CC NEWS FOR JULY 2011
On April 4 the EPA announced the formation of a faith-based and neighborhood partnerships initiative to support environmental education and healthier families. You can learn more about it at: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/D49A036B7F10292F85257876007036DE. You can subscribe to electronic newsletters about it and other topics at the EPA and other U.S. government agencies at: https://service.govdelivery.com/service/multi_subscribe.html?origin=&code=USAEPA
Tim DeChristopher, a student at the University of Utah, crossed a threshold when he decided to engage in civil disobedience to interfere with a Dept. of the Interior auction of public lands for oil and gas drilling near Zion National Park in Utah. An article, Utah UU convicted for environmental activism, describing his conviction in federal court, appeared in the March issue of UU World at: http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/178994.shtml (UU stands for Unitarian-Universalist.) You can watch a short YouTube video of his statement after his conviction at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cae5Pr7CHgk A resolution by his church congregation, supporting his action, can be found at: http://slcuu.org/resolution-supporting-ethical-commitment-7th-principle
Tim is to be sentenced on July 26. His action raises the issue: When is peaceful civil disobedience the right thing to do?
In May, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), the scientific arm of the eight-nation Arctic Council, issued a report titled, Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic. Among its findings are that temperatures during the period 2005-2010 have been the highest ever recorded in the Arctic and that the rate of warming is accelerating; temperatures in permafrost have increased by up to 2ºC, releasing unknown amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet contributed more than 40% of the global rate of sea level rise (about 3 mm/yr) between 2003 and 2008; sea level by 2100 may be higher by as much as 1.6 meters (5 feet). A 16-page Executive Summary is available at: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/88367-arctic-ice-melt-2011-executivesummary.html
pv magazine ran an article by Jonathan Gifford on June 20 titled, Ceremony marks construction of the world’s largest solar power plant. It described a groundbreaking ceremony in Blythe, CA, in the Mojave Desert for two 242 MW solar thermal power plants. The plants should be connected to the grid in 2014. They are the first stage of a 4-plant facility with a total capacity of 1000 MW – comparable in scale to a coal or nuclear plant, and are expected to cost $2.8 billion. At: http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/archive/2011/june/beitrag/ceremony-marks-construction-of-the-worlds-largest-solar-power-plant_100003391/
Living on Earth has a weekly environmental news and information broadcast distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). Energy and climate change issues are often featured. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides major funding. You can read a transcript or listen to a recording of items of interest. On May 24 Flammable Gas In Drinking Water From Hydraulic Fracking aired. On June 24 there was a related item, Natural Gas and Greenhouse Gasses, pointing out that fracking may be leaking enough methane – a powerful greenhouse gas –to pose a problem for climate change. At: www.loe.org. Click on Show Archive to see past broadcasts.
The Institute of Physics has a web site physicsworld.com with a 2-minute YouTube rap titled, I’m a Climate Scientist. It’s fast-paced, but right on target. If you want to see more, there’s a 1-minute 43-second YouTube rap called, Supermodels Take it Off for Climate Change, showing what it takes to get down to 350 ppm. Both are at: http://physicsworld.com/blog/2011/05/the_climate_science_rap.html
Ian Urbina had an article in the NY Times for June 25 titled, Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush. Based on emails among market analysts and industry insiders, the golden age of gas from fracking shale may be overblown. In some cases wells are producing considerably less after only one year of operation, suggesting that they will not be productive for 10-15 years. In others, the value of the gas obtained doesn’t justify the costs of acquiring land and drilling. And of course the environmental damage to water and air has yet to be determined. At: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/us/26gas.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2
The Solar Energy Industries Association has published its U.S. Solar Market Insight – 2010 Year in Review. The Executive Summary says, “ 2010 was a banner year for the solar energy market in the United States. In contrast to U.S. GDP growth of 2.8%, the U.S. solar market grew 67% in value in 2010. Not only did the market expand greatly, but it showed substantial diversity across market segments, geography, and technologies. Solar is growing quickly across the U.S. at the residential, commercial, and utility scale levels.” The U.S. market grew from $3.6B to $6.0 B in 2010. At: http://www.seia.org/galleries/pdf/SMI-YIR-2010-ES.pdf
The July issue of Scientific American has an article by Lee Kump, a professor of geosciences at Penn State University, titled, The Last Great Global Warming. In it he describes his recent work on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), an event 56 million years ago when a large release of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere caused an increase in global temperature of about 5°C (9°F) and an oceanic extinction event. His studies of drill cores from Spitsbergen Island in Norway showed that the release of between 3000 and 10,000 billion tons of carbon (GtC or petagrams of carbon) took longer than scientists had thought – perhaps 20,000 years. The average rate of carbon emissions then (about 1.7 GtC/yr) is much less that the current rate of about 9 GtC/yr from human burning of fossil fuels and forests. He writes, “Furthermore, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and driving sea-level rise; coral reefs are increasingly subject to disease and heat stress; and episodes of drought and flooding are becoming more common. Indeed, shifts in rainfall patterns and rising shorelines as polar ice melts may contribute to mass human migrations on a scale never before seen. Some have already begun.” “Current global warming is on a path to vastly exceed the PETM, but it may not be too late to avoid the calamity that awaits us.”
This article at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-last-great-global-warming follows one in the January issue of Scientific American titled, Casualties of Climate Change: Sea-level Rises Could Displace Tens of Millions at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=casualties-of-climate-change
John Farrell has an article in Grist for June 26 titled, Value of solar power far exceeds its cost. He writes, “Solar power has a monetary value as much as 10 times higher than its energy value, thanks to its ability to reduce peak demand on the transmission and distribution system, hedge against fuel price increases, and enhance grid and environmental security.” At: http://feeds.grist.org/click.phdo?i=28a0ec65c7c3fe28cf1f00d25c518a72
While I’m not sure about his economic analysis - as he doesn’t mention the health costs of electricity generation from fossil fuels or the damages of climate change - it is clear that a full life cycle analysis, including all externalities, is needed to compare energy technologies fairly.
John Vidal had an article in The Guardian for June 27 titled, Climate change hots up in 2010, the year of extreme weather. He pointed out that 2010 was a record-breaker in a number of ways. “A combination of abnormal climatic phenomena resulted in the year being the hottest, wettest, and in many cases also the driest and coldest in recorded history.” Climate change is more than just rising average temperatures; we are setting new records for extremes. At: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/27/climate-change-extreme-weather-2010/print
Jeff Donn of the Associated Press had an article in abc NEWS for June 28 titled, AP IMPACT: NRC and Industry Rewrite Nuke History. In it he points out that 40 years ago, when commercial nuclear power was getting its start in the U.S., the industry said that its plants were designed to operate for 40 years. But they are now saying that the plants can be safely operated for much longer – perhaps as much as 100 years. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) appears to be giving extensions with little or no inspection or serious consideration. At:: abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=13945405
Janet Raloff wrote an article in the June 29 issue of ScienceNews titled, AAAS board defends climate scientists. She quoted the following statement issued by the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions.” At: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/331978/title/AAAS_board_defends_climate_scientists
On July 5 SolarIndustryMag.com reported that domestic production of renewable energy is now greater that that of nuclear power. In the first quarter of 2011 renewable energy sources produced 2.24 quadrillion BTUs – 11.7% of U.S. energy production, compared to 2.12 Quads for U.S. nuclear power. Renewable energy now provides 77% as much energy as domestic crude oil.
Daniel Strain has an article in the July 16 issue of ScienceNews titled, Collapsing Coastlines - How Arctic shores are pulled a-sea. He points out that warming seas and a shorter season of sea ice along the Alaskan coast are causing accelerating rates of loss of land. He writes, “In 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified 178 communities struggling with erosion in Alaska, three of which have perhaps a decade before collapsing completely.” Along one 60-kilometer stretch of Alaska's Beaufort Sea coast the mean annual erosion rate doubled from 6.8 meters per year from 1955 to 1979 to 13.6 meters per year from 2002 to 2007. The village of Shishmaref, facing severe coastal erosion rates, has elected to move a few miles inland. The cost may be $200 million. At: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/332007/title/Collapsing_Coastlines
The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications"
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community.
Poll Finds Most Americans Worried about Global Warming
Fifty-two percent of the American public is “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about global warming, nearly the same proportion as last year, according to the annual survey, Climate Change in the American Mind survey. Researchers at Yale and George Mason universities polled 1,010 American adults in May 2011 and found only small shifts in public opinion compared to 2010. Sixty-four percent of adults this year say the planet is warming, up from 61 percent in 2010. Only 47 percent, however, responded that human activity is the cause, down from 50 percent in 2010. Thirty-nine percent of respondents agreed that “most scientists think global warming is happening,” up from 34 percent in 2010.
For additional information see: New York Times, Study
Little Progress Made to Extend Kyoto Protocol at Climate Talks
The latest round of international climate talks ended June 17 as a top United Nations official pleaded for world leaders to break a stalemate. "Resolving the future of the Kyoto Protocol is an essential task this year and will require high-level political guidance," said Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Figueres spoke to reporters in Bonn, Germany after delegates to the negotiations said little progress was made to extend Kyoto past its expiration in 2012. Japan, Canada and Russia won’t agree to an extension of Kyoto and are pushing for a new global pact with carbon dioxide (CO2) limits that would apply to all parties. Kyoto required industrialized nations to limit emissions but did not constrain developing nations. Developing nations, on the other hand, say industrialized nations that bear the historic responsibility for CO2 emissions in the atmosphere must take the lead. The United States is not a party to the treaty.
For additional information see: Reuters, Associated Press
Conference: International Community Must Focus on Climate Disaster Preparedness
International funding and cooperation are needed to allow people in climate vulnerable places to migrate to safer ground, delegates to the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement in the 21st Century said. Held June 6 and 7 in Oslo, Norway, the conference featured speakers who urged governments and international organizations to shift away from disaster relief in favor of disaster preparedness. Forecasting models are able to more accurately predict episodes of drought and flooding, presenters noted. Last year, millions of people across the globe, in places like Pakistan and China, were displaced by extreme weather events. “Human displacement due to climate change is happening now,” Jonas Gahr Store, Norway's minister of foreign affairs, told conference delegates. “There is no need to debate it.”
For additional information see: Inter Press Service
Study Says Electric Cars Produce Less CO2 Over Their Lifetimes than Gas Cars
Electric cars are still greener than conventional gasoline-powered cars, though it takes a lot of driving to realize a net savings in carbon dioxide (CO2), according to a new analysis that considers the entire lifespan of the vehicles. Largely because of the energy consumed in producing the battery for an electric vehicle, the car has to be driven at least 80,000 miles before it realizes a net savings of CO2 compared to a conventional car. Nearly half of the CO2 associated with an electric car over its lifespan is produced before it rolls out of the factory. The study was conducted for the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, which is funded by the British government and industry. It found a standard gas-powered car produces 24 metric tons of CO2 over its lifetime, compared to 19 for a plug-in or battery electric vehicle. More work is needed to reduce CO2 emitted during the manufacturing of electric vehicles, the study says.
For additional information see: The Australian, News Release, Study
Tree Rings Show “Almost Unprecedented” Decline in Mountain Snowpack, Study Says
The decline in snowpack in the northern Rocky Mountains is “almost unprecedented” in magnitude in the past 800 years, a new study concludes. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and University of Washington sought to evaluate the uniqueness of the late 20th and early 21st Century decline in snowpack by studying tree rings. Although this year’s snowpack is deep, the trend over the past few decades has been rapid springtime warming to diminish annual snowpack, which influences the growth of tree rings. "I think the findings are pretty significant," said lead author Greg Pederson of the USGS. "It means trees are telling the same stories as computer models and instrument records — that human greenhouse-gas emissions are contributing to the loss of snowpack." Many water supplies in the West rely on mountain snowpack. Today’s water management strategies may be based on assumptions that are no longer reliable, scientists say. The study was published in the journal Science.
For additional information see: The Oregonian, Seattle Times, Study Abstract
Supreme Court Turns Down Emissions Lawsuit; Says EPA Has Authority to Regulate CO2
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected a lawsuit brought by six states and several conservation groups that sought to force large utilities to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. In the June 20 decision, the justices said the courtroom is not the correct forum to control greenhouse gases. But the justices, including conservatives John Roberts and Antonin Scalia, reaffirmed that the authority to address greenhouse gas emissions rests with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2007, a divided court ruled 5-4 that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The EPA has issued one rule thus far requiring pre-construction permits to build or modify certain large industrial facilities that emit greenhouse gases, and plans to propose greenhouse gas standards for power plants and refineries in September. The plaintiffs, which included California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, believe the federal government is acting too slowly.
For additional information see: The New York Times, Associated Press
GAO: President, Congress Need to Set National Climate Change Priorities
Although federal funding for climate change activities is increasing, federal officials lack a shared understanding of the nation’s strategic priorities that would help guide that funding, a new GAO report found. Federal funding for climate change activities increased to $8.8 billion in 2010, up from $4.6 billion in 2003. More than half of the funding is spent on technology to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. At the request of Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), GAO surveyed and interviewed federal officials. GAO found federal officials do not have a shared understanding of strategic priorities. “This is in part due to inconsistent messages articulated in strategic plans and other policy documents,” GAO reported. The report recommended that the nation establish federal strategic climate change priorities. The report, “Climate Change: Improvements Needed to Clarify National Priorities and Better Align Them with Federal Funding Decisions,” was released June 20.
For additional information see: Markey Announcement, GAO Report
Report Calls for Urgent Cuts in CO2 to Save Dying Oceans
Climate change, pollution and overfishing are harming the oceans so rapidly that many marine species could be extinct within a generation, an international panel concluded. Marine scientists produced the report, which was released June 21 at a workshop at Oxford University that was organized by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO). “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.” The report calls for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to the warming of ocean surface temperatures and ocean acidification. It also calls on governments to reduce pollution and enact sustainable fisheries policies. The cumulative effect of the multiple threats must be addressed urgently because the rate of degeneration in the oceans is greater than predicted, the report warns.
For additional information see: The New York Times, Science Daily, Report
Study Finds Link Between Temperature, Increasing Rate of Sea Level Rise
The Atlantic is rising at a greater rate today along the coast of the United States than at any time during the last 2,100 years, a new study found. The study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also discussed the link between changes in temperature and rates of sea level rise. “Sea-level rise is a potentially disastrous outcome of climate change as rising temperatures melt land-based ice and warm ocean waters," said Benjamin Horton, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. The current average sea level rise is 2.1 millimeters per year. The study verifies that today’s rate of sea level rise is unprecedented in the recent geologic past, scientists said.
For additional information see: Associated Press, Science Daily, Study
Scientific American Series Links Stronger Storms to Climate Change
Scientific American last week published a three-part series exploring the connection between climate change and extreme weather. The first story stated that the extreme weather predicted by climate models is now being observed across the globe. The second explained how rising global temperatures fuel stronger storms. And the third discussed how the world can manage the risks and adapt to a changing climate. The series was funded by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Scientific American had complete editorial control.
For additional information see: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Insurers Study Climate Change to Decide Rate Hikes in Alabama
Insurance companies are considering rate hikes for homeowners after devastating tornadoes caused $2.5 to 3.5 billion in losses on April 27 in Alabama. The amount of rate increases depends on whether or not the storms are considered a new normal pattern caused by climate change. At only halfway through the year, Alabama’s tornado total is already three times the average and there have been more F4 and F5 storms than any other year. According to Lee Bowron of the Birmingham actuarial consulting firm Kerper and Bowron, LLC, insurance rates are based on models that predict the frequency and intensity of disasters, and “re-insurers and insurers are now evaluating tornado risk in light of the recent outbreak.” Brian Thomas, a sustainability consultant who formerly worked in the reinsurance industry, says, "the global re-insurers are very concerned about climate change. As far as they are concerned, there is a pretty clear signal." However, a preliminary National Weather Service evaluation of climate variables known to cause tornadoes in the Southeast doesn't show a global warming-related trend that can be linked to the severe outbreak. While insurance companies may want to raise rates to compensate for the threat of climate change, they can only raise them so much before they begin to lose customers.
For additional information see: The Birmingham News
EPA Report Outlines Climate Adaptation Options for Coastline
A new federal report on climate adaptation suggests that development in some low lying coastal areas will have to give way to rising sea levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June released “Rolling Easements,” a primer for communities to preserve development rights of shoreline property owners while acknowledging that some coastal properties will be economically or environmentally infeasible to defend from rising sea levels. “Defending coastal development from the rising sea would prevent wetlands from migrating inland, expose large numbers of people to the hazard of living below sea level, and often cost more than what the property being protected is worth,” the report stated. The report detailed land-use and legal tools that would allow coastal development, but prohibit seawalls and shoreline protections from being built in some areas. Proposals include issuing regulations or transferring the rights to build shoreline protections from owners who would do so to organizations that would not. This allows property to be put to its highest use, but it can be converted to wetland or beach once it is threatened by rising seas.
For additional information see: The Washington Post, Report
Rockies Losing Colorful Flowers as Temperatures Rise, Study Finds
The colorful flowers that brighten the meadows of the Rocky Mountains in the middle of the summer are fading because of factors that include climate change, a new study found. As temperatures have risen in the high altitude meadows and conditions turned drier, the flowers have become less abundant, particularly during the middle of the summer. Not only would the Rockies lose a splash of color as the world turns warmer, but other species, such as pollinators, would be affected. “The resulting longer periods of flowering abundance in the middle of the summer season could negatively affect pollinators that are active throughout the season, and shifts in flowering peaks within habitats might create mismatches between floral resources and demand by pollinators with limited foraging ranges,” the study stated. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation. It appears in the July edition of the Journal of Ecology.
For additional information see: Los Angeles Times, Study Abstract
Survey Shows Who Americans Trust About Climate Change
A new survey suggests the urgency of climate change can be communicated if the right people engage local constituencies and explain how human activities are impacting local communities. "You can't talk about preparing for climate change in Seattle the same way you would in Phoenix,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which released the survey results on June 27. The survey suggests many people remain uninformed about climate change but there is an opportunity to close the information gap. The survey found 39 percent of people were alarmed or concerned by climate change. On the other hand, 10 percent were dismissive, and may be unreachable because they distrust any source of data. A large sector of the public is in the middle, looking for information from trusted people who can explain why they are certain that humans are responsible for climate change. If more doctors, military officers, businesspeople or labor leaders speak out, the information gap may close. “We take our cues from key trusted individuals and organizations,” said Leiserowitz. “And different groups tend to trust different messengers.”
For additional information see: Reuters, Study
N.H. Governor Vetoes Plan to Leave Carbon Market
New Hampshire will stay in a regional carbon market after its governor vetoed a bill that would have led to its withdrawal. Gov. John Lynch said leaving the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) would cost the state $16 million that the program raises through its carbon auctions. "I am vetoing this legislation because it will cost our citizens jobs, both now and into the future, hinder our economic recovery, and damage our state's long-term economic competitiveness," said Lynch. The 10-state program requires reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and established the trading market. Power plants can buy allowances to cover their emissions and sell unneeded allowances on the market if they further reduce their emissions. Republican legislators in New Hampshire said leaving the program would lower costs for utilities and reduce electricity rates. RGGI has faced challenges in several states. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced in May that his state will leave the program later this year.
For additional information see: Reuters
British Columbia Carbon Tax Seen as Good for Environment
Nearly three-quarters of the residents of British Columbia believe their province’s carbon tax has been good for the environment, or feel neutral about it, according to survey results released June 30. Strategic Communications, Inc. conducted the poll of 830 people. It found 69 percent of residents are worried about climate change. This year, the carbon tax, introduced in 2008, costs $25 per ton for carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of oil, natural gas and coal. Next year, it rises to $30 per ton. Future rate hikes have not been determined; 51 percent of those polled do not support an increase in the carbon tax. Similar taxes apply to jet fuel, diesel, propane and other fuels. Both businesses and consumers pay the tax. The tax adds about $142 a year to the home heating bills of the average homeowner. The province claims the tax is revenue neutral because personal, corporate and small business income taxes were lowered.
For additional information see: Vancouver Sun, British Columbia Carbon Tax Website
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action