Thursday, June 24, 2010



I have read two excellent books that are must-reads for anyone who really wants to understand the threat posed by climate change and the need to act vigorously without delay. They are Storms of My Grandchildren – The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, by James Hansen, Bloomsbury USA, New York, 2010 and Eaarth – Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 2010. Both are available in local bookstores or from

Columbia University Professor James Hansen and other scientists, in 2008, were the first to call for reducing CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm or less in order to prevent severe damage to the climate system, and a possible climate runaway. (See Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim, at:

Bill McKibben is the author and Middlebury College professor who founded in order to bring global attention to the need for action.

The March 15 issue of the Christian Science Monitor has an article titled, As Climate Change debate rages on, scientists turn to Hollywood for help. The problem is that even as climate scientists find more evidence that business-as-usual is extremely dangerous, the American public is becoming more doubtful that climate change is real. “As news outlets scale back science coverage, the Exploratorium’s Dr. Semper says, “nonprofits are actually becoming the intermediary between science and the public more than in the past.”” At:

The April 9 issue of the NY Times Magazine had an excellent article by Paul Krugman titled, Building a Green Economy. In it, Krugman describes the work of several Leading economists on the costs of dealing with climate change, and the costs of not dealing with it – or substantially delaying strong action. He concludes that putting a price on carbon emissions – either as a direct tax or with a cap-and-trade system similar to the one that has worked for acid rain – is necessary. A cap-and-trade bill (H.R. 2454) passed the U.S. House in June, and is the only kind of climate bill that has any hope in the Senate. Krugman argues that the costs to the economy of dealing with climate change will be moderate, and favors strong action sooner rather than later because climate scientists are finding that climate changes are occurring faster than expected and there are positive feedbacks involving methane release that pose a growing danger. When faced with a possible catastrophe, it is best to err on the side of caution. A must-read. At:

On May 12 James Hansen gave a presentation to the French National Assembly titled, A Convenient Falsehood: Global Warming is a Hoax. In it he refutes the claims of climate change deniers that the science is uncertain, shows the latest scientific evidence that we are on a dangerous and unsustainable path, says that we need to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentration as low as 300 ppm, and proposes a growing global fee on carbon with a green check given to every person on an equal per capita basis. His PowerPoint slides are available at his web site:

On May 12 the NY Times published an Op-Ed by Robert Bryce titled A Bad Bet on Carbon. In it Bryce pointed out that the Kerry-Lieberman energy bill recently introduced in the Senate calls for $2 billion per year for carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that has not been demonstrated at scale, requires a lot of energy to operate, and requires significant capital investment for pipe lines to take CO2 from power plants to sites where it can be pumped underground. In addition, the volume of waste to dispose of is staggering, and leaks could prove lethal. Coal states think it’s great, but the rest of us would be a lot better off putting the money into improving energy efficiency and promoting the development of wind power. See:

Also on May 12 the Boston Globe posted a series of 40 photos of the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. One has to ask: Is the cost of our addiction to ‘cheap’ oil and coal worth it? See:

On May 19 the News Office of the National Academies issued three reports in a release titled, STRONG EVIDENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE UNDERSCORES NEED 
FOR ACTIONS TO REDUCE EMISSIONS AND BEGIN ADAPTING TO IMPACTS. The reports – the first three of a group of five called America’s Climate Choices - include: Advancing the Science of Climate Change, Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change, and Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change. At:

A very informative 60-minute video showing presentations by the chairs of the study panels and Q&A with members of the audience at the National Academy of Sciences is available at:

The Union of Concerned Scientists has posted a report called The Climate-Friendly Gardener: A Guide to Combating Global Warming from the Ground Up, with ideas on how you can garden using less fossil fuel and with less negative environmental impact. At:

You can download the full 12-page report in pdf format at:

The Union of Concerned Scientists has also posted a number of reports pointing out the challenge and danger of climate change. One, titled, Latest Climate Science Underscores Urgent Need to Reduce Heat-trapping Emissions, shows some important work published since the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) AR4 (Assessment Report 4). One finding is that 400 kg out of 1000 kg of CO2 released in 1960 stayed in the atmosphere, while oceans and plants took up 600 kg. In 2006 450 kg out of 1000 remained in the atmosphere and only 550 kg was taken up. The decreasing ability of natural systems to take up human emissions is a consequence of the fact that the solubility of CO2 in oceans decreases as their temperatures increase, and forests are being destroyed. Another finding is that sea level is rising at rates at the high end of estimates made a few years ago, which did not adequately account for the observed speed of ice loss. The high end IPCC AR4 estimate for the end of the century has been increased from 0.6 m to 2 m (from 24 inches to 80). A 2 m rise in sea level would displace about 200 million people. At:

On May 20 the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) released a report titled, NREL Study Shows Power Grid can Accommodate Large Increase in Wind and Solar Generation - Increased Coordination Over Wider Areas and More Frequent Scheduling Needed; Wind and Solar Significantly Reduce Carbon and Fuel Costs. The report, which focused on the Western United States, found that up to 30% of electricity could be generated by wind and 5% by solar power by 2017 with little need for nuclear or fossil fuel backup, or for additional transmission. Success involves integrating the renewable resources over a wide geographical area to greatly reduce the problem of intermittency (the fact that at one location the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine), and predicting the power available at different sites. At:

One of the problems with extensive use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar has been their variability. Sometimes the wind blows strong and the sun shines brightly and sometimes they don’t. The Missoulian (Missoula, MT) has a May 29 article by Michael Jamison titled, Wind power changing energy delivery. One way the Pacific Northwest is adapting to unexpected changes in wind speed is to allow wind companies to sell power at 30-minute intervals, compensating for the change in wind power fed to the grid by cutting back on the flow of water to hydroelectric turbines. That way, wind turbines don’t have to be unplugged when the wind picks up, and water is conserved. At:

In a June 9 article, Energy investor exploring East Coast line to pull power from offshore wind plants, Lynn Doan reported at that a private investor is interested in investing in a high voltage DC transmission line on the sea floor off the U.S. East Coast that could tie numerous wind farms together and supply a lot of power to the densely populated coast. At:

This is good news, as tying together wind farms over a large area largely avoids the problem of intermittency. See Kempton et al. at:

The Climate Change Task Force (CCTF) of the US League of Women Voters has been working for several months to produce a Toolkit for Climate Action, which is now posted on the web and was presented on June 13 at the League's National Convention in Atlanta. It has lots of information and resources - including web sites, books, reports, magazine articles, DVDs, and museum exhibits - that we hope will be helpful to anyone concerned about energy and climate change science and policy. There are even sections dealing with health, ethics, national security, and climate skeptics. The site will be updated regularly to keep it evergreen. At:

On June 15 Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club, issued a press release about President Obama’s speech that day dealing with the oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. Brune wrote, “.. we are very pleased to hear President Obama reiterate his call for a fundamental change in the nation's energy policy. The President now needs to lay out the specifics. What exactly are the steps we know we can take now? What kind of sacrifices can be made? How can every American help?” He went on to say, “The BP oil disaster in the gulf is a wake-up call. Creating a clean energy economy won't be easy, but with the right leadership, it can be done. “ At:

The Field Museum in Chicago is having a special Climate Change exhibit from June 25 to November 28, 2010. The brochure announcing the exhibit says, “Uncover the natural evidence of climate change and discover how even small, individual changes add up quickly to help reduce global warming. Discover how we can make an impact in reducing climate change and learn about some of our best hopes for alternative energy sources.” See:

Sam Stein of the Huffington Post for May 26 has an article titled, Oil Spill Response: New Ad Demands Leadership On Climate Legislation From Senate Democrats. The 34-second ad, by the National Resources Defense Council, is on the web at:

The Yale Project for Climate Communication posted their results for a poll (Climate Change in the American Mind: Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in June 2010) of Americans taken between May 14 and June 1, 2010. A majority of American adults (61%) think that global warming is happening, but the percentage is less than it was in Nov. 2008 (71%). At:

It is clear to me that the disinformation campaign of the climate change deniers and energy companies has had some success.

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. For more information regarding either the newsletter or EESI please contact Amy Sauer at

NOAA: 2010 Is Warmest Year on Record So Far

On May 17, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released weather data showing January – April to be the warmest on record for that period, using combined global land and ocean surface temperature. Additionally, last month’s average ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for any April, and the global land surface temperature was the third warmest on record. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies also reported that 2010, is so far the warmest out of 131 years. NASA recently issued a report that predicted 2010 would likely end up as the warmest year on record, due to the combination of global warming and El Nino. Both NOAA and NASA use data that go back to 1880.

For additional information see: NOAA Press Release, USA Today, Press Trust of India, AFP

Study: Senate Climate Bill Would Create Decade of Job Growth

On May 20, the Peterson Institute for International Economics released an 18-page study on the economic impact of the American Power Act, a climate bill released by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) on May 12. The study found that from 2011-2020, the bill would spur $41.1 billion in investments each year in nuclear and renewable energy, as a cap on greenhouse gas emissions would shift the economy away from carbon-heavy energy sources such as coal and oil. Over this same time frame, an average of 203,000 jobs would be created each year as a result of increased investment in these sectors. Longer term, the analysis found that job gains from the first decade of the bill’s implementation "are clawed back" as energy prices rise and "additional power sector investment becomes more inflationary." Overall, the study found that the legislation would “significantly alter the way the United States produces and consumes energy.” Following the release of the report, Kerry commented, "What greater incentive for action is needed than creating jobs and reducing our foreign oil dependency."

For additional information see: New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, Peterson Institute Press Release

Over 6,000 U.S. Companies Back Climate Legislation

On May 19, American Businesses for Clean Energy (ABCE) released its analysis which found that over 6,000 large and small U.S. businesses have called on Congress to enact clean energy and climate legislation. The group compiled data to calculate the number of companies that are a part of one or multiple joint initiatives (such as ABCE, the We Can Lead campaign, U.S. Climate Action Partnership, etc.) and found that the businesses collectively represent 3.5 million U.S. employees, and $3.5 trillion in combined revenue in 2009. Christopher Van Atten, a spokesperson for ABCE said: “This unprecedented outpouring of business support for real leadership from the White House and U.S. Senate on clean energy and climate should be a wake-up call for elected officials in Washington. Thousands of American businesses are saying that they want action on climate and clean energy . . . and they want that action now.”

For additional information see: ABCE Press Release

Warming, Acidic Oceans Create 'Double Trouble' for Marine Life

On May 20, the European Science Foundation issued a report describing the double threat from climate change in the world’s oceans due to rising ocean temperatures and acidification. The oceans have become 30 percent more acidic in the past 200 years, as they absorbed about 430 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), or approximately one-third of human CO2 emissions, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The CO2 produces carbonic acid in the ocean, which makes it more difficult for calcifying organisms such as corals and shellfish, to produce skeletons. "Ocean acidification is already occurring and will get worse. And it's happening on top of global warming, so we are in double trouble,” said Jelle Bijma, the lead author of the report and a biogeochemist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. “The combination of the two may be the most critical environmental and economic challenge of the century.” The report urged European governments to do more to understand acidification through research. “Existing research has mainly been initiated by individual researchers or teams, with limited overall coordination," the statement said.

For additional information see: Reuters, ANI

Study Finds Sharp Rise in Ocean Temperatures Over 16 Years

A study in the May 19 issue of Nature found that temperatures in the upper 700 meters of the world’s oceans rose significantly between the years 1993-2008. The study was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research. An international team of scientists gathered measurements from an array of autonomous free-floating ocean floats that were dropped from ships to obtain temperature data. The study found that over the course of 16 years, oceans absorbed about 0.6 watts per square meter of energy, which is roughly equivalent to the power of 2 billion copies of the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima during World War II, said lead author John Lyman, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii.

“The ocean is the biggest reservoir for heat in the climate system,” said Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the scientists who contributed to the study. “So as the planet warms, we’re finding that 80 to 90 percent of the increased heat ends up in the ocean.”

For additional information see: New York Times, Independent, NOAA Press Release

Study Finds Higher CO2 Levels Do Not Help Plant Growth

In the May 14 issue of Science, scientists reported that increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels ultimately hinder plant growth as it inhibits plants’ ability to assimilate nitrates from the soil, which are needed to make enzymes and other essential proteins. Scientists had earlier proposed that increased CO2 levels, which accumulate in the atmosphere in part from the burning of fossil fuels, might increase photosynthesis. The study found that an initial increase in the production of sugar soon levels off and plant growth slows.

The scientists who conducted the study said these findings have significant implications for agriculture as CO2 levels rise and temperatures warm. Should food become poorer in quality and nutrition, farmers will have to shift their use of fertilizers. “This indicates that as atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rise and nitrate assimilation in plant tissues diminishes, crops will become depleted in organic nitrogen compounds, including protein, and food quality will suffer,” said lead author Arnold Bloom from the University of California Davis. “Increasing nitrogen fertilization might compensate for slower nitrate assimilation rates, but this might not be economically or environmentally feasible.”

For additional information see: Los Angeles Times, UC Davis Press Release, Study Abstract

Lizards Driven to Extinction Due to Global Climate Change

In the May 14 issue of Science, researchers reported that 12 percent of Mexico’s lizard population has been driven to extinction as a result of higher temperatures. Rising temperatures leave lizards unable to spend sufficient time foraging for food, as they have to rest and regulate their body temperature. "These lizards need to bask in the sun to warm up, but if it gets too hot they have to retreat into the shade and then they can't hunt for food," said lead author Barry Sinervo of the University of California Santa Cruz.

Based on these data, researchers used an “extinction model” to predict that 40 percent of all lizard populations globally and 20 percent of all lizard species could become extinct by 2080 if warming continues. As a vital part of the food chain, their reduced populations could impact the viability of others species as well. The researchers "deliver a disturbing message," biologist Raymond B. Huey of the University of Washington and his colleagues wrote in an editorial accompanying the report. "Climate-forced extinctions are not only in the future, but are happening now."

For additional information see: Los Angeles Times, BBC, San Jose Mercury News, Study Abstract

EIA: CO2 Emissions Will Increase 43 Percent by 2035

On May 25, the Energy Information Administration released its report on projections of global energy consumption through 2035. The report projects that total world energy demand will grow 49 percent by 2035 and that barring policy changes, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are projected to rise 43 percent. Developing countries such as China and India are expected to have an increase in energy demand of 84 percent while developed nations such as the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom are expected to have a 14 percent increase in energy demand. World oil consumption is expected to increase 28 percent by 2035, and production will rise by 25.8 million barrels per day. Unconventional sources such as shale, oil sands and coalbeds are expected to make up 26 percent of U.S. gas production, 63 percent in Canada and 56 percent in China. The EIA report projects that “with strong economic growth and continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels expected for most of the [non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] economies under current policies, much of the projected increase in carbon dioxide emissions” will increase in these developing countries.

For additional information see: Reuters, Agence-France Presse, Bloomberg

[Let’s hope the EIA is dead wrong. We should be decreasing global emissions by 43% by 2035 – not increasing them!]

Global Poll Finds Broad Support for Climate Measures, with Worry for Climate Change Mixed

On May 26, Synovate and Deutsche Welle released results from a poll on climate change which surveyed 13,000 people from 18 countries. The results of the study indicate that in 2008 and 2010, 30 percent of those surveyed were “very concerned” about climate change, up from 29 percent in 2007. However, nine percent, up from four percent in 2008, said they are not worried about climate change because they believe it is a natural cycle of events. This trend may be due to misdirection from the media, Erik Bettermann, Deutsche Welle Director General, said. “The media must provide an objective and comprehensible view of the main topics for the future,” he said. “They have to create a forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions and can’t get sucked in by people wanting to sell questionable catastrophe scenarios or by those who prematurely say the coast is clear.” Despite this, 88 percent of those surveyed believe that businesses ought to help reduce the impacts of climate change. Seventy percent said businesses should “save energy and reduce waste,” while 58 percent said businesses should “ensure materials are green and ethically sourced.”

For additional information see: Reuters, Synnovate Press Release, Deutsche Welle

N2O Emissions at Wastewater Treatment Plants Higher than Estimated

A study published May 13 in Environmental Science & Technology indicated that N2O may be having a far more negative effect on global warming than previously expected. N2O is primarily released by fossil fuel combustion and agricultural activities and is 300 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The amount of N2O emitted by wastewater treatment plants was estimated to be low as there was no standard method of measuring the gas. In this study, Kartik Chadran, assistant professor at Columbia University, designed a protocol to quantify the amount of N2O emitted by full-scale water purification facilities. It is now clear that N2O emissions are several orders of magnitude greater, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had estimated, he concluded. As a result of these findings, Chadran said it is now necessary to design wastewater treatment plants which minimize N2O emissions in addition to meeting water quality regulations.

For additional information see: WaterWorld, Columbia University Press Release

Number of Investors Considering Climate Change Investment Policies Double

On June 7, a report released by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) revealed that “the number of asset owners considering investors’ climate change policies as key to selection has doubled since 2007.” Seventy percent of the 26 institutions surveyed said they had commissioned or supported climate change research compared to 45 percent who said they had done so in 2008. Eighty percent said that climate change was very relevant in their work with companies because they were discussing ways of incorporating climate change into product design, business strategies and operations. Seventy-five percent of investors said they worked with companies to set policy commitments on climate change, yet only 20 percent of investors said they incorporated climate change into investment manager agreements. “However,” according to David Russell, Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) co-head of responsible investment, “climate change issues are largely not integrated when policy does not make the issue material, when there are uncertainties surrounding climate change policy and when the long-term nature of many physical climate change impacts means that they are outside current investment horizons.”

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Global Pensions, IIGCC Report Press Release

IEA: Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies Would Cut Carbon Emissions, Oil Demand

On June 6, the International Energy Agency released a study that looked at global financial assistance devoted to oil, natural gas and coal consumption, finding the world economy spends more than $550 billion a year in energy subsidies to these industries. (my added underline for emphasis) The study concluded that phasing out these subsidies by 2020, as agreed to by the G20 last year, would create vast savings in energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. “This is the only single policy item that could make such a major change in the global energy and climate change game,” said Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA. He noted that removing subsidies was a policy that could change the energy game “quickly and substantially.” GHG emissions from burning carbon-based fuels would fall by 2.4 gigatons a year, equivalent to the emissions of Europe’s five biggest economies, Birol said. The new report will be discussed at the G20 summit in Toronto on June 26-27.

For additional information see: Bloomberg, Financial Times

Climate Change Linked to Major Vegetation Shifts Worldwide

A paper published June 4 in Global Ecology and Biogeography has found that climate change is linked to major vegetation shifts worldwide. A meta-analysis which incorporated data from over 200 field studies revealed that one-tenth to one-half of global land may be highly to very highly vulnerable to climate change. “Temperate mixed forest, boreal conifer and tundra and alpine biomes show the highest vulnerability, often due to potential changes in wildfire. Tropical evergreen broadleaf forest and desert biomes show the lowest vulnerability,” the paper said. This shift in vegetation is occurring towards the poles and the equator and up to higher altitudes. According to Patrick Gonzalez, author of the study and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Forestry, “Vegetation shifts can increase fuel for wildfires by increasing the amount of biomass available for burning.” In addition to the increased potential for wildfires is the increased risk of extinction for species which have difficulty adapting to new conditions or cannot move to higher elevations. It also has negative repercussions for human populations who have reduced access to wood for fire and cooking and have reduced access to water during the summer because snowpack has been melting. “Approximately one billion people now live in areas that are highly to very highly vulnerable to future vegetation shifts,” said Gonzalez. “Ecosystems provide important services to people, so we must reduce the emissions that cause climate change, then adapt to major changes that might occur.”

For additional information see: Science Daily, UC Berkeley Press Release, The Daily Californian, Study Abstract

Senate Democrats Meet to Discuss Path Forward For Climate Legislation

On June 17, Senate Democrats met in a special caucus meeting to discuss the path forward for a package of climate and energy legislation expected to reach the floor in the coming months. The caucus heard from senators that have drafted energy legislation, pieces of which may be used in the upcoming legislative package. Senate Democrats heard from Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), whose American Power Act (APA) would establish a cap and trade program; Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that reported out the American Clean Energy and Leadership Act (ACELA), creating a national renewable electricity standard but without a cap on carbon emissions; and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) who with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), has introduced the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act (CLEAR), a “cap and dividend” bill.

The group will meet again next week to continue the discussion, and key senators will meet June 23 with President Obama at the White House. Their goal is to bring a bill to the Senate floor within a few weeks, once senators return from their July 4 break, Senate leadership aides said. "We are not going to tell you today what we're going to have in this legislation because it's a work in progress," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters after the meeting. "The reason we are coming back for another caucus is we understand the importance of this issue. We have no one saying no, we have everyone saying yes. It is a question of how we will be moving forward."

For additional information see: Politico, New York Times, Wall Street Journal

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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action

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