The U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) on Sept. 24 released an excellent report titled, Climate Change Science Compendium 2009. It summarizes the results of some 400 climate change science papers published in the past three years, since the most recent IPCC report of 2007. In the foreword, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon writes:
“The science has become more irrevocable than ever: Climate change is happening. The evidence is all around us. And unless we act, we will see catastrophic consequences including rising sea-levels, droughts and famine, and the loss of up to a third of the world’s plant and animal species.”
“This Climate Change Science Compendium is a wake-up call. The time for hesitation is over. We need the world to realize, once and for all, that the time to act is now and we must work together to address this monumental challenge. This is the moral challenge of our generation.” At: http://en.cop15.dk/files/pdf/compendium2009.pdf
The U.S. Global Change Research Program has produced a brochure titled, Climate Literacy – The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences. It was developed by a collaboration of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Foundation, and describes what individuals and communities need to know. It may be downloaded at:
Further information on climate literacy and educational resources can be found at:
Juliet Eilperin has an article in the Sept. 24 Washington Post titled, New Analysis Brings Dire Forecast Of 6.3-Degree Temperature Increase. The article says that Robert Corell, who chairs the Climate Action Initiative and reviewed the UNEP report above, said that a 6.3°F (3.5°C) temperature rise is likely to occur even if industrialized and developed countries enact every climate policy they have proposed at this point. That is much higher than the 2°C rise most scientists and policy makers have said we should not exceed if we are to avoid serious damage. At:
The Sierra Club posts a video called Climate Denial Crock of the Week. At: http://climatecrossroads.sierraclub.org
Karl Zimmer of Yale Environment360 has an article (Sept. 23, 2009) titled, Provocative New Study Warns of Crossing Planetary Boundaries. He reports on a recent paper in Nature that proposes that Earth has nine biophysical thresholds beyond which it cannot be pushed without disastrous consequences, and says that we have already gone past three of them: 1) CO2 added to the atmosphere, 2) reactive nitrogen added to the environment, and 3) rates of species extinction. At: http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2192
The Earth Policy Institute posted an article by Lester Brown (Sept. 21) titled, Plan B Update – On Energy We’re Finally Walking the Walk. While still advocating an 80% reduction in U.S. GHG emissions by 2020, Brown is hopeful that our country is finally moving toward a position of global leadership. He writes, “If the United States leads -- and does so boldly -- I believe the world will follow.” His new book, Plan B 4.0 – Mobilizing to Save Civilization, will be available after Sept. 30. At:
Thomas Friedman has a Sept. 27 article in the NY Times titled, The New Sputnik, in which he says that the decision of China to become a leader in green energy technologies is a challenge to the U.S. comparable to the Russian launch of Sputnik in 1957. He writes, “You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy-efficiency software from China.” At: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/opinion/27friedman.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=print&adxnnlx=1254223923-scmz9XIbwyM5UU2BU3kP7g
Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator, delivered a speech on Sept. 30 at the 2nd Annual Governor’s Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, on what the EPA is planning to do to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, without waiting for the Congress to act. Her prepared remarks can be found at:
PBS News Hour senior correspondent Judy Woodruff moderated a panel of local and regional leaders from around the world at the 2nd Annual Governor’s Global Climate Summit in LA. An audio (about 5 minutes) of her notes on the discussion can be found at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/environment/july-dec09/judyclimate_10-01.html
Bruce and Carolyn Gillette, co-pastors at the Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, have written an inspiring article for Call to Worship titled, A Journey Toward a Green Church. Theirs is the first church in Delaware to put solar PV panels (36 kW peak power) on its roof – a visible witness to the community of the pastors’ calling to protect Creation and advance social justice, while saving money. At: http://www.limestonepresbyterian.org/GreenChurch.pdf
George Monbiot, in the Sept. 28 issue of The Guardian, has a challenging piece titled, Stop blaming the poor. It's the wally yachters who are burning the planet. Monbiot points out that most population growth is not the real problem in climate change; it’s mostly in the poorest countries where people are least responsible for GHG emissions. The real increases in consumption are among the richest people in developed wealth nations. (Wally Yachts (see title of article) produces luxury yachts in Monaco, one of which is capable of traveling at 60 knots while burning over 10 gallons of fuel per mile. Let’s not even get into private jets.) At:
On October 5 President Obama signed an Executive Order setting sustainability goals for Federal agencies, making improvements in their environmental, energy and economic performance. “The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target within 90 days; increase energy efficiency; reduce fleet petroleum consumption; conserve water; reduce waste; support sustainable communities; and leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies.” The federal government should lead by example. At: http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/48754721-president-obama-signs-executive-order-focused-on-federal-leadership-in-environme
Sue Sturgis has an Oct. 7 article in Grist, titled, As the land disappears, an Indian tribe plans to abandon its ancestral Louisiana home. In it Sturgis points out that an Indian tribe is being displaced from its island on the Louisiana coast as the island sinks in the Gulf of Mexico, and is moving to higher ground. Low-lying areas are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. This past year the 2600 people of the Carteret Islands in the Pacific started leaving their vanishing coral atoll for another island in Papua New Guinea. “A recent report funded by the United Nations and the World Bank titled “In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement” warned that there could be as many as 250 million people displaced by 2050 unless “aggressive measures” were taken to halt global warming. At: http://www.grist.org/article/as-the-land-disappears-an-indian-tribe-plans-to-abandon-its-ancestral-louis/
Information on the impact of climate change on migration can be found at:
Mitch Epstein is a photojournalist for the NY Times who has been traveling across the U.S. taking photos of the ways Americans get and use energy. Comments on the photographs by Brian Walsh, dated Oct. 10, 2009 are; “The pictures have an eerie quality due to the juxtaposition of such mammoth engineering feats next to the stark landscape. This work is very provocative - causing the viewer to question our assumptions about how we relate to the environment and communities in our quest for ever more energy production.” At:
An August 26 article in PlosOne from The Nature Conservancy and Northwestern University, by Robert I. McDonald et al., titled, Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America, evaluates the areas required to produce various amounts of energy each year for several energy sources, including fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, wind and biofuels. Land-use intensity (km2/TW-hr/yr) is found to vary over a range of 400, from nuclear power on the low end to soy crops for diesel fuel on the high end. Wind, solar and hydropower are in the middle in terms of their impact on the landscape. The article makes clear the relatively low efficiency of converting sunlight to energy in the form of electricity or liquid fuels using green plants. (A TW (terawatt) is a trillion watts or a billion kilowatts.) At: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006802
The NY Times for Oct. 13 has an article by Charles Duhigg titled, Toxic Waters – Cleansing the Air at the Expense of Waterways, pointing out that reducing air emissions of toxic heavy metals at coal fired power plants has meant that the pollutants have simply gone into nearby rivers instead of into the air. It’s not clear that there is a net gain in terms of impacts on human health and the environment. This looks to me like another reason to get rid of coal power. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/us/13water.html?_r=2&th&emc=th
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change now has a blog with lots of current information. At: http://www.pewclimate.org/blog
The Earth Policy Institute on Oct. 14 posted an uplifting article by Lester Brown titled, U.S. Headed for Massive Decline in Carbon Emissions. In it he points out that U.S. CO2 emissions have decreased by 9% in the past two years, partly as a result of the economic slowdown but also because of replacing coal power by natural gas, and wind, solar, and geothermal renewable energy sources. He writes, “Peak carbon is now history. What had appeared to be hopelessly difficult is happening at amazing speed.” Let’s pray that he’s right. He goes on to say, “We do not yet know how much we can cut carbon emissions because we are just beginning to make a serious effort. Whether we can move fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate change remains to be seen.” At: http://www.earthpolicy.org/index.php?/plan_b_updates/2009/update83
The Encyclopedia of Earth (Sept. 8, 2009) has a detailed article titled, Carbon Capture and Storage, describing the state of CCS technology and estimating its costs, which tend to run around $50/ton of CO2 captured for new plants after the early commercial stage, but can go to 2-3 times that for retrofitting old plants or for new plants in the early stages of using the technology. At: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Carbon_capture_and_storage
$50/ton translates to an increase in electricity cost of about 5¢/kWh.
Alternet has an article (Oct.2, 2009) by David Morris titled, New Proposed Climate Change Bill in Washington Is Simpler and More Equitable. It describes a new climate bill being drafted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) with a number of attractive features, including simplicity, putting a price put on carbon at the source, and rebating 75% of the funds raised to citizens on a equal per capita basis. Use less energy and you save more. At: http://www.alternet.org/politics/142970?page=entire
FA Green for Oct. 16 has an article, Investors Push Firms to Rebuke Groups on Climate Change, describing a letter signed by a number of investment managers asking several companies “to make it clear they do not support the stance of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) against pending cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” At: http://www.fa-mag.com/green/news/4597-investors-push-companies-to-rebuke-groups-on-climate-change.html
Matthew Wald has an article in the Oct. 19 NY Times titled, Fossil Fuels’ Hidden Cost Is in Billions, Study Says. In it he describes a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences finding that burning fossil fuels cost the U.S. $120 billion each year just because of human health impacts of air pollution that causes 20,000 premature deaths each year. And that doesn’t include the damage caused by climate change. These “external” costs don’t show up at the pump or in your electric bill. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/science/earth/20fossil.html
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" at http://www.eesi.org/publications/Newsletters/CCNews/ccnews.htm
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. For more information regarding either the newsletter or EESI please contact Amy Sauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chinese President Pledges to Curb Carbon Dioxide Emissions at UN Summit
On September 22, Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged China would reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 2020 at the United Nations Forum on Climate Change. “We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of [gross domestic product] GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level,” Hu said. He did not specify the actual reduction China is considering, instead committing to a reduction of a “notable margin.” The proposal is unlikely to mean an overall reduction in emissions, as China's economy is expected to continue to grow rapidly. Hu also pledged to "vigorously develop" renewable and nuclear energy and restated China's position that developed nations should do more than developing nations to fight climate change, as they are historically responsible for a greater amount of emissions.
Court Rules States Can Sue Utilities Over Emissions
On September 21, a panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled states and land trusts can sue power companies over damages caused by their emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The lawsuit was brought forward in 2004 by eight Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and three land trusts against several large, coal-burning utilities. The plaintiffs argued the defendants were creating a “public nuisance” and sought a reduction in their GHG emissions. In 2005, District Court Judge Loretta Preska ruled the issue was political, rather than judicial, and dismissed the case. The panel overturned this decision and reinstated the case. In their ruling, they stated, “We hold that the district court erred in dismissing the complaints on political question grounds; that all of the Plaintiffs have standing; that the federal common law of nuisance governs their claims . . . . We vacate the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings.” New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said, “Today's decision allows us to press this crucial case forward and address the dangers posed by these coal-burning power plants.”
Norway to Consider Increasing 2020 Emission Cuts
On September 21, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced Norway is willing to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beyond its stated target of a 30 percent reduction below the 1990 baseline by 2020 if it helps delegates conclude an international climate change agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December. “If it contributes to a better climate deal in December, we would be ready to consider an increase of our reductions from 30 to 40 percent,” said Stoltenberg. A cut of this magnitude would place Norway among the world leaders in mitigating climate change; Germany also has a 40 percent reduction target. Stoltenberg added, “I think we will get an agreement in Copenhagen . . . what I'm more worried about is whether it will be a strong enough agreement.”
Carbon Disclosure Project 2009 Report Released at New York Climate Week
On September 21, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) released its 2009 report of climate policies from the 500 largest global companies, who account for over 11 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This year 82 percent of companies responded, up from 77 percent in 2008. Fifty-one percent of respondents said their companies have set GHG emission reduction targets, an increase from 41 percent last year. Eighty-four percent of financial sector respondents said climate change was a direct threat to their bottom line, citing reasons such as the impact of extreme weather events on supply lines and potential resource shortfalls. CEO Paul Dickinson said, “[Corporations] are demonstrating they are willing, ready and able to engage with it . . . We are moving, without any doubt, into a carbon-constrained world.”
Reports: Birth Control Could Help Combat Climate Change
On September 18, the editors of the British medical journal Lancet argued that increased spending in contraceptives could help fight climate change. The editors said over 200 million worldwide desire contraceptives, but do not have access to them, which results in approximately 75 million unwanted pregnancies each year. These pregnancies could be prevented with birth control which would reduce population growth rates and alleviate pressure on the environment the editors argued. “In tandem with other factors, rapid population growth in these regions increases the scale of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, for example, food and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and human displacement,”' the editors said. On September 18, Leo Bryant, a lead researcher for a World Health Organization study on population growth and climate change, said contraceptives are vital to the ability of developing countries to address climate change and policy makers need to confront the issue. The report, which is due to be published in November, suggested that while additional population growth in poor nations will have only a marginal impact on greenhouse gas emissions, it will place significant pressure on natural resources. This will make it more difficult to mitigate and adapt to climate change, he argued. The study he worked on indicated only six of the world's forty poorest nations have developed strategies to expand the use of birth control. “Acknowledgment of the problem is widespread, but resolve to address seems to be very much a minority sport,” said Bryant.
G-20 Agrees to Phase Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies
On September 24-25, world leaders from the Group of 20 (G-20), a group comprised of the world's 20 largest economies, met in Pittsburgh to discuss the global economy. The G-20 agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies in the “medium term” in order to combat climate change by preventing overinvestment in fossil fuels. Each year over $300 billion is spent by governments in the developed and developing world on fossil fuel subsidies. Critics argue that this keeps fossil fuel prices artificially low, leading to increased use and higher CO2 emissions. The International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimate that removing fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below a 'business as usual' baseline by 2050. “This reform will increase our energy security . . . and it will help us combat the threat posed by climate change," said President Obama. “All nations have a responsibility to meet this challenge, and together we have taken a substantial step forward in meeting that responsibility,” he said.
World Bank: $100 Billion a Year Needed for Climate Safety
On September 30, the World Bank released preliminary results from its biennial global economic assessment, World Development Report 2010, which this year focused exclusively on climate change, at the international climate change talks in Bangkok, Thailand. The study found that developing nations will need $75-100 billion per year until 2050 to adapt to the impacts of climate change if temperatures rise by the targeted 2°C above pre-industrialization levels. In comparison, total foreign aid spending was $118 billion in 2008. “Faced with the prospect of huge additional infrastructure costs, as well as drought, disease and dramatic reductions in agricultural productivity, developing countries need to be prepared for the potential consequences of unchecked climate change,” said World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Katherine Sierra. The report elaborated that the funding should go to adaptation measures such as ensuring safe water supplies, protecting coasts, fighting tropical diseases, and coping with extreme weather events, and would allow developing nations to “enjoy the same level of welfare in the future world as they would have without climate change.” Financial assistance from developed nations to developing ones has been a key issue at negotiations to produce an international climate change agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December.
Climate Change to Cut Crop Yields, Boost Prices, Study Shows
On September 30, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) released a new report concluding climate change will lead to a 20 percent increase in hungry children by 2050. The report forecasted that instead of 113 million malnourished children in 2050, 138 million children will be malnourished because of climate change. “Climate change increases child malnutrition and reduces calorie consumption dramatically,” the report stated. IFPRI said climate change will reduce crop yields because of lower rainfall and increased spread of pests and plant disease. “The negative effects of climate change on crop production are especially pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” the report said. It also forecasted that reduced crop yields means food prices will rise. “Even without climate change, food prices will rise,” lead author Gerald Nelson said. “Climate change makes this problem worse.” The report recommended a $7 billion increase in public spending on agriculture research, irrigation improvements, and farm-to-market roads in response.
For additional information see: AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, International Food Policy Research Institute Press Release
350 ppm Would Cost 1-3 Percent of Global GDP
On October 6, Economics for Equity and the Environment Network (E3) published a new report claiming that reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 parts per million (ppm) will cost 1-3 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually. To reach a target of 350 parts per million by 2200, the report found that the world would have to be virtually emissions-free by mid-century. If we begin aggressive reforestation efforts combined with ending large-scale deforestation, and if we can develop new technologies such as carbon capture and storage to remove carbon from the atmosphere, the report argued, we can achieve 350 ppm sooner and reduce the risks of catastrophic climate change. Currently the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 387 ppm. Policy makers are working to ensure the global average temperature does not increase above 2°C which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes would require CO2 concentrations to stabilize at 450 ppm. However, some climate scientists believe that CO2 concentrations must be reduced to 350 ppm to prevent serious climate change. This new report from E3, which is comprised of analyses from over 200 economists from universities and think tanks nationwide, found that 350 ppm is achievable and that carbon mitigation is cheaper than inaction. Lead author Frank Ackerman said, “As the news keeps sounding worse and worse, what we're talking about is not that the cost of doing something has changed -- the cost of doing nothing is really what's escalating . . . . A carbon target of 350 parts per million buys us insurance against catastrophic climate change.”
For additional information see: Washington Post, The Oregonian, Business Wire, Economics for Equity and the Environment Network Press Release
Pacific Ocean 'Dead Zone' in Northwest Likely Due to Climate Change
On October 9, Oregon State University Professor of Physical Oceanography Jack Barth warned that a ‘dead zone' off the coast of Oregon and Washington will most likely appear each summer because of climate change. Dead zones are areas where marine life cannot survive because there is too little dissolved oxygen in the water. Barth elaborated, “When oxygen gets too low in the ocean, it has a deleterious effect on organisms . . . . They either have to flee the area, or they get stressed or even die off. Those die-off [areas] are dead zones.” Dead zones are usually caused by the run-off of fertilizers used by farmers and can be fixed by reducing excessive fertilizer use. However, Barth said the dead zone in the northwest Pacific is unique because it is a result of changing wind patterns brought about by climate change. “I really think we're in a new pattern, a new rhythm, offshore now. And I would expect [the low-oxygen zone] to show up every year now,” said Barth.
Human Migration from Global Warming May Create ‘Climate Exiles'
On October 15, the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development said that between 200 million and 1 billion climate refugees, expected to flee their home countries to escape droughts and floods, may not be protected by international law. “International refugee law . . . was not designed for those who are left homeless by environmental pressures," said the group's director Joy Hyvarinen. The group called for adjustments to the international legal framework to account for these refugees. “The international community needs to prepare for the likelihood that some small island states and low-lying territories will be lost,” said Hyvarinen. “Migration forced by climate change is a tragedy and the international framework needs to be adjusted to help climate exiles and deal with statelessness and compensation.”
Last Time CO2 Reached Today's Levels Was 15 Million Years Ago
In a study published in the October 8 issue of the journal Science, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that the last time atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were at today's level was over 15 million years ago. The scientists arrived at their results by analyzing the boron to calcium ratio in the shells of marine algae fossils. Lead author Aradhna Tripati said, “The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland.” Tripati concluded, “Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas, and geological observations that we now have for the last 20 million years lend strong support to the idea that carbon dioxide is an important agent for driving climate change throughout Earth's history.”
Kashmir Glaciers Shrinking at 'Alarming' Speed
On October 12, India's Kashmir University released a new study that found that the Kashmir glaciers in the Himalayas are rapidly melting and threatening the water supply of millions in the region. The scientists discovered that the Kolahoi glacier, the area's largest, has shrunk by over 18 percent in the last 40 years. “Other small Kashmir glaciers are also shrinking and the main reason is that the winter temperature in Kashmir is rising,” the report said. The temperature of the area has risen by 1.1°C over the past 100 years. Lead author Shakil Romshoo called the rate of melting “alarming.” He also warned that the melting of the region's glaciers has endangered over two thirds of the region's ten million people because they depend on the glaciers for water and food production.
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action