CC NEWS FOR SEPT. 2010
Robert Bryce has an Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal of Aug. 23 titled, Wind Power Won't Cool Down the Planet: Often enough it leads to higher carbon emissions. He claims that there is a slew of recent studies showing that adding wind power to the grid actually often increases carbon emissions. The idea is that you need a MW of coal power to back up each MW of wind power, since the wind isn’t always blowing; cutting back on the power from a coal plant when the wind is blowing makes it so inefficient that it actually emits more CO2! I wonder if any of the “slew of recent studies” actually appeared in any peer-reviewed scientific journals. I don’t recommend the Wall Street Journal as a source of information on climate science. See it at: http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748703792704575366700528078676.html
An article by Renee Schoof of McClatchy Newspapers on Aug. 26 was titled, Study of coal ash sites finds extensive water contamination. She writes, “A study released on Thursday finds that 39 sites in 21 states where coal-fired power plants dump their coal ash are contaminating water with toxic metals such as arsenic and other pollutants, and that the problem is more extensive than previously estimated.” The EPA is considering whether to impose federal regulations on coal ash disposal, which has been left up to the states. That the states have been doing a poor job is indicated by the fact that there are now 137 contaminated coal waste sites in 34 states. Contaminants include toxic arsenic, cadmium, lead, selenium and mercury. At: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/08/26/99728/study-of-coal-ash-sites-finds.html
Nancy Leon, the Manager of the NASA Kids Climate Change Program, recently announced that NASA has developed a new web site aimed at kids in the upper elementary grades (4-6). It’s very informative and well done, a good resource for both teachers and parents, and a good starting point for non-scientists in general. It enjoyed it. Try it out. At: http://climate.nasa.gov/kids
On Sept. 10 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced the release of a report titled, Assessment of Offshore Wind Resources for the United States. The news release (NR-3510) was titled, NREL Releases Estimate of National Offshore Wind Energy Potential. It concluded that 4150 gigawatts (GW) of wind turbine capacity are potentially available within 50 nautical miles of shore along U.S. coasts and on the Great Lakes. This can be compared with the nation’s 2008 total electrical generating capacity from all sources of 1010 GW. For a news release see:
The full technical report is available in pdf format at:
The NY Times for Sept. 17 reported an Aug. 31 Exonomix blog by Edward Glaeser, an economics professor at Harvard, titled, Climate Change and the Wealth of Nations. In it he discusses a new book by the environmental economist Matthew Kahn titled, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future. Kahn isn’t skeptical about global warming, but is skeptical about our collective ability to reduce GHG emissions. Still, he believes that we will save ourselves by adapting to a hotter world with “a multitude of self-interested people armed only with their wits and access to capital markets.” He says that the success he envisions depends on three things:
“First, the impact of global warming has to take the form of gradual change rather than sudden catastrophic events…
Second, the planet needs to accommodate major immigration. …
Third, areas with weak governments are going to need to get richer and develop more competent public sectors that can deal with the crisis. …” At: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/climate-change-and-the-wealth-of-nations/
I worry about the possibility of sudden catastrophic events.
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
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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Sues EPA over Endangerment Finding
On August 13, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the advocacy group Coalition for Responsible Regulation each filed petitions asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision that greenhouse gases (GHGs) endanger human health and welfare. The petitions were filed the same day that EPA formally published in the Federal Register its decision to not reconsider the endangerment finding. “The U.S. Chamber, policymakers, numerous trade groups, state governments, and businesses throughout the country have collectively raised strong concerns about the significant negative impact the EPA's endangerment finding will have on jobs and local economies,” Robin Conrad, the executive vice president of the Chamber’s National Litigation Center, said in a statement. The Chamber does not question the science behind the endangerment finding, but rather whether it is appropriate to use the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG emissions. "The EPA itself has admitted that regulating climate change under the Clean Air Act would create an 'absurd' result," Conrad said. "Unfortunately, the agency has refused to reconsider its flawed decision."
Carbon Storage by Plants is Decreasing
In the August 20 issue of Science, researchers report that rising temperatures over the past decade have caused droughts that reduced the number of plants able to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2). Maosheng Zhao and Steven W. Running of the University of Montana used data from NASA satellites from 1982 to 2009 to measure plant productivity throughout the world. Their research showed an increase in plant productivity between 1982 and 1999, which they attributed to warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons. Between the years 2000 and 2009, however, they found the trend reversed. Compared to a six percent increase in growth in the 1980s and 90s, there was a small but measurable decline of about one percent from 2000-2009.
The decline in growth reduces the ability of plants to take up CO2 as it performs photosynthesis, Zhao noted, leaving more CO2 in the atmosphere and thus more warming. "This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth," co-author Running said. “We see this as a bit of a surprise, and potentially significant on a policy level because previous interpretations suggested global warming might actually help plant growth around the world.”
Warming Ocean Temperatures Causing Massive Coral Bleaching in South Asia
On August 17, scientists monitoring coral reefs off the Aceh province of Indonesia announced the presence of one of the most rapid and severe incidents of coral die-offs or “bleaching” ever observed. Following up on local reports, scientists from the James Cook University in Australia, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, determined that approximately 80 percent of coral species over this vast area have died in the months since an assessment completed in May of this year, with further bleaching expected in coming months. Bleaching, where coral species occupying the reef substrate suddenly die and leave the remaining coral substrate white in color, is known to occur when coral ecosystems are under stress, including warming ocean temperatures. Recent ocean temperatures in Aceh waters have been approximately 4 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. "There might be one of these cyclic climate phenomena driving it but it's much more severe than you would predict unless there was something else forcing it, which is almost certainly global warming," said Andrew Baird of James Cook University.
Marine Species' Presence Demonstrates Previous Split in Antarctic Ice Sheet
On August 31, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) released a report that found one species of bryozoans, a type of tiny marine filter-feeding animals, to have striking similarities in both the Ross and Weddell Seas, despite being separated by 1,500 miles and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This finding, which was uncovered as part of a study for the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) and published in the journal Global Change Biology, reveals evidence that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has collapsed at least once before and created a trans-Antarctic seaway through the WAIS, allowing the animals to spread through both seas. This latest information is considered particularly important as it supports research centered on the future stability of the WAIS. Lead author David Barnes of BAS said, “The West Antarctic Ice Sheet can be considered the Achilles heel of Antarctica and because any collapse will have implications for future sea level rise it’s important that scientists get a better understanding of big deglaciation events.”
Climate Change a Threat to China’s Crops
On September 1, a study published in Nature found that China's climate "has clearly warmed" over the past 50 years, increasing 1.2 °C (2.2 °F) since 1960 and that climate change could lead to agricultural hardships for the growing nation. "China experienced explosive economic growth in recent decades, but with only seven percent of the world's arable land available to feed 20 percent of the world's population, China's economy may be vulnerable to climate change itself," said Peking University’s Shilong Piao, lead author of the study. Shilong predicts that in the worst case scenario, there could be declines in crops watered primarily by rainfall: with a decline of up to 14 percent for rice, 20 percent for wheat, and 23 percent for corn.
Tasmania’s Ecosystems Threatened by Climate Change
On August 29, a report commissioned by the Tasmanian state government found that many of Tasmania’s native flora and fauna are in danger of extinction because of rising temperatures, increased risk of fire and drought, greater risk of disease and pests, and other climate change impacts. The Miena Cider Gum tree is already in decline and “could become the first local extinction,” according to report author Louise Gilfedder. Tasmania’s Environment, Parks and Heritage Minister David O'Byrne said it is now accepted that climate change is happening, and the focus needs to shift from mitigation to adaptation.
Mediterranean Research Shows Effects of Rising CO2 Levels in Oceans
In the September issue of the Journal of the Geological Society, scientists studying volcanic carbon dioxide (CO2) vents off the coast of Naples, Italy have found that rising CO2 levels cause Foraminifera (forams), a group of single-celled marine organisms, to die off. The researchers found that increasing CO2 levels caused foram diversity to fall from 24 species to only four. “Our natural laboratory provides a glimpse into the future of our oceans . . . .We can see for our own eyes what increasing CO2 levels do to marine communities,” said Dr. Hall-Spencer, one of the study’s co-authors. "The big concern for me is that unless we curb carbon emissions we risk mass extinctions, degrading coastal waters and encouraging outbreaks of toxic jellyfish and algae."
Kansas Joins Attempt to Forestall Federal Carbon Regulation
On September 5, Kansas joined Indiana, Arkansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Hawaii, North Dakota and Wyoming in their law suit to forestall federal regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) which would overrule state legislation. They wish to block a federal trial where eight states sued six major power producers on the grounds that GHG emissions are a public nuisance. In a statement, Attorney General Steve Six explained, “Like most Kansans, I am weary of lawsuits which attempt to bypass our legislative process and ask the courts to set public policy.” This contentious action began following the 2007 Supreme Court decision which ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to regulate GHGs under the federal Clean Air Act.
For additional information see: The Wichita Eagle
DOE Awards $575 Million in Carbon Capture Grants
On September 7, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced an aggregate of $575 million in carbon capture grants. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu stressed, “This is a major step forward in the fight to reduce carbon emissions from industrial plants.” The grants will fund 22 projects in 15 states that focus on four different types of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The projects range from the development of a membrane system for post-combustion carbon dioxide capture to advanced turbo-machinery and engines for industrial processes. Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, these recent grants support President Barack Obama’s goal to deploy cost effective CCS technology within 10 years.
Canadian Military Fears Climate Change Could Lead to Battle for Dwindling Supplies
On September 7, a report published by the Canadian Defense Department advises that Canadian Forces must be prepared to assist in conflicts that arise due to the effects of climate change. A scarcity of essential supplies in developing countries may trigger widespread violence, many officials warn. According to lead author Lt. Cmdr. Ray Snook, “Several reputable think-tanks and senior military officials have drawn the conclusion that increasingly Western armed forces will be called upon to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief missions." Snook further explained, “Climate change has the potential to be a global threat of unparalleled magnitude and requires early, aggressive action in order to overcome its effects.”
For additional information see: The Canadian Press
Insurance Industry Wishes to Play Larger Role in Climate Change Adaptation
On September 6, over 100 leading insurance companies issued a joint statement urging world leaders and governments to work more closely with the insurance industry to protect developing countries against the impacts of climate change. The Geneva Association, an insurance think tank, along with insurance industry lobby groups, ClimateWise and the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (MCII) as well as the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), called for widespread adoption of insurance-linked products that would reduce the vulnerability of developing countries following natural disasters. Andrew Torrance, chairman of ClimateWise and chief executive of Allianz Insurance stressed that, "with climatic disasters inflicting more and more damage, the increasing reliance of governments on foreign aid alone is unsustainable."
Risk of Beetle Outbreaks Rise in the Warming West
On September 8 in a study published in BioScience, USDA Forest Service researchers predicted that the effects of climate change will increase outbreaks of mountain pine beetles in North America’s forests causing the death of billions of coniferous trees ranging from Mexico to Alaska. In a partnership with the Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center; the Canadian Forest Service; the University of Idaho, Moscow; and the Forest Service’s three western research stations, scientists created models that analyzed how spruce beetles and mountain pine beetles thrived under warming temperatures. Chris Fettig, co-author of the study says, "Bark beetles are influenced directly by shifts in temperature, which affect developmental timing and temperature-induced mortality, and indirectly, through climatic effects on the species associated with beetles and their host trees.”
Bee Pollination Decline Partially Attributed to Climate Change
On September 7, Professor James Thomson of the University of Toronto’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology published a study analyzing the decline in bee pollination. The study confirms a long-held belief that bee populations have declined and provides evidence that the effects of climate change may have contributed to this trend. Thomson explains that “bee numbers may have declined at our research site, but we suspect that a climate-driven mismatch between the times when flowers open and when bees emerge from hibernation is a more important factor.” The study is based on Thomson’s 17-year examination and is one of the longest and most comprehensive studies of bee pollination ever conducted.
80 Percent of States on Track to Issue GHG Permits by 2011
On September 15, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA) released a report showing that states are moving swiftly towards issuing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission permits by January 2, 2011 – the start date for GHG permitting under the Clean Air Act and rules developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In an effort not to overwhelm states, EPA issued a “tailoring rule” in May, which required states to initially issue GHG permits to only the largest polluters. EPA also required that states submit letters describing their progress to the agency by August 2. According to the NACAA study, these letters indicate roughly 80 percent of states are on track to meet the January 2, 2011 deadline.
For additional information see: NCAA Report
Republican Candidates Reject Global Warming, Survey Says
On September 14, a survey released by Think Progress showed that all of the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2010 dispute the scientific consensus that the United States must act urgently to mitigate global warming. According to the survey, all 37 of the candidates reject legislative efforts to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Furthermore, many of the Republican Senate candidates signed the Koch Industries’ Americans for Prosperity No Climate Tax pledge and the FreedomWorks Contract from America which formally rejects any cap and trade policy.
UK To Focus on Climate Change Adaptation
On September 16, the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published the first national assessment of the UK’s preparedness for climate change impacts. The report concludes that while mitigation efforts are still important, a greater focus needs to be placed on adaptation policies. The report details changes in the UK taking place today. For example, since the 1970s, average annual temperatures have risen by 1°C, and Spring arrives 11 days earlier. In response to the report, UK Environmental Secretary Caroline Spelman delivered her first speech since taking office on the need for Britain to adapt to rising temperatures. Spelman stressed that the UK is “already stuck with some unavoidable climate change. Because of this, we need to prepare for the best and worst cases which a changing climate will entail for our country.”
NASA: 2010 to Be the Hottest Year on Record
On September 10, NASA reported record-high temperatures between January and August, anticipating that 2010 will likely be the warmest year on record. According to the study, the warming rate of 0.15-0.20°C/decade is consistent with the previous two decades. In similar news, on September 8, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared the past summer to be the fourth hottest on record. Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama all experienced record hot summers.
Arctic Wildlife in Danger of Extinction
On September 13, the Center for Biological Diversity released a report that detailed the growing extinction risks of arctic wildlife due to warming temperatures. Sixteen species join the well-documented polar bear as species at risk of extinction according to the report. These animals include the arctic fox, caribou, musk ox, pacific walrus, and four species of whale. The report attributes population decline to loss of habitat and rising sea water carbon dioxide levels, which adversely impacts food supply.
Melting Sea Ice Forces 10,000 Walruses Ashore Along Alaska’s Coast
On September 14, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that for the third time in four years, melting sea ice has forced walruses to come ashore in Alaska. Normally, these walruses spend their summers lounging on sea ice, and periodically diving to the ocean floor to forage for food. However, this year, as well as in 2007 and 2009, a lack of ice in the eastern Chukchi Sea has forced thousands of walruses to congregate on dry land instead. USGS and USFWS officials estimate that approximately 10,000 animals have congregated in a dense clump at Point Lay, Alaska. At this time, scientists are unsure how long these animals will remain at Point Lay. What’s even more uncertain is how these animals will fare in the long run, since many climate models are predicting ice-free summers in the arctic by 2040. Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center explained, "We'll likely see more summers like this. There is no sign of Arctic recovery."
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action