glacier, was caught about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage, not far from the Kenai. This past weekend, race organizers had to truck in snow to the ceremonial Iditarod start line in Anchorage. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska tweeted a photo of one of the piles of snow with the hashtag #wemakeitwork. But it’s unclear how long that will be possible. Alaska is heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the country—a canary in our climate coal mine. A new report shows that warming in Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, is accelerating as the loss of snow and ice cover begins to set off a feedback loop of further warming. Warming in wintertime has been the most dramatic—more than 6 degrees in the past 50 years. And this is just a fraction of the warming that’s expected to come over just the next few decades.
    • Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Alaska’s recent surge of back-to-back warm winters comes after a record-snowy 2012, in which the National Guard was employed to help dig out buried towns. Then, about two years ago, something in the climate system switched. The state’s recent brush with extreme weather is more than just year-to-year weather variability. Alaska is at the point where the long-term trend of warming has begun to trump seasonal weather fluctuations. A recent shift toward warmer offshore ocean temperatures is essentially adding more fuel to the fire, moving the state toward more profound tipping points like the irreversible loss of permafrost and increasingly violent weather. If the current warm ocean phase (which began in 2014) holds for a decade or so, as is typical, Alaska will quickly become a different place.
    • Climate scientists are starting to link the combination of melting sea ice and warm ocean temperatures to shifts in the jet stream. For the past few winters, those shifts have brought surges of tropical moisture toward southern Alaska via potent atmospheric rivers. This weather pattern has endured so long it’s even earned its own name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. The persistent area of high pressure stretching from Alaska to California has shunted wintertime warmth and moisture northward into the Arctic while the eastern half of the continent is plunged into the deep freeze, polar-vortex style.
    • The warm water is making its way north into the Arctic Ocean, too, where as of early March, sea ice levels are at their record lowest for the date. The resurgent heating of the Pacific (we’re officially in an El Niño year now) is also expected to give a boost to global warming over the next few years by releasing years of pent-up oceanic energy into the atmosphere, pushing even more warm water toward the north, melting Alaska from all sides.
    • Here’s another example he could have used: In early November, Super Typhoon Nuri morphed into a huge post-tropical cyclone, passing through the Aleutians very near Shemya Island on its way to becoming Alaska’s strongest storm on record. Despite winds near 100 mph, Shemya emerged relatively unscathed. A few days later, the remnants of that storm actually altered the jet stream over much of the continent, ushering in a highly amplified “omega block” pattern that dramatically boosted temperatures across the state and sent wave after wave of Arctic cold toward the East Coast. Barrow was briefly warmer than Dallas or Atlanta.
    • The rapid change has brought U.S. Arctic policy to a crossroads. The United States is set to take over a rotating two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council next month—a mini–United Nations of the north—and has listed climate change as a top agenda item. At the same time, it’s also laying the ground rules for increased oil and gas exploration. In a warmer 21st century, Alaska may be more important than ever—which explains the increased pressure for a boosted military presence there.
    • But for now, the most visible change is still in the shifting habitats of the fish, birds, trees, and animals. Permafrost still covers 85 percent of the state, but “almost everywhere, the depth of the active layer is increasing over the last few decades,” said Thoman. Since the active layer—the zone of soil above the permafrost that thaws out each summer—now penetrates deeper down, that means landforms are shifting, lakes are draining, and new forests are springing up.
    • For southern Alaska, fire season has been coming earlier in recent years, and 2015 looks to be no exception. Melvin Slater, a representative for the Alaska Fire Service, told me that the agency is making changes in response to the warm, nearly snow-free winter. “AFS will accelerate the availability of eight smokejumpers and a smokejumper aircraft by April 9 with an additional eight smokejumpers available by April 16,” Slater wrote in an email. That’s about 30 days earlier than normal. A few years ago, the Alaska Division of Forestry statutorily moved the start of the fire season up from May 1 to April 1 “as a result of climate change,” Tim Mowry, a division spokesman told me. The changes were intended to elicit “a sense of urgency,” Mowry says.
    • [ael: meanwhile, on the crazy side of things, we've got this:] Shell expects to drill offshore Alaska this year; and Whales on the Wrong Side of the World.
  • A Bunch of 12-Year-Olds Are Schooling Republican Senators on Climate Change: A group of kids hope to teach Republicans politicians a lesson about climate change on Tuesday. In an event organized by the advocacy group Avaaz, they will visit a dozen offices to ask senators—including Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul—to take a simple elementary school quiz on climate change science. Many of those senators would probably fail it. In the past, in response to questions about climate change, McConnell and Rubio have both told the press they are "not scientists." The senators could learn something from the six students, who come from Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, and North Carolina. "When our world’s top scientists at NASA release information stating that humans are impacting the climate, I tend to believe them more," said Jack Levy, an 18-year-old student from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. "Scientists have noticed that this was a problem for a really long time, like, maybe 20 years ago? Longer than I've been alive," said Nadia Sheppard, a 16-year-old from North Carolina.
  • Climate sceptics attempt to block Merchants of Doubt film: Climate denier Fred Singer lobbied fellow sceptics to create a backlash, and proposed legal action, against the film that exposes industry’s role in manipulating US debate on climate change
    • Singer dismisses the dangers of secondhand smoking. He also denies human activity is a main cause of climate change. “It’s all bunk. It’s all bunk,” a seemingly jovial Singer says in the film. By last autumn however Singer appeared to be having second thoughts about his participation in the project. In a series of email exchanges with a global network of climate deniers from Christopher Monckton to the Harvard-Smithsonian scientist Willie Soon, Singer raises the prospect of blocking the film’s release. “Gents, Do you think I have a legal case against Oreskes? Can I sue for damages? Can we get a legal injunction against the documentary?” Singer wrote last October. “I need your advice.”
  • Report: Wind power could be 35% of supply by 2050: The Obama administration is setting higher goals for wind power, saying it could supply 35% of the nation's electricity by the year 2050. Wind power currently generates 4.5% of electricity, but that number is expected to more than double to 10% by 2020, says a report obtained by USA TODAY that will be released today by the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • China’s push to cut coal use may be bad news for U.S. exporters: In a report this week, a leading analyst warned that China’s demand for imported coal is likely to wane, at least for the next few years.
    • “The outlook for the Chinese coal industry remains considerably downbeat with persistent oversupply and weaker demand prospects going forward,” wrote Stephen Duck, a senior consultant with CRU, an international mining consulting company. Pollution is one factor driving China’s reduced demand for coal. Coal combustion is a major cause of the smog that blankets eastern China for most days of the year. Coal is also China’s major source of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that Beijing has pledged to reduce under an agreement last year with President Barack Obama. But there other reasons China is souring on coal imports. As analysts note, China has excess capacity in its steel-building industry, a major user of coal. China’s Communist Party wants to shrink that excess as part of a wider plan to shift its economy away from heavy industry toward more domestic consumption and technological innovation.
  • Boris Johnson told to divest £4.8bn pension fund from fossil fuels: London assembly members vote in support of motion calling for mayor to support divestment from coal, oil and gas companies
  • Did climate change kill this Hoosier butterfly?: The federally endangered Karner blue butterfly has been struggling to survive in its southern-most habitat, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Now, researchers who study the butterfly believe a fatal blow may have been delivered thanks to a single year of drought. Climate change is a politically charged topic among policymakers, particularly in Indiana, where skepticism is more common. Still, climate researchers and wildlife biologists say there is little doubt that man-made climate change will affect threatened habitats. The fate of the Karner blue — now believed to be extinct in the dunes — may be a cautionary example. [ael: PS: no: if the butterfly is gone, then humans killed the butterfly….]
  • Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar
    • Three years ago, the nation’s top utility executives gathered at a Colorado resort to hear warnings about a grave new threat to operators of America’s electric grid: not superstorms or cyberattacks, but rooftop solar panels. If demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems, from “declining retail sales” and a “loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence,” according to a presentation prepared for the group. “Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,” it said.
    • “Independent studies show that distributed solar benefits all ratepayers by preventing the need to build new, expensive power plants or transmission lines,” said Matthew Kasper, a fellow at the Energy & Policy Institute, a pro-solar think tank. “Utilities make their money by building big, new infrastructure projects and then sending ratepayers the bill, which is exactly why utilities want to eliminate solar.”
  • Consumers trapped in the middle of Big Coal's fight for survival: The virtue of a coal-based economy is still gospel in Frankfort. But organizers here say efforts to wall off the state's coal-dependent utilities from competing sources such as natural gas and distributed solar power are leading to higher costs for Kentucky's poorest communities. In homes across rural Kentucky, air poured in through poorly sealed ducts this winter, driving up utility bills during peak hours. "The leakage rate is close to the square-footage of the house," Woolery said, explaining how a large Georgian-style house in northern Kentucky could amass a $1,400 electric-heating bill during the 2014 polar vortex, his most extreme example of inefficient housing.
    • Still, few in Frankfort's increasingly conservative legislative scrum anticipate action on any bill this year that could cut into the business of the state's dominant coal-burning utilities. With the average residential retail electricity rate at about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2014, Kentuckians still pay a lot less than people in Connecticut. But utilities here face the same challenges around flat electricity demand and rising annual costs as everywhere else, and much of that has to do with aging infrastructure. One proposal shopped around by a Louisville senator and quietly left on the Capitol's cutting-room floor in the past few weeks would lift a 30-kilowatt ceiling on net metering for rooftop solar. The cap makes it tougher for commercial consumers like Wal-Mart or a whiskey distiller to see a payoff to installing solar panels. Calling Kentucky's 30 kW limit a "significant barrier" to investment, the Kentucky Solar Energy Society in an October 2014 memo to the group proposed raising the cap to 1,000 kW to match other states and pull in commercial and industrial customers. In the national battle over solar, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a powerful coalition of state lawmakers and corporate interests, including the Koch brothers and investor-owned utilities, has opposed solar incentives and pushed states to impose fees on utility customers who install rooftop solar.
  • Climate change can skew fish gender ratios: Temperature plays a powerful role in determining the sex of some as yet unborn members of certain species. Warmer temperatures can make female status more likely for crocodilians, some lizards and turtles and tortoises. Higher temperatures, however, are likely to encourage higher ratios of male lizards, fish and amphibians. Since, in normal conditions, temperatures vary around an average, the numbers of males and females in a population tend to even out. But in reproduction, it’s the females that matter more. So a sustained tilt towards maleness could threaten a population’s survival.
  • Sao Paulo’s Reservoirs Feel Pinch of Failed Wet Season: Recent research has shown that the southeast Amazon has dried by 25 percent since 2000. Signs point to deforestation and changes in atmospheric circulation as possible drivers. According to The Economist, five of the 10 driest years for the Cantareira System have come since 2000, including last year’s record-low year. Even with the recent bump in rain, this could be the driest back-to-back series of wet seasons in at least 35 years. Some models project the region could continue getting drier as a result of climate change.
  • As ice turns to slush, experts predict 'foreseeable end' to outdoor hockey in Canada: Canada's winter temperatures have risen more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1951 and 2005, nearly three times the global average. In a 2012 study in the Institute of Physics' journal, Environmental Research Letters, by three Canadian researchers found that between 1951 and 2005, many areas across the country saw decreases in the length of the outdoor skating season upward of 20 percent. In many places, such as in southwest Canada and across most of central and eastern Canada, winter now begins later. Additionally, temperatures are not staying low enough long enough to allow ice to freeze over. "In the absence of efforts to maintain artificially cooled outdoor rinks, this result implies a foreseeable end to outdoor skating in this region within the next few decades," the authors write. See Observed decreases in the Canadian outdoor skating season due to recent winter warming
  • A New Tack in the War on Mining Mountains: Last week, with little fanfare, PNC Financial, the nation’s seventh-largest bank, disclosed a significant strategic shift. The bank said it would no longer finance coal-mining companies that pursue mountaintop removal of coal in Appalachia, an environmentally devastating practice that has long drawn opposition.
    • PNC’s decision comes after environmental advocacy groups put intense pressure on Wall Street banks to stop financing such practices. PNC had been a holdout; Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse and others had already distanced themselves from coal companies involved in mountaintop removal. GE Capital and UBS appear to be the only large financial institutions in the country still willing to lend money to companies involved in this mountaintop mining.
    • It’s one thing for large investors like the Rockefeller family or Stanford University’s endowment to pull out of fossil fuel companies. The result, maybe, is a marginally lower stock price for the big oil players. But it’s quite another when the nation’s banks decide, independently or collectively, to effectively shut off the financing for projects that require considerable capital. It has the effect of killing the business. It’s surprising that social activists haven’t tried to mount more campaigns against funding sources before.
    • [ael: I think that this article is cutting PNC too much slack: they've cut their tolerance in half, from 50 percent to 25 percent (per another article). Late in this article we hear "Under its new policy, PNC will not extend credit to individual mountaintop removal projects or to coal producers with 25 percent or more of their production coming from such mining."]
  • Warming Could Hit Rates Unseen in 1,000 Years: We are standing on the edge of a new world where warming is poised to accelerate at rates unseen for at least 1,000 years.
    • That’s the main finding of a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, which looked at the rate of temperature change over 40-year periods. The new research also shows that the Arctic, North America and Europe will be the first regions to transition to a new climate, underscoring the urgent need for adaptation planning.
  • Google’s plan to prioritize facts ticks off climate deniers: The strategy isn’t being implemented yet, but the paper presented a method for adapting algorithms such that they would generate a “Knowledge-Based Trust” score for every page. To do this, the algorithm would pick out statements and compare them with Google’s Knowledge Vault, a database of facts. It would also attempt to assess the trustworthiness of the source—for example, a reputable news site versus a newly created WordPress blog. Another component of the strategy involves looking at “topic relevance.” The algorithm scans the name of the site and its “about” section for information on its goals.

3/11/2015

  • Climate Change Poses Serious Threats to Food Distribution: The risks of a highly centralized food system
    • By now there has been a steady stream of news about climate change’s impacts on food production. Heat waves, drought, and wildfire are damaging harvests in California, Australia and Brazil. Warming and acidifying oceans threaten seafood stocks. Rising temperatures are causing declines in crops as different as wheat and cherries, while extreme precipitation and floods have destroyed crops across the US and Europe. Increasing temperatures and CO2 levels are reducing the nutritional value of grasses and increasing heat stress, in the process impairing animals’ ability to produce eggs, meat, and milk. At the same time, climate change is also beginning to disrupt another key aspect of food security: how food gets to market. The same effects that are hurting food production – storm surges, floods, and other extreme weather events all around the world – are also highlighting the vulnerability of food distribution systems that rely on long-distance transportation, centralized wholesale markets, and the often concentrated food production sources.
    • The US federal government has been slow to heed these warnings. The US Department of Agriculture is devoting considerable resources to understanding the impacts of climate change on agricultural production, including through its regional “Climate Hubs” established in 2014. But food distribution is not on the agency’s agenda. “Food to market is not within our realm of responsibility,” says Jerry Hatfield, leader of the USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub.
    • “I think every city should be thinking about where their food comes from,” Elizabeth Ryan, the Hudson Valley apple grower, says. “The more diversified, the more local, the better.” Such diversification is also important for rural communities “that see themselves as isolated from current production sources,” Donlon explains. Whether because of Hurricane Sandy or “versions of Sandy,” Ryan says, “people are worried and thinking not only about whether or not they’ll get a crop or not but also about logistics.”
  • It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when an elite minority was enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s: (Naomi Klein) The alarm bells of the climate crisis have been ringing in our ears for years and are getting louder all the time - yet humanity has failed to change course. What is wrong with us?
    • Time is tight, to be sure. But we could commit ourselves, tomorrow, to radically cutting our fossil fuel emissions and beginning the shift to zero-carbon sources of energy based on renewable technology, with a full-blown transition underway within the decade. We have the tools to do that. And if we did, the seas would still rise and the storms would still come, but we would stand a much greater chance of preventing truly catastrophic warming. Indeed, entire nations could be saved from the waves.
    • So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us. Gentle tweaks to the status quo stopped being a climate option when we supersized the American Dream in the 1990s, and then proceeded to take it global. And it’s no longer just radicals who see the need for radical change. In 2012, 21 past winners of the prestigious Blue Planet Prize – a group that includes James Hansen, former director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway – authored a landmark report. It stated that, “in the face of an absolutely unprecedented emergency, society has no choice but to take dramatic action to avert a collapse of civilization. Either we will change our ways and build an entirely new kind of global society, or they will be changed for us.”
    • Because the thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away. Can we pull it off? All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.
  • The winter of 2014-15 was the season that divided America:
    WinterAverageUS.jpg
  • Why China's Pollution Could Be Behind Our Cold, Snowy Winters
  • Study confirms La Cienega residents' fear: Water decline threatens area:
    • South of Santa Fe and visible from Interstate 25, wetlands fed by natural springs create a cool oasis of green each summer in La Cienega. Centuries-old irrigation ditches and their farmers depend on water from the springs. Ducks, geese and herons rest at spring-fed ponds on their annual migratory treks. These wetlands are the only source of water for La Cienega (which means “the marsh” in Spanish) and other communities on Santa Fe’s southern edge. But the wetlands and springs are slowly drying up, besieged by periodic drought and steady well-water pumping by hundreds of homes built in the last 20 years around the area.

3/10/2015

  • Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre: As global warming argument moves on to politics and business, Alan Rusbridger explains the thinking behind our major series on the climate crisis
    • Even when the overwhelming majority of scientists wave a big red flag in the air, they tend to be ignored. Is this new warning too similar to the last? Is it all too frightening to contemplate? Is a collective shrug of fatalism the only rational response?
    • One reason for this is personal. This summer I am stepping down after 20 years of editing the Guardian. Over Christmas I tried to anticipate whether I would have any regrets once I no longer had the leadership of this extraordinary agent of reporting, argument, investigation, questioning and advocacy. Very few regrets, I thought, except this one: that we had not done justice to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species. So, in the time left to me as editor, I thought I would try to harness the Guardian’s best resources to describe what is happening and what – if we do nothing – is almost certain to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community”.
    • We will look at who is getting the subsidies and who is doing the lobbying. We will name the worst polluters and find out who still funds them. We will urge enlightened trusts, investment specialists, universities, pension funds and businesses to take their money away from the companies posing the biggest risk to us. And, because people are rightly bound to ask, we will report on how the Guardian Media Group itself is getting to grips with the issues.
    • You do not need much of a grasp of maths to work out the implications. There are trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels currently underground which, for our safety, simply cannot be extracted and burned. All else is up for debate: that much is not.
    • [ael: Alan, you are my hero.] Scott Simon interviewed Alan later in March.
  • Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis :
    • Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.
    • In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. In the Middle East, swaths of countryside have been reduced to desert because of overuse of water. Iran is one of the most severely affected. Heavy overconsumption, coupled with poor rainfall, have ravaged its water resources and devastated its agricultural output. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates is now investing in desalination plants and waste water treatment units because it lacks fresh water. As crown prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan admitted: “For us, water is [now] more important than oil.”
  • The oceans may be lulling us into a false sense of climate security: Ocean cycles have slowed the warming of global surface temperatures, but only temporarily
    • A paper published last week in Science casts more light on oceans and how they may have contributed to a false sense of security about what we face in the future. The paper, coauthored by Byron Steinman, Michael Mann, and Sonya Miller, approached the problem in a new way that connected real-world observations with state-of-the-art climate models. What the authors find casts severe doubt on other work which had oversold the role of natural climate’s ability to halt global warming for the next 15 years. Instead, by correcting others’ errors, the new paper shows that things may be worse than we thought.
  • Doubt over climate science is a product with an industry behind it: With its roots in the tobacco industry, climate science denial talking points can be seen as manufactured doubt
    • As The Chronicle of Higher Education has explained, The Smithsonian doesn’t actually pay Soon a wage and he has no association with the world-renowned Harvard University, despite the name of his institution suggesting there might be one. Soon chases money himself and in the last decade practically all of it has come either from the fossil fuel industry or conservative groups. The Smithsonian is now carrying out a review, after it also emerged that it had agreed to a clause preventing the institution from revealing the identity of at least one donor.
    • For more than 15 years Soon has been a key part of the globe-spanning industry producing doubt about the science of climate change. There are four main cogs that make up the machinery as I see it - conservative “free market” think tanks, public relations groups, fossil fuel organisations and ideologically aligned media. Occasionally over the years, the hood on the climate denial machine has been lifted to reveal its hidden workings. As I wrote for The Guardian last week, in 1998 a leaked American Petroleum Institute memo detailed how a dozen fossil fuel lobbyists, think tank associates and PR professionals had come together for a mass scale misinformation project on climate science. The memo claimed that “victory” would be achieved when “uncertainties” (read: doubt) became part of the conventional wisdom among the public.
    • In 1991, for example, a group of coal utilities devised an advertising and public relations campaign that would also recruit scientists to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact)”. In 2000, influential US Republican pollster Frank Luntz produced a memo for the energy industry and anyone else challenging the science of climate change. Luntz wrote: Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate. Luntz also proposed that Republicans should stop using the phrase “global warming” and replace it with “climate change” because this was “less frightening”. In 2006, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association – a group that distributes coal-generated electricity - produced a fact sheet for their members to pass around to employees who should then pass them on to their friends and family. The materials claimed climate change was mainly caused by changes in the output of the sun, changes in the earth’s orbit and by plate tectonics.
    • In a famous 1969 tobacco industry memo, one executive wrote:

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognize that a controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to the health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health. Doubt is also the limit of our “product”.

3/9/2015

  • In Florida, officials ban term 'climate change': The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years. But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes. DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
    • Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting. “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she said. This unwritten policy went into effect after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director, according to former DEP employees. Gov. Scott, who won a second term in November, has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
  • Will the “Dark Lord of Coal Country” finally be brought to justice?: A grand jury indicted Blankenship in November on four charges: conspiring to willfully commit routine violations of federal mine safety laws; conspiring to impede administration of the federal mine safety laws; making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the wake of the explosion; and securities fraud. If convicted, he faces 31 years in prison.
    • The documents, released after media organizations challenged a court-instated gag order on the case, show a Blankenship defense team bent on throwing whatever obstacles it can — requesting delays, a venue change, an entirely new set of circuit judges, and the kitchen sink — into the prosecution’s way. Prosecutors filed responses to each, and the thrust and parry between the two sides demonstrates a months-long process of legal one-upsmanship that occasionally descended into snide digs from both sides.
  • America's First Offshore Wind Farm to Start Construction This Summer: America's first offshore wind farm off the Rhode Island coast could be up and running in 2016. A small wind project in New England just made history. Deepwater Wind announced Monday that its Block Island wind farm is fully financed and on track to become the nation's first offshore wind project.
  • A Weak Link to Harvard-Smithsonian Gave Star Power to Climate Contrarian Willie Soon: Though employed by the prestigious institution, Soon had to attract outside funding for his research and entire salary to keep his job.
    • Since 2008, Soon has received more than $800,000 from fossil fuel interests to fund research for 11 studies that have been published in nine scientific journals and to pay for public speaking appearances, among other things, according to the documents. Financial backing for Soon’s work––studies he called "deliverables"––included grants from ExxonMobil, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the coal utility Southern Company Services Inc., and Donors Trust Inc., an organization that facilitates contributions largely toward conservative causes, from donors who wish to remain anonymous.
    • Funding agreements show that Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian agreed to allow Southern Co. to review his scientific studies before they were published and pledged not to disclose Southern Co.'s role as a funder without permission. The industry rides the coattails of the Harvard-Smithsonian name, according to Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, the group that released the documents. "With Soon and his credibility with the Harvard nameplate, they have a voice."
  • Can Fracking Pollute Drinking Water? Don't Ask the EPA: The EPA has been unable to collect the data it needs from the multibillion dollar oil and gas sector, which has stymied a five-year federal study.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency embarked in 2010 on what was intended to be a definitive study to find out. The answer could prove critical to future U.S. regulation of the multibillion-dollar fossil fuel sector and to ensuring water safety for millions of Americans. But after five years of fighting with the oil and gas industry, the agency may still be unable to provide a clear answer when a draft of the study is published this spring, based on internal EPA documents and interviews with people who have knowledge of the study. "We won’t know anything more in terms of real data than we did five years ago," said Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and a member of the EPA's 2011 Science Advisory Board, a group of independent scientists who reviewed the draft plan of the study. "This was supposed to be the gold standard. But they went through a long bureaucratic process of trying to develop a study that is not going to produce a meaningful result."

3/5/2015

  • McConnell Urges States to Defy U.S. Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas: Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, is urging governors to defy President Obama by refusing to implement the administration’s global warming regulations. In an op-ed article published Wednesday in The Lexington Herald-Leader with the headline, “States should reject Obama mandate for clean-power regulations,” Mr. McConnell wrote: “The Obama administration’s so-called ‘clean power’ regulation seeks to shut down more of America’s power generation under the guise of protecting the climate.” He added, “Don’t be complicit in the administration’s attack on the middle class.”
    • [ael]: that's a lot of crap to unpack, but let me roll up my sleeves and get started:
      1. First of all, a United States Senator is calling on States to defy the national government. That should be a problem. Maybe we'll all soon be called upon to ignore the IRS, the military when it calls people up for military service, or to ignore the Coast Guard and Border Patrol. This from the article: “It’s unprecedented that a leader in the Senate would call on states to disobey the law, which has been upheld many times by the Supreme Court,” said Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee. “I can’t recall a majority leader calling on states to disobey the law — and I’ve been here almost 24 years,” she said.
      2. Secondly, he adds that gross tag at the end, Obama's "attack on the middle class." That Mitch McConnell, defender of polluters, defenders of those whose raze the tops off of the mountain homes of a huge swath of Americans, is in any way, shape, or form the defender of the middle class is such an overreach. He might as well declare himself recipient of a Pulitzer Nobel Prize combo.
      3. Finally, it's not a "guise", protecting the climate: it's that we'd damned well better start doing something about protecting our climate — and since it's the pollution from all of those power generators that is causing the problem, that's screwing with the planet's climate, that seems like the intelligent place to start. But with McConnell, it's not about intelligence — it's about shoring up his one-percenter corporate buddies. Red Card.
  • PNC Bank reduces financing for coal mining projects involving mountaintop removal: Joining JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and others, the Pittsburgh-based bank says it will stop financing coal companies that rely on environmentally damaging mountaintop removal for more than a quarter of their production [ael: why not ANY production, PNC? Yellow Card.]
    • The bank in 2010 stopped financing companies that engage in the controversial practice for more than 50% of their production. But the new policy, which came out as part of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based bank’s corporate responsibility report (pdf) Monday, means that the largest US coal producers will no longer be able to get credit from the bank, experts say.
    • But other banks have resisted: Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank, among others, are still involved in financing mountaintop removal coal mining. [ael: Red Cards all around!]
  • February was one of the most extreme months in U.S. weather history:
    B_B_VKSUoAAauU1.png:large
  • Arctic Sea Ice Is Getting Thinner, Faster: New data compiled from a range of sources — from Navy submarines to satellites — suggests that thinning is happening much faster than models have estimated, according to a study aiming to link those disparate data sources for the first time. University of Washington researchers Ron Lindsay and Axel Schweiger calculated that in the central part of the Arctic Ocean basin, sea ice has thinned by 65 percent since 1975. During September, when the ice reaches its annual minimum, ice thickness is down by a stunning 85 percent.
    3_4_15_Andrea_seaicethickness.jpg

3/4/2015

  • Okla. agency linked quakes to oil in 2010, but kept mum amid industry pressure: Oklahoma's state scientists have suspected for years that oil and gas operations in the state were causing a swarm of earthquakes, but in public they rejected such a connection. When the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) did cautiously agree with other scientists about such a link, emails obtained by EnergyWire show the state seismologist was called into meetings with his boss, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, and oil executives "concerned" about the acknowledgement. One of the oilmen was Continental Resources Chairman Harold Hamm, a leading donor to the university. The seismologist, Austin Holland, told a senior U.S. Geological Survey official that as far back as 2010, OGS officials believed an earthquake swarm near Oklahoma City might have been triggered by the "Hunton dewatering," an oil and gas project east of the city.
  • Forget about that snowball — here’s what climate change could actually do to our winters: For Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) — who recently brandished a snowball on the Senate floor to make a point about global warming — the seasons would seem to have a grander, more resonant meaning than they do for some of the rest of us. It’s about a lot more than where the Earth is in its yearly orbit and whether its axis tilts toward or away from the sun. It’s also about faith. “God is still up there, and He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth remains,” wrote Inhofe in his 2012 book “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”
    • This backdrop helps to explain Inhofe’s much maligned Senate snowball stunt from late last week – a moment which prompted The Post to suggest that Inhofe is making his Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairmanship a “national embarrassment.” Beneath the display, though, may lie Inhofe’s feeling that the seasons are theologically inviolate, and that contrary to what those climate “alarmists” say, there’ll be no messing with the planetary distribution of heat and cold — because that’s how God works.

3/3/2015

  • Oslo divests from coal companies: City becomes first capital in the world to join fossil fuel divestment movement
  • Satellite data suggests forest loss is accelerating: Satellite images suggest tropical forests from the Amazon to the Philippines are disappearing at a far more rapid pace than previously thought, a University of Maryland team of forest researchers say. The annual rate of deforestation from 1990 to 2010 was 62 percent higher than in the previous decade, and higher than previous estimates, according to a study carried out of satellite maps covering 80 percent of the world’s tropical forests. The new study questions the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) assessment, which suggested that the rate of deforestation actually decreased 25 percent from 1990 to 2010.
  • Looming Warming Spurt Could Reshape Climate Debate:
    • Papers in two leading journals this week reaffirmed that the warming effects of a substantial chunk of our greenhouse gas pollution have been avoided on land for the last 15 to 20 years because of a phase in a decades-long cycle of ocean winds and currents. With Pacific trade winds expected to slacken in the years ahead, the studies warn that seas will begin absorbing less of global warming’s energy, and that some of the heat they’ve been holding onto will rise to the surface.
    • “The hiatus is associated with the negative PDO phase — with strong subtropical trade winds that pile the warm water up in the tropical western Pacific, and bury some warm water in the subtropics,” Trenberth said. “If you turn that off, then the waters warm more generally and over a shallower layer, with consequences for the atmosphere above.”
  • California’s terrifying forecast: In the future, it could face droughts nearly every year: Unlike other climate studies that sound an alarm for impact far into the future, the Stanford University study led by associate professor Noah Diffenbaugh pored through historical data from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center to explain current conditions, and concluded that California should get used to it. It was published Monday afternoon in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
    • The forecast is negative, but not necessarily the outlook, the authors said. California has opportunities to manage its risks with smart water policies that use precipitation to bank ground water so that farms, which use 77 percent of the state’s water, can survive. The statewide water use is similar to what it was 40 years ago, meaning that even though the population has exploded to 33 million, Californians share about as much water now as they did in the 1970s.
  • Climate skeptic blasts 'shameless attempt to silence' research: “This effort should be seen for what it is: a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings, and to make an example out of me as a warning to any other researcher who may dare question in the slightest their fervently held orthodoxy of anthropogenic global warming,” Soon said in a statement released by the conservative Heartland Institute, one of the top voices in the movement questioning the scientific consensus that humans' greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change.
    • [ael: ironically he responded through the Heartland Institute, not through any news organization. This guy is a shill of the fossil fuel interests. His behavior is foul: red card.]

3/2/2015

  • Saudi Arabia sees end of oil age on the horizon: Most analysts believe Saudi Arabia refuses to cut production because it wants to shake out its higher-cost competitors or because it wants to punish Iran and Russia. There may be some truth in those theories, writes Elias Hinckley, strategic advisor and head of the energy practice with international law firm Sullivan and Worcester, but they miss the deeper motivation of the Saudis. Saudi Arabia, he says, sees the end of the Oil Age on the horizon and understands that a great deal of global fossil fuel reserves will have to stay underground to avoid catastrophic global warming. “That’s why it has opened the valves on the carbon asset bubble.”
  • Even at $10/barrel, oil can’t match solar on cost: The report from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi says that while oil and gas has underpinned almost all energy investments until now, future investment will be almost entirely in renewable energy sources.
    • The report is important because the Gulf region will need to add another 170GW of electricity in the next decade, and the major financiers recognise that the cheapest and most effective way to go is through solar and wind. It also highlights how even the biggest financial institutions in the Gulf are thinking about how to deploy their capital in the future. “Cost is no longer a reason not to proceed with renewables,” the 80-page NBAD report says. It says the most recent solar tender showed even at $10/barrel for oil, and $5/mmbtu for gas, solar is still a cheaper option. It notes intermittency of wind and solar is not an issue, notes that fossil fuels resources are finite and becoming increasing hard to reach, that governments want local supplies and want to disconnect from the volatility of the oil price, and policy frameworks re seeking to decarbonise economies in response to climate and pollution concerns.
    • It notes that solar PV and onshore wind power have achieved grid parity in many areas, particularly those in need of energy additions, and will be at parity in 80 per cent of world markets within two years. In some instances, the price of renewables are remarkably low. “The latest solar PV project tendered in Dubai returned a low bid that set a new global benchmark and is competitive with oil at US$10/barrel and gas at US$5/MMBtu.” This refers to the 200MW solar tender won by Saudi firm ACWA Power, a $23 billion energy major, which bid $US0.0584/kWh (5.84c/kwh), without subsidies, which is the lowest in the world to date.
  • Signs of spring 'shifting' in trees: Scientists say signs of spring are appearing earlier in woodlands because of temperature rises in past decades.
    • The study is based on a record of woodland plants at an estate in Norfolk that was started in 1736 by Robert Marsham. After his death in 1797, other family members carried on recording 27 indications of spring until 1958, creating one of the longest running records of its kind in the world.
  • Hundreds of illicit oil wastewater pits found in Kern County: Inspections completed this week by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board revealed the existence of more than 300 previously unidentified waste sites. The water board’s review found that more than one-third of the region’s active disposal pits are operating without permission.
    • State regulators face federal scrutiny for what critics say has been decades of lax oversight of the oil and gas industry and fracking operations in particular. The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has admitted that for years it allowed companies to inject fracking wastewater into protected groundwater aquifers, a problem they attributed to a history of chaotic record-keeping. “The state doesn’t seem to be willing to put the protection of groundwater and water quality ahead of the oil industry being able to do business as usual,” said Andrew Grinberg of the group Clean Water Action.
  • China’s bursting coal bubble raises fear of stranded assets: As China accounts for half the world’s demand for “seaborne” coal, and was assumed to be the main driver for new pits for decades to come, now could be the right time for investors to review their exposure to the commodity. It will also reawaken debate among policymakers about the wider global financial risks that may emerge from a so-called “carbon bubble”, whereby fossil fuel deposits become “stranded”, leaving investors and pension fund holders sitting on massive losses.
  • Stephen Harper’s Petro-State Is Built on Tar Sands: If two or three of five proposed lines are stopped, the stranding of the tar sands will escalate
    • So the economic stranding process has already begun. Five global energy giants—Shell, Total, Suncor, Statoil and Occidental—have cut bait on major bitumen deposits in Alberta, in which they had already invested billions. Suncor has just slashed another billion dollars from its capital spending program and $800 million more from operating expenses. And as oil prices slide lower, commercial and investment banks are reconsidering future underwritings.

What went on: February, 2015

What went on: January, 2015

What went on: 2014

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