Tuesday, October 19, 2010



On September 1 Bill McKibben, the founder of www.350.org, was interviewed on The Late Show with David Letterman. The 11-minute video is well worth watching. McKibben’s organization - begun with 7 of his students, each one taking a continent to organize – is behind the 10/10/10 international day of climate awareness and action. You can see the video at: http://www.350.org/letterman

On Oct. 10 there were over 7300 10/10/10 events in 188 countries. This was the largest environmental demonstration in history. The idea is to reduce the concentration of CO2 to below 350 ppm and keep the global average temperature from rising more than 2°C. In Delaware we planted 350 native trees, in an event sponsored by the DE Chapter of the Sierra Club, the LWVDE, the Delaware Center for Horticulture, The Nature Conservancy and seven area churches. Across the U.S., the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, and the Unitarian-Universalist Association endorsed 10/10/10 events.

Stephen Leahey wrote an article for the Sept. 20 IPS News titled, Arctic Ice in Death Spiral. In it he quotes Mark Serreze, Director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, saying, "The Arctic sea ice has reached its four lowest summer extents (area covered) in the last four years," and ”I stand by my previous statements that the Arctic summer sea ice cover is in a death spiral. It's not going to recover." There will be no recovery because more than 2.5 million square kilometers of the Arctic Ocean have been opened up to the heat of the 24-hour summer sun. If the global warming since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution goes from the present 0.8°C to 2.0°C, the temperature in the Arctic is likely to go up at least 4-6°C and possible as much as 8°C, releasing large amounts off carbon dioxide and methane as permafrost melts. A large addition of this powerful greenhouse gas is not included in current climate models. At: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52896

I wonder what it will take to wake people up to the looming danger from the Arctic?

The Word Doctors, under Frank Luntz, have developed a series of slides showing American public attitudes toward energy and climate change, and how to frame the message to order to get broad public support. Luntz is the strategist who developed the message for the Republican Party that there is substantial uncertainty among scientists about whether climate change is real, and if it is, if it is caused by human activities or is perfectly natural. It’s striking the extent to which climate change denial has been accepted by Republicans – with a very damaging effect on the ability of the United States to exert global leadership on the issue of climate change or to benefit from the economic opportunities provided by the crisis. At: http://www.edf.org/documents/10738_Language-of-a-Clean-Energy-Economy.pdf?redirect=language

On Sept. 24, Need to Know on PBS posted a video titled, Legacy of waste: The high cost of nuclear power. It points our that the U.S. still does not have a plan for long-term storage of nuclear waste, and that the costs of storage – even for closed plants like Maine Yankee – are high and growing, and are being paid by American taxpayers. Well wroth watching. At: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/environment/legacy-of-waste-the-high-cost-of-nuclear-power/3846/

The Sept. 28 NY Times Green, a blog on energy and the environment, has an article by Matthew Wald titled, Never Mind Oil, Group Says: Think Atlantic Wind. The article gives the results of a study showing that nearly half of the electricity demand of East Coast states from Maine to Florida could be supplied by offshore wind at depths up to about 100 feet from 4 to 24 miles off the coast. In fact, there is a lot more energy available from wind than there is from oil or gas that could be recovered by drilling off the coast, would provide more jobs, and would be much less damaging to the environment. Northern coastal states could replace home heating oil and gas by electricity from wind. A lot of transportation could also be provided if we had a fleet of all-electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. At:


The Sept. 28 NY Times published an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal titled, Ancient Italian Town Has Wind at its Back. The small mountainous town of Tocco has put in four wind turbines and solar PV panels and now generates more electricity than it can use. Because of the high cost of electricity from fossil fuels in the area, and a policy of feed-in tariffs (the government pays for excess renewable energy at high fixed rates), the town is prospering. Could that happen here? At: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/science/earth/29fossil.html

California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, spoke very bluntly and critically of a well - financed effort by oil companies – especially Valero, Tessoro and the Koch Brothers – to overturn California’s law AB 32 (California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You can see some of the video and hear some of the audio recording of the speech broadcast by Keith Obermann on MSNBC and posted on Sept. 29. It seems that the Koch Brothers have given major financial support to the Tea Party movement. At: http://commonwealthclub.blogspot.com/2010/09/countdown-with-keith-olbermann-on-gov.html

The Governor’s complete 63-minute speech can be seen at his web site at:

http://gov.ca.gov/press-release/10632/. The press release also describes the Western Climate Initiative – involving the sates of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, Oregon, and Washington along with four Canadian provinces – to reduce CO2 emissions from all sources by 15% below 2005 levels by 2020.

I just became aware of an old AFP report (June 2009) titled, Sweden picks site to bury nuclear waste for 100,000 years. The article is significant because it describes one of the world’s first permanent nuclear waste storage sites. The waste will be buried in tunnels drilled 500 meters (1640 feet) into bedrock, with each 2 metric tons of spent reactor fuel stored in a copper coated canister weighing 25 tons. (Copper was presumably chosen because of its corrosion resistance.)

Apparently it takes about 100,000 years for the radioactivity of the waste to decline to the level the uranium ore had when it was mined. Based on this solution to the waste storage problem, the Swedish government has reversed a decision to phase out nuclear power, which now provides 45% of the country’s electricity. At: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hGO5QwX26ptEhQFnZWB-XopRrwQQ

In September 2009 the nonpartisan Environmental Law Institute released a report titled, Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources 2002-2008. During the 7-year study period, federal subsidies for fossil fuels totaled $72.5 billion, while renewable energy sources got $29.0 billion; of that the lion’s share ($16.8 billion) went to ethanol from corn – with little, if any, benefit in terms of reducing CO2 emissions. At: http://computationallegalstudies.com/2010/07/16/estimating-u-s-government-subsidies-to-energy-sources-02-08-from-environmental-law-institute/

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has a well done website dealing with climate change, including links to may valuable sources of information. At: http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/ClimateChange/Pages/Climate%20change%20and%20Delaware.aspx

It contains a link to What does climate change mean for Delaware. At: http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/ClimateChange/Pages/WhatdoesclimatechangemeanforDelaware.aspx. Because Delaware is a low-lying coastal state, sea level rise is of particular concern.

Thomas Friedman wrote an opinion piece for the Sept. 25 NY Times titled, Their Moon Shot and Ours. In it he reports that China is making major investments in four strategic areas: 1) building a network of ultramodern airports; 2) building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; 3) bioscience; and 4) developing batteries for a growing electric car industry. In the meantime the U.S. is spending hundreds of billions of dollars fixing Afghanistan. He writes, “We need to be in a race with China, not just Al Queda. Let’s start with electric cars.” Electric cars could not only greatly reduce our need for imported oil (and thus our military expenses), but could provide a means of storing large amounts of energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/opinion/26friedman.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Sunpluggers.com, a solar home and business journal, published an article on Sept. 30 titled, California Enacts Energy Storage Law to Help Prepare for More Solar, Wind. The article says, “California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a law (AB 2514) believed to be the first in the country requiring utilities to begin planning for ways to store electricity that could be dispatched as needed.” A news release from the state attorney general’s office said, "Energy storage is important for an expanding renewable energy future because solar and wind power are not available at all times. Increasing storage allows California to take greater advantage of its renewable resources while making our electric power grid more reliable. Expanded storage will also protect public health by reducing the need for the most polluting 'peaker plants' that only operate during peak demand, usually during the summer when air conditioners in the state are in most intense use." At: http://sunpluggers.com/news/california-enacts-energy-storage-law-to-help-prepare-for-solar-wind-0990

On October 5 Dina Capiello of the Washington Post wrote an article titled, Here comes the sun: White House to go solar. Stephen Chu of the Department of Energy made the announcement that solar power would be used to heat water and generate electricity on the roof of the White House. The effort was led by Bill McKibben, who brought back to the White House one of the solar panels Jimmy Carter had installed in the 1970’s - later removed by Ronald Reagan, in what can only be described as a big step backwards. See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/05/AR2010100500590.html

Also on Oct. 5 the University of Delaware UDaily announced that UD and its partners and its University System of Maryland, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), and the University of Maryland have been awarded a 2-year NSF grant for nearly $1 million to establish a climate change education partnership. The Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education, Assessment, and Research (MADE-CLEAR) program “will develop innovative climate change curricula for pre-school through higher education, provide new learning opportunities for teachers that will lead to climate change education expertise, and promote outreach using innovative technology and communication methods to build public understanding of climate change.” The “emphasis will be on understanding the science of climate change and the nature of its impacts.” At: http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2011/oct/made-clear-climate100510.html

The Million Letter March (http://www.millionlettermarch.org/sample-letters/index.php) has released a YouTube video asking people to write a letter to their representative in Congress in support of a carbon fee and dividend system for putting a price on carbon and encouraging the transition to a carbon-free society. The idea is that producers and importers of fossil fuels would pay a fee ($/ton of carbon) at their source, which would then be distributed to all on an equal per capita basis. It avoids many of the economic and political pitfalls of cap-and-trade. At: http://www.youtube.com/user/MillionLetterMarch#p/a/u/0/a5XQBUvcez0

USA Today on Oct. 11 published an article titled, Study: Offshore wind could generate all U.S. electricity. Abundant off the coasts of 26 states on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts and Great Lakes, could generate four times the current U.S. electricity demand – if fully developed. According to a new 240-page study by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the U.S. could generate 20% of its total electricity needs from offshore wind by 2030, while creating more than 43,000 permanent well-paid jobs. The U.S. currently leads the world in land-based wind power, but has not yet started to develop its offshore wind resources, as Denmark did nearly 20 years ago. At: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/10/offshore-wind-us-electricity/1

The Executive Summary of the NREL report can be found at:

http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy10osti/49229.pdf and the full report, Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States – Assessment of Opportunities and Barriers, at:


On Oct. 12, Jeremy van Loon and Christian Wienberg of Bloomberg News published a story titled, Wind Power Investments May Reach $202 Billion by 2030, Industry Group Says. They reported that last year $63 billion was invested in new wind power, adding over 37 GW of capacity and bringing the total world capacity to nearly 160 GW. (1 GW (gigawatts) is a million kW.) Fully one third of the new turbines were added in China, doubling its capacity to 25 GW. The world is now employing about 600,000 workers. By 2030 wind capacity is expected to reach 2300 GW and supply 22% of world electricity demand. At: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-12/wind-could-meet-12-of-global-power-demand-by-2020-gwec-says.html

KCTZ.com News posted an article on forests on Oct. 15 at: http://www.ktvz.com/news/25406348/detail.html

An editorial in the NY Times for Oct. 18 titled, In Climate Denial, Again, pointed out that not one Republican candidate for the Senate this year acknowledges that the Earth’s climate is changing and that human activities – especially the burning of fossil fuels – are to blame. It’s a sad day for the Republican Party and for the United States. It's a tragedy for the party because people will eventually recognize how ill advised the Republican position is, and what great damage it produces for wildlife, human welfare, and our economy. It's a tragedy for the U.S. because China and other countries may leave us in the dust as our transition to a clean, green economy is delayed. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/opinion/18mon1.html?_r=1

The Energy and Environmental Study Institute (EESI) is now issuing excellent fact sheets on a number of important issues. The one for October is called, Offshore Wind Energy and is on the web at: http://www.eesi.org/files/offshore_wind_101310.pdf

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.

Russia Demands New Global Climate Agreement

On September 22, top Russian climate advisor Alexander Bedritsky said the Kyoto Protocol will have negligible impact on mitigating global warming and that Russia is demanding a more “inclusive” agreement that would include large carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters like the United States, China and other developing countries. As of 2010, the 40 industrialized nations bound by the Kyoto Protocol account for only 28 percent of global CO2 emissions. Bedritsky acknowledged that a binding agreement would not be reached during December’s UN negotiations in Cancun, but expressed optimism that significant progress will be made. Bedritsky specified that at the negotiations, Russia will seek recognition for the role its forests play in CO2 absorption. Climate change policy has a new sense of urgency in Russia following a deadly summer heat wave that broke all temperature records, killed dozens in wildfires, and destroyed one quarter of Russia's grain crop.

For additional information see: Reuters

Survey: Businesses Ready to Invest in Climate Change

On September 20, the Carbon Disclosure Project released a survey sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch that analyzed emission reports of the top 500 global companies in 2010. Approximately 90 percent of the companies responding to the survey said that there is “significant commercial opportunity arising from climate change.” Carbon management is emerging as a strategic business priority as 85 percent of the companies surveyed reported having some form of upper level management focusing on climate change and 48 percent are incorporating new climate change initiatives into overall strategy. Detailed in the report is the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI), which measures a company’s commitment to emission reductions. American companies at this moment trail European counterparts six percent to 21 percent in the CDLI.

For additional information see: Carbon Disclosure Project Press Release, Carbon Disclosure Project Report, Reuters, Bloomberg

Study: Climate Change Triggers Epidemics

On September 19, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA) announced that an increase of 1°C in average temperature correlates with a 4.27 percent increase in the prevalence of various diseases such as malaria, bacillary dysentery and enteritis. KIHASA studied five epidemics from 2005 to 2007 while keeping track of demographic differences. The report concludes that higher temperatures cause viruses to be more active. This is of particular concern in Korea because the Korea Meteorological Administration predicted the country would experience nine more days of summer by 2040 and an additional summer month by 2090.

For additional information see: Korea Times

Obama: Climate Bill Is Top Priority in 2011

On September 17, President Barack Obama told Rolling Stone magazine that an energy and climate bill is one of his top priorities for 2011. “Our objective remains achieving the pollution reduction goals called for by recent legislative proposals,” Obama said in the interview. “Whether that happens bit by bit, sector by sector or in a more comprehensive way, we will engage in and support all meaningful efforts to get there.” Like other elected officials recently, Obama referred to a piece by piece strategy rather than a large comprehensive bill as a more probable scenario for bringing about significant legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Key Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed with the President on this strategy. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she would be in favor of a bill similar to the one she introduced with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that auctions off all allowances for GHG emissions and returns revenues back to taxpayers.

For additional information see: Rolling Stone, The Hill, New York Times, Politico

Top US Science Advisor Receives Climate Adaptation Report

On September 28, representatives of the National Climate Adaptation Summit unveiled a report to the President’s Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, on national and regional preparations for adaptation to climate change. The report stressed the importance of integrating federal climate programs, coordination among regional governments, and more funding for research on climate impacts. Further, the report discussed creating a federal climate information portal that would compile data from all relevant agencies in one accessible location, which would evolve over time into a more "national" portal with information about relevant non-federal climate efforts. The Summit report identified seven priorities for near-term action. It states that the United States must adapt to an already changing climate and prepare for increasing impacts on urban infrastructure, food, water, human health, and ecosystem in the coming decades.

For additional information see: Nature Press Release

Denmark On Path to be Fossil Fuel-Free by 2050

On September 29, a commission appointed by the Danish government released plans for moving Denmark off fossil fuels by 2050. "My government will study the recommendations very closely and will present a road map setting a date for freeing ourselves from fossil fuels," Danish Prime Minister Lars L√łkke Rasmussen said. "It will be one of the first road maps in the world on how to become fully independent of fossil fuels. A plan for a transition like this will touch every part of society and every corner of politics. We are facing tough choices." The report outlines ideas on how to use replace fossil fuel consumption with wind energy and biomass fuel produced on native soil. Denmark also plans on discouraging the consumption of fossil fuels by phasing in a taxation of fossil fuels over the next 20 years. Going fossil fuel free would reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent, and would reduce the need to turn to imported fuels to heat Denmark’s homes. Going fossil fuel free would reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent, and would reduce the need to turn to imported fuels to heat Denmark’s homes. This turn to relying on “home-grown energy” will offset the taxes placed on coal and other fossil fuel imports. "There will be economic growth," Katherine Richardson, the commission's chairwoman said. "The difference between doing it with or without fossil fuels is about 0.5 percent of gross national product in 2050. That's the cost of insurance to keep money in this country, creating jobs here instead of sending it to a few countries somewhere else in the world to get oil and gas."

For additional information see: The Guardian, Danish Commission Report

Rising CO2 Levels Reduce Shellfish Populations, Study Says

On September 20, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in oceans cause decline in shellfish populations. As CO2 concentrations increase in the atmosphere due to the combustion of fossil fuels, ocean waters become more acidic and shellfish have more trouble growing shells. Lead researcher Christopher Gobler from Stony Brook University conducted experiments growing shellfish at various CO2 concentration levels. The study concluded that shellfish could not adequately grow in CO2 concentration levels of 750 ppm or higher. Under these conditions, they could not develop strong shells and had feeble connective tissue. At this moment, oceans have a CO2 concentration of 390 ppm.

For additional information see: Abstract, Discovery

Lack of Climate Action Could Result in 4.2-Degree Temperature Rise and End of Coral Reefs by 2100

On September 29, a report published in Environmental Research Letters discussed the likelihood of a 4.2°C global temperature increase and the disappearance of coral reefs by 2100. The report says that considering the lack of global action to date, the Copenhagen Accord target of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2°C cannot be met. Even a 50 percent reduction commitment in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would make this goal unlikely. According to researchers, if nations pursue less ambitious mitigation goals, there is an 80 percent chance that global temperatures will increase between 2.5 and 4.2°C. The report also indicates that rising carbon dioxide concentrations in oceans will cause coral reefs to terminally decline.

For additional information see: Abstract, Institute of Physics, Study

Study Says Climate Lawsuits Are Possible

On October 4, the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) published a report that says vulnerable countries may be able to sue industrialized countries like the United States to force them to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the report, small island nations can make a credible case that, as they combat rising sea levels, they are being harmed by large polluters and can demand that GHG emissions be reduced. The report cites current legal literature that supports the idea that inter-state climate change litigation is possible. Furthermore, such action may create the political pressure and third party involvement necessary to push global climate negotiations forward, the report concludes.

For additional information see: New York Times, Report Summary, Report

Federal Task Force Releases Report on Climate Change Adaptation

On October 14, the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force released an inter-agency report outlining how federal agencies can better prepare the United States to respond to the impacts of climate change. "The Federal Government has an important and unique role in climate adaptation, but it is only one part of a broader effort that must include multiple levels of government and private and non-governmental partners throughout the country. In particular, Federal leadership, guidance, information, and support are vital to planning for and implementing adaptive actions," according to the report. The Task Force is co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report recommends that federal agencies make climate change adaptation a standard part of agency planning. Another recommendation is to align federal adaptation efforts across jurisdictions to better address issues like threatened water resources and public health. The Task Force will release a progress report in October 2011 to document how federal agencies adopted the adaptation strategies outlined in the October 2010 report.

For additional information see: White House Press Release, Bloomberg, Interagency Report

Sun Cycle Has Unexpected Effect on Global Temperatures

On October 6, Nature published a study showing that contrary to current beliefs, the sun warms the Earth the most at the dimmest point of its 11-year solar cycle. Lead researcher Dr. Joanna Haigh analyzed daily sunlight measurements from 2004 to 2007 and found that the amount of light reaching the Earth’s surface increased while the solar activity declined. “If further studies find the same pattern over a longer period of time, [then] we may have overestimated the sun's role in warming the planet," Dr. Haigh said. Some scientists believe that during phases of lower solar activity, unusual patterns in air currents that cause very cold weather occur more frequently. The results may help explain why Europe has recently experienced very cold winters as global temperatures are rising. Scientists maintain that unlike man-made warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, the variations in temperature due to solar activity are cyclic and should not have any lasting impact on global temperatures.

For additional information see: Nature, Study Abstract in Nature, Guardian

Slowing Population May Be Best Way to Lower CO2, Study Says

On October 12, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study on the implications of demographic change for global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) during the next century. Lead researcher Brian C. O'Neill and his team used an energy-economic growth model that took into account many demographic variables such as an aging population and further urbanization. The study concluded that slowing population growth may be one of the most effective methods of reducing CO2 emissions. O'Neill showed that slowing population growth may result in up to 29 percent of the emissions reductions necessary by 2050 to avoid harmful climate change. The study also showed that an aging population in the next 90 years may reduce emissions 20 percent. In contrast, further urbanization may increase emissions 25 percent.

For additional information see: Reuters, Study Abstract in PNAS

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Chad A. Tolman

Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action

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