Thursday, March 24, 2011



On Feb. 17 Paul Epstein and 10 co-authors published an important paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences titled, Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal. The abstract says, “Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment. These costs are external to the coal industry and are thus often considered “externalities.” We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually. (emphasis added) Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative. Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of nonfossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive.” The authors estimate that these “external” costs, which are borne by the public but don’t show up in your electric bill, may be 18¢/kWh or more. At:

Todd Woddy has an article in the Feb. 23 NY Times titled, Solar Energy Faces Tests On Greenness. He writes, “Just weeks after regulators approved the last of nine multibillion-dollar solar thermal power plants to be built in the Southern California desert, a storm of lawsuits and the resurgence of an older solar technology are clouding the future of the nascent industry.” The problem is that these large renewable energy plants are to be built on environmentally sensitive lands, and are being legally challenged by conservation, labor and American Indian groups – making it difficult to get financing. My view is that any new large-scale renewable energy projects should be carefully reviewed and environmental impacts minimized – keeping in mind that alternative fossil fuel power is likely to have serious environmental consequences itself. At:

The Philadelphia Inquirer for Feb. 16 has an article titled, NJ wind project still blowing forward. Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey is hoping to build the first U.S. offshore wind farm in state waters off Atlantic City. It will be small – 6 turbines with a combined capacity in strong wind of 25 MW – but could be first, since the permitting process is simpler in state waters close to shore. One thing that will help the financing is Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) whose price has yet to be determined but which were established in principle by the NJ Board of Public Utilities. RECS provide a way to reimburse the generator on the basis of the number of MWh (megawatt-hours) generated. A REC worth $100 per MWh would pay the generator 10¢/kWh. At:

PennEnergy has a February 18 article titled, Vestas, WindPlus enter floating offshore wind turbine project agreement. Vestas, a global leader in wind technology, has signed an agreement with WindPlus, a joint venture company, to test the combination of a Vestas 2 MW turbine and a WindFloat semi submersible floating platform (presumably tethered to the ocean floor). If successful, this will open up large areas of the ocean deeper than available to current offshore wind turbines, which are mounted on a monopole driven into the sea floor at depths of 50 m or less. At:

On Feb. 28 Andrew Restuccia in E2 Wire posted an article titled, Report: Regional cap-and-trade program improved state economies. He wrote that, contrary to the claims of some, that the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has provided a number of economic benefits to the states involved. Eighty percent of the proceeds raised by the states by the sale of CO2 emission allowances has been used to improve energy efficiency and promote renewable energy – resulting in $3-4 in cost savings for every $1 invested – while promoting green jobs. It has been a win-win for the environment and the economy. At:

Brian Vastag has an article in the March 6 Washington Post titled, Shifting spring: Arctic plankton blooming up to 50 days earlier now. Satellite photos show both the earlier retreat of Arctic sea ice in the summer and the earlier blooming of plankton – tiny floating plants and animals at the base of the food chain. The blooms, which appear green because of the chlorophyll in the phytoplankton and last for a week or two, are appearing 50 days earlier than they were just 14 years ago. This could be a real problem for other species. “Ecologists worry that the early blooms could unravel the region's ecosystem and "lead to crashes of the food web".” At:

On March 6 the Sierra Club issued a report by Jennifer Perrone and Mark Kresowik titled, A Clean Northeast – Moving the Northeast Beyond Coal and Toward a Clean Energy Future. It said that the U.S. Northeast (from Maine west and south to New York and Washington DC) spends more than a billion dollars a year to import coal for electricity and has some of the oldest (some 70 years old) and dirtiest power plants in the country – many not far from population centers, which suffer the consequences of the pollution they emit – with the largest number of fatalities in Pennsylvania. The report urges that these coal plants be phased out and replaced by a combination of better energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. At:

On March 8 the EPA announced an update of its eGRID (Emissions and Generated Integrated Resource Database), a user-friendly tool that allows Americans to understand who provides their electrical power and the health and environmental impacts of that electricity generation. eGRID contains emission information for nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). NOx and SO2 contribute to unhealthy air quality and acid rain, while CO2, CH4 and N2O are greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Get information about eGRID at:
Power Profiler is another, related tool. By entering a Zip code and selecting a utility you can learn about where your electricity comes from and what it does to air quality and the environment. At:

I recently finished reading World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester Brown. It's a great read and is available free online at:

On March 9 Lester Brown in an Earth Policy Institute Plan B Update titled, Why World Food Prices May Keep Climbing, announced that the cost of grain on the world markets in February was the highest on record – about twice what it was in 2006 – as a result of demand outpacing supply. Consumption was greater than production last year by 60 million tons – made possible by dipping into strategic reserves. Yields suffered last year as a result of droughts in some areas (Russia and the U.S.) and floods in others (Pakistan and Australia). The increase in global oil prices because of fighting in Libya is not helping. At:

The March 9 Washington Post had an article by Brian Vastag titled, Ice sheets melting faster than earlier estimates.
It was based on a paper by E. Rignot and others in Geophysical Research Letters titled, Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise. ( The latter reported that in 2006 the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets lost a combined ice mass of about 465 Gt (billion tons), causing a global sea level rise (SLR) of about 1.3 mm per year. Even more important is that the combined ice mass loss is accelerating at a rate of about 36 Gt/yr2. This means that the rate of loss is increasing by 36 Gt/yr each year. If this acceleration continues, loss of polar ice will be the dominant source of SLR by century’s end.

On March 10 the American Nurses Association (ANA) posted a press release titled, ANA SPEAKS OUT ON HEALTH IMPACT OF PROPOSED CUTS TO EPA BUDGET AT CAPITOL HILL EVENT. The event at the Dirkson Senate Office Building, led by Senator Barbara Boxer of California, included six senators and speakers from a number of professional health care societies. Sarah Bucic, a nurse and founder of the Delaware City Environmental Coalition, spoke eloquently on behalf of the ANA against the efforts of some members of Congress to reduce funding for the EPA, thereby reducing its ability to protect public health. At:

Have you lost confidence in the U.S. Congress? The March 13 Washington Post has an article by Darryl Fears titled, EPA chief Lisa Jackson perpetually on Capitol Hill hot seat. The inane questioning of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson by some Republican members of the House – who want to cut the budget of EPA by 30% so that it won’t have the resources to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act – beggars belief. Read it for yourself at:

The University of Delaware’s Professor Willett Kempton - in the College of Earth, Ocean and the Environment - gave a lecture on March 18 in which he said that by 2030 the U.S. could generate 54 GW (gigawatts) of electrical power with offshore wind at a cost of 7 cents/kWh – less than what many electricity suppliers like Delmarva Power and Light are now paying for energy that comes mostly from fossil fuels. Offshore wind power will not only be less expensive, but will come without the huge negative health, climate and national security impacts of failing to phase out fossil fuels. At:

In a NY Times article of March 20 titled, Tweety Was Right: Cats are a Bird’s No. 1 Enemy, Elisabeth Rosenthal reported a recent study in the Journal of Ornithology showing that cats kill about 500 million birds each year – about 1000 times the number killed by wind turbines. While that ratio is expected to decrease as wind power becomes a major supplier of electricity, cats will still be a major killer – second only to collisions with buildings, windows, and towers. At:
One benefit of offshore wind power is that transmission lines connecting wind farms to each other and to the grid can be under water.

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.

UN Official Warns that Climate Change Could Lead to Global Instability

On February 15, in a speech to Spanish lawmakers, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate office, warned that unless countries took firm action to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the impact of climate change on water supplies, weather patterns, and sea levels could cause widespread domestic and international conflict. Specifically, Figueres mentioned how climate-related drought, falling crop yields, and competition for water were fueling mass conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, and she urged defense chiefs to invest larger sums of their military budgets in climate change mitigation measures instead of increasing budgets for weaponry. She referred to the January riots in Tunisia over rising food prices, along with government repression and high unemployment, that unseated the country’s longtime president. She noted that a third of all Africans live in drought-prone regions, and that by 2050 as many as 600 million Africans would face difficulty obtaining water. According to military leaders around the world, detrimental effects of climate change can act as “threat multipliers,” which can add stress to nations that already face the burdens of poverty and social instability.
For additional information see: The New York Times, Business Green, AP

Climate Change Impacts Could Cause Massive Food Disruptions

In a Bloomberg television interview on February 15, Olam International Ltd. predicted that global food prices will face “massive disruption” from the impacts of climate change. Diminishing food supplies around the globe have pushed the UN Food & Agriculture Organization’s (UNFAO’s) World Food Price Index to a record for a second month in January. Corn futures rose 90 percent in the past year, while wheat rose 80 percent and soybeans jumped 49 percent due to extreme weather events that ruined harvests in Russia, Australia, Canada, and parts of Europe. Shrinking food supplies around the globe have made food less available and more expensive, which has prompted governments to increase their purchasing of food commodities such as corn and wheat. While food prices have become too high for some developing countries to buy agricultural products, which raises the risk of food riots, other countries that have intensified their food hoarding have seen little impact on prices because supplies are sufficient. Stockpiles of corn and wheat are dwindling while demand is rising. According to analysts, globally, farmers will need two perfect harvests during 2012 to bring stockpiles back to acceptable levels. Olam officials expressed that the world currently is experiencing disruptions with grains, cotton, and coffee, which will keep food prices high.
For additional information see: Bloomberg

Climate and Energy-Related Shareholder Resolutions Increase for Oil, Coal, Power Companies

On February 17, investors announced the filing of 66 climate and energy-related shareholder resolutions with 41 coal, electric power, and oil companies in the 2011 proxy season, which makes 2011 a record year for shareholder participation in the energy sector. This marked a 50 percent increase in resolutions over the 44 resolutions filed last year. Thus far, a total of 96 resolutions concerning energy and climate have been filed with U.S. companies, which includes businesses with a more indirect exposure to climate-related trends such as real estate, building, financial services, and food firms. Ceres, a green investor group, helped coordinate the filings. An official explained that challenges facing the energy sector are more complicated than before, so investors are worried that companies are placing too much emphasis on higher-risk carbon-intensive strategies rather than exploring viable clean energy opportunities.
For additional information see: CNBC, PR Newswire, Ceres Press Release

Climate Change Poses Risk to Investors

On February 16, the global investment consultancy Mercer released a report which found that institutional investors could lose trillions of dollars in future decades as a result of climate change. Mercer described climate change as a systemic risk because it challenges the conventional allocation of assets and requires new ways of assessing change risks and climate policy, such as global warming policy raising the cost of carbon emissions from power companies, aluminum smelters, and transportation. Some of the risks related to climate change include more extreme weather, continued delay in climate policy by national governments, and uncertainty over a new global climate pact. while the report found renewable energy, agriculture, and infrastructure as opportunities. The report, written as an investment guide, examined four climate policy scenarios, which ranged from regional divergence on climate change policy action to a total breakdown in efforts to fight climate change. The study found that the costs of impacts on the environment, health, and food security, mostly related to adaptation spending, could exceed $4 trillion by 2030. Needed investment in low-carbon technologies could exceed $5 trillion by 2030. The authors also estimated a $110 per ton cost on carbon emissions in the most likely scenario, but added that continued delayed action on climate change could result in $220 per ton cost on carbon by 2030. They concluded that taking action earlier on climate policy was the least disruptive course of action and the best scenario for investors.
For additional information see: Reuters, Asset International for Institutional Chief Investment Officers, Sustainable Business

Major Precipitation Events Linked to Human Climate Change Activity

On February 16, a study published in Nature found that the increase in heavy precipitation in many countries is partially due to human influence on atmospheric patterns, mainly through releasing greenhouse gases (GHGs) by burning fossil fuels. The researchers used computer models to analyze trends from 1951-1999 to find out whether the increase in severe weather events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere, and concluded that it could not. The key finding of the study was that the likelihood of an extreme precipitation event occurring on any given day had risen by 7 percent since the 1950s, a percentage “well outside the bounds of natural variability,” according to researchers. A rise in the frequency of weather extremes related to precipitation has been an underlying prediction of climate scientists for decades, but this study was the first of its kind to attribute heavy precipitation events to global warming.
For additional information see: The New York Times, NPR, Nature, Time , Sydney Morning Herald

Earth Could Get Warmer Even with Zero Emissions Scenario

On February 15, a study published by researchers at the University of Washington in Geophysical Research Letters found that global warming will continue even if all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stopped, since GHG levels already emitted are likely to persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years. The authors said this is because aerosols, tiny particles in the atmosphere that reflect solar energy back into space and counteract global warming, would only stay in the atmosphere a few weeks once emissions stopped, while GHGs would continue to trap heat in the atmosphere. The current global temperature is already about 1.5°F higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and in the best-case scenario, the global temperature would decline, but remain 0.5°F more than pre-Industrial Revolution levels. It is also possible that temperatures would rise to 3.5°F higher than pre-Industrial levels, which climate scientists say is a threshold temperature for climate-related damage to occur. The study’s authors noted that the overall effect of aerosols is the largest uncertainty in climate research, but they were confident that some warming would occur even if all emissions stopped now.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

Study Estimates 190 Billion Tons of Carbon Released from Permafrost by 2200

On February 16, a study by University of Colorado Boulder researchers published in the journal Tellus found that up to 190 billion tons of carbon could be released into the atmosphere from thawing permafrost due to climate change, which is the equivalent of half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the Industrial era began. If the planet warms at a faster pace, up to 60 percent of Earth’s permanently frozen ground will disappear by 2200 as a result of warming temperatures, emitting massive quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and further speeding up climate change. Previous studies have shown that carbon has begun to leak out of permafrost in Alaska and Siberia, but this is the first study to make estimates of future carbon release from thawing permafrost. According to scientists, carbon that would be released from melting permafrost must be incorporated into global warming strategies and models because if the released carbon from permafrost is not accounted for, we will overshoot the desired atmospheric CO2 concentration and end up with a warmer climate than intended. The authors of the study noted that humans can slow down the thaw rate by cutting emissions now, staving off the worst-case scenario of rapidly melting permafrost releasing huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
For additional information see: Science Daily, AFP, The Canadian Press, Study Abstract

Denmark and Britain Call for Bigger EU Emissions Cuts

On February 24, Denmark and Britain called on fellow European Union (EU) members to adopt more ambitious targets for cutting carbon emissions, while Denmark presented its own vision for energy supplies in 2050, showing how it could become independent of coal, oil, and natural gas by mid-century. In a joint statement, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Lykke Friis and British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne, said the EU’s forthcoming 2050 road map needs to offer a “cost-effective, credible and ambitious pathway” to enable member states to take Europe beyond the “cul-de-sac” of the current 20 percent cut target. The EU’s current goal is a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. Proponents of a more aggressive goal argue that the EU should move to a 30 percent emissions cut, which they say will give Europe the chance to dominate the global market in clean technology. Meanwhile, a report for the German government found that the current target is too weak to mobilize innovation, and that raising the target level would increase European GDP by up to $842 billion and create 6 million additional jobs. The European Commission likewise found that moving the target higher could be “cost-effective.”
For additional information see: The Guardian, Reuters

Climate Change Could Lead to Greater Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

On February 21, a UN-commissioned report warned that rising global temperatures that cause extreme weather could significantly increase the risk of toxic spills, making it difficult to meet the targets set by the 2004 Stockholm Convention that were designed to reduce exposure to 21 dangerous chemicals. The report said that risks of exposure could increase if more stockpiles and landfills leak due to flooding, or other extreme weather, since chemicals stored in stockpiles or waste dumps could wash away, become more volatile, or escape through gas emissions before they are incinerated or safely removed. These chemicals pose a proven risk to human and environmental health, as they persist in human bodies and can damage reproductive systems, lead to mental health problems, cause cancer, or impede growth. The report also said that climate change could lead to greater use of some pesticides, such as DDT, which is used to control malaria. Warmer temperatures could also make the chemicals more volatile because vapor pressure increases exponentially with temperature, and added heat will make them more volatile.
For additional information see: Business Green, AP

Frequent, Extensive Fires Turns Alaskan Forests From Carbon Stores to Generators

On February 20, a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience found that climate change is causing wildfires to burn larger areas of Alaskan trees and char the groundcover more severely, turning black spruce forests from carbon sinks into carbon sources. Scientists said that Alaskan soils have acted as huge carbon sinks since the proliferation of black spruce forests, but with more frequent and extensive burning in recent decades, the forests have lost more carbon in fire events than they have historically been able to take up between fires. A significant portion of forest carbon is stored in moss, peat, and leaf litter layers that cover the ground, which are most likely to burn in a fire. In addition to releasing carbon emissions, burning the ground layer affects the regulation of soil climate, maintenance of permafrost, and the types of tree that can grow back. New forests likely to grow back after repeated fires would likely be weaker carbon sinks than black spruce forests.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

Warming Leads to Prolonged Allergy Season in North America

On February 21, a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that increased warming, particularly in the northern portion of North America, correlates to the prolonged fall pollen season. The research found that from 1995 to 2009, ragweed pollen season has increased by 16 days in Minneapolis; 13 days in LaCrosse, WI; 25 days in Winnipeg, Canada; and 27 days in Saskatoon, Canada. Upper latitudes have been warming faster than lower latitudes, and scientists and health officials found no appreciable warming in Texas, Arkansas, or Oklahoma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 50 million Americans have allergies. In many cases, allergies can trigger more severe problems like asthma, and one of the dangers with the lengthening season is pollen’s potential to overwhelm immune systems. The findings support a 2010 study by the National Wildlife Federation that found ragweed growth rates and pollen counts increased with global warming.
For additional information see: The Daily Climate, Science Daily, Study Abstract

Upton and Inhofe File Bill to Permanently Block EPA from Regulating GHGs

On March 3, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced legislation intended to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) from power plants, factories, and refineries. Named the “Energy Tax Prevention Act”, the companion bills, H.R. 910 and S. 482, have 9 co-sponsors in the House, including Democrats Nick Rahall (D-WV), Dan Boren (D-OK), and Collin Peterson (D-MN), and, in the Senate, 42 Republican co-sponsors as well as Joe Manchin (D-WV). The bill would allow many of the Clean Air Act programs to continue, but prevent the EPA from using its authority regulate carbon dioxide. A deal brokered with the automobile industry to limit GHGs from cars and light trucks would be allowed to continue until 2016, but not further. State-adopted GHG regulations would be allowed to continue. Rep. Upton is Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Sen. Inhofe is the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
For additional information see: New York Times , Politico, AP, Bill Information

RGGI Member States Invest $404 Million In Efficiency

On February 28, member states of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction program, announced in a report that they have invested more than half their carbon permit auction proceeds, roughly $404 million, into energy efficiency. To meet its goal of a 10 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2018, the RGGI holds quarterly auctions of CO2 permits, which have raised nearly $780 million since 2008 despite a recent dip in auction prices to $2 a short ton. About 80 percent of the proceeds have gone to programs that cut energy demand, foster the growth of alternative energy, and help the poor pay energy bills, while 52 percent of the proceeds have gone specifically to programs to improve energy efficiency, such as replacing boilers and caulking windows in businesses and homes. The RGGI called the energy efficiency programs the most cost-effective tool for reducing GHG emissions.
For additional information see: Reuters, RGGI Report Press Release

China’s Environmental Minister Issues Warning on Economic Development and Climate

On February 28, China’s Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian issued a warning about the effects of unrestrained development on China’s air, water, and soil quality, saying that the nation’s current path could stifle long-term economic growth and fuel social instability. China has become the leading emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), due to its growth in energy consumption, its dependence on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs, and its increasing demand for oil. Mr. Zhou said the government will take a more aggressive role in determining whether development initiatives contribute to climate change through a new risk assessment system. Mr. Zhou’s comments were echoed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on the same day, who suggested that the nation would seek to embrace tighter environmental regulations this week. “We must not any longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid growth and reckless roll-outs,” said Mr. Wen, who lowered China’s target for average GDP growth, from 7.5 percent to 7 percent, in a move that suggested China would reconsider emphasizing economic growth above all else.
For additional information see: The New York Times, Reuters, BBC

Climate Change Threatening Survival of Lodgepole Pine in Pacific Northwest

On February 28, a study published in the journal Climatic Change found that the range of the lodgepole pine tree is shrinking as a result of climate change, and could disappear from most of the Pacific Northwest by 2080. Warming temperatures, less winter precipitation, earlier loss of snowpack, and more summer drought appear to be affecting the range of the lodgepole pine, while simultaneously attracting bark beetles that attack the tree species. The lodgepole pine thrives in cold temperatures and plays a key role in many ecosystems in western North America, but scientists predict that the tree will only be able to survive in 17 percent of its current habitable range. The pine can occupy vast areas following major fires where extreme cold temperatures, poor soils, and branch-breaking snows make it difficult for other tree species to compete or survive. According to the study, climate change forces will have decreased the Pacific Northwest range of lodgepole pine by 8 percent by 2020, and by 2080, scientists predict that it will be almost absent from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
For additional information see: EurekAlert, The New York Times, Science Daily, Oregon State University Press Release, Study Abstract

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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action