Wednesday, September 21, 2016



On August 15 Beth Borenstein posted an article in AP titled, NASA: Last month was Earth's hottest in recorded history.  The next two highest global temperatures were in July 2015 and July 2011.

Reuters posted a Note on Aug. 24 by Alister Doyle titled, Investors urge G20 nations to ratify Paris climate deal this year.  He wrote,  Investors managing more than $13 trillion of assets urged leaders of the Group of 20 on Wednesday to ratify a global climate deal by the end of 2016 and to step up efforts to shift from fossil fuels.
A total of 130 investors, grouped in six coalitions, wrote a letter to G20 leaders and also called on them to double global investment in clean energy, develop carbon pricing and phase out fossil fuel subsidies.  Among backers were the California Public Employees' Retirement System, Swedish National pension funds, Aegon, AustralianSuper, the Church of England Pensions Board and the New York City Comptroller, it said.
"The Paris Agreement provides a clear signal to investors that the transition to the low-carbon clean energy economy is inevitable and already under way," the investors wrote to G20 leaders before a Sept. 4-5 summit in China.”
On August 30 the Morning Consult posted an article by Asha Glover titled, Polling Shows American Support for Climate Change Action.  She reported the results of three recent polls that show that a majority of Americans think that climate change is real and needs to be addressed.  Acording to a poll by Yale and George Mason University,, 73% of registered voters believe that climate change is real and 56% beliee that it is mostly due to human activity.  Another poll by St. Leo University foundd that 75% were concerned about climate change and 56% said that the government is responsible for addressing it.  Another poll by ABC News/Washington Post showed a split in views along party lines.  While 81% of Democrats said that climate is a very serious problem, only 43% of Republicans did; 65% of democrats wanted the government to do more, while only 22% of Republicans did.
The NY Times for Sept. 3 had an article by John Schwartz titled, Hurricane Season Is Heating Up. So Is the Planet. Coincidence?  After explaining that this is the height of the hurricane season in the Atlantic, he wrote, When it comes to hurricanes and climate change, scientists are still trying to figure out what warming is doing now and will do later. “It’s a really tough problem,” said Gabriel A. Vecchi, a climate researcher at NOAA’s geophysical fluid dynamics laboratory in Princeton. The issue might appear to be simple: Warmer oceans provide more energy for storms, so storms should get more numerous and mighty. But other factors have complicated the picture, he said, including atmospheric changes that can affect wind shear, a factor that keeps cyclones from forming.”  
“Kerry A. Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the evidence suggested climate change would cause the strongest storms to grow even stronger, and to be more frequent. Unresolved questions surround the effect of warming on the weaker storms, but even those will dump more rain, leading over time to increased damage from flooding.”
“The fuzziness about whether hurricane patterns are changing does not undercut the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change in general, Dr. Vecchi said. “There is no conflict between uncertainty about what global warming is going to do to hurricanes, and the reality of global warming and human activity being one of the drivers of global warming,” he said.
“Any storm can do tremendous damage where it hits, depending on the strength of its surge and winds and flooding. And overdevelopment along the nation’s coastlines means that the cost of damage is bound to escalate.
A big part of preparing, Dr. Emanuel said, is overhauling the nation’s flood insurance system, which currently does little to dissuade people from living in hazardous areas.”
“A recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that many homes are rebuilt over and over after storms with money from the National Flood Insurance Program.  The owners of one Louisiana home that has flooded 40 times have received $428,379 from the program over time. More than 2,100 homes flooded more than 10 times and received payments from the program. The 30,000 most-flooded homes make up less than 1 percent of the five million homes in the program, but have received more than 10 percent of the claims paid since 1978.
“Climate change just makes it worse,” Dr. Emanuel said, and he predicted far greater property damage and rebuilding costs in years to come. The insurance problem, he said, “sets up for a string of Katrinas and Sandys as far as the eye can see.””

NOTE: Large and powerful cyclonic storms, where winds circle around a central eye, are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific.  M.I.T. Professor Kerry Emanuel has written an excellent book titled, Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes.

On Sept. 7 the International Energy Agency (IEA) posted an article titled, Cities are at the frontline of the energy transition.  It pointed out that while countries and regions are setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the real action is likely to take place in booming cities all over the world.  In 2013 urban areas used 64% of the world’s primary energy and produced 70% of it CO2 emissions.  According to the IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2016 the evolution of city transport systems to encourage walking, biking and mass transit could save $21 trillion by 2050 while substantially reducing carbon emissions.  According to the IEA, Policy at the national level must encourage the deployment of clean energy technologies, and include greenhouse gas emission reduction targets (such as those under the Paris Agreement), carbon pricing mechanisms, and investment in energy research, development and demonstration.  (emphasis added)  But these targets must then be complemented by action at the local level. To meet their renewable energy targets, cities can provide detailed solar maps giving valuable information on expected energy yields and installation costs for buildings and houses in various neighborhoods for example. On transportation and fossil fuel emissions, cities can also invest in the long-term development of walking and cycling infrastructure. For energy efficiency, cities can take a leading role in adopting, monitoring and enforcing building energy codes for new construction.”
“There are cities that are already taking serious action. Some small towns in the United States are already running entirely on renewable power, including Aspen, Colorado, and Burlington, Vermont. Bigger cities have set ambitious goals, with Copenhagen, Denmark, aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025. San Diego, California, aims to be 100% powered by renewable sources by 2035, and Vancouver, Canada, by 2050.”

On Sept. 11 The Washington Post published an article by the Editorial Board titled, With more people hitting the road, it’s time for a carbon tax.
It says,AMERICANS ARE burning record amounts of gasoline. The Energy Department announced Aug. 31 that the country fueled up more this June than in any other month the agency has measured, underscoring a finding last month that the United States is on track to set an annual gas consumption record in 2016. This was not supposed to happen.
A couple of years ago, government experts projected that gasoline use would bump up about now — but not that it would hit or breach its 2007 peak. The economic downturn cut gas demand after 2007, then persistently high oil prices kept it down. Now the economy has rebounded, which was fairly foreseeable, and oil prices are strikingly low, which was less so. Americans are driving more and buying bigger vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency recently projected that people would buy more trucks and fewer gas-sipping cars in coming years than its experts had previously estimated. All of this is happening while one of the EPA’s marquee anti-climate-change policies, increasingly stiff fuel-efficiency requirements for cars and trucks, has been phasing in.
The news does not show that the EPA’s fuel-efficiency policy is failing. But it does punctuate the fact that it has some flaws. One of the most glaring is that, while EPA fuel-efficiency mandates will require cars and trucks to use less fuel to go the same distance, they cannot control how much people drive or what type of vehicles people buy. As recent events have shown, when oil prices sink, people worry less about conservation, no matter how environmentally desirable. In fact, higher fuel efficiency might also encourage some people to drive more than they would have otherwise, because their gas bills are lower.”  The new fuel efficiency standards are expected to provide an average of 51 MPG by 2025 for new vehicles.
“But it would be better to encourage people to buy cleaner cars and cut out unnecessary trips all at once — in fact, it would be better to establish a policy that encouraged individuals and businesses to account for the environmental impacts of driving, turning on the light switch, buying clothes or doing anything else that involves fossil fuels. This policy is a steadily rising carbon tax. (emphasis added)  A carbon tax would put a lower ceiling on national gasoline use without more aggressive regulatory interventions. It would also encourage every other piece of the economy to green up over time, starting with those for whom doing so is cheapest. This is why it is also the least expensive path to lowering the country’s carbon dioxide emissions.
On Sept. 12 Bryan Wiser from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, with coauthors from Insight Decisions, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and the University of Massachusetts, published an article in Nature Energy titled, 
Expert elicitation survey on future wind energy costs.  The paper summarizes the results of a survey of 163 of the world’s foremost wind power experts knowledgeable about land-based wind, fixed-bottom offshore wind and floating offshore wind.  The abstract says, “Wind energy supply has grown rapidly over the last decade. However, the long-term contribution of wind to future energy supply, and the degree to which policy support is necessary to motivate higher levels of deployment, depends—in part—on the future costs of both onshore and offshore wind. Here, we summarize the results of an expert elicitation survey of 163 of the world’s foremost wind experts, aimed at better understanding future costs and technology advancement possibilities.  Results suggest significant opportunities for cost reductions, but also underlying uncertainties. Under the median scenario, experts anticipate 24–30% reductions by 2030 and 35–41% reductions by 2050 across the three wind applications studied.  Costs could be even lower ...”  

The largest levelized cost reductions are expected for fixed-bottom (seafloor mounted) offshore wind turbines.  By 2030 these are expected to have a capacity of 11 MW with a hub height of 125 m and a rotor diameter of 190 m (625 feet).  Land-based turbines are expected to be smaller: 3.25 MW capacity with a 135 m rotor diameter.
 On Sept. 14 Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press posted an article titled, Poll: Americans favor slightly higher bills to fight warming.
He wrote, Most Americans are willing to pay a little more each month to fight global warming — but only a tiny bit, according to a new poll. Still, environmental policy experts hail that as a hopeful sign.”  Polling was done by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.  The poll showed that 71% of Americans want the federal government to do something about climate change, even if they’re not sure it’s happening.  When asked if they would be willing to pay an extra $1 per month on their electric bill, 51% said yes, but support fell sharply with increasing cost.  “At $10 a month, 39 percent were in favor and 61 percent opposed. At $20 a month, the public is more than 2-to-1 against it. And only 1-in-5 would support $50 a month.”
“There remains a partisan divide in how Americans view climate change. While 84 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents view global warming as a fact and a problem that the government needs to address, only 43 percent for Republicans agree. And 18 percent of Republicans said they think climate change is happening but don't think the government should address the issue.
Slightly more than half of Americans — 54 percent — said they approved of Obama administration rules to cut pollution from coal power plants, the biggest emitter of heat-trapping carbon dioxide.”

NOTE: In the classical Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, released by the UK government in 2006, Stern projected that climate change could be addressed at an annual cost of 1% of global GDP.  Failure to address it could result in an annual cost to the global economy of 5-20% of global GDP.  In 2008 he revised the cost of addressing climate change upward from 1%  to 2% of global GDP.  For the U.S., 2% of a $15 trillion GDP would be $300 billion  per year, or an average of about $1000 per person per year ($85/month).  I conclude that most Americans have no realistic idea of what it will cost to address climate change, or that failing to address it might cost 10 times that much!  My view is that failing to address climate change in a timely way could cause the collapse of the global economy, and perhaps the collapse of civilization itself.  Lester R. Brown wrote a book titled, Plan B 4.0 - Mobilizing to Save Civilization W.W. Norton & Co,. New York, (2009), detailing the growing threats.

The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications"
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

Alaskan Village Chooses to Relocate from Disappearing Island Home
Residents of the remote Alaskan village of Shishmaref voted to relocate from their ancestral home to a new location to be determined in the future. Along with Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, Shishmaref will be among the first U.S. communities to move due to climate change impacts. Home to 650 residents, the mile-wide island upon which the village rests has seen 3,000 feet of coastline wash away over the past 35 years. Melting permafrost and shrinking sea ice have weakened the island's natural erosion buffers, forcing residents to move buildings further inland. Resident and activist Esau Sinnok stated, "To put this in perspective: I was born in 1997, and since then, Shishmaref has lost about 100 feet. Within the next two decades, the whole island will erode away completely."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic.pdfMexico Preparing for National Cap-and-Trade Program, Expected in 2018

The Mexican government will initiate a pilot cap-and-trade program in November to test plans for a national carbon market slated for 2018. The voluntary pilot will allow up to 60 companies to practice operating under the proposed program, while providing the government with feedback heading into the final implementation. The government will be responsible for setting the emissions cap and managing a registry where companies will submit their emissions data for verification. Private-sector firms would be allowed to trade emissions certificates under the plan. Mexico has committed to reducing its emissions by 22 percent from 2013 levels by 2030 in fulfillment of the Paris climate agreement.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_1.pdfInsurance Industry Still Faces Challenges in Adapting to Climate Threats

A new report by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) found insurance companies are changing their operations too slowly and risk getting left with stranded assets as climate impacts become more prevalent. CEO of the AODP, Julian Poulter, underscores the vulnerability within insurer investments: "They're going to get hit on the liability side from climate change; they're going to get hit through the transition on their portfolio side ... and they're unable to manage the risk by going to the companies and urging them to transition early." A second study by University of Chicago economist Michael Greenstone examined the practice of capping premiums for high-risk coastal policyholders, concluding a cap "effectively prevents the market from sending the signal that people need to adapt to the risks they face" to keep their premiums down.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_2.pdfUnited States Remains a Nation Divided Over Climate Science

Public opinion remains split over climate change, more so than other contentious contemporary issues. According to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, climate is "more politically polarizing than abortion ... [and] gay marriage." Recent surveys published by Yale and George Mason University found that 17 percent of Americans were concerned and demand immediate action, whereas 28 percent shared concern but perceived the threat as distant. An additional 27 percent are somewhat cautious, 11 percent expressed doubt, and seven percent were not following the issue at all. The final 10 percent dismissed the science and threat of climate change entirely. Surveys conducted by Stanford University illustrate this divide in political terms, as 90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of independents view climate change as a serious threat to the United States, while only half of Republicans share this view.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_3.pdfAirborne Sensors Locate Elusive Methane Leaks in Southwestern United States

A study published August 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified the sources of 250 methane leaks in the U.S. Four Corners region. The study builds on previous investigations in the region by using aircraft-mounted near-infrared and thermal infrared spectrometers to identify the location of the methane leaks to within a few feet. The researchers found that just 10 percent of the leaks in the region were responsible for more than 50 percent of the excess methane. Ramón Alvarez, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said that although this study will be helpful in reducing emissions, "you have to keep looking, because next week or next month there could be a different population of sites that are in this abnormally high-emitting state."

For more information see:

NOTE: While there is much less methane in the atmosphere than there is CO2, methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas.  It produces only half as much CO2 per kWh as coal, but that advantage can be lost if the methane is lost to the atmosphere before it is burned.

Warming Climate Sets the Stage for Extreme Rainfall in Louisiana and Elsewhere

Many climatologists have associated the past week's massive flooding in southern Louisiana with rising global atmospheric temperatures. Warmer temperatures can lead to increasingly higher amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere, resulting in more frequent extreme rainfall events. According to data from the 2014 National Climate Assessment, the frequency of the heaviest rainfall events in the southeastern United States rose by 27 percent from 1958 to 2012. In response to these trends catching communities off-guard, Katherine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University, explains that "when climate is changing, ... relying on the past to predict the future will give us ... not just the wrong answer, but a potentially dangerous one."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_4.pdfMarine Heatwaves Wreak Havoc on Pacific Ocean Ecosystems

A recent stretch of marine heatwaves has had a devastating impact on ecosystems across the Pacific Ocean. Relatively new to science, these ocean phenomena were responsible for raising Western Australia's typical surface water temperatures 5 degrees Celsius during a 10 week period in 2011. The 2011 temperature surge killed off hundreds of kilometers of coastal kelp forests, while a 2016 heatwave caused 22 percent of coral in the Great Barrier Reef to die. Eric Oliver, an oceanographer at the University of Tasmania, commented that "the seas [off Australia's southeastern and southwestern coasts] are warming fast and so we might expect there to be an increased likelihood or increased intensity of the [marine heatwave] events that happen there." As global climate change continues to warm oceans worldwide, scientists fear that the frequency of these heatwaves may be on the rise, which in turn could trigger further ecological catastrophes.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_5.pdfCalifornia Assembly Passes Bill to Strengthen Emissions Standards

On August 23, the California Assembly approved Senate Bill 32 (SB32), a measure intended to extend California's greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The bill would mandate a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030, relative to 1990 levels. The state is already on track to achieve its current standard requiring 1990 emissions levels by 2020. The original law, Assembly Bill 32, passed in 2006, provided the basis for California's cap-and-trade program, which has been struggling with low permit revenue. SB32's author Senator Fran Pavley said, "Today's action sends an unmistakable signal to investors of California's commitment to clean energy and clean air." The Assembly-amended version of SB32 is headed back to the Senate for a final vote. Governor Jerry Brown has already vowed to sign the bill if it reaches his office.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_6.pdfColorado Governor Mulling Executive Order to Combat Carbon Emissions

On August 23, draft documents leaked suggesting Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper may issue an executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state's electric utility sector. The executive order under consideration would mandate a 25 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2025 and a 35 percent cut by 2030, both relative to 2012 emission levels. Gov. Hickenlooper has argued that Colorado should proceed with plans to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) despite the rule's judicial stay and opposition to the plan from the state's attorney general, Cynthia Coffman. Colorado's goal under the CPP involves a 31-38 percent emission reduction by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. Kathy Green, a spokeswoman for the Governor's office, clarified that the draft "is a working document that was created for discussion. No decisions have been made."

For more information see:

California Lawmakers Call for Climate Policy Reforms to Aid Vulnerable Communities 

State and local government leaders are advocating for California's climate policies to better reflect the needs of the state's low-income communities. With Governor Jerry Brown pursuing tighter limits on greenhouse gas emissions, concerns over how the cap-and-trade program's funds will be allocated have re-emerged. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles expressed dismay over the flow of dollars toward California's electric vehicle rebate program, stating, "A poor person in my community doesn't see a person driving a Tesla and say, 'That benefits me.'" Critics of the cap-and-trade program argue the global scale of addressing climate change results in local-level concerns being overlooked, particularly in poorer communities vulnerable to climate impacts. State officials and the Air Resources Board have responded by ensuring a greater share of funds directly benefit communities with elevated levels of pollution and poverty. Meanwhile, legislators continue to debate various proposals to advance additional reforms.

For more information see: 

United States and China to Ratify Paris Treaty Ahead of September's G20 Summit 

The United States and China are preparing for a bilateral announcement before the G20 summit that they will ratify the Paris climate agreement. Sources indicate the announcement will be made on September 2, prior to a scheduled meeting of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit in Hangzhou, China. Both governments have previously indicated a desire to ratify the deal before the end of 2016. According to an unnamed source, "There are still some uncertainties from the U.S. side due to the complicated U.S. system in ratifying such a treaty, but the announcement is still quite likely to be ready by Sept 2." The United States and China are responsible for 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

For more information see: 

pastedGraphic_7.pdfAntarctica's Fourth-Largest Ice Shelf in Danger of Breaking Away

Researchers monitoring Antarctica believe the continent's fourth largest ice shelf, Larsen C, is in real danger of being lost. A substantial crack in Larsen C has grown an additional 13.67 miles (22 km) since it was last examined in March 2016 and now stands at over 80 miles long (130 km). The massive rift is reminiscent of the losses of the Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002. According to Martin O'Leary, a researcher with Project MIDAS, Larsen C breaking apart would result in a loss of ice roughly equal in area to the state of Delaware. Regarding the timing of the event, O'Leary explains, "It's a lot like predicting an earthquake - exact timings are hard to come by. Probably not tomorrow, probably not more than a few years." Researchers worry the partial loss of Larsen C would leave the remaining portion unstable and vulnerable to further losses.

For more information see:

 pastedGraphic_8.pdfBlack Carbon Accelerates Melting of Asia's "Third Pole" 

Regional air pollution is partly to blame for accelerated glacial melt in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush Mountains and Tibetan Plateau, according to new findings published in the journal Nature Communications on August 23. Black carbon sampled from the glaciers was analyzed and traced back to origins in India and China. Researchers were surprised to find that two-thirds of black carbon from the interior of the study area was created by the burning of biomass fuels for cooking and heating, rather than fossil fuels. Black carbon is a particulate pollutant that promotes glacial melt by darkening their surfaces, resulting in greater sunlight absorption. Co-author Shichang Kang of the Chinese Academy of Science believes "the most important [outcome of the research] is that [they] can provide mitigation [advice] to policymakers." Kang notes government-sponsored efforts to improve cooking stove efficiency and make cleaner fuel sources available could make a significant impact on air pollution. 

For more information see: 

pastedGraphic_9.pdfStudy: Man-Made Climate Change Began Earlier than Previously Thought

According to a new study in Nature, ocean temperatures began to rise due to industrial carbon emissions as early as 1830. Climate scientists previously thought that man-made climate change did not begin to affect temperatures until the 20th century. The findings are the result of studying new data from fossilized coral, which provides tropical ocean temperatures from as early as 1500. Previous studies primarily relied on land temperature data, where warming occurred at a different rate. While the "climate change signal" (the point at which the warming trend in the data can be distinguished from natural variability) did not emerge in tropical oceans until the 1950s, this study pinpoints when the warming subtly began. The study used computer models to verify that ocean warming was due to greenhouse gas concentrations of the era and not natural factors. "Our findings show that the climate can respond very quickly to changes in greenhouse gases," said lead author Nerilie Abram, a professor at Australian National University.

For more information see: 

pastedGraphic_10.pdfUnited States and China Ratify Paris Climate Accord

On September 3, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced their countries' ratification of the Paris climate accord on Saturday at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. China's National People's Congress approved the climate deal Saturday morning, with President Xi stating China will "unwaveringly pursue sustainable development" in support of the Paris treaty. After the signing ceremony, President Obama stated: "Just as I believe the Paris agreement will ultimately prove to be a turning point for our planet, I believe that history will judge today's efforts as pivotal." Referencing recent tensions between China and the United States, Obama added, "Despite our differences on other issues we hope that our willingness to work together on this issue will inspire greater ambition and greater action around the world."  

White House press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that the Paris accord was structured around the President's "existing authority" already granted by Congress, opening the path for the U.S. ratification without additional legislative approval. Ratification by the United States and China is viewed as essential to the climate accord's success, as the two nations account for 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions combined. The accord requires at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions to ratify before the agreement enters into force. Additional climate proposals to be discussed between the United States and China at the summit include the phase-out of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol and a cap on international aviation emissions.  

For more information see:   

pastedGraphic_11.pdfChina and United States First G20 Nations to Peer-Review Fossil Fuel Subsidies

For the first time, China will provide the United States government the opportunity to review its fossil fuel subsidy records. The arrangement will shed light on China's practices and will facilitate a peer-review of domestic energy policy between the world's two largest economies. Fossil fuel industry subsidies have persisted among the G20 nations, despite a 2009 vow by its leaders to transition away from the practice. The agreement between China and the United States signals a breakthrough, three years after a voluntary process for peer-reviewing fossil fuel subsidies was issued by G20 finance ministers. Liu Shuang with Energy Foundation China said the new transparency would allow China to develop "a reform road map [for domestic policies] ... [and] a systematic review of its fossil fuel subsidies [to identify] those that are the least efficient."  

For more information see: 

pastedGraphic_12.pdfNortheast States Debate Future of Emissions Trading Program

The current agreement for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a carbon cap and trade system among nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, expires in 2020. The participating states are currently debating how the program will continue into the next decade, if at all. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is proposing to cut the emissions cap by five percent each year from 2020 to 2031, doubling the current annual rate. The governors of New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut are also in favor of the plan (or something similar). "We think it's important to get the maximum greenhouse gas reductions we can," said Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, "but we still have a lot of work to do with the other states." The other states - Delaware, Maine, Maryland, and New Hampshire - have reservations. "If the caps are unacceptable, we'll have to talk about the next steps," said Maryland environment secretary Ben Grumbles, adding, "pulling out is an option, but it's not the preferred option. We're not issuing an ultimatum, but this matters a lot to us." RGGI states have cut emissions by 37 percent since the program began in 2008.

For more information see:

U.S. Energy Sector Set to Emit More Carbon Dioxide from Natural Gas than Coal in 2016

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), the U.S. energy sector is on track to emit approximately 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from natural gas in 2016, exceeding the 1.4 million metric tons that is projected for coal. This will mark the first year that natural gas eclipses coal on this measure, after being roughly equal in 2015. Oil is still the leading source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. energy sector and is on track to emit 2.3 billion metric tons in 2016. Between 2000 and 2007, annual natural gas and coal CO2 emissions were about 1.2 billion and 2.1 billion metric tons, respectively. But the balance began to shift in 2008, resulting in roughly equal emissions in 2015. Experts point out, however, that the production of natural gas leads to substantial methane emissions, causing a significant climate impact.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_13.pdfResearchers Show Grass Can Independently Verify Power Plant Emissions

Researchers have discovered an inexpensive means of measuring carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by assessing the properties of grass located downwind. The new method is viewed as a breakthrough in independently verifying carbon emissions, which is particularly valuable in cases where power plants are subject only to self-reporting their emissions data. The method revolves around the fact that carbon dioxide produced from fossil fuel combustion contains zero amounts of radiocarbon, while naturally occurring carbon dioxide contains high amounts of radiocarbon. Researchers measured the amount of radiocarbon present in grass samples and compared it with known emission rates obtained from the power plant operator to determine how much carbon dioxide actually originated from the facility. Study author Jocelyn Turnbull of GNS Science explained, "Our next steps are to go out and do this in the 'real world' where we don't know what the emissions should be, and see if the power plant people are emitting what they say they are."

For more information see: 

pastedGraphic_14.pdfWarming in Alaska Allows Ticks to Move North, Bringing Risk of Disease

The state of Alaska is experiencing an influx of invasive tick species, prompting health concerns for humans and wildlife. According to a study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, non-native brown and American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, deer ticks, and Lone Star ticks have all been discovered in the region. Experts are alarmed by the trend, since ticks are a potential carrier of serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Some of the ticks sampled traveled on humans and animals from more southern regions, but not all. Kimberlee Beckman, a veterinarian with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, described the situation: "It appears the American dog tick is established in Alaska. We've been isolated from these because we've been cold and haven't had these ticks here. We're very vulnerable and tick-borne diseases are the most rapidly spreading diseases in the U.S."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_15.pdfMaryland Cautious Toward Deeper Emission Cuts for RGGI

Maryland officials are pushing back against a Massachusetts-backed proposal for more stringent emission reductions under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The group's nine state members are discussing terms for an extension of the cap-and-trade agreement prior to its 2020 expiration date. The proposal under consideration would reduce the carbon emissions cap for power plants by five percent annually for ten years, which is double the current rate. Maryland's utility companies occupy the same grid as the non-participating coal-reliant states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky, making it tougher for Maryland to meet the same standards as its RGGI partners. Massachusetts Energy Secretary Matthew Beaton emphasized the state is not looking to "[strong-arm] anyone to do anything." Meanwhile, Maryland Secretary of Environment Ben Grumbles said his administration "[wants] to reduce the risk of having other neighboring states being able to provide dirtier and cheaper energy to the citizens of Maryland."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_16.pdfUK Prime Minister Promises Paris Ratification amidst Calls for Action

Following the United States and China's ratification of the Paris climate accord, pressure has shifted to other industrialized nations like the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Theresa May provided reassurance to the House of Commons on September 7 that "[the United Kingdom] will indeed be ratifying the Paris agreement." A spokesman for the Prime Minister added the ratification would occur "as soon as possible," but declined to provide a specific date. Leaders from the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, and Green Party have all voiced support for the Paris deal but have become frustrated with the presiding government's sluggishness. Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Lynne Featherstone stated, "This is a hugely important example of where Britain should be working with our European partners to set an example for the rest of the world." Critics argue that the post-Brexit United Kingdom must persist in playing a leading role in the climate change discussion.

For more information see:

Climate Change Could Dramatically Extend Window for Trans-Arctic Shipping Routes

By 2050, opportunities to traverse the Arctic will double for non-ice strengthened vessels, according to a study by the University of Reading, published in Geophysical Research Letters. Rising average global temperatures have led to a long-term decrease in seasonal ice extent in the Arctic. The minimum extent for September 2016 is projected to be the second lowest on record. Research models showed that under a high-emissions scenario, trans-Arctic routes could be open to all vessel types for 4-8 months a year by the end of this century. The commercial benefits of the Arctic route include reduced shipping times, avoidance of fees for certain passages, and lower fuel costs. Ed Hawkins, with the University of Reading, said, "If we experience a 2-degree [Celsius] increase in global temperatures, we will get close to an Arctic that is effectively ice-free for part of the year; that's less than a million [square kilometers] of ice cover."

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pastedGraphic_17.pdfU.S. Companies Donate to Climate Skeptics While Touting Pro-Climate Policies

According to a Reuters review, major U.S. companies which have publicly supported President Obama's climate change policies have also backed climate skeptics in Congress. Reuters found PACs (political action committees) affiliated with DuPont, PepsiCo, AT&T, Google, GE, Verizon, and Mondelez gave more than a third of their total campaign contributions during the 2016 election cycle to opponents of the Obama administration's climate agenda. Reuters examined the PAC contributions of 30 of the largest publicly traded U.S.-based companies that are signatories to the White House's "American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge." The study revealed 25 of these companies had also donated to campaigns for legislators listed on Organizing for Action's "climate deniers" list. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who embraces his "climate denier moniker," said, "These are competitive companies, and the board might have said 'Look, right now it might be a popular thing to join this, and there's no downside since we're not really committing to anything.' That absolutely goes on."

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pastedGraphic_18.pdfStudy Strikes at Belief that Climate Change Would Improve Plant Growth

Scientists in California are refuting claims that plants can thrive in, or even withstand, increased concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen, and heat. In a 17-year long experiment, scientists at Stanford University maintained an ecosystem to simulate the predicted atmosphere of 2050. The findings show that plants exposed to these hotter conditions do not grow more or remove CO2 from the atmosphere at greater rates. A separate study, newly published by Indiana University researchers, further underscores the relationship between hot, dry air and a reduced capacity of plants to capture CO2. Scientists commended Stanford's in-depth experiment. Boston University biologist Richard Primack said, "this study clearly demonstrates that as temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, grassland ecosystems will likely not be able to tolerate the higher temperatures and increased drought stress." While the experiment's conclusions can only be applied to the single type of ecosystem featured, the experiment could be modified to assess areas such as the Arctic tundra and boreal and tropical forests.

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pastedGraphic_19.pdfIUCN: Global Warming Causing Massive Disruptions to Ocean Ecosystems

On September 5, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a report reaffirming that global warming is taking a heavy toll on ocean environments. Dan Laffoley, a lead author and marine vice chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN, stated, "The world's waters have absorbed more than 93 percent of the enhanced heating from climate change since the 1970s, curbing the heat felt on land but drastically altering the rhythm of life in the ocean." According to the report, the habitat movement of marine species are one and a half to five times greater than those of land-based organisms. IUCN also cited evidence that ocean warming is producing unprecedented cases of disease in plant and animal populations, which could impact human health in coastal areas. The report was drawn from peer-reviewed research and assembled by 80 scientists representing a dozen countries.

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pastedGraphic_20.pdfTyphoons in Pacific Have Intensified by 50 Percent in 40 Years

A new study in Nature Geoscience predicts typhoons sweeping across Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines will become more severe in the future. Researchers found that northwest Pacific storms have increased in intensity by 50 percent in the past few decades as a direct result of rising sea temperatures. This greater intensity poses an elevated risk of casualties, as well as economic and infrastructural damage to already vulnerable countries. Since the study only covers the last 40 years, scientists cannot confirm whether these superstorms are a product of anthropogenic impacts or merely naturally-occurring cycles. However, projections by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate global warming will be a factor in the intensity of storms in the future, regardless of whether or not it has been in the past. Kerry Emanuel, a tropical cyclone researcher at MIT, said, "The [study's] results leave little doubt that there are more high intensity events affecting south-east Asia and China ... Stronger storms cause higher storm surges, which often cause the most destruction and loss of life."

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Warming Climate Making African Dams a Hotspot for Malaria-Laden Mosquitoes

According to a study in Malaria Journal, temperature increases due to climate change and a spike in dam construction could expand habitable zones for mosquitoes and potentially double the number of people living near dams in Africa who are at risk of malaria by 2080. The stagnant waters present along the shorelines of dam reservoirs are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The majority of the dams of concern are located in the eastern highlands and southern reaches of the continent, where resident populations may lack previously established immunity to malaria. Transmission mitigation strategies will revolve around the introduction of mosquito predators and regularly drying out shallow shorelines to eliminate breeding grounds. Lead author Solomon Kibret of the University of California said, "Accurately predicting the impacts of such changes is critical to planning effective disease control."

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As Historic Flood Plains Shift, Federal Flood Program Works to Adapt

Researchers have observed a greater number of storms resulting in "100-year flood" conditions, while flooding has been extending beyond the historical flood plain for many regions across the United States. These extreme flooding events are running counter to the probabilities projected by scenario models. One study found that between 2007 and 2014 in Illinois, nearly all of the damage in urban areas was found outside the historical flood plain. The drastic shift in precipitation and flood patterns poses a challenge for the Federal Emergency Management Association's (FEMA) flood insurance policy. According to Kathy Schaefer, a former FEMA engineer and mapper, in the past "you had to ignore climate change [in drawing the maps]. All of the mapping had to be based on the existing [rainfall and flooding] conditions [at the time they were drawn, or many years earlier]." The agency has begun to account for climate-induced factors in recent years.

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pastedGraphic_21.pdfMilitary Leaders Warn of Defense Infrastructure's Vulnerability to Climate Change

On September 14, the Center for Climate and Security published a consensus statement and report affirming the dangers of climate change to U.S. military installations and operations. The statement was signed by more than a dozen retired military and national security experts, including former Generals, Admirals, and Department of Defense officials. The bipartisan collection of signatories advised the incoming U.S. president to implement a new cabinet post to address the nexus of climate change and national security. The endorsements follow an emerging consensus among military and intelligence officials that defense assets and operations are increasingly vulnerable to climate change, with the U.S. Department of Defense designating it a "threat multiplier." Retired Air Force General Ronald Keys, former commander of the Air Combat Command, said, "Before, a minor storm was a nuisance, now it is a danger to some of our operations ... It's hard to energize people now, but it's too late when the water is around your ankles ... We need to do this threat analysis now."

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StudyGlobal Wheat Production Expected to Decline as Temperatures Rise

On September 12, the journal Nature Climate Change published a new study highlighting the threat climate change poses to the world's wheat crop. An international team of scientists found that a one degree Celsius increase in global temperature could result in a 4.1-6.4 percent reduction in wheat production worldwide, translating into a loss of 35 million tons annually. Even greater losses were projected for countries in warmer regions. Predictions for 2016-17 from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization revealed 500 of the 741 million tons of wheat produced is expected to be consumed by humans, the highest percentage of direct human consumption for any crop. The study utilized statistical analysis and modeling techniques and focused solely on the effects of temperature rise, leaving uncertainty as to how other environmental factors may influence wheat production. The United States, China, India, and France are among the world's leading wheat producers.

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 pastedGraphic_22.pdfNew Research Challenges Conventional Wisdom on Methane Emission Origins

On September 12, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a report challenging prior research on the origin of U.S. methane emissions. Experts had previously believed industrial fugitive methane emissions were decreasing, but the new report suggests they have actually increased by an average of a million tons annually since the 1980s. Methane is released in a variety of ways, including permafrost thaw, agriculture, and accidental leaks through fossil fuel extraction and transport operations. The existence of conflicting studies on the origin of methane emissions is a challenge for regulators, who must know where to look in order to curb emissions. Drew Shindell, a professor of climate sciences at Duke University, described the situation as "a major problem and a major opportunity," stating, "We need to control the methane leaks far better or our transition from coal to gas will provide no environmental benefits ... if we were to apply best available technology to all [industrial] sites we could make a big difference."

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Oceans Absorbing Record Amounts of Heat, Hiding Climate Impacts beneath the Waves

Ocean temperatures have been steadily increasing, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, according to a recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found, "since 1955, more than 90 percent of the excess heat retained by the Earth as a result of increased greenhouse gases has been absorbed by the oceans." Despite the clear warming trend, many researchers caution that the ocean's mass heat absorption can shield the bulk of climate change's effects from typical human observation, translating into a lack of urgency toward climate action on behalf of the public. The ramifications of warmer oceans entail both long-term and immediate effects, including higher intensity storms and sea level rise as warming waters expand. The temperature trends cannot be entirely explained by natural cycles, such as El Niño, because those occurrences only alter temperature temporarily, as opposed to the decades-long increases that scientists have observed to date.

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pastedGraphic_23.pdfScientists Advocate for Carbon Removal Technologies to Clean Up Climate Pollution

Negative carbon emissions, the process by which carbon dioxide is physically removed from the air, is garnering increased attention as a potential tool for combatting global warming. Research funding for atmospheric carbon removal is scarce, while most policies target only emission prevention. Sabine Fuss, a sustainable energy expert with the Mercator Research Institute, points to the lack of public awareness as a roadblock to negative carbon research. Sabine says the first challenge is "how late we are with mitigation - i.e., how full the bathtub already is. The other relates to the lack of public acceptance of the technologies - i.e., the way you take water out of the bathtub." Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, stated, "We need to start working backward [to reduce emissions] as soon as we can ... we need to do all the other things as well to stop emissions. Negative emissions combined with positive emissions will not get us there."

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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light