CC NEWS FOR JANUARY 2010
An article by Johan Rockström and 28 co-authors published in Nature in September was titled, A Safe Operating Space for Humanity. The authors define nine planetary boundaries that human activities must not cross to avoid serious environmental damage, and conclude that three of them – climate change, rate of species extinction, and conversion of atmospheric nitrogen (N2) to chemical reactive nitrogen compounds - have already been crossed. This important paper has links to a number of related studies. At:
The authors assert that the climate boundary we should not cross is 350 ppm CO2 rather than the conventional global average temperature change of 2°C (3.6°F) above the preindustrial value, since the climate sensitivity is likely to be larger than we thought: 6°C with a range of 4-8°C rather than 3°C with a range of 2-4.5°C.
John Rennie in the Nov. 30 issue of Scientific American has an article titled, Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense. In it he lists and addresses seven claims commonly made by climate change contrarians, such as the one that human generated CO2 makes such a small contribution to the greenhouse effect that it couldn’t possibly be important. He points out that the main objective of the contrarians is to avoid any action to reduce CO2 emissions. At: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=seven-answers-to-climate-contrarian-nonsense
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has a website, updated annually since 2006, called, Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change, with a series of well-written articles. “The series begins with an overview report which serves as a summary and introduction to the series and consists of nine briefs covering: climate science and impacts, adaptation (my emphasis), technological solutions, cap and trade, business solutions, international action, action in the U.S. states, and efforts by local governments.” The brief on adaptation is especially important, because most of the discussion so far has been about mitigation. For the 2009 series see: http://www.pewclimate.org/global-warming-basics/climate_change_101
Michael Fitzpatrick of BBC News has a Jan. 6 article titled, Methane release ‘looks stronger.’ Igor Semiletov from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks reports that the rate of methane gas release from the Artic Ocean north of Russia is increasing and that bubbles of gas released from the melting permafrost on the sea floor can be seen coming to the surface. Concentrations of methane measured in the atmosphere in the area have been as high as 1000 times normal. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and its release contributes to a positive feedback where the warming it causes increases the rate of its release. At: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8437703.stm
In a blog dated Nov. 25, 2009, titled, Who on earth cares about climate change?, Andrea Liverani of blogs.worldbank.org described a multi-country public opinion survey for the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, which for the first time targeted developing countries with a comprehensive set of questions regarding climate policy. The poll’s first question was: “In your view, is climate change, also known as global warming, a very serious problem, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not a problem?” Majorities of people in all countries polled see climate change as either very serious or somewhat serious. The highest percentages for ‘very serious’ were from poor countries: 90% from Mexico, 85% from Bangladesh, and 75% from Kenya. The lowest ‘very serious’ percentages were from countries with high per capita CO2 emissions: 28% from China, 30% from Russia, and 31% from the U.S. The U.S. had the highest percentage (12%) saying that climate change is ‘not a problem’. At:
John Holdren, the Director of the Whitehouse Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) gave a presentation in Copenhagen on Dec. 16 titled, The Science of Climate Change: What Do We Know? What Can We Do? It contains a lot of very good and up to date information. Well worth looking at. At: http://www.ostp.gov/galleries/press_release_files/2009_12-16_JPH%20at%20COP-15_to%20post.pdf
The Department of Energy announced the release a report on January 10 in EERE (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) News, titled, Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS). The study explores the technical, operational, and economic issues facing the integration of large amounts of wind power into the Eastern U.S. – up to 30% of the total electricity generated in 2024. The study has three main parts: a wind resource assessment and plant siting study, a transmission study, and a wind integration study. Some of the results are:
o There are no fundamental technical barriers to the integration of 20% wind energy into the electrical system, but transmission planning and system operation policy and market development need to continue to evolve in order for these penetration levels to be achieved;
o Interconnection-wide costs for integrating large amounts of wind generation are manageable with large regional operating pools, because increasing the geographic diversity of wind power projects in a given operating pool generally makes the aggregated wind power output more predicable and less variable, while also reducing the variation in load and increasing the number of generation assets that can be committed and dispatched;
o Although the costs of aggressive expansion of the existing grid are significant, they make up a relatively small piece of the total annual power system costs in any of the scenarios studied;
o Wind generation displaces carbon-based fuels, directly reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Emissions continue to decline as more wind generation is added to the energy supply
A similar study for the Western U.S., including both solar and wind power, is due later this year.
The EWITS Executive Summary and Project Overview can be downloaded at:
A press release dated Jan. 12 from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, titled, EPW Majority United in Opposition to Murkowski Effort to Overturn EPA Global Warming Endangerment Finding, reported that all of the Democratic members of the committee signed a Dear Colleague letter opposing the effort by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) global warming endangerment finding. If successful, she would strip the EPA of its authority to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Senators signing the letter were: Barbara Boxer (CA), Chairman, Thomas Carper (DE), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Benjamin Cardin (MD), Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Tom Udall (NM), Max Baucus (MT), Jeff Merkley (OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and Arlen Specter (PA). At: http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Majority.PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=2354e983-802a-23ad-4cdd-ae4ca31b0a6b
James Hansen et al. have recently posted a paper titled, If It’s That Warm, How Come It’s So Darned Cold? An Essay on Regional Cold Anomalies within Near-Record Global Temperature. It points out that - the claims of the climate change deniers and the low U.S. temperatures in December notwithstanding - the global average temperature is increasing. In fact, on a global average basis, 2009 tied for the second warmest year in over a century. At: http://www.columbia.edu/%7Ejeh1/mailings/2010/20100127_TemperatureFinal.pdf
Kate Galbraith has an article in the NY Times for Jan. 23 titled, Why Is a Utility Paying Customers? It points out that Idaho Power Company, which at one time urged customers to use more power (the company was generating more from hydroelectric dams than its customers could use), is now paying them a premium not to use power during times of peak demand. Saving energy costs less than building new power plants, so both the customer and the company benefit. At:
Kate Sheppard in the Jan. 22 issue of Mother Jones has an article, The First Rule of Fighting Climate Change: Don't Talk About Climate Change. In it she points out that Republican pollster and wordsmith Frank Luntz has suggested that the best way to get support for cap-and-trade legislation is not to talk about global warming or dying polar bears, but how the legislation will create jobs, make the planet healthier and decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil. As a GOP strategist in 2002, Luntz was the one who advocated that Republicans sow confusion about global warming. He wrote that Republicans should "continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate" because otherwise, "[s]hould the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly." At: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/01/gop-pollster-luntz-tells-enviros-stop-talking-climate
You can read more about this at the TommyWonk blog of Jan. 27 at: http://www.tommywonk.com/
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 email@example.com.
U.S. Businesses Call on President Obama to Achieve a Global Climate Deal
On December 15, more than two dozen blue-chip U.S. businesses sent a letter to President Obama to express their desire for a strong international climate change agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen. The letter called for leadership from the President in negotiating a climate agreement that will lead to substantial emissions reductions and financing for impoverished nations. “We must put the United States on the path to significant emissions reductions, a stronger economy and a new position of leadership to stabilize our climate,” the letter stated. “The costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action.” Among the signers were Dow Chemical, Microsoft, Nike, Duke Energy, and Pacific Gas & Electric.
For additional information see: Ceres Press Release
Schwarzenegger Highlights Local Governments' Role in Climate Fight
On December 15, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed delegates at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. Schwarzenegger said that while an international treaty will be a great start to confronting climate change, local governments and other entities will have to play a major role if the world is to successfully avoid dangerous climate change. “The world's governments alone cannot make the progress that is needed on global climate change," Schwarzenegger said. “They need the cities, the states, the provinces, the regions. They need the corporations, the activists, the scientists, the universities, and the individuals to create the determination and action for movement.”
IEA: Energy Revolution Required to Combat Climate Change
On December 14, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a blueprint of the energy system needed to keep atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations stabilized at 450 parts per million. “The 450 Policy scenario of our flagship publication World Energy Outlook 2009 is the right path to green growth but it is a radical departure from current trends,” said IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. The IEA estimated that over 60 percent of the world's energy would have to be produced by low carbon sources (renewables, nuclear, fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage) by 2030 and that hybrid electric vehicles would have to account for over 60 percent to total vehicle sales. “The energy path to stabilize climate is clear, but only vigorous action will put our economies on that path to green growth,” Tanaka emphasized. “A strong political signal is needed now in order to drive the necessary changes.”
New Index Seeks to Track Climate Change Trends and Provide Easy Reference
On December 16, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science's International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) unveiled a new index that attempts to put a single number on the numerous threats posed by climate change, such as temperature increases, sea level rise, and changes in precipitation. The index was modeled after the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which tracks the stock prices of 30 blue-chip American corporations. The creators said the impacts of climate change have increased: the index measured at 34 in 1980, but has increased to 574 as of 2007. “We felt people outside global-change research are not clear about the scale of the changes scientists are witnessing,” said IGBP Executive Director Sybil Seitzinger. “The index is a response to these concerns.”
New Study Says Sea Levels Will Rise Nine Meters
In a study published in the December 16 issue of Nature, researchers from Princeton University estimated that sea levels will rise nine meters within the next two centuries even if temperatures are stabilized at 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In their Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that sea levels would rise approximately 4-6 meters if temperatures increased by 2°C. The scientists said their estimate was higher because it includes recent research on ice loss in Greenland and Antarctica. “Is this the end of the world? No,” said lead author Michael Oppenheimer. “Does it mean there's a premium on reducing the level of greenhouse gases as fast as reasonably possible? Yes. Also, it puts an exclamation point on the two-degree target."
Global Temperatures Could Rise More than Expected
In the December 20 issue of Nature Geoscience, researchers looking at long-term climate models found that the current increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) could lead to global temperatures higher than previously expected. The scientists from Yale University used sediment drilled from the ocean floor to reconstruct CO2 concentrations in the mid- and early-Pliocene era and found that "a relatively small rise in CO2 levels was associated with substantial global warming 4.5 million years ago." The team also found that the global temperature was between 3.6 and 5.4°F higher than today, though CO2 levels were similar to current levels. “This work and other ancient climate reconstructions reveal that Earth's climate is more sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide than is discussed in political circles," said lead author Mark Pagani. "Since there is no indication that the future will behave differently than the past, we should expect a couple of degrees of continued warming even if we held CO2 concentrations at the current level."
Poll Shows Americans' Strong Support for Action against Global Warming
On December 23, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) released a poll which found that more than 80 percent of Americans polled support action to limit carbon pollution and transition to a low carbon economy. The poll was conducted December 12 through 15 and included 1,000 registered voters across the United States. Eighty-two percent of those polled support having the U.S. government increase investments in clean energy sources, and 67 percent of those polled support having the government limit carbon and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to global warming. “The American people can't be more clear when it comes to solving global warming: they want the U.S. to be Rudolph out in front of the sleigh, leading the world toward a clean energy future,” said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of NWF. “There is overwhelming public support for the Senate to pass legislation with firm limits on carbon pollution that will stimulate massive new investments in clean energy technologies.” The majority of respondents believe that global warming is happening, with 91 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Republicans stating they believe it is happening.
Scientists Map Speed of Climate Change for Different Ecosystems
In the December 24 issue of Nature, researchers calculated the average rate at which ecosystems must shift geographically to keep pace with changing temperatures as a result of global warming. The team of scientists has measured the average rate that ecosystems must shift to be 0.42 kilometers per year. Nearly one-third of ecosystems face will temperature increases faster than the highest possible migration rates for the plants that live in these areas. Overall, the study found that the expected increase in temperatures in most areas of the world will rise at a faster rate than the ability of wildlife to adapt, leading to mass extinction of many species. Protected areas, such as nature preserves, were found to be generally too small to cope with the predicted change. "When we look at residence time for protected areas, which we define as the amount of time it will take current climate conditions to move across and out of a given protected area, only 8 per cent of our current protected areas have a residence time of more than 100 years," said Dr. Healy Hamilton of the California Academy of Sciences.
Reinsurer Sees Climate-related Losses Mounting
On December 29, German reinsurer Munich Re released its annual survey of natural catastrophes and warned that weather-related catastrophes continue to rise, reaching 850 events in 2009, compared to the ten-year average of 770 events. Torsten Jeworrek, a Munich Re board member, said the number of weather-related catastrophes had “more or less” tripled since 1950, causing about $1,600 billion in economic losses since 1980. “Climate change probably already accounts for a significant share [of the sum],” Jeworrek said. In 2009, weather accounted for 45 percent of the 22 billion in claims due to natural catastrophe, according to Munich Re. As part of its report, the reinsurer also called for a global agreement to address climate change. "We need as soon as possible an agreement that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions because the climate reacts slowly and what we fail to do now will have a bearing for decades to come," Jeworrek added.
Brazil to Make 2020 Carbon Emission Targets Legally Binding
On December 29, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed a law requiring the country to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions roughly 39 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The target was announced earlier by Brazil at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December as a "voluntary commitment" to reduce CO2 emissions by between 36.1 and 38.9 percent in the next ten years. The new law is subject to several decrees setting out responsibilities and regulations for the farming, industrial, energy and environmental sectors. Lula is expected to sign the decrees in January after consulting scientists and other experts, officials said. "We will fully comply with the targets. It doesn't matter that Copenhagen didn't go as well as we had hoped," Environment Minister Carlos Minc said after meeting with the Brazilian president.
Canada's Arctic Meltdown Growing At Alarming Pace
In the December 29 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research, scientists reported that the period of time in which Arctic ice is melting in northern Canada has increased by 20 days since 1979. The scientists conducting the research used satellite microwave data to measure when sea ice begins to melt and when it refreezes each year. They found that, on average, sea ice began melting 2.5 days earlier each decade and began refreezing 3.7 days later. “All areas in the Arctic show a trend toward earlier melt onset and also a trend toward later freeze-up,” the article noted, but the study also found that rate is even faster in areas of the Canadian Arctic. One of the most southerly ice packs is Hudson Bay, which the study found was melting at one of the fastest rates in the world. One of the researchers, Julienne Stroeve from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said the findings are consistent with other data about the effects of climate change on the Arctic.
Climate Change Increasing Risk of Malaria
On December 31, researchers from the Kenyan Medical Research Institute reported that global warming had caused a seven-fold increase in cases of malaria on Mount Kenya from ten years ago. In 1989 in the Central Highlands region of Kenya, the average temperature was 17°C. Because the parasite that causes malaria matures at 18°C, researchers did not observe any significant cases of malaria. Temperatures in that region now average 19°C, and local officials are now seeing mosquitoes carrying malaria in higher altitudes and epidemics among humans. “The spread of malaria in the Mount Kenya region is a worrying sign of things to come,” said Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary for the UK Department for International Development, which funded the study. “Without strong and urgent action to tackle climate change, malaria could infect areas without any experience of the disease. That's why we need to make sure vulnerable, developing nations such as Kenya have the support they need to tackle the potentially devastating impacts of climate change.”
Investors Urge Governments to Act on Climate Change
On January 13, the first gathering of business leaders since the Copenhagen climate summit urged world governments to take immediate action on global warming, or risk losing the opportunity to establish a clean and sustainable low-carbon economy. "Given that Copenhagen was a missed opportunity to create one fully functional international carbon market, it is more important than ever that individual governments implement regional and domestic policy change to stimulate the creation of a low carbon economy," said Peter Dunsombe, chairman of the IIGCC, a network of European investors. "Leaders from both developed and developing countries need to act now to compensate for the lack of progress," he continued. The investors said it was critical that governments – including the United States – adopt rigorous targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade as well as for 2050. In addition to renewable energy, they also called for policies to speed the development of green building practices, cleaner cars and public transit systems. "Investors remain committed to taking action," the group of 450 investors from Europe, the United States and Australia said. "But for us to deploy capital at the scale needed to truly catalyze a low-carbon economy, policy makers must act swiftly."
California Adopts First State 'Green' Building Codes
On January 12, a California state commission unanimously voted to approve what are considered the nation's strongest "green" building code standards. Dubbed Calgreen, the new rules go into effect January 2011 and include requirements such as reducing indoor water use, using low-pollutant paints, carpets and floorings and installing separate water meters for different users (in non-residential buildings only). Calgreen also mandates the inspection of heaters, air conditioners and other energy systems in nonresidential buildings to ensure maximum efficiency. The code was supported by a wide range of building industry and realty associations, as well as the state Chamber of Commerce. Industry officials said that the new regulations would increase construction costs only slightly while helping California meet its goal to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 30 percent by 2020. Buildings currently account for roughly 25 percent of the state's total GHG emissions.
The new regulations did receive some opposition. Six groups, including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, waged a last-minute campaign to derail some of the rules, saying they fall short of more rigorous standards adopted by more than 50 California jurisdictions in league with the U.S. Green Building Council. In general, the groups largely applauded the code's mandatory rules as a baseline minimum standard, but they take issue with its two-tier labeling system, saying it would open the door to conflicting interpretations and thus be practically unenforceable. Despite their objections, however, the rules were passed unanimously.
For additional information see: San Francisco Gate, Central Valley Business Pope Denounces Failure to Form New Climate Treaty
On January 11, Pope Benedict XVI spoke out regarding the world leaders' inability to agree to a new climate change treaty last month in Copenhagen. He told nearly 100 ambassadors accredited to the Vatican that the preservation of God's creation was the continual responsibility of our world leaders and denounced the “economic and political resistance” to combating environmental degradation. Since Benedict became Pope, the Vatican has joined a reforestation project, aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions, as well as installed solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. Due to his increasingly vocal concern about protecting the environment, an issue he has reflected on in encyclicals, during foreign trips and most recently in his annual peace message, Benedict has been dubbed the "green pope".
Pine Beetle Turns Trees into Carbon Emitters
On January 10, the Globe and Mail reported a finding by Canadian researchers saying that pine beetles have now killed so many trees that the forests of British Columbia currently put more greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the air than they store. This has been true since 2003, the experts continued, and by 2009, dead lodgepole pines had a bigger carbon footprint than the province's human population. Experts estimate that the pine beetle has killed roughly 1 billion trees, most of them expected to decay over the next half-century or so, which returns carbon stored in the trees to the atmosphere.
Over 80 U.S. Companies Call on Obama and Congress to Enact Comprehensive Climate Legislation
On January 21, more than 80 CEOs from leading U.S. businesses, including Exelon, Virgin America, NRG Energy, eBay and PG&E, sent a letter to President Obama and members of Congress calling on them to enact comprehensive climate and energy legislation that will create jobs and enhance U.S. competitiveness. The letter stated that the United States is "falling behind" in the global clean energy race and called for forceful leadership to achieve legislation that will unleash innovation, drive economic growth, boost energy independence and decrease our carbon emissions. "American businesses recognize this challenge and have already begun to respond and innovate. However, today's uncertainty surrounding energy and climate regulation is hindering the large-scale actions that American businesses are poised to make," the letter stated. It continued, "We need strong policies and clear market signals that support the transition to a low-carbon economy and reward companies that innovate. It is time for the Administration and Congress to embrace this policy as the promising economic opportunity that will empower American workers to compete and American entrepreneurship to lead the way."
EU to Stick with Lower Climate Offer to UN
On January 22, the European Union (EU) decided to commit to unilaterally cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade, a draft letter showed. Ahead of the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen in December, the EU offered to deepen those cuts to 30 percent, an offer contingent upon "comparable effort" from other nations. After the failure to form a comprehensive international agreement, however, the EU has returned to its original position of 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels. The EU's reluctance to set tougher targets for itself came despite the admission by a senior official that the measures envisaged by the Copenhagen accord do not correspond with those that most scientists deem necessary to avert a potentially catastrophic rise in global temperatures. Olli Rehn, a member of the European Commission, said this week that the agreement "falls badly short of our goal" to ensure that temperatures do not climb above 2°C of pre-industrial levels. Rehn added, "The accord is better than no outcome at all, which would have been the worst case scenario." Many EU countries and industries expressed wariness of increasing cuts to 30 percent alone as the cost of cutting emissions might put factories at a disadvantage to rivals in less regulated countries. Environmentalists believe, however, that the EU should strive for a 30 percent reduction goal as a minimum, regardless of whether other big players in the global economy will emulate it. They contend that the EU's tactic of hoping outsiders follow its agenda has not worked and that it is now time for it to lead by example. Matthias Duwe, director of Climate Action Network Europe, said that the EU, “is sitting back and waiting for others, when there should be a renewed sense of urgency."
If you would like to receive my Climate Change News automatically by email and don’t already, just send an email message to:
If you want to stop receiving it, just send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you come across some really interesting information, please send it along and I may include it in the next issue.
Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action