CC NEWS FOR JUNE 2011
In January, the Energy and Environmental Study Institute (EESI) released a Fact Sheet called, A Snapshot of Renewable Energy Development. It focused on the current status of renewable energy for electricity generation, which has been growing rapidly and now produces 10.6% of U.S. electricity. The 12-page report describes capacity, project size, cost trends and construction timelines, and the impacts of renewable electricity technologies on carbon emissions. At: http://files.eesi.org/re_deployment_011211.pdf
In the last (May) issue of Climate Change News I mentioned a report from the National Academy of Sciences titled, Warming World: Impacts per Degree. The Energy and Environmental Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on the report on April 25, and the presentations of the three speakers and their slides can be found online at: http://www.eesi.org/warming-world-impacts-degree-25-apr-2011
Looking at the impacts by degree C temperature increase gives policy makers a new way to look at climate change and to make informed decisions about what kinds of impacts are acceptable. The full National Academy of Sciences 298-page report, titled, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia can be ordered or viewed online. At: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12877
I highly recommend World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. It's available free online at: http://www.earth-policy.org/images/uploads/book_files/wotebook.pdf
You can buy the book or join the Earth Policy Institute listserv at:
I’m a great admirer of Dr. James Hansen at Columbia University. The NY Times interviewed him in 2008, and you can see it on YouTube at:
On May 20, Need to Know on PBS did a piece by Laura LeBlanc titled, From allergies to deadly disease, feeling the effects of climate change. You can watch the 13.6-minute video at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/environment/video-from-allergies-to-deadly-disease-feeling-the-effects-of-climate-change/9457/
Bill McKibben has a wonderful sardonic article in the Washington Post for May 23 titled, A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never! He reassures us with a quote from U.S. Chamber of Commerce, saying that there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” At: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-link-between-climate-change-and-joplin-tornadoes-never/2011/05/23/AFrVC49G_story.html
Desiree Parker has an article in the May 24 Williamsburg Yorktown Daily titled, Planned Coal Plant Could Cost $200 Million In Health Costs, Report Finds. The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative plans to build a new 1,500-megawatt power plant in the town of Dendron, VA. A report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says that the health care costs associated with running it could be over $200 million per year. According to the report, the annual health impacts of the plant would include: chronic bronchitis, asthma-related emergency room visits, premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and lost work days. At: http://wydaily.com/local-news/6533-planned-coal-plant-could-cost-200-million-report-finds.html
Matthew Wald has an article in the May 24 NY Times titled, Risk From Spent Nuclear Reactor Fuel Is Greater in U.S. Than in Japan, Study Says. He writes, “The report, from the Institute for Policy Studies, recommends that the United States transfer most of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel from pools filled with cooling water to dry sealed steel casks to limit the risk of an accident resulting from an earthquake, terrorism or other event.” One U.S. nuclear plant, Vermont Yankee, on the border of Mass. and Vermont, has more nuclear waste stored in a pool than all four similar units at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Moving all U.S. nuclear waste into dry storage might take 10 years and cost between $3.5 and $7 billion, but the costs could be much greater if we don’t take the precaution. One of the planes that hit the Twin Towers on 9/11 flew over the Indian Point nuclear complex on the Hudson on its way to NY City. At:
The Australian Climate Commission has issued a report titled, The Critical Decade: Key Messages. The Climate Spectator says, “Over many decades thousands of scientists have painted an unambiguous picture: the global climate is changing and humanity is almost surely the primary cause. The risks have never been clearer and the case for action has never been more urgent. Our Earth’s surface is warming rapidly and we can already see social, economic and environmental impacts in Australia. Failing to take sufficient action today entails potentially huge risks to our economy, society and way of life into the future. This is the critical decade for action.” At: http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/climate-commission-critical-decade
Switchboard, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Staff Blog, posted an article on May 25 by Kaid Benfield. It describes A Citizen’s Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development, developed by the NRDC for local environmental groups, smart growth organizations, and others interested in making communities better and greener. It is available for free and can be downloaded at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/knowing_when_its_green_a_citiz.html
The NRDC on May 26 issued a press release titled, New Poll Reveals New Jersey Residents Strongly Support Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative's Results. The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling showed that 74% of NJ residents support clean energy development in the state over importing fossil fuels – in spite of a well-funded disinformation campaign by a group calling itself Americans for Prosperity. Similar groups – probably funded by the Koch Brothers and other fossil fuel interests – have been active in a number of Northeastern states opposing any efforts to reduce GHG emissions. At: http://www.nrdc.org/media/2011/110526.asp
Do you remember when more doctors smoked Camels than any other cigarette?
The Washington Post for May 27 carried an article by Chico Harlan titled, Japan takes a shine to renewable energy. It says that Japan, as a result of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, is changing national energy policy to scale back nuclear power and develop wind and solar power to replace it. In the meantime, while the new energy sources come online, Japan will reduce its energy consumption and import more oil and natural gas. At: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-takes-a-shine-to-renewable-energy/2011/05/26/AGm8wuCH_story.html
A NY Times article on May 29 by John Broder said that ex-President Bill Clinton and ex-NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg are working together to help cities reduce their GHG emissions and deal with climate change. Cities are home to more than half of Earth’s people and are responsible for 70% of its GHG emissions. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/science/earth/29enviro.html?pagewanted=all
There is now a group working on a National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy for the United States. A Steering Committee is supported by staff from the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and Native American tribal partners. You can learn more at:
Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported on May 30 that carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 were the highest in history – 30.6 Gt. The unwillingness of many countries to reduce their emissions makes it unlikely that global warming can be kept below 2º C (3.6º F). At: http://www.rnw.nl/english/bulletin/co2-emissions-highest-ever-2010-iea-0
The NY Times for June 4 has an article by Justin Gillis titled, TEMPERATURE RISING - A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself. It mentions that climate change is challenging the ability of farmers to feed the growing population. It will be important to develop new varieties and new techniques better adapted to the new conditions. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/science/earth/05harvest.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2
OilChange International has a Dirty Money Campaign aimed at exposing the financial contributions that dirty energy companies make to members of Congress to protect the companies’ interests. You can follow the money by Zip code, politician, or company. At: http://www.dirtyenergymoney.com/#
The NY Times reported the development of a new generation of commercially available LED light bulbs at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/magazine/bulb-in-bulb-out.html?scp=2&sq=Light%20Bulb&st=cse
On June 8 Heather Goldstone of WGBH (Boston) posted an article on her Climatide blog titled, The State of the Oceans 2011. In it she pointed out five threats to our oceans: 1) climate change, 2) acidification, 3) pollution, 4) over fishing and 5) ignorance. Heather is an oceanographer – well worth reading. At:
On June 13 EnergyBiz ran an article by Ken Silverstein titled, Offshore Wind Hits Waves. It pointed out that offshore wind development in the U.S. is being slowed by a combination of regulatory hurdles and difficulty finding investors – in spite of the fact that offshore wind is growing very rapidly in many other parts of the world, including China. It appears that the first turbines in the water may be off the coast near Galveston Texas. Texas already leads the U.S. in onshore wind generation, with about 25% of the country’s total. At: http://www.energybiz.com/article/11/06/offshore-wind-hits-waves
Why is it so much easier for us to go to war than to develop a clean energy technology?
Robert Fri has a Voices piece on PBS Need To Know for June 14, titled, Action on climate change: Why now? He quotes a recent National Academy of Sciences report that says that though we don’t know exactly how or when the effects of climate change on humans and the environment will play out, “the environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks of climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts.” At: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/voices/action-on-climate-change-why-now/9790/
The report was called America’s Climate Choices and was issued in May. A press release and a link to the full report can be found at:
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.
UK Agrees to Two Decades of Drastic Emission Cuts
Cabinet ministers have agreed to a deal that will commit the United Kingdom to two decades of drastic greenhouse gas emissions cuts. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced last week that the government will fully accept the recommendations of an independent Committee on Climate Change that extended commitments to 2027, making the UK the only nation with legally binding commitments past 2020. The committee has recommended carbon emissions should be cut to 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, and eventually 80 percent by 2050. Ministers believe major companies involved in developing offshore wind technology, such as Siemens, Vestas, and General Electric, would be more willing to invest in Britain now that it is committed to expanding its renewable energy production. According to the committee, 16 billion pounds would need to be invested annually throughout the 2020’s and new policies would need to be implemented in order to meet the targets. In order to meet its goal, the country plans to replace a generation of aging nuclear power plants with new reactors, expand renewable energy, such as offshore wind power, geothermal energy, and use carbon sequestration.
Climate Change a Contributing Factor to More Frequent Mississippi Floods
According to scientists, the increasing frequency and severity of Mississippi River floods are being caused by a combination of climate change and federal water projects over the past 100 years that have transformed the river into a waterway for shipping. The flooding of the Mississippi, as seen in recent weeks, was expected to occur once every 10 or 25 years, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. However, similar floods have occurred in 1995, 1996, 1998, and 2001. In 2008, the river experienced a flood that was expected once every 200 years, and in 1993 flood waters were at levels expected once every 500 years. The construction of locks, levees and weirs, they say, has caused the river to be unnaturally constrained, leading to higher flood water levels during heavy rains. Climate change, in addition, is leading to increased evaporation and, in turn, heavier rainfall.
Study: Seaports Must Improve Infrastructure to Cope with Climate Change
A study published in the journal Climatic Change found that the majority of seaports around the globe are unprepared for the potentially damaging effects of climate change in the coming century. In a survey conducted on port authorities around the world, researchers found most of them do not know how to protect their facilities against rising sea levels and intense storms, which according to scientists are potential effects of climate change. Out of the 93 agencies representing major seaports around the globe who responded to the survey, fewer than six percent said that they plan to construct hurricane barriers within the next 10 years, and fewer than 18 percent had plans to build dikes or other storm protection structures.
Scientists and Planners Agree Extreme Weather is the “New Normal”
On May 18, climate scientists and government planners stated that extreme weather patterns, such as increased rain, snow, floods, and droughts, are indicators of a new normal climate caused by climate change. "We are used to certain conditions and there's a lot going on these days that is not what we're used to, that is outside our current frame of reference," said climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe on a conference call with other scientists, civic planners and the giant Swiss Re reinsurance firm, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Although they did not blame climate change for any specific event, all the participants cited human-caused climate change as one of the factors contributing to the more extreme weather.
For additional information see: Reuters
Texas Seeks to Overturn EPA’s Endangerment Finding
On May 23, the state of Texas, on behalf of 14 other states, filed an opening brief in a case seeking to overturn the “endangerment finding” announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009. The finding stated that greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health and welfare, which gave the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling EPA v. Massachusetts. Texas is challenging the finding on the grounds that it is "arbitrary and capricious,” words in the U.S. Code that are grounds for a reversal of the decision. The brief stated that the EPA "never provides criteria for determining when [greenhouse gas] emissions or climate change endanger public health or welfare,” as well as the possibility that people might adapt to or even combat the effects of climate change over the extended time period in which it occurs, reducing its effects on health and welfare. The brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Report: California Needs to Take Aggressive Measures to Meet Emissions Goal
In a report titled "California's Energy Future¬¬: The View to 2050," scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that California can meet its goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The report stated that the first 60 percent of emissions reductions could be met by aggressively implementing current technologies, including wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro and offshore marine energy. The remaining 20 percent would be attained through technological advancements in artificial photosynthesis, fusion energy, more efficient and sustainable biofuels, hydrogen fuel, more effective carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), and advanced batteries for both vehicles and grid storage. The report also called for improvements to the electrical grid, to allow it to integrate more intermittent renewable sources and store more energy. In addition to faster development of renewable energy sources, scientists also stated that significant efficiency measures must be taken, retrofitting 1.8 percent of all buildings annually.
Micronesia Challenges Czech Coal Plant Over Sea-Level Rise
Micronesia has mounted an unprecedented legal challenge against the Czech Republic's plans to expand a coal-fired power station more than 7,000 miles away. They claim the increased greenhouse gas emissions from the plant will contribute to global warming, potentially threatening the country, with many parts that lie just over three feet above sea level. If expanded, the power plant will emit over 40 times as much carbon emissions annually as Micronesia as a whole. Micronesia, along with Greenpeace, want the Czech government to carry out a study, called a Trans-Boundary Environmental Impact Assessment, to assess how pollution from the coal plant will affect the Micronesian archipelago. This type of study usually occurs between countries that share a border, but has never been done between countries from different regions before. The Czech environment ministry is expected to come to a decision regarding Micronesia’s case within two weeks.
For additional information see: Telegraph
Australian Climate Commission Suggests Immediate Action, End Logging in Old Growth Forests
A report issued by Australia’s Climate Commission stated that the evidence for global warming is now ''exceptionally strong and beyond doubt,'' and actions this decade will determine the impact of climate change for the rest of the century. The report concluded that the impacts of climate change are already being seen, despite the earth warming less than one degree Celsius so far. The commission addressed the issues of sea level rise and risks to the Great Barrier Reef, and suggested that carbon emissions must peak within the next few years, and then rapidly decline. The report also concluded that the country must end logging in old-growth forests with high carbon storage capacities, stating that it is one of the best ways of making timely cuts to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions while the slower energy transforming and transport systems unfold. "We need to use whatever means we can to sequester carbon but also start reducing emissions from industry. We need some sort of price on carbon. A price is unavoidable,” said Climate Commission chief, Tim Flannery.
IEA: CO2 Emissions Reached All Time High in 2010
On May 30, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached their highest level ever in 2010, with the growth driven mainly by booming coal-reliant emerging economies. The agency also stated that 80 percent of the projected carbon emissions in 2020 will be “locked in” since they will be produced by power plants that are already running, or under construction. "This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2.0 [degrees Celsius] (3.6 [degrees Fahrenheit])," said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol. According to scientists, if global temperatures rise over two degrees Celsius, the risk of severe climate change impacts, including flooding, storms, rising sea levels and species extinction, greatly increase. The UN climate talks, which will resume in Bonn on June 6, will focus on how to achieve the two degree Celsius target. In related news, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, stated that, "Two degrees is not enough- we should be thinking of 1.5 [degrees Celsius]. If we are not headed to 1.5 we are in big, big trouble." She said that the record emissions reported by IEA strengthens the need for urgent action on greenhouse gases.
Experts Discuss Ways to Help Threatened Island Nations Keep Sovereignty
Rising sea levels have put a number of small-island nations in the Indian and Pacific oceans at risk. At a three-day discussion at Columbia University last week, a collection of international lawyers and politicians began to find ways to use existing rules to allow many of these nations to continue as legal entities entitled to ocean fishing and mineral exploration rights, even if their entire populations were forced to relocate elsewhere. "It's important to maintain a government that can defend its interests in the international arena," said international law expert Jenny Grote Stoutenburg. Experts discussed the creation of new laws to address the fate of these island-nations, ways to clearly define their coastline as it currently exists, and how to deal with the relocation of the nations’ population if they are forced to relocate.
For additional information see: NY Times
Report Warns Food Prices Will Double without Global Action
A report published by Oxfam concluded that if global action is not taken to address issues such as climate change, failing biofuel policies, and stalling growth in agricultural yields, food prices will more than double over the next 20 years. The report suggested the price of key crops, like corn, would rise from 120 to 180 percent, with almost half the price increase attributed to climate change. Oxfam called for British Prime Minister David Cameron, among other G20 leaders, to implement measures that will stabilize food prices. These measures include increasing food reserves, removing agricultural subsidies, and decreasing support for biofuels that displace agricultural land that could be used for food production. The report also called on international governments to ensure that the Green Climate Fund, designed to help developing countries adapt to climate change, is put in place by this year’s climate summit in Durban, South Africa.
Climate Change To Increase Ozone-Related Illnesses
On June 2, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report, “Climate Change and Your Health: Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution”, stating that climate change could increase illnesses and affect health costs because of the increase of ground-level ozone. "Even a small increase in ozone due to a warmer climate would have a significant impact on public health," said report co-author Liz Perera. "It would mean more asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses, emergency room trips and premature deaths." The report found that 10 states with the largest numbers of urban residents, children, and senior citizens along with high levels of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compound emissions would be severely affected by ground-level ozone. These states include California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia. If fossil fuel emissions continue to increase at today’s current rate, by 2020 the higher ozone levels could create 2.8 million additional serious respiratory illnesses.
Rising Sea Levels Will Affect More Than Just Coastal Populations
In a report to be published in the upcoming issue of Population and Environment, researchers examine the impacts of rising oceans as one element of how a changing climate will affect humans. Researchers used existing climate projections and maps to predict which areas will be at risk from rising seal levels and storm surges, and then applied these predictions to projections of future populations. The study focused on four main areas, including the tip of the Florida peninsula, coastal South Carolina, the northern New Jersey coastline, and the greater Sacramento region of northern California. According to researchers, more than 19 million people will be affected by rising sea levels in the four study areas by 2030. The study was designed towards helping local authorities identify how to best deal with environmental impacts. "As we anticipate future events, future natural disasters, we've learned how dramatic it can be -- and there are things that can be done in advance to mitigate the extent of damage in a location," said Katherine Curtis, lead author of the study.
California Planning for Rising Sea Levels
California would require certain public entities to draw up action plans to prevent or mitigate damage from rising sea levels under a bill approved by the state assembly on June 1. The legislation applies to about 75 coastal cities, counties, and harbor and sanitary districts that manage state-granted public lands that generate more than $250,000 in annual revenues, a category that includes facilities such as large public airports and ports. The bill states that rising sea levels from climate change will significantly affect the state’s economic and social future. Coastal activities contribute more than $50 billion to the state’s economy. The bill does not include any provisions requiring public entities to implement their action plans.
Natural Gas Is Not the Solution to Climate and Energy Problems, IEA Warns
At a June 6 press conference, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that natural gas is not an energy panacea. “While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel,” said Nobuo Tanaka, IEA’s executive director in discussing new research by the agency. “Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables and nuclear, particularly in the wake of Fukushima. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change." Gas companies are urging governments to support an expansion of natural gas, including the tapping of previously inaccessible shale gas through “fracking,” a process which is blamed for the contamination of water supplies. The IEA worries that low-cost natural gas would incentivize the building of gas-fired power plants while shelving plans for renewable projects.
Climate Change Will Reduce Water for Farming, UN Agency Says
Climate change will siphon away the amount of water available to the world’s farmers, the United Nation’s food agency warned in a new report that calls for action to lessen the danger to both rural and heavily populated areas. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued its “Climate Change, Water and Food Security Report” on June 9. The report calls on countries to improve their management of water resources and urge farmers to adopt new crops and practices before more serious effects of climate change are felt. Regions already prone to water scarcity are at the greatest risk, but the FAO said the loss of glaciers from climate change “will eventually impact the amount of surface water available.”
Today’s Heat Waves to Become Commonplace in 20 to 60 Years, Study Finds
Unprecedented summer heat will be here to stay within the next 20 to 60 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, a new study found. Stanford University researchers concluded that tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America could see the “permanent emergence of unprecedented summer” heat in the next two decades. In the middle latitudes of Europe, China and North America, today’s heat waves will become the new normal within 60 years. “According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years,” said lead author Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science. The study will appear later this month in Climate Change Letters.
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action