March, 2016

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.


March, 2016


  • The man who discovered climate change finally gets his due: French glaciologist Claude Lorius, 84, has taken part in more than 20 polar expeditions, mostly to Antarctica, and was one of the first scientists to foresee the ice melt now occurring in the region. He returned to Antarctica for the filming of "Ice and the Sky," which tells his story.
    • In the late 1950s, scientists working in Greenland had figured out a way to use ice to reveal the temperature history of the planet. Using an instrument called a mass spectrometer, scientists could peer at molecules of ice and learn the temperature on the day that the snow fell. The oldest ice, trapped in the deepest part of the ice sheet, could reveal temperatures eons ago.
    • Lorius' next mission was to drill out as deep an ice core as possible. He returned to Antarctica in 1964 for nine months to test ice core drills. One evening, while drinking a whiskey on rocks chipped off an ice core sample, Lorius watched bubbles get liberated from the ice. These bubbles must contain air from the past, he realized. Like tiny fossils, they contained a sample of atmosphere from the time the snow fell. And the oldest ice would reveal the Earth's climate history from its very beginning.
    • History assembled from Greenland's ice cores would be somewhat ambiguous because that region's ice contains some dirt and junk. Lorius knew Antarctica's ice sheet could provide this information, and he also knew that any one nation or scientist could not do this alone.
    • The Russians had drilled to a depth of over 2,000 meters and recovered an ice core that went back 420,000 years. In 1984, Lorius went there on an American airplane and brought back samples to Grenoble.
      Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica "[The Vostok core] stands to this day as the most important record demonstrating the relationship between temperature and greenhouse gases," Mayewski said.
    • In 1999, scientists at Dome C drilled to a depth of 3,190 meters and recovered a core that extends 740,000 years back in time. That record of CO2 levels and temperature, called the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) core, was published in Nature in 2004. That core is now the gold standard for CO2 measurements. Eight glacial cycles from an Antarctic ice core
  • Rapid decline of coal use leads to drop in UK emissions: Figures show a 4% reduction in the national annual emissions of carbon dioxide, with coal now burning at its lowest level in at least 150 years
  • Climate Model Predicts West Antarctic Ice Sheet Could Melt Rapidly: [the West Antarctic ice sheet], larger than Mexico, is thought to be potentially vulnerable to disintegration from a relatively small amount of global warming, and capable of raising the sea level by 12 feet or more should it break up. But researchers long assumed the worst effects would take hundreds — if not thousands — of years to occur. Now, new research suggests the disaster scenario could play out much sooner.
    • With ice melting in other regions, too, the total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100, the researchers found. That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago, and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.
    • The answer the scientists got is described in their paper in the dry language of science, but it could easily serve as the plot device of a Hollywood disaster movie. They found that West Antarctica, which is already showing disturbing signs of instability, would start to break apart by the 2050s.


  • How to Talk Global Warming in Plain English: Scientists struggle to convey the risks of climate change simply
    • It’s time, many of its past authors say, to consider shifting the assessment away from being a document that tells people what scientists do and do not know about climate change and its risks, and toward something more interactive. Something, many scientists said last week, that explicitly lays out how much time people have to plan, prepare and even pay for the inevitable adaptation.
  • Arctic sea ice extent breaks record low for winter: With the ice cover down to 14.52m sq km, scientists now believe the Arctic is locked onto a course of continually shrinking sea ice
  • Georgia Power to close dozens of coal ash lagoons over next decade: Georgia Power said Tuesday it plans to a dozen coal ash ponds at six power plants in the state within two years, but that it may take up to 10 years to close 16 other storage ponds. Another pond may not be closed for up to 14 years.
    • Most privately operated disposal facilities in Georgia have stopped accepting coal ash, and some have been discovered to be leaking toxic metals in the soil and ground water.
    • [ael: more clean coal — more reason to be coal's friend….]


  • Scotland closes its last coal-fired power plant: On March 24, Scottish Power shut down Longanett power station, its last standing coal-fired power plant.
    • By 2020, Scotland hopes to keep its 5 million residents humming on 100 percent clean energy. Looks like coal power in Scotland is becoming almost as elusive as Nessie.
  • Top scientists find it hard to make public see risks: And it's as difficult to explain risks on a localized level as it is to show, without facing accusations of fearmongering, that climate change is an existential threat to the human race, they added.
  • Climate change threatening Philippines’s food security:
  • China pushes for mandatory integration of renewable power: China has ordered power transmission companies to provide grid connectivity for all renewable power generation sources and end a bottleneck that has left a large amount of clean power idle, the country's energy regulator said on Monday. The grid companies have been ordered to plug in all renewable power sources that comply with their technical standards, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said. [ael: in the end, we have to discuss it, and bring the companies on board; in China, the top just says "do it", and it has to get done. At least in China the trains run on time?!]


  • Clean Power Plan a 'red flag' tied to Peabody's fate: Peabody, which has been scrambling to raise cash and pay its interest bills on time, struck a nearly $360 million deal last November. The buyer was Bowie Resource Partners LLC, a privately backed firm that wanted to buy three mines in New Mexico and Colorado. But coal markets have worsened since then, and the deal is under threat.
  • Wind and solar are growing at a stunning pace (just not enough to stop climate change): Last year, the world's nations plunked down $286 billion on renewable energy, twice what they spent on coal and gas. For the first time ever, renewables made up fully half of all new electric capacity installed worldwide, with 118 gigawatts coming online. Next time someone says renewables are a niche market, toss them this PDF.
    • Five other neat charts from the renewables report: The full UN/BNEF report has literally dozens of charts and graphs on renewable trends, but I'll just pull out five that grabbed me.
    • Have we hit "the end of the fossil fuel era"? Not even close.: It will take massively ambitious measures to halt these trends and shift toward cleaner energy. To prevent serious global warming, as the University of Colorado's Roger Pielke Jr. likes to point out, carbon-free sources will have to rise from 14 percent of the energy supply today to more than 90 percent by the second half of the century. That means (roughly) deploying 1 gigawatt of carbon-free power every single day for the next century — the equivalent of opening a large nuclear power plant around the world every day, or raising 1,500 wind turbines every day. It will mean shifting our cars and trucks to clean electricity, overcoming the intermittency problems with renewables, radically increasing energy efficiency, finding new ways to fuel our ships and airplanes (hydrogen? biofuels?) and steel and cement production.
  • Climate vs. Primate: Dawn of Extinction?: A new study finds that every single primate species will be adversely affected by rising temperatures and changing rainfall levels


  • S.E.C. Orders Exxon Mobil Shareholder Vote on Climate Data: The Securities and Exchange Commission has told Exxon Mobil it must include a resolution on its annual shareholder proxy that, if approved, would force the company to outline for investors how its profitability may be affected by climate change and the legislation that aims to combat it.
    • The group’s leaders greeted the S.E.C. decision as a victory for investors concerned with the possible impact of climate change on their portfolios. [ael: they're concerned about "their portfolios" — are they concerned about their planet? Are they concerned about eating? Are they concerned about super-storms? Not really — but their PORTFOLIOS! Good God, man! My portfolio!]
  • Rockefeller family charity to withdraw all investments in fossil fuel companies: Started by John D Rockefeller – who made his fortune from oil – the fund singled out ExxonMobil, calling the world’s largest oil company ‘morally reprehensible’
    • “There is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons,” the RFF, which has relatively small total holdings of $130m (£92m), said in a statement. “We must keep most of the already discovered reserves in the ground if there is any hope for human and natural ecosystems to survive and thrive in the decades ahead. We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil. Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded.”
    • RFF is not the first Rockefeller family organisation to vow to divest from fossil fuels. Last year the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) said it was withdrawing all of the $45m it had invested in fossil fuels. However, the much wealthier Rockefeller Foundation, whose endowment tops $4bn, is understood to be opposed to divestment for now.
  • Plenty sleight of hand in Malcolm Turnbull's clean power play: On Tuesday, the practitioners of the political dark arts were somehow able to turn an effective $1.3 billion reduction in renewable energy support into a flashy announcement of a new clean technology innovation fund.


  • Liberals unveil spending as ‘champion of clean growth’ : The Liberal government will spend more than $7-billion over the next two years on environmental protection with the big ticket items aimed at expanding public transit, fixing the country’s aging water and waste water infrastructure and supporting provincial efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Donald Trump bewilderingly denies that climate change poses a serious risk:
  • Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries:
    • Specifically, the authors believe that fresh water pouring into the oceans from melting land ice will set off a feedback loop that will cause parts of the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to disintegrate rapidly.
    • Despite any reservations they might have about the new paper, virtually all climate scientists agree with Dr. Hansen’s group that society is not moving fast enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, posing grave risks. An agreement reached late last year in Paris seeks to cut emissions, but it is not remotely ambitious enough to limit global warming to the degree Dr. Hansen regards as necessary.
    • The paper, written by Dr. Hansen and 18 other authors, dwells on the last time Earth warmed naturally, about 120,000 years ago, when the temperature reached a level estimated to have been only slightly higher than today. Large chunks of the polar ice disintegrated then, and scientists have established that the sea level rose 20 to 30 feet.
    • [ael: this next part would be funny, if not so insipidly short-sighted:] Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause an equal or greater rise in sea level, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries, at least. The new paper argues that it could happen far more rapidly, with the worst case being several feet of sea-level rise over the next 50 years, followed by increases so precipitous that they would force humanity to beat a hasty retreat from the coasts.
      [ael: so it's "centuries". It's okay if New York goes under in "centuries"; Miami, LA, etc. That's all gone in a couple of hundred years. Is it not striking that Miami will be gone by the end of THIS century? Does that not trouble Donald Trump? He doesn't understand, and, more than likely, doesn't care — because he'll be dead, and that means that the world will end.]
  • Australia announces A$1 billion clean energy fund, in break with past: "What that is going to do is every year invest A$100 million in the smartest, most cutting edge Australian clean-energy technologies and businesses to ensure that we … play our part in cracking the very hard problems, the challenging technical difficulties that we face in terms of reducing emissions," he told reporters.
  • Why is nobody talking about Africa's drought?: Millions in parts of eastern and southern Africa are facing the worst drought in three decades. Only 15 percent of the $155 million needed for relief aid has been funded to date.
  • Grass-clover effective in removing soil phosphorus:
    • Soil phosphorus levels in Europe are among the highest in the world, with the largest phosphorus surplus found in the Netherlands: more than 60% of Dutch agricultural sandy soils are saturated with phosphorus. This phosphorus is prone to leaching to surface water and groundwater, resulting in eutrophication and algal blooms. Furthermore, in natural areas, high soil phosphorus levels lead to impoverished plant communities dominated by one or few species. Reducing phosphorus levels in these soils would allow re-establishment of species-rich vegetation.
    • While the Netherlands is faced with phosphorus surpluses, global mineable phosphorous supplies are running out: phosphorus is a finite resource. "This is another reason why phytoextraction is a better idea than topsoil removal," Timmermans says. By using the grass-clover cuttings as feed for (dairy) livestock, phosphorus is recycled within the agro-chain: a win-win solution for all parties involved.
  • Survey Shows Only 3% Of College Graduates Would Consider A Career In Agriculture: A recent nationally representative survey conducted by ORC International on behalf of Land O’Lakes, Inc. shows there’s a startling lack of young people planning to work in the agriculture industry. In fact, only 3 percent of college grads and 9 percent of Millennials surveyed have or would consider an ag career.


  • Duke Energy Signs Deal to Turn Pig Poop Into Electricity: The Charlotte-based utility said it contracted with Carbon Cycle Energy, which will build and own a North Carolina plant that collects methane from pig and chicken waste, refines the gas and delivers enough for Duke Energy to generate enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes a year.
  • Startling images reveal devastating coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef: On Sunday, the Great Barrer Reef Marine Park Authority announced that substantial levels of coral mortality had been observed around the remote northern reefs in the inshore Cape York region. In recognition that parts of the reef were experiencing severe bleaching, the marine park authority lifted its response to a "level three", the highest possible, which triggers more extensive monitoring.
  • 2015 One for the Climate Record Books: “The future is happening now,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records.”
    • While the report was focused on 2015, WMO officials noted that the exceptional heat has continued into 2016. In both the NASA and NOAA records, January and February were both record warm, with February besting January as the most anomalously warm month ever recorded, going back 135 years.
    • Of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases, 93 percent is stored in the oceans. The heat content of the ocean going down to a depth of 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) also hit a new record high last year, the report noted.
    • Heat wasn’t the only arena where records were set: Preliminary data from NOAA suggests that 2015 saw the biggest single-year leap in global carbon dioxide levels, and Arctic sea ice saw a record low winter maximum and its fourth lowest summer minimum.
    • Such events included major heat waves and crippling drought in South Africa, heavy monsoon rains that led to extensive flooding in parts of India, drier conditions and major wildfires in Indonesia, and above-average tropical cyclone activity in much of the Pacific Ocean basin.


  • Is It Game Over for Coal?: Market trends and new regulations spell the end for one of America's dominant sources of energy.
    • Last Friday, Oregon became the first state to ban coal outright, passing a bill that will phase out any electricity generated by coal by 2035. Several days earlier, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that 80 percent of last year’s retired electricity was coal-powered. In 2016, natural gas is expected to produce 33.4 percent of electricity versus coal’s 32 percent. At a time when the coal industry is facing one setback after another, it prompts the question: Has the “war on coal” been won?
  • Scientists reach for superlatives to describe record heat: Earth got so hot last month that federal scientists struggled to find words, describing temperatures as “astronomical,” “staggering” and “strange.” They warned that the climate may have moved into a new and hotter neighborhood.
    • NOAA said Earth averaged 56.08 degrees Fahrenheit in February, 2.18 degrees above average, beating the old record for February set in 2015 by nearly six-tenths of a degree. These were figures that had federal scientists grasping for superlatives.
    • Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb said she normally doesn’t concern herself much with the new high temperature records that are broken regularly. “However,” she added in an email Thursday,” when I look at the new February 2016 temperatures, I feel like I’m looking at something out of a sci-fi movie. In a way we are: it’s like someone plucked a value off a graph from 2030 and stuck it on a graph of present temperatures. It is a portent of things to come, and it is sobering that such temperature extremes are already on our doorstep.”
  • By rejecting $1bn for a pipeline, a First Nation has put Trudeau's climate plan on trial: Canada’s Lax Kw’alaams show us how we can be saved: by loving the natural world and local living economies more than mere money and profit
  • The federal coal leasing program is just corporate welfare: Now Greenpeace is trying a new approach to that end: In a report called “Corporate Welfare for Coal,” released Thursday, the group calls out the corporate welfare kings by name. These aren’t ma-and-pa coal mining operations getting a helping hand from Uncle Sam. It’s the biggest coal companies in the country that are the most dependent on dirt-cheap federal coal.
  • Scientists predict change in provincial ecosystems: Scientists predict coyotes will likely have an easier time adapting to climate change than some other species, such as pikas.
    • “Things are going to change and resistance is futile,” said wildlife biologist Chris Shank, who is co-author of a report on Understanding and Respecting the Effects of Climate Change on Alberta's Biodiversity, during a recent presentation for the Bow Valley Naturalists. “We have to accept that the landscape is going to look different to our grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
  • Analysis: The Koch Brackets: Since over 100 million Americans have filled out NCAA basketball tournament brackets this week, I give you the Koch Brackets, a 32-college smackdown of dark money recipients via Donors Trust. The top 12 recipients have the dollar amounts.
  • WSW: Kalamazoo River Oil Spill Effects Not Getting Much Long-Term Study: Michigan State University ecologist Stephen Hamilton says no one is doing much research on how the oil might affect wildlife in the long term. He says that’s a “missed opportunity” to understand what happens when tar sands oil ends up where it shouldn’t be.
  • Can bats be protected from wind turbines?: Research on bats being killed by wind turbines shows some effective ways to protect them.


  • Welcome to the climate emergency: you’re about 20 years late: February 2016 saw global warming records tumble with new data suggesting more Australians think humans are the cause
    • The vast majority of the extra carbon dioxide and heat being added into the Earth’s biosphere ends up in the oceans, where heat has been building up since the early 1970s. What the ocean doesn’t take up, is left to accumulate in the atmosphere. There are two long-term records of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, measures as parts of CO2 per million parts of the atmosphere (ppm).
    • Instruments at Mauna Loa in Hawaii have been showing the accumulation of CO2 since the 1950s. Last year though saw the biggest jump ever since records started. CO2 is now above 400ppm there.
    • Australia holds the other long-term record of CO2 in the atmosphere – taken at the aptly-named Cape Grim, in Tasmania.


  • Trees Deal With Climate Change Better Than Expected: In addition to taking in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, plants also release it through a process called respiration. Globally, plant respiration contributes six times as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as fossil fuel emissions. Until now, most scientists have thought that a warming planet would cause plants to release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which in turn would cause more warming.
    • But in a study published Wednesday in Nature, scientists showed that plants were able to adapt their respiration to increases in temperature over long periods of time, releasing only 5 percent more carbon dioxide than they did under normal conditions.
  • Drought and rising temperatures 'leaves 36m people across Africa facing hunger': Unusually strong El Niño, coupled with record-high temperatures, has had a catastrophic effect on crops and rainfall across southern and eastern Africa
  • Peabody Energy flags bankruptcy risk after skipping interest payment: Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal miner and one of the largest companies still headquartered in the city of St. Louis, moved closer to bankruptcy with a warning Wednesday that it may have to restructure in court.


  • Record-breaking temperatures 'have robbed the Arctic of its winter': Fort Yukon has recorded Alaska’s coldest ever temperatures but this winter temperatures have been much warmer than usual, leading to dangerously thin ice
  • February breaks global temperature records by 'shocking' amount: Warnings of climate emergency after surface temperatures 1.35C warmer than average temperature for the month
  • As temperatures soar, new doubts arise about holding warming to 2 degrees C: this paper finds that “Global carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise under most projections and, unless additional climate policies are adopted, are more consistent with an expected rise in average global temperature of close to 3 C or more, than international policy goals of 2 C or less.”
  • Record surge in 2016 temperatures adds urgency to climate deal, say scientists: A record surge in temperatures in 2016, linked to global warming and an El Nino weather event in the Pacific, is adding urgency to a deal by 195 governments in December to curb greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change, scientists said on Monday. Average global temperatures last month were 1.35 degree Celsius (2.4 Fahrenheit) above normal for February, the biggest temperature excess recorded for any month against a baseline of 1951-80, according to NASA data released at the weekend.
    • "I think even the hard-core climate people are looking at this and saying: 'What on Earth'?" David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme at the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, said of the leap in temperatures. "It's startling," he told Reuters. "It's definitely a changed planet … It makes us nervous about the long-term impact." Scientists say global warming is causing more powerful downpours, droughts and rising sea levels.


  • A frightening record: Carbon dioxide levels show biggest-annual jump: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported the biggest 12-month jump in carbon dioxide concentrations since record-keeping began, based on preliminary data from its Earth Science Research Lab in Mauna Loa. From February 2015 to 2016, the global concentration of carbon in the atmosphere rose a record 3.76 parts per million (ppm), to over 404 ppm. The last record-holder was 1997-1998, when carbon dioxide rose 3.70 ppm. We’ve broke other records this past year, too: The 2015 calendar year also posted the biggest-annual rise in carbon levels, while NOAA reported last May that carbon stayed above an average 400 ppm for the entire month, a first in millions of years.
  • Humans have been causing record-breaking heat since 1937: Reporting in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a group of scientists found that starting in 1937, humans have been at least partly to blame for 16 record-breaking heat events. They used computer models to simulate the past with and without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and found that these events were “very unlikely to have occurred” without our influence.
  • Coal power plant retirements surge amid changing energy industry: Closures make it less likely Colorado's coal mines will ever see a rebound

What went on in February, 2016?

What went on in January, 2016?

What went on: 2015

What went on: 2014

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