Friday, February 20, 2015



An item posted by Dan Krotz at the Berkeley National Laboratory News Center 0n Nov. 3 recently came to my attention.  Titled, Berkeley Lab Scientists ID New Driver Behind Arctic Warming, the article reports that Berkeley scientists have found a new mechanism that helps explain why the Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average.  Far infrared radiation is a part of the infrared (IR) section electromagnetic spectrum that we can’t see with our eyes, but it accounts for about half of the IR radiation leaving earth and going into space.  It is the balance between incoming solar radiation absorbed - mostly in the visible part of the spectrum - and the outgoing radiation - mostly in the longer wavelength IR - that determines whether the earth is gaining energy and warming or losing energy and cooling.  The scientists have found that ice is much more effective in emitting far IR radiation than is open ocean.  As sea ice melts, the Arctic  becomes more efficient in absorbing solar radiation during the summer when it illuminated and less efficient at emitting far IR during the dark winter, when it is in earth’s shadow.
NOTE: This is an example of positive feedback; the farther the ice loss goes, the faster it goes.

On Jan. 21 Eric Holthaus posted an article in Slate titled, Senate Votes 98-1 That Climate Change Is Real but Splits on That Pesky Cause.  That vote came on the nonbinding amendment, “climate change is real and not a hoax.”  The only holdout was Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi; Even Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma voted for the amendment, citing the Bible for support.  A second nonbiding amendmnt said in part, “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”   On that one the Senate split 50-49 - not enough to pass because 60 Yes votes were required.

The Jan. 17-24 issue of The Economist has a special 10-page Energy and Technology report titled, Let there be Light.  The report also has an 11.7-minute audio recording of the report author, David Lucas, that is well worth listening to.

The Guardian for Jan. 30 has an article by Suzanne Golderberg and Stephanie Kirchgaessner titled, Washington's memo to the Vatican: the pope and Obama are in sync on climate change.  The article reported that Gina McCarthy, the head of the EPA, recently visited the Vatican with a message to Pope Francis that the president shares his view that fighting climate change is a moral obligation.  McCarthy said, “I think the most important thing that we can do, working with the pope, is to try to remind ourselves that this is really about protecting natural resources that human beings rely on, and that those folks that are most vulnerable – that the church has always been focused on, those in poverty and low income – are the first that are going to be hit and impacted by a changing climate,”

The Harvard Business Review for Jan. 30 has an interesting article by Andrew Winston titled, Why the Keystone Pipeline Is the Wrong U.S. Energy Debate.  He writes, Putting aside the divisive politics, let’s consider the pipeline on its merits, as an investment choice for the United States. In the short run, with oil at $50 per barrel, Keystone will connect refineries to oil that may be unprofitable to extract. In the long run, as the world turns away from fossil fuels aggressively, the pipeline will be moot — a relic of the past.”  He points out that unconventional sources of oil like Alberta tar sands require a lot of water and energy to produce and face the growing challenge of the damage of climate change and the falling prices for renewable energy.  He ends with, “ ..why would we invest in yesterday’s energy technologies when we have smarter options? Our investment choices should make our country more resilient, healthy, and prosperous. By that logic, the pipeline is a bad investment choice. That’s just simple arithmetic and economics. Given the challenging future facing unconventional, expensive fossil fuels, the Keystone XL is literally a pipeline to nowhere.”

The Feb.1 NY Times had an article by Burt Helm titled, Climate Change’s Bottom Line.  In it he describes the work of a group calling itself The Risky Business Project, led by billionaire Tom Steyer, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg; its 10 members include a former Senator, five former White House Cabinet members, two former mayors and two billionaires.  It’s first commissioned report, Risky Business - The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States - was published last June.  The Executive Summary of the 56-page report quotes Co-Chair Michael Bloomberg saying, Damages from storms, flooding, and heat waves are already costing local economies billions of dollars—we saw that firsthand in New York City with Hurricane Sandy. With the oceans rising and the climate changing, the Risky Business report details the cost of inaction in ways that are easy to understand in dollars and cents—and impossible to ignore.”  The Summary goes on to say, “Our findings show that, if we continue on our current path, many regions of the U.S. face the prospect of serious economic effects from climate change. However, if we choose a different path—if we act aggressively to both adapt to the changing climate and to mitigate future impacts by reducing carbon emissions—we can significantly reduce our exposure to the worst economic risks from climate change, and also demonstrate global leadership on climate.”

On Jan. 23, the Risky Business Project released its second report, Heat in the Heartland, focused on the economic effects of climate change on the Midwest. The next report will be on California.
NOTE: This involvement of recognized business and political leaders in assessing the economic risks posed by climate change in the U.S. and getting the word out to a broad audience is a very important - even critical - development.  As a scientist and person of faith, I say, “Thank God.”

Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, has a 1.5-minute elevator pitch on climate change.  At:

The February issue of Scientific American has a thought provoking article by Michael E. Webber, the Deputy Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, titled, Our Future Rises on Our Ability to Integrate Energy + Water + Food: A Puzzle for the Planet.  He writes, “Energy, water and food are the world’s three most critical resources.  Although this fact is widely acknowledged in policy circles, the interdependence of these resources on one another is significantly underappreciated.  Strains on any one can cripple the others.  This situation  has made our society more fragile than we imagine, and we are not prepared for the potential disaster that is waiting for us.”  He cites the example of California, where reduced snowpack, record drought and ongoing development have reduced the availabllity of Central Valley river water by a third.  The shortage of surface water led farmers in 2014 to double pumping for irrigation water over what it was the year before.  More water pumped from greater depths requires more electricity, but Southern California Edison had to shut down two large nuclear reactors for lack of adequate cooling water.  Large amounts of water are needed for food production (about 80% of the water we use), and California produces half of U.S. nuts, fruits and vegetables and nearly a quarter of its milk. Webber emphasizes the interdependence of energy, water and food, pointing out that though they are often addressed separately, they need to be addressed together.  By doing so we can make society sustainable; failing to do so is asking for big trouble.  Copies are available for purchase or subscription at:

The February issue of National Geographic has an article written by by Laura Parker with photographs by George Steinmetz tilted, Treading Water on the impacts especially economic - of climate change on Florida - including sea level rise and stronger coastal storms.  She writes, 
The most profound disruption will occur along the state’s 1,350 miles of coastline. Three-quarters of Florida’s 18 million people live in coastal counties, which generate four-fifths of the economy. Coastal development, including buildings, roads, and bridges, was valued in 2010 at two trillion dollars. Already more than half the state’s 825 miles of sandy beaches are eroding.”
“The oceans could rise two feet by 2060, according to the National Climate Assessment, as their waters warm and expand and as the Greenland and polar ice sheets melt. By 2100 seas could rise as much as 6.6 feet. That would put much of Miami-Dade underwater. For every foot the seas rise, the shoreline would move inland 500 to 2,000 feet.
A two-foot rise would be enough to strand the Miami-Dade County sewage-treatment plant on Virginia Key and the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point, both on Biscayne Bay.”  
Pages 126 and 127 show a map of the world with the top 10 coastal urban areas in terms of the cost of climate change in 2050; Miami heads the list.  The accompanying text says, “Higher seas mean greater financial exposure for coastal cities, where populations are growing and the value of buildings and infrastructure is increasing.  More frequent flooding would likely disrupt insurance underwriting and with it the financing that drives development in cities such as Miami.  If sea level rose just 16 inches by 2050, the flood damage in port cities could cost a trillion dollars a year.”
On Feb. 9 Elizabeth Cooney in the Harvard Medical School News reported the development of a ‘bionic leaf’ that can convert 1% of the incident solar energy into a liquid fuel - isopropanol.  The work was done by Pamela Silver, a professor of biology, and Daniel Nocera, a professor of energy.  The bionic leaf has a solar PV cell that generate electricity used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen is fed to bacteria that use it to reduce carbon dioxide into isopropanol (C3H8O).  The 1% efficiency is very similar to what most green plants achieve in photosynthesis - a process developed through 2.6 billion years of evolution. Silver and Nocera have a target of 5%.  At: 
NOTE: The best that has been done in splitting water into H2 and O2 with solar PV is about 10% energy efficient (solar energy to chemical energy).  The efficiency of PV cells can exceed 40%, but the current market average is 12-18%; however, the electricity must be used immediately or stored - usually in rather expensive batteries.  See Scientific American, Plants versus Photovoltaics: Which Are Better to Capture Solar Energy?  at 

On Feb. 10 ClickGreen posted an article titled, NASA finds 19,500 square miles of polar ice now melts into the oceans each year  Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist at the Goddard Space Flight center has been looking at satellite measurements from Nov. 1979 through Dec.. 2013 of the areas of Northern and Southern polar sea sea ice and found the combined loss of ice area more than doubled from 8,300 sq miles per year from the average of the first half of the 34-year period to an average of 19,500 sq miles/yr during the second half.  Antarctica has been gaining some sea ice, but the Arctic has been loosing enough to more than make up for it.  While the melting of floating ice doesn’t add to sea level (Archimedes Principle), it decreases earth’s albedo by replacing shiny white ice by deep blue sea - accelerating the rate of heat absorbtion.
NOTE: Warming in the Arctic is about twice as fast as the global average.

On Feb. 11 Stephanie McClellan, Director of the University of Delaware's Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, posted a blog on The Hill titled, Lessons for the US in Germany’s energy transitionShe wrote, “Renewables now supply fully a quarter of Germany's energy needs — a dramatic transition that is the result of deliberate, courageous choices by its leaders. The country's ambitious energy goals were ridiculed by critics, who predicted dire economic consequences.”  “Today, Germany is having the last laugh as its economy reaps substantial benefits from this thrust into renewables. Germany’s GDP has grown steadily over the period of reducing emissions, with the clean energy sector adding more than 1.5 million jobs — all the while creating cleaner skies and stabilizing users' electricity prices.”   Germany “doubled its wind energy capacity from 2011 to 2014 and is expected to install more offshore wind this year than will any other nation.”  It’s time for the U.S. to get into the game; so far we don’t have a single offshore wind turbine in the water, yet we have a vast and untapped renewable energy resource just off our Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Maine - not far from major population centers.

Katherine Bagley of Inside Climate News posted and article on Feb. 12 titled, 
Droughts Will Hammer U.S. West as 21st Century UnfoldsShe reported on the results of a recent study by scientists from NASA, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Cornell University, who reported that American Southwest and Central Plains are likely to experience longer droughts later this century than at any time during the last 1000 years.  Paleoclimatologist Eugene Wahl of NOAA called the results ‘stunning’, and said, "It is clear that they are seeing drought, especially in the Southwest, as being greater than any time in the past.  It is also clear that it is the higher temperatures in the future that are driving it."  Bagkey wrote that last month was the driest January on record in California, and that the snowpack is at historic lows.

The Feb. 12 issue of the NY TImes had an article by Justin Gillis titled, What to Call a Doubter of Climate Change?
He wrote, If not “skeptic,” what should the opponents of climate science be called?  As a first step, it helps to understand why they so vigorously denounce the science. The opposition is coming from a certain faction of the political right. Many of these conservatives understand that since greenhouse emissions are caused by virtually every economic activity of modern society, they are likely to be reduced only by extensive government intervention in the market.  So casting doubt on the science is a way to ward off such regulation. This movement is mainly rooted in ideology, but much of the money to disseminate its writings comes from companies that profit from fossil fuels.” (emphasis added)
NOTE: A group of scientists called Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is supporting a petition to be sent to media outlets asking that they stop using the term “climate skeptic” and change to something like “climate science denier”.  The group is  circulating a petition and are looking for 25,000 signatories.  I have signed.  You can too at    

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.

Senate Votes that Climate Change Is Real, Less Sure It’s Human-Caused
On January 22, the Senate voted on three amendments to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill regarding climate change. One of the amendments passed, two failed. The passing amendment (S. Amd. 29), authored by Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI), states, “It is the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.” This amendment passed 98-1, with Sen. Reid (D-NM) not voting for health reasons, and Sen. Wicker (R-MS) casting the only ‘no’ vote. The remaining two climate amendments failed due to contention over humanity’s contribution to climate change. Sen. Hoeven’s (R-ND) amendment (S. Amd. 87), which stated that “human activity contributes to climate change,” fell one vote shy of the 60 votes needed to pass, with all Democrats and 15 Republicans voting for it. Sen. Schatz’s (D-HI) amendment (S. Amd. 58), which said “human activity significantly contributes to climate change,” failed 50-49, with the support of five Republicans.
In related news on January 21, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced a separate amendment to the Keystone XL bill (S.Amd. 79) stating the bilateral agreement on climate reached in November 2014 between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping has “no force and effect” in the United States. This amendment, like the ones mentioned above, is nonbinding and meant to express the “Sense of the Senate.” On January 22 the amendment failed, 51-46.
For more information see:

Poll Shows Climate Change Is One of America’s Top Policy Priorities
On January 15, Pew Research Center released a poll which found that 38 percent of Americans think climate change should be a top policy priority for President Obama and Congress. An additional 51 percent said the environment should be a top priority. The importance of climate change to the American people has increased 10 percent since last year. By political party, 66 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans think protecting the environment is important, while 54 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans think addressing global warming should be a top priority.
For more information see:

Poll Finds Most Americans Support Clean Power Plan
On January 19, the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College released a poll finding that a majority of Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed regulation to lower carbon emissions from existing power plants, called the Clean Power Plan. Sixty-seven percent of voters said they supported the Clean Power Plan, and 73 percent said they supported requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as well. Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they supported alternative and renewable energy mandates, and 84 percent supported higher energy efficiency standards for new homes and appliances. However, close to 60 percent of poll respondents opposed a carbon tax. The poll was conducted over a random telephone survey of 942 American adults from October to November in 2014, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
For more information see:

Bloomberg Donating $48 Million to Help States Comply with Clean Power Plan
On January 21, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charity, in partnership with the Heising-Simons family, announced a new plan to donate $48 million over the next three years to help states use clean energy to comply with a coming regulation on carbon emissions. The proposed regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will require states to submit plans outlining how they will reduce carbon emissions from operating power plants in their territories. The Bloomberg and Heising-Simons plan, called the Clean Energy Initiative, will not award grants directly to state governments. It will instead finance local and national groups to help states, by providing technical assistance such as analyzing grid optimization for clean energy and doing economic forecasting. Michael Bloomberg stated, “These grants will help states meet new federal clean power requirements in ways that save money and lives.”
For more information see:

Climate Change Influencing the Increase of Animal Mass Die-Offs
On January 12, a Yale, UC San Diego, and UC Berkley study published in Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences found the rate and magnitude of massive mortality events (MME) of animal species are increasing worldwide. The study defined an MME as a large population die-off of over 1 billion animals, the death of 90 percent of a population, or 700 million tons of dead mass. Over the last 70 years, MMEs have increased on average at a rate of one extra every year. Climate-influenced events, such as extreme weather, caused 25 percent of the die-offs. Co-author of the study and assistant professor of biology at the University of San Diego Adam Siepielski stated, “The study provides yet another example of the challenges to life that organisms are confronted with on a planet increasingly dominated by the influence of humans in the environment.”
For more information see:

United Nations Says Food Diversity Important to Prepare for Climate Change
On January 19, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a policy paper calling for more action to be taken to protect the genetic diversity of the world’s food against climate change. According to the FAO, 16-22 percent of wild crops -- including 61 percent of peanut species, 12 percent of potato species, and 8 percent of cowpea species -- are in danger of extinction within the next 50 years. These varieties may harbor important traits farmers can capitalize on as weather and pestilence patterns alter under climate change. The paper recommended expanding seed banks, better farming and breeding practices, and researching the effects of climate change impacts on food crops. “In a warmer world with harsher, more variable weather, plants and animals raised for food will need to have the biological capacity to adapt more quickly than ever before,” according to Maria Helena Semedo, FAO’s Deputy Director-General.
For more information see:

Wyoming Repeals Ban on Teaching Climate Change in Science Class
On January 26, the Wyoming House of Representatives voted 30-21 to reverse previous legislation that blocked the State Board of Education from adopting new science standards that would educate students on climate change as a human-related trend. The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. John Patton, repeals the original ban, which had been attached as a footnote to a state budget in March of last year. The ban was passed after Rep. Matt Teeters (R) had argued teaching anthropogenic climate change would shed a negative light on Wyoming’s coal energy-based economy. Rep. Patton commented, “[Climate science is] not against the economy,” adding, “Working for knowledge . . . is progressive, that is what we are in the state of Wyoming. This state is very, very proud of its educational system. It’s not broken.”
For more information see:

NOTE: It’s a sad day in the U.S. when legislators can block the teaching of climate science because the state mines a lot of coal.  Fortunately the Wyoming House of Representatives now sees the light.

Business Leaders at World Economic Forum Urge Action on Climate
On January 24, the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland ended, after four days of debate among 2,500 world leaders in business, government, academia and civil society that included many conversations on climate change. The French government had specifically requested that climate change be high on the WEF agenda, in advance of the United Nations Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris this year where it is anticipated that countries will seal an ambitious global deal on climate. On January 23, Christine Lagare, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank; and Ban Ki-Moon, secretary general of the United Nations, held a public discussion on climate change, “Tackling Climate, Development and Growth.” The panel discussed the risks associated with rising global temperatures, the potential for a price on carbon, and the need for urgent action.
For more information see:

UK Releases Tool to Calculate Impact of Different Options to Reduce Global Climate Change
On January 28, the United Kingdom Department of Energy and Climate Change released a new online tool, the Global Calculator, which allows users to test the outcomes of different policies to address climate change. The tool showcases thousands of options, which users can control by manipulating 40 “levers,” each of which represents a policy for mitigating climate change – such as using more nuclear energy, or changing people’s diets. The levers are divided into four categories: lifestyle, technology and fuels, land and food, and demographics and long term emissions trajectories. The Department concurrently released a report with key findings from the Global Calculator, concluding that it is, “physically possible to achieve both our economic development and climate change goals by 2050.”
For more information see:

Poll Shows Americans in Five Key States Support President Obama’s Climate Actions
On January 22, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a poll which found a majority of likely voters in 2016 elections in five states – Colorado, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, and Virginia – favored the president’s Climate Action Plan. Over 75 percent of respondents in each state thought environmental regulations were just right or too lenient. Majorities in each state also supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, including a majority of Republican respondents. Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), stated, “The bottom line is Americans don’t want dirty energy; instead, they’re calling for clean energy, health safeguards, and steady resolve to protect our future from dangerous climate change.”
For more information see:

Latest Risky Business Report Finds Climate Change Threatens Midwestern Economies
On January 23, the Risky Business Project, an organization headed by Michael Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer, released a report examining climate change-related risks in the Midwest on transportation, energy, labor productivity and agriculture. The report said “dangerous levels” of heat across the Southern Midwest will happen more often, and by the end of the century wheat and corn will decline 11 to 69 percent across the Midwest.  The report found that among Midwestern states, Iowa’s economy would be the most affected by climate change, due to reduced yields of corn. Iowa’s almost $10 billion corn industry, the largest in the United States, faces an 18 to 77 percent decline in yields. The crop decline will also harm associated manufacturing, insurance, and other industries throughout the Midwest. Greg Page, a business leader on the Risky Business advisory committee, said, “If we stand still, and fail to be thoughtful in building resilience, we could see a weather scenario that would produce an outcome that’s dire.”
For more information see:

President Obama’s Budget Request Funds Climate Work
On February 2, the White House released its budget for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16), with funding for a broad range of programs to promote clean energy and increase preparedness to climate change impacts. The budget requests $7.4 billion in funding for clean energy technology, the repeal of $4 billion in annual tax subsidies for fossil fuel producers, and $4 billion in funding to create a Clean Power State Incentive Fund to help states comply with EPA’s coming regulation on carbon emissions from existing power plants. The budget also permanently extends the production tax credit (PTC), upon which the wind industry heavily relies; the investment tax credit (ITC), which primarily supports solar power; and creates a new tax credit for carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects. The budget includes a $500 million initial investment (of a $3 billion total commitment) to the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund.
For more information see:

NOTE: The provision for repealing the $4 billion in subsidies for fossil fuel producers is especially noteworthy.  Subsidizing fossil fuels is like shooting yourself in the foot, and is foolhardy, so say the least.

President Obama Issues Executive Order on Sea Level Rise
On January 30, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the ‘Federal Flood Risk Management Standard’ which will require buildings constructed with Federal funds to take climate change and sea level rise into account. The order states, “It is the policy of the United States to improve the resilience of communities and Federal assets against the impacts of flooding. These impacts are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats.” This order requires buildings to either add two feet of elevation to base flood elevation levels (a 100-year floodplain) or use data from “best-available, actionable . . . climate science” in building planning. Critical infrastructure such as hospitals and evacuation centers is required to build three feet above base flood elevation levels (equivalent to a 500-year floodplain).
For more information see:

U.S. Scholars Rank Climate Change as Number One Foreign Policy Concern
On February 4, Foreign Policy Magazine published a survey, produced in partnership with the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project at William and Mary, which surveyed prominent international relations professionals about key foreign policy issues for the United States. The survey found 40.96 percent of the International Relations professionals believe that global climate change is the number one foreign policy issue for the United States today, and 45.9 percent believe it will continue to be the most important issue over the next ten years. Global climate change beat other important issues such as armed conflict in the Middle-East, failing or failed states, and China’s growing military power, by at least a 14 percent margin.
For more information see:

New Poll Finds Majority of Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change
On January 29, The New York Times, Stanford University, and environmental research group Resources for the Future released a nation-wide poll showing that a majority of Americans, including over half of Republicans, support government action to mitigate climate change. The poll found that 66 percent of respondents and 48 percent of Republican respondents reported they are more likely to vote for a candidate running on a campaign to fight climate change. Jon A. Krosnick, an author of the survey and professor at Stanford University, said the Republican support for a candidate who wants to fight climate change was, “the most powerful finding” of the poll. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they thought climate change was happening “at least in part” due to human activities.
For more information see:

NRDC Releases State Fact Sheets on Health Impacts of Clean Power Plan
On February 4, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released fact sheets for seven states on the health risks associated with effects of climate change. The fact sheets express NRDC’s strong support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, especially in light of their findings of many negative health impacts due to climate change. The fact sheets for Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia cover a variety of public health concerns from climate impacts such as extreme heat, worsening air quality, extreme storms and flooding, increased exposure to diseases, with disproportionate risk to young, elderly and low-income populations.
For more information see:

White House Says Climate Change Major National Security Threat
On February 6, the White House released its National Security Strategy for 2015, in which it lists climate change as a significant risk to Americans at home and abroad, along with terrorism and a nuclear Iran. The report stated, “Increased sea levels and storm surges threaten coastal regions, infrastructure, and property. In turn, the global economy suffers, compounding the growing costs of preparing and restoring infrastructure.” The report says the United States will continue to take the lead on climate domestically and abroad, and engage strategic partners on these pressing issues. Last year, the United States and China made a historic climate deal, with both committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.
In related news on February 10, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated climate change is a greater threat to Americans than terrorism. “There are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the direct impact on their lives of climate change, or on the spread of a disease, than on terrorism,” Earnest said.
For more information see:

California Legislators Introduce Suite of Climate Bills
On February 10, California Senate Democrats released a package addressing climate change. The package focuses on expanding renewable energy power generation, reducing reliance on petroleum in the transportation sector, and divesting the state’s pension funds from coal. The legislation is intended to enact clean energy and climate objectives Governor Jerry Brown outlined in his inaugural speech last month (see EESI article). Brown said he and state Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), “share a strong commitment to dealing with climate change in an aggressive and imaginative way.”
For more information see:

New Carbon Credit Reforestation Project Launched
On February 10, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Code REDD, a California-based advocacy group, announced the launch of an online market for carbon offsets, which will fund 12 forest conservation projects in Africa, Asia, and South America. While the carbon credit market has previously focused on companies, the Stand for Trees campaign is an online market that allows anyone to purchase for $10 the prevention of one metric ton of carbon dioxide from deforestation. The campaign’s goal is to raise $1 million within the first year – a help, but far from the $20 billion in estimated annual cost to reduce deforestation by half . . . the hope is that we’re starting something that over time will generate momentum,” said Peter Natiello, USAID’s mission director in Colombia.
For more information see:

NRC Report Advises Against Large Scale Geoengineering
On February 10, a National Research Council committee released two reports recommending holding off on two geoengineering strategies to offset global warming from greenhouse gases (GHG): albedo modifications to help cool the earth and carbon dioxide removal and sequestration techniques. The scientists found that albedo modification (reflecting the earth’s sunlight), which offers the chance to rapidly offset warming, is far too risky economically and environmentally to use. They also found that carbon removal and storage, which has less environmental risks, is not yet economical. Report authors said, “There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.”
For more information see:

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

Monday, January 19, 2015



On December 15 Nature Geoscience posted a paper by Gabriel J. Bowen et al. titled, Two massive, rapid releases of carbon during the onset of the Palaeocene–Eocene thermal maximum.  They wrote, The Earth’s climate abruptly warmed by 5–8 °C during the Palaeocene–Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), about 55.5 million years ago. This warming was associated with a massive addition of carbon to the ocean–atmosphere system, ... Here we present a new high-resolution carbon isotope record .... Our record shows that the beginning of the PETM is characterized by not one but two distinct carbon release events, separated by a recovery to background values. To reproduce this pattern, our model requires two discrete pulses of carbon released directly to the atmosphere, at average rates exceeding 0.9 Pg C yr−1, with the first pulse lasting fewer than 2,000 years. We thus conclude that the PETM involved one or more reservoirs capable of repeated, catastrophic carbon release, and that rates of carbon release during the PETM were more similar to those associated with modern anthropogenic emissions than previously suggested.”
NOTE: The average emission rates during the PETM pulses exceeded 0.9 petagrams (billion metric tonnes) of carbon per year.  Last year global emissions from burning fossil fuels were nearly 10 billions tons of carbon (36 billion tons of CO2)..

The Energy and Environmental Study Institute (EESI) released a report on Dec. 23 titled, Fact Sheet: Jobs in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (2014)Using data from a variety of sources, it addressed jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy in the U.S. and around the world.  The numbers given for U.S. workers in various sectors of Energy Efficiency for the most recent years data were available were: Buildings (450,000), Public Mass Transit (400,000), Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards (340,000), Vehicles (263,000) and Smart Grid and Demand Management (total not available).  For Renewable Energy: Renewable Fuels (ethanol, biodiesel and advanced biofuels) (852,000), Hydropower (200,000-300,000), Biomass (152,000), Solar (143,000), Wind (50,500), Geothermal (35,000), Waste-to-Energy (14,000), Fuel Cells (9,800), Wave and Ocean Power (370), Biogas (total not available).  Solar has been growing most rapidly on a percent per year basis; future of wind power growth depends strongly on the renewal of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC).

On Dec. 25 Andrew Freeman posted The extreme weather and climate events of 2014 in 13 photos on Mashable.  The photos and the text that goes with them are worth looking at.

In December the Climate Change Performance Index 2015 was released by Germanwatch and the Climate Action Network Europe, with Jan Burck, Franziska Marten and Christoph Bals as the primary authors.  The Index, now in its 10th year,  with the assistance of about 300 energy and climate experts from around the world, assigns a performance score to about 60 countries - based on weighted criteria: Emissions Level (20%), Emissions Development (trend, 20%), Renewable Energy (10%), Efficiency (10%) and Policy (20%).  Denmark, the best country, with a Score of 77.76, was still rated only Good; the U.S. and China, the two largest emitters, with Scores of 52.33 and 51.77, were rated Poor; the lowest Score of 24.19 went to Saudi Arabia - rated Very Poor.  The authors concluded that no countries are doing enough, though some trends are encouraging.

The Week for Dec. 26, 2014 had an article by Niel Bhatiya titled, The 5 most important developments in climate change in 2014.  The five reasons for hope are:
  1. China has set a goal for peak emissions
  2. The EPA's Clean Power Plan
  3. The Green Climate Fund is working (sort of)
  4. Price of renewables continues to plunge
  5. Soaring demand for green-focused financing
You can read the details at:
NOTE: Another reason for hope is the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21.  Over 300,000 people participated, making it the largest public demonstration for effective climate action in history.  And the U.S. League of Women Voters passed the following near-unanimous resolution for a price on carbon at its biernnial 2014 Convention in July: “The LWVUS should support a price on carbon emissions that will increase in stages, as part of an overall program to improve energy efficiency and to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, fast enough to avoid serious damage to the climate system.”
On Jan. 4 Lawrence Summers, a professor and past President of Harvard and a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, posted an article in The Washington Post titled, Oil’s swoon creates the opening for a carbon tax.  He argues that now, with oil prices much lower than they were even six months ago, would be a great time for a carbon tax of perhaps $25/ton of CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels.  This would raise about $100 billion a year in the U.S. but would increase the cost of gasoline only about 25 cents a gallon.  He suggests using half of the money for aging infrastructure and half to reduce income taxes.  He writes, A U.S. carbon tax would contribute to efforts to combat climate change in other ways. It would be a hugely important symbolic step ahead of the global climate summit in Paris late this year. It would shift the debate toward harmonized measures to raise the price of carbon use and away from the complex cap-and-trade-type systems that have proved more difficult to operate than expected in the European Union and elsewhere.” “Progressives who are most concerned about climate change should rally to a carbon tax. Conservatives who believe in the power of markets should favor carbon taxes on market principles. And Americans who want to see their country lead on the energy and climate issues that are crucial to the world this century should want to be in the vanguard on carbon taxes. Now is the time.”
On January 5 the Baltimore Magazine posted a riveting article by Ron Cassie titled, The Sea Also Rises, describing what is happening to Maryland as a result of sea level rise, land subsidence, storms and costal erosion.  It is not just Maryland’s Eastern Shore islands that are in danger of disappearing beneath the surface because of global climate change and rising sea levels. In truth, 13 of the lower bay’s charted islands, many of them once inhabited, are already gone.”  Both Baltimore and Annapolis are vulnerable.
“Floods have already increased by more than 900 percent in both cities since 1960. Some projections call for 225 or more such floods a year for Baltimore and, essentially, daily inundation for Annapolis by 2045, according to a recent study based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.
“The question really isn’t what will be lost anymore,” says Jim Titus, a Maryland resident and leading sea-level-rise official at the Environmental Protection Agency, “but what we will decide to save.””
Scientific American for January 5 posted an article by Brian Kahn and Climate Central titled, 2014 Officially Hottest Year on RecordThe result comes from the Japan Meteorological Agency - the first of the four agencies that determine global average temperatures to report for the year.
Scientific American for January 6 had a post from ClimateWire titled, Low Gas Prices Smooth Path for Carbon Add-On in CaliforniaOn Jan. 1 California’s cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions began to include gasoline and diesel fuel.  For California burns about 17 million gallons of transportation fuel per year.  With each gallon producing about 20 pounds of CO2 when burned, it means that 3.4 million tons of CO2 will be produced with a current auction allowance price of $12 per ton.  It’s a good time to add a price on carbon because of price of oil has been falling so fast that an added 10-12 cents a gallon will hardly be noticed.  Higher carbon prices will be needed to affect people’s behavior much.
In January Jim Kennerly and Autumn Proudlove of the NC Clean Energy Technology Center of North Carolina State University released a very informative report titled, Going Solar in America: Ranking Solar’s Value to Consumers in America’s Largest Cities.  The report evaluates the economics of installing 5 kW solar systems on rooftops of homes in the 50 largest cities in the U.S., with some surprising results: Of the single-family homeowners in America’s 50 largest cities, we estimate that 9.1 million already live in a city where solar costs less than their current utility rates if they bought a PV system outright – and nearly 21 million (93% of all estimated single-family homeowners in those cities) do if low-cost financing is available.” “Contrary to popular belief, customers in regions with lower utility rates than average tend to pay higher monthly bills than average.”“Many customers still mistakenly believe, however, that solar PV is not an option for them. This stems, in part, from a belief that they may not be able to afford it, and because their area does not have enough sunshine year-round. In fact, solar PV’s value to a customer tends to be most closely related to the degree to which solar can offset their typical use of grid energy.”  
The report finds that in many locations putting a 5kW system on a dwelling is a better investment that the stock market - especially in areas where grid electricity rates are relatively high - like Boston or Philadelphia.  This is true in part because of huge reductions in the cost of solar panels and in part because grid electricity rates are expected to increase substantially over the 25-year life expectancy of the solar panels.
The NY Times for Jan. 18 had an article by Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor at the university of Rochester, titled, Is Climate Disaster Inevitable?  He points out that though our galaxy has nearly 300 billion stars, most of which have planets, we have no evidence for intelligent life on any of them, except our own.  He writes, Hundreds of billions of planets translate into a lot of chances for evolving intelligent, technologically sophisticated species. So why don’t we see evidence for E.T.s everywhere?  The physicist Enrico Fermi first formulated this question, now called the Fermi paradox, in 1950. But in the intervening decades, humanity has recognized that our own climb up the ladder of technological sophistication comes with a heavy price. From climate change to resource depletion, our evolution into a globe-spanning industrial culture is forcing us through the narrow bottleneck of a sustainability crisis. In the wake of this realization, new and sobering answers to Fermi’s question now seem possible.  Maybe we’re not the only ones to hit a sustainability bottleneck. Maybe not everyone — maybe no one — makes it to the other side.”
The defining feature of a technological civilization is the capacity to intensively “harvest” energy. But the basic physics of energy, heat and work known as thermodynamics tell us that waste, or what we physicists call entropy, must be generated and dumped back into the environment in the process. Human civilization currently harvests around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy each year and dumps 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the planetary system, which is why the atmosphere is holding more heat and the oceans are acidifying. As hard as it is for some to believe, we humans are now steering the planet, however poorly.”
“But can we predict how an alien industrial civilization might alter its world? From a half-century of exploring our own solar system we’ve learned a lot about planets and how they work. We know that Mars was once a habitable world with water rushing across its surface. And Venus, a planet that might have been much like Earth, was instead transformed by a runaway greenhouse effect into a hellish world of 800-degree days.”
“When it comes to building world-girdling civilizations, there are no planetary free lunches.  This realization motivated me, along with Woodruff Sullivan of the University of Washington, to look at sustainability in its astrobiological context. As we describe in a recent paper, using what’s already known about planets and life, it is now possible to create a broad program for modeling co-evolving “trajectories” for technological species and their planets. Depending on initial conditions and choices made by the species (such as the mode of energy harvesting), some trajectories will lead to an unrecoverable sustainability crisis and eventual population collapse. Others, however, may lead to long-lived, sustainable civilizations.”
Let’s pray and work for a long-lived, sustainable civilization.
Heather Clancy posted an article In Forbes on Jan. 19 titled, Google Makes Two More Solar, Wind Investments.  The two investments are for a wind farm in Oklahoma with 162 GE turbines that can provide electricity for 110,000 homes and a solar power plant in Utah with 325,000 PV modules that can provide electricity for 18,500 homes.  So far Google has invested $1.5 billion in 19 renewable energy projects.  Good for Google!  It’s leading the way to a sustainable future.
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. 

White House Proposes Guidelines for Government Agency Consideration of Climate Change
On December 18, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a proposal to require government agencies to conduct a climate review for any planned project that would release carbon emissions equivalent to the exhaust of 5,000 vehicles (25,000 metric tons of carbon). The CEQ proposal modifies the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires government agencies to conduct environmental reviews on all projects they consider for approval, whether they are government agency projects or outside projects on government land. The guidelines build on a 2010 proposal to consider climate change in some government reviews. The Administration will accept comments for 60 days, in advance of issuing the final guidelines.
For more information see:

Washington State Governor Proposes Carbon Cap-and-Trade
On December 16, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee announced a proposal to fund the state’s transportation needs using bonds, fees and a carbon cap-and-trade on Washington state industrial polluters. The cap-and-trade piece of the legislation would create a gradually diminishing limit on carbon emissions from the top industrial polluters, as well as a market-based system to trade carbon allowances. Inslee estimates that the carbon markets created in the bill would generate $7 billion over a 12-year period, financing a significant portion of the total $12 billion transportation plan. The Carbon Pollution Accountability Act would fill a 52 percent decrease in Washington’s maintenance budget coming in 2015. Inslee hopes to fund a new six-lane floating bridge, highway and interstate widening and repairs, and more support for road safety projects such as rumble strips and guard rails, among other works. “We can clear our air and water at the same time we are fixing our roads and bridges,” said Inslee. “It’s a pretty elegant solution for the state of Washington.”
In related news, on December 8 the Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University released a report stating that a carbon tax would greatly reduce the state of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions, without affecting its economy or jobs significantly. The Oregon state legislature commissioned the study in 2013 with Senate Bill 306 (SB306). The findings may play a large role during the 2015 state legislative session, in which lawmakers will debate whether to join the British Columbia and California in restricting carbon emissions.
For more information see:

New Study Takes On Why People in the U.S. Are Not Acting on Climate Change
On December 11, Washington, D.C. based non-profit, ecoAmerica and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University's Earth Institute released a report, Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication. The report examines the psychology of climate change inaction, and finds that there are several psychological barriers to greater collective action on climate change, including behaviors intrinsic to human nature. According to the report, distance, ideology, confirmation bias and messaging all play important roles in how action on climate change is perceived. “People have a hard time thinking about – or acting on – things and events that are perceived as far in the future, physically distant, happening to other people, or involving uncertainty,” notes the report. Instead, the authors state, the issue of climate change – like any risk – must be made local, personal and immediate.  Discussions on climate, according to the authors, are best undertaken in group settings and when what matters to individuals is taken into consideration.
For more information see:

National Poll Finds Majority Support for Climate Policies
A new national poll released in December in collaboration between Yale, the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found that 60 percent of Americans support regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Broken down by party, 72 percent of Democratic respondents and 50 percent of Republican respondents support carbon regulations. In addition, the poll found that 50 percent of Americans were in favor of an international treaty on climate change, 23 percent opposed, and 27 percent were neutral. Democrats were more in favor of U.S. participation in a treaty (67 percent support) than Republicans (35 percent support). Of the Americans who said they believe global warming is happening, 83 percent said the United States should be an international leader. Forty-one percent of participants said global warming is an extremely or very serious problem, ranking the issue 13th out of 15 environmental issues. The survey polled nearly 1,600 people in late November. The margin of error was +/- 2.9 percent.
For more information see:

NOAA Study Confirms Arctic is Warming Twice as Fast as the Rest of the World
On December 17, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report, the Arctic Report Card: Updates for 2014, confirming that the Arctic has continued to warm at twice the rate of anywhere else on earth in 2014, an effect known as “Arctic amplification.”  According to the report, Arctic amplification contributes to the shrinking of summer sea ice, declining polar bear populations, the reduction of snow cover, and the melt and darkening of the Greenland Ice sheet.  In particular, 40 percent of the Greenland Ice sheet experienced melting in summer 2014 and its reflectivity reached a record-low value in August 2014. “The need for fast action is critical,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.  “Reducing black carbon soot and other short-lived climate pollutants can cut the rate of global warming by half and Arctic warming by two-thirds, and is critical for slowing the loss of Greenland ice and reducing the climate feedbacks.” 
For more information see:

California Governor Makes Strong Climate Pledges in Inaugural Address
On January 5, California Governor Jerry Brown gave an inaugural address in which he outlined plans to enact broad energy and environmental reforms to address climate change. Gov. Brown called on the state to increase electricity generation from renewable energy to 50 percent, reduce petroleum fuels for transportation by 50 percent, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings – all of which he hopes to see done by 2030. The new renewable energy target is a step up from the state’s current goal of generating 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Brown commented, “Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels.” Gov. Brown added that California must work to manage land to better store carbon, as well as reduce emissions of methane, black carbon and other short lived climate pollutants from the state’s industries.
For more information see:

Poll Finds Americans Disapprove of the White House and Congress’s Job on Climate Change
On January 4, Morning Consult released poll results finding that American voters gave both Congress and the White House failing grades across the board on energy and climate issues. Poll respondents were asked to issue a grade from A to F for the White House and Congress’s performance in 2014 on four topics: making America energy independent, the cost of your utility bill, fracking, and climate change. The average answer was a D in every category, for both branches of government. Morning Consult energy reporter, Davis Burroughs, commented on the D/D+ climate change grade for Congress and the White House respectively, “Policy wise, it’s difficult to differentiate reducing greenhouse gas emissions from climate change, but it makes a difference in the minds of voters.  Polls show voters overwhelmingly agree that pursuing emissions reductions is good policy, but there’s less consensus on whether climate change is caused by humans.” The poll, conducted by Morning Consult through an online survey given December 16-19, included 1,776 registered voters.
For more information see:

Australia’s Carbon Emissions Rising Since Repeal of Carbon Tax
A December carbon emissions index (Cedex) report by energy consulting outfit Pitt & Sherry found a rise in Australian carbon emissions after its carbon tax was repealed in July 2014 (see Climate Change News Pitt and Sherry reported an 11 percent increase in carbon emissions intensity since June, the last month the carbon tax was in effect. The major causes of increased emissions were attributed to the changing electricity generation power mix. Hugh Saddler, principal consultant with Pitt & Sherry, said, “It is really coal displacing hydro, particularly brown coal.” High temperatures across the country combined with below average rainfall prompted the shift from hydropower to coal in some areas. In place of the carbon tax, the Australian government has introduced a new climate agenda, the Direct Action Plan, which would pay polluters from a $2.55 billion fund to reduce emissions.
For more information see:

Tropical Rainforests Absorb More Carbon Dioxide than Previous Estimates
On December 29, a NASA-led study was published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, revealing that tropical rainforests can be credited for much higher carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption than previously thought. The study found that tropical rainforests account for 1.4 billion metric tons of CO2 absorption, out of the total global 2.5 billion metric tons of CO2 absorbed each year. The findings show that warm tropical rainforests are greater CO2 sinks than colder boreal forests located in northern regions such as Canada and Siberia, because forests can absorb carbon dioxide at faster rates when temperatures are higher. Lead author of the report David Schimel of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory commented, “This is good news, because uptake in boreal forests is already slowing, while tropical forests may continue to take up carbon for many years.” The study pioneered methods of comparison of carbon dioxide absorption estimates, using ecosystem and atmospheric models, satellite images, and experimental forest plot data.
For more information see:

Study Says As Oceans Warm, They Store Less Carbon
A December 9 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found warmer oceans absorb and store smaller amounts of organic carbon, an important mechanism in regulating global climate. On the ocean’s surface, carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by small marine organisms such as phytoplankton as they undergo photosynthesis. Once these organisms die and sink deeper into the ocean, the carbon can be stored for hundreds of years. However, researchers found that as ocean temperatures rise, these small organisms that absorb carbon die before they can sink deeper into the ocean.  This carbon is subsequently re-released and able to enter the atmosphere as CO2. Dr. Chris Marsay, lead study author and Postdoctoral Associate at the University of South Carolina, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, stated, “This would potentially result in reduced storage of carbon dioxide by the oceans, effectively acting as a positive feedback mechanism, with less atmospheric carbon dioxide being removed by the oceans.”
For more information see:

Study Details Percentage of Fossil Fuel Reserves that Must Go Unused to Meet Climate Goal
A study from University College London's Institute for Sustainable Resources, published January 8 in Nature, mapped the global distributions of known fossil fuels reserves which would need to be left unused in order to avoid a 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures. The study listed the following fuel reserve shares that would need to go untapped to meet the climate target: 82 percent of coal reserves, mostly in the United States, Australia, and Russia; 49 percent of natural gas reserves, mostly located in China, India, Russia and the Middle East; and 33 percent of oil reserves, largely held in Canada and the Middle East. The report points out the well-known contradictions of business and governments making commitments to combat climate change while exploiting natural resources. Study co-author Dr. Paul Ekins stated, “In 2013, fossil fuel companies spent some $670 billion on exploring for new oil and gas resources. One might ask why they are doing this when there is more in the ground than we can afford to burn.”
For more information see:

White House Proposes Methane Emissions Regulations
On January 14, President Obama announced plans to reduce methane leaks from oil and natural gas drilling by 45 percent by 2025 compared to 2012 levels. The initiative is an important part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, originally announced in June 2013 and updated in March 2014 with a strategy specifically to cut methane emissions. Methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) over 100 years, but 84 times more powerful over a 20-year period, making it an important target for short-term climate action. The initiative includes a regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be proposed this summer on methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas operations, as well as additional efforts by the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy to regulate emissions on federal lands and to clean up pipeline emissions. “It is the largest opportunity to deal with climate pollution that this administration has not already seized,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
For more information see:

NOTE: Fracking shale for oil and gas may be releasing substantial amounts of methane.  It doesn’t take much leakage to make the global warming effect of the leaked methane larger than the effect of the CO2 produced when the recovered methane is burned.

Rep. Huffman (D-CA) Introduces Bill to Sub Carbon Tax for Gas Tax
On January 13, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced a bill to replace the diesel and gasoline tax with a carbon tax. The Gas Tax Replacement Act of 2015 would substitute the current federal gas tax used in the Highway Trust Fund with a life-cycle assessment-based carbon tax on gas and diesel fuels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be responsible for creating the life-cycle assessment, colloquially called “well-to-wheel,” to calculate total emissions. The bill calls for a tax of $50 per metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2); the EPA would be authorized to alter that rate based on funding requirements. Huffman, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, stated, “While the strides we have made for vehicle fuel efficiency has saved consumers millions of dollars at the pump, the antiquated and inflexible federal gas tax has left our nation’s transportation infrastructure demands unmet.” Huffman added that his bill would mitigate this gap while advancing clean energy measures and confronting climate change.
For more information see:

Senate Votes to Consider Keystone XL Bill
On January 12, the Senate voted 63-32 to begin debate on a bill to support construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, overcoming the 60 vote threshold for a cloture vote. Republicans voting for the bill were joined by one Independent and ten Democratic senators.  The bill will be taken up on the Senate floor, under new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) more open amendment policy. Amendments are expected to include a measure from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stating that anthropogenic climate change is a “major threat” to humanity, which will function as a litmus test for whether senators believe climate change is human-caused and dangerous. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) expressed her opinion that allowing the Keystone XL pipeline would exacerbate climate change, saying, “The State Department’s own analysis says a barrel of tar sands oil carried by the Keystone tar sands pipeline will create at least 17 percent more carbon pollution than domestic oil. And it could add up to an additional 27 million metric tons of carbon each year.” The White House has threatened to veto the Keystone XL bill, which would require 67 votes in the Senate to overturn.
For more information see:

Secretary of State Kerry Discusses Climate on India Trip
On January 11, Secretary of State John Kerry met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat, India. Much of their discussion focused on efforts to curb carbon emissions and the effects of climate change in their respective countries. After their meeting, Secretary Kerry announced Prime Minister Modi was committed to increasing the share of renewable energy in India’s energy market, at a crucial time when hundreds of millions of people in India are expected to gain access to electricity in the coming years. “I know that the Prime Minister not only understands, but is committed to policies which will deal with climate change. And that’s why he has already announced ambitious plans to scale up India’s renewable power programs,” Kerry stated. This meeting comes before another planned later this month in New Delhi with Prime Minister Modi, Secretary Kerry, and President Obama, which Kerry indicated would likely focus on climate change and associated issues.
For more information see:

World’s Second-Largest Cap and Trade System Opens in South Korea
On January 12, South Korea held its first carbon dioxide (CO2) permit trading auction, under its new cap-and-trade system, a scheme in which a government places a cap on total emissions and issues permits for emissions at levels below the cap, which owners can then trade in a market. South Korea’s carbon market covers 525 companies, making it the second largest globally, after the European market. Under the trading system, South Korea’s electricity generators, petrochemical refiners, steel producers, car builders, electro-mechanical firms and airlines were given a fixed number of emission permits to cover the next three years. The total amount of allowed emissions from 2015-2017 is set at 1.687 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. At the close of the auction, carbon permits were trading for $7.97 each – not far off from permit prices in Europe’s cap-and-trade system. While the start of the trading system was slow, analysts estimate that by 2017 the permit price will increase to around $30. The emission trading system is a core piece in South Korea’s overarching goal to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent from current levels by 2020.
For more information see:

Pope Francis Speaks Out on Climate Change
On January 14, while on the papal airplane, Pope Francis spoke out on the matter of global warming as a “mostly” man-made issue. The pope stated, “I don't know if it (human activity) is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face. We have in a sense taken over nature.” Pope Francis added that he hopes the coming publication of a papal encyclical on the environment and climate change will rouse key player decisions in the upcoming United Nations (UN) climate change conference in Paris. The UN’s overarching goal in climate negotiations is to keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius over average global temperatures in pre-industrial times. The Paris climate negotiations are widely hoped to deliver an international treaty on climate. “The meetings in Peru were nothing much, I was disappointed,” Pope Francis said, referring to the last climate change conference held in December 2014. “There was a lack of courage. They stopped at a certain point. We hope that in Paris the representatives will be more courageous going forward.”
For more information see:

Poll Finds Different Opinions on Climate Change within Republican Party
A recent Yale University poll found the Republican Party is more divided on climate change than previously thought. The poll found that 44 percent of party Republicans believe climate change is happening, with a majority of moderate (62 percent) and liberal (68 percent) Republicans leading the way while conservative (38 percent) and tea-party (29 percent) Republicans were the largest deniers. In addition, the poll found that 56 percent of total republicans support regulation limiting carbon dioxide (CO2), and a further 44 percent supported limiting CO2 from existing coal-fired power plants. This is interesting background since Republican leadership in Congress had indicated it will challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority on regulating emissions from coal-fired plants. Lastly, the poll found a majority of Republicans (64 percent) support rebates for consumers who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or residential solar panels.
For more information see:

Study Says U.S. Social Cost of Carbon Is Too Low
On January 12, the journal Nature Climate Change published a study by Stanford University which estimated that the social cost of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions may be closer to $220 per ton of carbon dioxide—nearly six times the current estimate of $37 per ton used in the United States. The social cost of carbon (SCC) is a comprehensive estimate of economic damages that may occur with each metric ton of CO2 emissions. “If the social cost of carbon is higher, many more mitigation measures will pass a cost-benefit analysis. Because carbon emissions are so harmful to society, even costly means of reducing emissions would be worthwhile,” said study co-author Delavane Diaz. To develop the new SCC number, study authors used a modified integrated assessment model (IAM), the model typically used to generate SCC estimates through cost-benefit comparisons, and modified it to include inputs not typically put into standard IAM calculations. The researchers added in climate change’s effects on the economic growth rate, climate change adaptation, and divided the world into high income and low income countries. The Stanford researchers added that further research is necessary to hash out some assumptions and uncertainties in their work.
For more information see:

NOTE: The Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide (SCC) is an estimate of the costs of society of burning fossil fuels that do not appear at the gas pump or on your monthly utility bill, which could include additional medical expenses, lost work-time, crop losses (higher food prices) from extreme droughts or floods, or storm damage to homes and infrastructure - what economists call ‘externalities’.  $220 per ton for these hidden costs is a powerful argument for putting a substantial and increasing price on carbon.

2015 Begins With CO2 Levels Above 400 PPM
Preliminary 2015 data supplied daily by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography from the top of Hawaii’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, shows concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels were above 400 parts per million (ppm) starting on Jan. 1st, and have continued above or near that level through Jan. 16th. This is the first time a year has begun with such a high level of CO2 in about 800,000 years or more. In the pre-industrial period, CO2 levels stood at about 280 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels first passed the 400 ppm threshold in May 2013, but have fluctuated since then. Generally, CO2 levels increase during autumnal months as vegetation dies off, and then drops off during summer as the vegetation regrows. Pieter Tans, a climate scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) who was not affiliated with the Scripps study, said he originally expected this increase in early February, but wasn’t surprised at the early rise in CO2 levels. “I am not surprised that we are seeing daily means greater than 400 already popping up regularly. Next year that should start happening in November,” Tans said.
For more information see:

NOTE: Atmospheric concentrations going back 800,000 years can be determined by analyzing air bubbles trapped in the oldest (deepest) ice in Antarctica.

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