CC NEWS FOR NOV. 2010
On Oct. 12 the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication issued a report titled, Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change. The report finds that 63% of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, but most do not understand why. “The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system. These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that global warming is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks. Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society.” (emphasis added) At: http://environment.yale.edu/climate/publications/knowledge-of-climate-change The full 58-page report is available as a pdf file at: http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/ClimateChangeKnowledge2010.pdf
The Oct. 12 NY Times has an article by Matthew Wald titled, Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Praise, and Backing. Wald reports that Google and Good Energies, a New York investment firm specializing in renewable energy, have agreed to invest heavily in a $5 billion underwater transmission line off the East Coast. The 350 mile 5000 MW line would link wind farms from northern NJ to southern VA, hasten the development of our large U.S. offshore wind resource, and help to provide power to large population centers along the coast. Linking wind farms over a large area reduces power variability because it is very unlikely that wind will not be blowing somewhere along the line. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/science/earth/12wind.html
The Oct. 20 NY Times has an article by David Broder titled, Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith. It points out that only one Republican candidate for the Senate (Mark Kirk of Illinois) doesn’t question the science of climate change or oppose any comprehensive legislation to deal with it. Mike Castle of Delaware lost his bid for the Senate against Christine O’Donnell in the Republican primary largely because of his support for a cap and trade bill in the House in 2009. The big oil companies love the Tea Party candidates, and are pouring millions of dollars into their campaigns this year. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/us/politics/21climate.html
In the he Oct. 20 issue of the Washington Post Geoff Mulvihill, in an article titled, NJ Getting One of Nation’s Largest Solar Farms, reported that a 100 acre farm will be converted into a solar PV farm with a capacity of 20 MW, one of the largest in the U.S. The investment required is expected to be $85-90 million, or about $4.50 per peak watt. At: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/20/AR2010102003015.html
Also on Oct. 20 Peter Asmus in ETSolar posted and article titled, U.S. Off-Shore Wind Industry Gets Not One, But Two Major Boosts. The two boosts are the offshore wind power transmission line to be financed by Google and others and the signing by Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, of a 28-year lease for the MA Cape Wind Project and a promise to approval time required for future projects. The U.K. is the current world leader in offshore wind, with 5000 MW in various states of development toward a goal of 33, 000 MW by 2020 at a cost of $150 billion, or about $4.50 per peak watt. At: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/10/u-s-off-shore-wind-industry-gets-not-one-but-two-major-boosts
[Note that the equal costs per peak watt of solar PV in NJ and offshore wind in the U.K. mean that the offshore wind costs about half as much per kWh. That because the capacity factor (CF) for solar PV in NJ is about 0.16 while the CF for offshore wind is typically about 0.35. The CF is the fraction of maximum possible power (peak wattage) from a power source, averaged over a period of a year. The CF of a coal-fired power plant is typically about 0.85, since some downtime is required for maintenance and repair.]
The Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy issued a 97-page report titled, Green Energy – The Road to a Danish Energy System Without Fossil Fuels. The report took approximately 2 years to prepare and was issued on Sept. 28, 2010. It concluded that Denmark could be energy independent and free of fossil fuels by 2050, using a combination of: 1) greatly increasing energy efficiency, 2) increasing the percentage of energy from electricity from 20% to 40-70%, 3) making offshore wind turbines the major energy source, 4) providing energy for transportation from electricity and biofuels, and 5) heating buildings with solar heat and heat pumps using electricity from wind turbines and from combined heat and power plants burning biomass. The reasons for restructuring the energy system include dealing with climate change, energy security, and avoiding the expected unstable and rising prices of fossil fuels. At: http://www.klimakommissionen.dk/en-US/AbouttheCommission/TheDanishClimateCommissionreport/Documents/green%20energy%20GB%20screen%201page%20v2.pdf
Denmark is a small country (5.4 million), about the population of Maryland, but intends to be a world leader in the transition to a green energy economy.
Matthew Wald and Tom Zeller have an article in the Nov. 7 NY Times titled, Cost of Tapping Green Power Makes Projects Tougher Sell. It points out that renewable energy projects in the U.S. are being cancelled because regulators and politicians are reluctant to see any increase in the amounts customers pay in their electric bills. Deals to buy renewable power have been slowed or scuttled so that installation rates for wind turbines in the first three quarters are down 72% from what they were in 2009. The reason is that renewable energy today costs more than fossil fuels. Here’s the deal. If you think you might have cancer, it’s less expensive in the short term to ignore the symptoms rather than starting treatment now. This choice can ultimately be deadly. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/08/science/earth/08fossil.html
On October 14 the federal Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released its interagency report (dated Oct. 5, at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ceq/Interagency-Climate-Change-Adaptation-Progress-Report.pdf) outlining recommendations to President Obama for how Federal Agency policies and programs can better prepare the United States to respond to the impacts of climate change. There was an earlier interim Progress Report of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, issued March 16, 2010. Here are two quotes from it:
“Continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical to limiting the extent of climate change impacts, and resulting damage. The Obama Administration is committed to creating a clean energy economy and mitigating climate change by reducing emissions. While increased mitigation efforts will reduce the effects of climate change, impacts will continue to occur, reinforcing the need for adaptation and a focus on resilience.”
“The Task Force has found that climate change is affecting, and will continue to affect, nearly every aspect of our society and the environment. Some of the impacts are increased severity of floods, droughts, and heat waves, increased wildfires, and sea level rise. Climate change impacts are pervasive, wide-ranging and affect the core systems of our society: transportation, ecosystems, agriculture, business, infrastructure, water, and energy, among others.” At:
On Nov. 9 a YouTube video was by Juan Cole was posted showing a speech by Rep. John Shimkus (R of IL), who will seek the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House. In it the Congressman quotes from Genesis to prove God will not allow the earth to be destroyed by catastrophic climate change because of His promise after the flood. For climate scientists like me this is very reassuring. See: http://www.juancole.com/2010/11/energy-committee-chairman-candidate-says-god-promised-no-more-catastrophic-climate-change-after-noah.html?rainbow
Prior to the current extinctions resulting from human activities (http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?/plan_b_updates/2004/update35) there were five mass extinction events in the Earth’s geological history, the largest of which was the Permian Extinction about 250 million years ago, when more than 95% of the animal species were driven to extinction. A YouTube video released on 2/11/2010 suggests that the extinction was started by a huge volcanic eruption in Siberia. The large release of carbon dioxide caused the global temperature to increase about 5ºC, killing some of the animals on land. The really big die-off, however, occurred when the oceans warmed up enough to release large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from solid methane hydrate on the ocean floor, increasing the global temperature by another 5ºC. See: http://www.declineoftheempire.com/2010/02/the-permian-mass-extinction-methane-hydrates-part-ii.html The question we must ask is: Could human burning of fossil fuels release enough carbon dioxide to destabilize the methane hydrate that now sits on the seafloor – inducing another mass extinction on the same scale as the Permian?
The Nov. 14 issue of the NY Times had an article by Justin Gillis titled, As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas. Among other things, the article said, “To a majority of climate scientists, the question is not whether the earth’s land ice will melt in response to the greenhouse gases those people are generating, but whether it will happen too fast for society to adjust.” Sea level rise between now at 2100 is thought to likely be between 2.5 and 6.5 feet, with just over 3 feet most likely, but we don’t understand the ice loss well. Richard Alley of Penn. State University said, “Beyond a hundred years out, it starts to look really challenging.” At:
For a related video see:
For a related blog see:
There was an article by Orrin Pilkey posted last November in newobserver.com titled, Rising sea levels: a strategy for N.C. The author and Rob Young of Western Carolina University suggested that planning for major infrastructure should use a projected sea level rise (SLR) of 7 feet (2 meters). Many coastal states and cities are anticipating SLR of 3-5 feet, but scientists do not have a good understanding of how fast sea level will rise, and the water level in 2100 will depend strongly on how soon and how aggressively major emitters like the U.S. and China reduce their GHG emissions. Given the current political climate, it seems prudent to err on the side of caution.
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.
NOAA Publishes Arctic Report Card
On October 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published its annual Arctic Report Card confirming that the Arctic remains vulnerable to climate change. The report, based on the findings of 69 international researchers and 176 scientific references, states that Greenland had record high temperatures and glacier area loss in 2010; Arctic sea ice reached the third lowest recorded minimum since 1979 and Arctic snow cover duration was at a record minimum. NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said, “whatever is going to happen in the rest of the world happens first, and to the greatest extent, in the Arctic."
Judge Orders Obama Administration to Decide if Polar Bears Are Endangered
On October 20, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the Obama administration to clarify whether polar bears are endangered under U.S. law. Scientists believe that polar bears may soon become extinct because global warming has caused the rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice upon which polar bears depend. Sullivan made the order after a coalition of environmental groups presented a case that the federal government should place polar bears on the endangered species list. The legal status of polar bears remains in question after the Obama administration supported the former President George W. Bush administration’s rule that polar bears are merely threatened. If polar bears are found to be endangered, there may be legal means to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Endangered Species Act.
USDA Report: U.S. Forests Offset 11 Percent of CO2 Emissions Annually
On October 15, the USDA Forest Service released a report that says U.S. forests offset roughly 11 percent of industrial carbon emissions annually. According to the report, U.S. forests currently store 41.4 billion metric tons of carbon and an additional 192 million metric tons are absorbed each year. Researchers say that this annual carbon absorption offsets carbon emissions from about 135 million cars. "America's forests play a critical role in combating climate change, collectively capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The report also shows that the amount of carbon stored in forests has increased steadily since 1990 because total forestland area has increased and carbon storage density is growing.
Survey Shows Britain as Carbon Pricing Leader
On October 19, Vivid Economics released a survey that ranked carbon pricing efforts by major economies to stimulate investment in cleaner energy. According to the survey, Britain had the strongest clean energy incentive by setting an implied carbon price at $29.30 per ton. Higher carbon prices stimulate investment in clean energy technologies by making dirty fuels like coal and oil more expensive and allowing new low carbon energy technologies opportunities to compete in the marketplace. After Britain, China came in second with an implied carbon price of $14.20 per ton, followed by the United States at $5.10, Japan at $3.10, Australia at $1.70 and South Korea at $0.70. In the past few years, Britain has taken measures to create a business-friendly environment for clean energy technologies. "Investment in clean energy in the United Kingdom reached around $11 billion in 2009," Erwin Jackson, deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute said in a statement.
For additional information see: Reuters
Experts Gather in Toronto to Discuss Climate Mitigation and Adaptation
On October 5, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society released a joint report outlining changes Canada will experience if global temperatures increase 2⁰C. The report found that Canada’s ski industry will suffer, shipping cargo across the Great Lakes could be more expensive because of lower water levels, Arctic sea ice is expected to decrease 50 percent, and the South Saskatchewan River may dry up, among many other changes. A few days after the report’s release, experts gathered in Toronto to discuss how Canadian cities are increasingly vulnerable to many different climate disasters. “Planning policy has to catch up with carbon-change policy,” said Eva Ligeti, executive director of Clean Air Partnership, at the meeting. “We need a coordinated, multi-disciplinary response plan, embedded in planning documents. We need to develop our adaptive capabilities and reduce emissions before we reach the point where we can no longer adapt.”
Bangladesh and India Extremely Vulnerable to Climate Change Impacts
On October 20, British risk advisory firm Maplecroft released a Climate Change Vulnerability Index, which measures the vulnerability of 170 countries to adverse climate impacts over the next 30 years. The index evaluates 42 social, economic and environmental factors to assess national vulnerabilities to climate-related natural disasters, sea level rise and human impacts such as agricultural dependency and resource conflicts. Bangladesh and India ranked the highest within the ‘extreme risk’ category that also included the Philippines, Vietnam and Pakistan. At this moment, developing countries are attracting large foreign investment and climate change impacts are becoming serious concerns for investors. "Understanding climate vulnerability will help companies make their investments more resilient to unexpected change," according to Matthew Bunce, principal analyst at Maplecroft.
Gulf Coast to Face $350 Billion in Extreme Weather Damages by 2030
On October 20, Entergy Corporation released a study showing the U.S. Gulf Coast may face economic damages amounting to $350 billion by 2030 because of extreme weather events. The three types of hazards analyzed in the study were wind-related damage, gradual sea level rise, and sudden storm flooding. The report recommends a $50 billion investment for projects such as reinforcing beaches and improving building codes. According to the report, “with climate change, we should expect a Katrina/Rita-type year occurring every lifetime by 2030.” Entergy Chief Executive Officer J. Wayne Leonard said, “with the multiplier effect, the amount of economic loss to the Gulf Coast could rise to $700 billion, the gross domestic product for the entire region for one year.”
Western Hemisphere To Experience Extreme Drought
On October 19, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews published a study supported by the National Science Foundation that shows the United States and several other large nations may face increasingly dry conditions in the next 30 years because of warming temperatures. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Aiguo Dai used 22 computer climate models along with an index of drought conditions to provide evidence that the Western Hemisphere, along with regions in Eurasia, Africa and Australia, may experience unprecedented drought by 2100. Specifically, the results indicate that the western two-thirds of the United States will be very susceptible to extreme drought. Conversely, northern regions from Alaska to Scandinavia will experience wetter conditions, according to the study. “We are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades, but this has yet to be fully recognized by both the public and the climate change research community,” Dai said. “If the projections in this study come even close to being realized, the consequences for society worldwide will be enormous.”
European Companies Fund Senate Candidates Who Oppose Climate Policy
On October 25, the Climate Action Network Europe (CAN Europe) released a report which revealed that several large European companies are funding the campaigns of U.S. Senate candidates who oppose climate legislation. According to the report, Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) received $240,200 in campaign funding from Bayer, BASF, Solvay, Lafarge, BP, GDF-SUEZ, Arcelor-Mittal and EON in 2010. All of these companies are significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters themselves, together emitting 130 million tons of GHGs in 2009, according to CAN Europe. The report states, “European companies are funding almost exclusively Senate candidates who have been outspoken in their opposition to comprehensive climate policy in the U.S., and candidates who actively deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by people.”
Largest Asian Cities Threatened by Climate Change
On October 22, the Asia Development Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the World Bank released a joint report showing that large Asian coastal cities will experience frequent flooding and extreme weather events if current climate change trends continue. The report studied potential risks due to climate change in the cities of Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Manila, and suggested measures and strategies to address these issues. In Bangkok, better control of ground water pumping and further investments in pump station capacity are needed to reduce urban vulnerability to flooding. In Ho Chi Minh City, 26 percent of the population is already affected by extreme weather events and a comprehensive climate change adaptation strategy was recommended. In Manila, city flooding may cause damages up to one-quarter of the city’s gross domestic product; a complete redesign of flood control infrastructure would be needed to protect against sea level rise and typhoons. The report concluded that climate-related risks need to be a central part of city planning.
Pakistani Prime Minister Says Climate Change Mitigation is Urgent Issue
On October 22, Pakistan’s Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the United Nations, held an international conference on climate change. During the conference, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani said that climate change is a major environmental issue and urged nations to form a universal and collective response, particularly in vulnerable South Asian regions. Gilani said Pakistan is developing a comprehensive climate change strategy and the country is looking forward to a substantive outcome at December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun. Pakistan was one of the first nations to sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Although Pakistan emits a small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions, it faces severe climate change impacts such as melting of glaciers, sea level rise and flooding.
New Mexico Approves Cap and Trade Plan
On November 2, the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board approved a cap and trade program that will restrict greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The program, which will begin in 2012, requires a two percent reduction in GHG emissions per year until 2020. If entities are unable to cut their emissions by two percent they will be able to purchase emissions credits from other entities, allowing more efficient entities to profit from the sale of credits. The program will allow New Mexico to participate in trading carbon allowances in the Western Climate Initiative, a collaboration of four Canadian provinces and seven U.S. states that seek to cut GHG emissions 15 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Economic predictions show a modest net benefit to the New Mexico economy. Governor Bill Richardson said that the U.S. government should build on New Mexico’s program to implement a national cap and trade system.
UN Report Warns Climate Change Poses Threat to Human Progress
On November 4, the UN released a report that warned continued failure to tackle climate change risks decades of progress in improving the lives of the world’s poorest people. In the annual report, the UN said that unsustainable patterns of production and consumption posed the most substantial challenge to fight poverty. “For human development to become truly sustainable, the close link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions needs to be severed,” the report said. In one estimate, the UN explained that adverse effects of climate change could double the price of wheat. By 2050, the report predicted consumption of cereals would fall by a fifth, leaving 25 million additional children malnourished, principally in Asia. Affluent countries “need to blaze the trail” on making economic growth less dependent on fossil fuels and helping poor nation get on the path toward sustainable development, the report stated.
Atmospheric CO2 Triggered a Global Warming Event 40 Million Years Ago
On November 5, a study published in Science shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) was the primary driver of a 400,000 year global warming event known as the middle Eocene climatic optimum (MECO), an epoch between 55 million and 34 million years ago. The climate trend across the entire Eocene can be characterized as a period of transition from a warmer climate to a cooler climate. The MECO, however, changed this trend and represents the last major temperature increase before the end of the epoch. Researchers studied sediment taken from deep beneath the ocean floor that spanned the Eocene using paleothermometers to reconstruct changes in sea-surface temperature during the MECO. This study is different because it employed two independent paleothermometers that “can clearly differentiate between temperature changes and other factors.” The authors show that the sea surface warmed by 3-6° Celsius. The MECO is an interesting time span because there were no glaciers during the period, so the researchers could look exclusively at the relationship between CO2 and temperature without having to account for variations due to glacial ice. Co-author Alexander Houben stated that the results will help climatologists gain a better understanding of the climate sensitivity concept — the degree to which global temperature increase is dependent on an accompanying increase in CO2.
IEA Urges Global Leaders to Abandon Fossil Fuel Subsidies
On November 9, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report urging nations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies to curb energy demand and cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which cause climate change. The World Energy Outlook 2010 suggests that the lack of substantial action at last year’s UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen means that much tougher action will be needed after 2020, and an additional $1 trillion in spending will be needed by 2030, to hold temperature rise to 2°C. Eliminating fossil fuels subsidies would cut CO2 emissions 5.8 percent by 2020, according to the IEA. Fossil fuel subsidies were estimated at $312 billion in 2009, compared with $57 billion for renewable energy. "Getting the prices right, by eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies, is the single most effective measure to cut energy demand in countries where they persist, while bringing other immediate economic benefits," said Nabuo Tanaka, head of the IEA. “The message here is clear. We must act now to ensure that climate commitments are interpreted in the strongest way possible and that much stronger commitments are adopted and taken up after 2020, if not before. Otherwise, the 2°C goal could be out of reach for good." On November 12, the G20 reaffirmed their commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies at the Seoul Summit.
New York Governor Paterson Releases Draft Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions
On November 9, the New York State Climate Action Council released a draft plan that would reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. The plan calls for doubling the state’s renewable energy resources by 2030, increasing efficiency in all buildings, shifting private transportation toward electric vehicles, and supporting job growth in clean energy industries. State officials stated that the plan was not just a tool for reducing emissions, but also a tool for economic growth. “Transitioning to clean energy means more than driving a zero-emission car,” said Governor Paterson. “It also means manufacturing that car right here in New York, employing New York workers, driving the New York economy and building New York’s tax base.” Paterson administration officials hope that Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo will use the plan, which they say is in line with Mr. Cuomo’s energy platform. Public comments on the draft plan will be accepted for 90 days.
Scientists Organize to Communicate Climate Change Science Effectively
On November 8, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a non-partisan scientific organization, announced plans to re-launch its Climate Q & A service, a program that will help journalists understand climate change science. AGU announced that 700 scientists have signed up to help answer scientific questions about global warming and anthropogenic climate change. Scientists will not answer questions related to policy, ethics, or economics. Additionally, John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota is organizing 39 scientists who will be part of a rapid response team that will be available to correct climate change misinformation in the media. Abraham stated that scientists have a duty to engage with the public on climate change and it should be done in a policy neutral way. He also said that the effort was “in response to a real disconnect between what is known in the scientific community and the consensus among the general public." The Q & A service began in 2009 to help journalists cover the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen, and since then AGU has been working to re-launch the program in time for this December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun.
Ocean Acidification Threatens Coral Reef Reproduction
On November 8, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that ocean acidification — the lowering of pH levels from an increased absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) — affects the sexual reproduction of corals. Coral species’ ability to reproduce is affected by pH levels, and coral recruitment — fertilization and larvae settlement —could fall by 73 percent over the next 100 years. It is widely accepted that ocean acidification affects mature coral, but this is the first study to document the impacts of ocean acidification on fertilization and settlement efforts of coral.
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action