Wednesday, April 20, 2011



Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute posted a Plan B Update on March 23 titled, CAN THE UNITED STATES FEED CHINA? In it he pointed out some disturbing trends in China that will have a major impact on U.S. food prices. While China has worked hard to remain self sufficient in food production, it imports 80% of its soybeans. Over-pumping of ground water for irrigation and plowing dry soils in Northwestern China - coupled with climate change – is leading to expanding deserts and dust storms reminiscent of the American dust bowl described in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. There is also a rising demand for grains as meat consumption increases, and a conversion of farmland into roads and parking lots as the number of cars sold rapidly expands. The only country with the capacity to supply the projected increasing grain shortage in China is the U.S. Esta una problema. At:

Paul Gipe on March 25 posted an article in titled, New Record for German Renewable Energy in 2010. He reported that Germany set a new world record of installing 7,400 MW of solar PV in one year. In 2010 it produced 30% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. After the recent nuclear accident and radiation leaks in Japan, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel closed two nuclear reactors permanently, and another five temporarily. She also called on her government to revisit its controversial decision to extend the life of its aging reactors. At:

The on-line peer reviewed journal, Sustainability, has a special issue on the subject of environmental laws and sustainability, at:

Eric Niller wrote an article in the Washington Post for March 20 titled, King crabs invade Antarctica. It used to be too cold for king crabs in the shallow waters off the Antarctic Peninsula, but now they are arriving in large numbers. The impacts of these invasive crabs on the ecosystem are unknown, for the sea creatures there have not been exposed to crabs for millions of years. At:

The 90-minute film Plan B – Mobilizing to Save Civilization, with Lester Brown and Matt Damon is available online during April at: has a couple of great short videos about fracking (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas – now growing rapidly with little or no control). At:

The Center for American Progress released an excellent brief by Tom Kenworthy, Daniel J. Weiss, Lisbeth Kaufman, and Christina C. DiPasquale on March 21 titled, Drilling Down on Fracking Concerns - The Potential and Peril of Hydraulic Fracturing to Drill for Natural Gas. In it they reported that there are many questions about fracking for natural gas from shale that need to be addressed, including: What toxic materials are added to the fracking fluid to release the gas, and where to they go?; How much radioactivity is flushed out of the ground and is it dangerous?; and How much methane, CO2 and other gases are emitted to the atmosphere? A complete life-cycle analysis is clearly needed. At:

The American Solar Industries Association has released the Executive Summary of its report, U.S. Solar Market Insight – 2010 Year in Review. It covers Solar photovoltaics (PV), Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), and Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC). The total value of these technologies increased in 2010 from $3.6B to $6B – let by solar PV. It’s growth rate has averaged nearly 70% a year for the past decade – though it still represents only a small fraction of U.S. electricity consumption. At:

Eliot Caroom of the Star Ledger wrote an article March 27 titled, Google backs power cable for N.J. offshore wind. The power cable would be capable of carrying 6,600 GW of electrical power along the sea floor, about 10-12 miles off shore – initially from Egg Harbor Township in Atlantic County, NJ to Indian River, DE. Eventually it would cost about $5 billion and stretch for 350 miles, linking offshore wind farms along a heavily populated stretch of coast and capable of supplying power to 6 million homes. The laying of cable needs to proceed in tandem with building the wind farms along it so that the transmission line is available when they start up. At:

One advantage of an extended system like this is that connecting wind turbines over a large area reduces the problem of intermittency, since the wind is very likely to be blowing somewhere along the line. This reduces the need for backup power, e.g., from gas-fired generators.

Elizabeth Kolbert has an article in the April 2011 issue of National Geographic titled, The Acid Sea. In it she points out that, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have released more than 500 billion tons (Gt) of CO2 into Earth’s atmosphere – by burning fossil fuels and forests - increasing the acidity or concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in the oceans by about 30% and decreasing pH (a logarithmic scale like the Richter scale for earth quakes) by about 0.1 unit. If present emissions trends continue, we could increase acidity by 150% above what it was decreasing pH by another 0.4 unit. All of the effects of this large increase are not known, but it could kill coral reefs, clams and oysters, destroy habitat for many fish species, and adversely affect phytoplankton (small floating plants with calcium carbonate skeletons) at the base of the oceanic food chain. Something like what humans are doing happened 55 million years ago at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when a large increase in CO2 concentration raised global average temperatures by several degrees and resulted in the extinction of many species of sea life.

Judi Greenwald of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change posted a blog on March 28 titled, All Energy Sources Entail Risk, Efficiency a No-Brainer. In it she gave a nice summary of the risks we assume in the production and use of our many sources of energy: nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas, and renewable energy sources. All have positive and negative features – some more than others. Reducing energy waste and using energy more efficiently is a no-brainer – something we can all do to save both money and the environment. At:

ABC World News for March 29 had an article by Jim Sciutto titled, Oklahoma Town Fears Cancer, Asthma May Be Linked to Dump Site. The town of Brokoshe, OK has a pile of fly ash from coal burning power plants six stories high that gets an additional 80 truckloads of fly ash each day. Of the 20 homes close to the dump, 14 have one or more people with cancer. It appears that toxic heavy metals are leached out of the pile by rainwater and blown into the air by wind. At:

Beth Buczynski reported on April 5 in Crisp Green that Vestas – anticipating large growth in the North Sea offshore wind turbine market - has announced the production of the V164-7.0 MW turbine, designed for harsh marine environments. With a blade length of 80 m (over 260 feet), the new turbine is the largest in the world. At:

Matthew Wald wrote an article for the NY Times on April 11 titled, Physicist Reviews Nuclear Meltdowns. In it he reported that the three partial recent meltdowns bring the total worldwide to a dozen since 1957 – meaning that experience shows that these incidents have happened about 8X as frequently as the U.S. safety goal. Based on the global fleet of 439 reactors and past experience, we can expect serious damage to a reactor core somewhere every three years. At:

It’s no wonder that private insurance companies won’t issue policies for nuclear power plants. See:

Wendy Koch of USA Today wrote an article on April 12 titled, California sets highest green power goal. She reported that Governor Brown has now signed legislation, requiring utilities to get 33% of their energy from renewable energy sources by 2020 – the highest green power goal in the country. Colorado is second with 30% by 2020. At:

A good explanation of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), with a listing by state, can be found at:

Things are changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep such lists up to date. Delaware is listed as 20% by 2019, but a new law passed in 2010 makes it 25% by 2025, with 3.5% of that solar.

On April 14 the NY Times published an article by Anne Mulkern of Greenwire titled, EPA Supporters Work to Snag Women With Focus on Family Health. Since many in Congress seem to doubt climate science, those who oppose having the EPA stripped of its authority to control emissions dangerous to human health and welfare are turning the focus to health issues and women, who support EPA authority by large margins. At:

Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), spoke recently at the University of Delaware. An article about his talk appeared in the UDaily on April 15. His entire presentation can be viewed as a podcast. At: issued a news release on April 19 titled, Google, Itochu And Sumitomo Join GE And Developer Caithness Energy As Owners Of World’s Largest Wind Farm, In Oregon. It announced a joint effort to build the 845 MW capacity Shepherds Flat wind farm near Arlington, Oregon. It will be the world’s largest. The $2 B project will supply enough power for more than 235,000 American homes. 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"

EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community.

China to Revise Strategy for Meeting New Emissions Targets

On March 6, the chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Zhang Ping, announced that China will not repeat the mistakes it made in 2010 as it strives to meet its strict new emissions and energy savings targets for 2011-2015. China’s industrial sector was deeply affected by last-minute efforts to meet the mandatory 2006-2010 target to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent. Some regions took measures as extreme as restricting power supplies to meet the targets, which Zhang noted was “not appropriate.” Zhang said China “basically” met the 2006-2010 target, with energy intensity, or the amount of energy required per unit of GDP growth, dropping by 19.1 percent. To meet its goal of reducing 2005 levels of carbon by 40-45 percent by 2020, China aims to reduce energy intensity by an additional 16 percent before the end of 2015, and carbon intensity by 17 percent, Premier Wen Jiabao said. Beijing is encouraging provinces to rely on market mechanisms, such as cap and trade systems rather than relying on direct administrative orders to meet the new targets.

For additional information see: Reuters

Climate Change Affecting Coffee Supply, Commodity Prices

On March 9, The Seattle Times and the New York Times reported on the vulnerability of coffee crops to climate change, and what implications the lower crop yield has for coffee drinkers and companies like Starbucks. Planters in Costa Rica now cultivate arabica coffee beans at nearly 7,000 feet, roughly 2,000 feet higher than usual, once they noticed that weather patterns were shifting. Average temperatures in Colombia’s coffee regions have risen nearly one degree, and in some mountain areas the increase has been double that. At higher temperatures, the plants’ buds do not ripen at the appropriate time; and devastating fungi that could not previously survive the cooler mountain weather can now wreak havoc on coffee crops. Yields have dropped significantly in the last decade, and almost all tropical species are more sensitive to climate change since they can only withstand a narrow band of temperatures. Farmers in Costa Rica and Colombia have coped with droughts, mudslides, erratic rains, and changes in temperature over the past few years. Researchers and experts are trying to help coffee farmers adapt to the climate changes by developing hardier varieties of coffee or recommending strategies to protect the environment and grow better coffee by planting shade trees and planting in curved terraced rows to prevent massive water runoff. Heavy rains last fall drove coffee prices to record levels, which were reflected in the increased price on some drinks at coffee retailers in the United States.

For additional information see: The Seattle Times, New York Times

Researchers Map Human Vulnerability to Climate Change

On March 7, a study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography found that climate change will have the greatest impact on populations least responsible for causing it. Researchers at McGill University mapped human vulnerability to climate change by combining climate change data with censuses covering roughly 97 percent of the world’s population in order to project potential changes in local populations by 2050. The map showed that those likely to be most vulnerable to climate change inhabit low-latitude hot regions, such as central South America, the Arabian Peninsula, and much of Africa. The researchers explained that these populations already experience difficulty adapting to hot conditions, and an increase in temperature over the next few decades will make living increasingly difficult. Scientists predict that human populations living in high-latitude temperate zones will be less affected by warming temperatures. The study showed inequities in the causes and consequences of climate change, as countries that have contributed most to climate change based on their average per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are predicted to be the least vulnerable to its impacts.

For additional information see: The Times of India, USA Today, Map

Report Outlines New Challenges for U.S. Navy as Climate Change Progresses

On March 10, the National Research Council published a report that found the U.S. Navy should prepare now for the effects of climate change. Conducted at the request of the Navy, the report recommended the Navy strengthen its capabilities in the Arctic as new sea lanes begin to open up, creating a new geopolitical situation in which multiple countries vie for oil and gas previously covered by sea ice. In addition, the report recommended the Navy prepare for more humanitarian missions, which could represent the biggest change to naval operations, and analyze potential vulnerabilities of seaside bases and facilities. “Even the most moderate predicted trends in climate change will present new national security challenges for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” said Frank L. Bowman, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report and a retired U.S. navy admiral. “Naval forces need to monitor more closely and start preparing now for projected challenges climate change will present in the future.”

For additional information see: New York Times, Press Release, Report

New York, Others Prepare for Supreme Court to Hear GHG Public Nuisance Lawsuit

On March 14, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of six states and New York City in a public nuisance lawsuit against five utilities over their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Filed in 2004, the lawsuit considers whether states and other entities have the right to sue major utilities because their power stations are causing a public nuisance with their GHG emissions. The states named in the lawsuit are New York, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Rhode Island, Vermont, plus New York City. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the states’ right to bring the suit, American Electric Power Co. Inc. v. Connecticut in 2009. However, the electric companies, American Electric Power, the Southern Company, Xcel Energy, the Cinergy Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority, appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month and decide on the case in July. 
In related news, on March 11, New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow informed the U.S. Supreme Court that her state will withdraw from the public nuisance lawsuit. In a statement to the Associated Press, Dow’s spokesperson said, “Considering the Supreme Court's ruling and the Obama Administration's subsequent position that the EPA must determine an appropriate plan of action, it does not make sense to incur further taxpayer expense on an unnecessary lawsuit." Wisconsin withdrew from the lawsuit in February.

For additional information see: Business Green, Environmental Leader, NY Attorney General’s Brief,

Vermont Governor Takes Stance Against Emissions

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announced last week that Vermont will join in filing motions in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. He also stated that Vermont had taken legal action to defend the state’s right to address the harm caused by climate change and air pollution from coal-fired power plants. Vermont, eight other states, and New York City filed two lawsuits in support of the federal government’s decision to approve mandatory greenhouse gas reporting requirements for emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems. “I am committed to aggressively fighting interstate air pollution and climate change. . . Climate impacts in Vermont include the loss of our hardwood trees, including sugar maples, the spread of insect pests impacting our forests, waters and public health and increased soil erosion,” said Shumlin.

For additional information see: Brattleboro Reformer

Climate Change Will Reduce Joshua Tree Habitat

A new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey has found that climate change in the Southwest will likely eliminate Joshua trees from 90 percent of their current habitat within 60 to 90 years. The study included models of future climate, an analysis of the climatic tolerances of the species in its current range, and the fossil record to project the future survival and distribution of Joshua trees. The research team was able to reconstruct how the Joshua tree responded to a similar climate warming 12,000 years ago, and concluded that the trees’ ability to spread into suitable habitats after the sudden climate change was limited by the extinction of large mammals that previously dispersed its seeds over long distances. Today, Joshua tree seeds are spread by small rodents such as squirrels and pack rats, which are not able to travel as far. This limited ability of rodents to disperse seeds, along with many other factors, will likely slow Joshua tree migration to about six feet per year, which is not enough to keep up with the rising temperatures according to researchers.

For additional information see: UPI, USGS

Ocean Currents Trap Much More Carbon Relative to Organisms

On March 21, research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research found that ocean currents sequestered much more carbon than biological mechanisms than previously thought. According to researchers, oceans absorb approximately 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans into the atmosphere. The ocean traps, or sequesters, the carbon in two ways: one through a biological process whereby carbon is used for the photosynthesis of microscopic phytoplankton, and moves up the food chain, and the other through the physical movement of ocean currents whereby ocean circulation pulls down carbon-saturated surface water toward the bottom of the ocean. Researchers used data from a specific region in the North Atlantic to implement high resolution numerical simulations to quantify how much carbon each process sequesters. They found that currents made up the vast majority of carbon sequestration, compared to the biological process, by a factor of 100 to 1. Authors noted that there are still several areas in need of research on ocean sequestration of carbon, such as the length of time currents keep carbon deep underwater before it returns to the surface, whether the proportionality between the physical and biological processes are similar in other areas of the ocean, and how climate change will affect these mechanisms.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

China Announces New Goals to Lower Carbon Footprint

On March 28, China announced its new 2011 targets for energy and water efficiency and for carbon emission reductions. The goals include a reduction of carbon emissions by 4 percent below 2010 levels, and a reduction in water usage by 7 percent. These cuts are part of a wider plan to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions 18 percent by 2015, as well as to achieve a 30 percent reduction in water consumption. By 2020, China hopes to reach a 40-45 percent reduction in energy consumption from 2005 levels. China will explore the use of “market mechanisms” to lower its emissions, with the majority of the burden being placed on large industrial enterprises.

For additional information see: Reuters, Xinhua

New Study Simulated Warmer Climate Effects on Wheat

In a recent study published in Global Change Biology, scientists used heaters to simulate a temperature rise of 2-6 degrees Fahrenheit to study the predicted climate change effects on wheat fields in Arizona and found that the heaters accelerated growth, increased soil temperatures, reduced soil moisture, induced mild water stress on the crops and had a nominal effect on photosynthesis. The heaters were used from December through early January, on wheat that was planted in September. Bruce Kimball, the study’s author, found that although rising temperatures could be beneficial to farmers in northern latitudes, the agricultural losses in tropical and southern countries are projected to far outweigh the benefits in the north. According to a 2010 study conducted by Christopher Muller of The World Bank, wheat-growing areas of northern India, Australia and the American Midwest are projected to see 20 to 50 percent drops in yields by 2050, and although areas in some northern regions may see increases up to 100 percent, they are much less expansive. Muller’s study concluded that better breeding and engineering technology would be needed to increase overall yields. (emphasis added)

For additional information see: NY Times, Kimball Study, Muller Study

Study Contends Rise in Wind Speeds Over Oceans

A study in the journal Science indicated that over the past 25 years, average wind speeds over the oceans have risen significantly, as have wave heights. Researchers stated that these changes are not necessarily a result of climate change. However, the higher wind speeds could lead to greater evaporation, adding to the increase from global warming, which in turn could increase precipitation worldwide. The average wind speed has increased about 0.25 percent every year for the past two decades, whereas the increase in wave heights was not as significant.

For additional information see: ABC News, SMH, Study

Study Contends Over One Billion People Will Face Water Shortages by 2050

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that over one billion people will face water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens the negative effects of urbanization. The study assumed the minimum amount of water needed per person per day for cooking, cleaning, drinking, bathing, and toilet use, was 100 liters (on average, Americans use 376 liters per day). The biggest shortages will be seen in developing countries like India and China, which are undergoing an unprecedented urban shift as people flock to cities from rural areas. Along with creating sanitation problems in the affected cities, the shortage could also harm wildlife if the cities are forced to pump in water from outside sources. India’s Western Ghats region, a potential source of outside water, is home to over 300 species of fish, 29 percent of which are unique to that area. Lead author of the study Rob McDonald stated, “If cities are essentially drinking rivers dry, that has really bad effects on the fish and the reptiles and everything else in the river.” The study suggested that increased water-use efficiency in the agricultural and residential sectors could potentially solve this problem.

For additional information see: AFP, Study

Scientists Calculate Melt Rate of Patagonian Glaciers

In a study published in Nature, scientists found that the recent melt rate of glaciers in Patagonia has increased by a factor of ten compared to the melt rate since the 19th century. By observing distinct landscape markings, scientists were able to determine the maximum advance of the Patagonian glaciers during what is known as the “Little Ice Age” which ran from the 16th to 19th centuries. They compared ice lost since the Little Ice Age to the amount lost in recent decades to determine the increased melt rate. This increase, authors noted, is contributing to rising sea levels at an alarming rate. Neil F. Glasser, lead scientist of the study, stated that the trends in glacial melting, “mirrors the significant rise in global temperatures detected over the past 30 years. . . providing support for the assertion that glacier recession can be attributed to recent warming.” (emphasis added)

For additional information see: NY Times, BBC, Study

Climate Change Leads to Spread of Malaria in Africa

As the climate warms in East Africa, infected mosquitoes are expanding their range and spreading malaria, according to new research by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Temperatures have increased significantly since the 1980s in the Kenyan Highlands, and residents of the Highlands, who normally do not get malaria, are especially susceptible to the disease since they have no built up immunity for it, according to Dr. Maria Neira, director of public health and environment for the World Health Organization. “As temperatures have been increasing, the mosquitoes that are transmitting the disease have better conditions to breed, reproduce, and transmit the disease. Vector-borne diseases are expanding their reach and death tolls," she stated.

For additional information see: ABC News, Scientific American, Book

Antarctic Penguins Suffering from Effects of Climate Change

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that climate change is affecting both chinstrap penguin and Adelie penguin populations through reductions in their food supply. Krill, the penguins’ main food source, requires sea ice to reproduce. The reduction in sea ice from climate change has led to an 80 percent decrease in krill populations since 1970. Over the past decade, chinstrap penguin populations have fallen by 4.3 percent a year, and Adelie penguin populations have fallen 2.9 percent a year. According to the study, fewer fledgling penguins are surviving to adulthood, causing some penguin colonies to fall by half. The penguins face more danger as krill fisheries in the Southern Ocean expand.

For additional information see: Mongabay, Reuters, NY Times, Study

Ancient Fossil Record Informs Future Climate Patterns

In a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, UCLA geoscientists constructed an ancient climate record by analyzing fossilized mollusk shells . The study used two geochemical techniques to determine the summertime Arctic temperatures during the early Pliocene epoch (3.5 million to 4 million years ago), in which the shells were formed, and found that temperatures may have been 18 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels from the Pliocene epoch remained near the current value of 400 parts per million (ppm) for thousands of years, possibly indicating how warm the planet may get if CO2 levels are stabilized at modern levels. The results of the study supported previous climate models which predicted summertime sea ice will be eliminated in the next 50 to 100 years. By evaluating the isotopic content of oxygen from both fossilized mollusk and plant samples, scientists were able to determine the temperature at which the specimens originally formed, eliminating the need for ice cores which only provided climate information up to 800,000 years ago, during which CO2 levels were never above 280 to 300 ppm. Scientists created an additional method that determined how much of the rarest isotopes of carbon and oxygen are present in just the mollusk sample, which yielded results consistent with the original method. Data from these methods were in sync with three entirely different approaches, proving them to be reliable.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Cornell Study on GHG Impact of Fracking Released

A Cornell University study published in Climate Change Letters concluded natural gas produced by a drilling method called “hydraulic fracturing,” or “fracking,” could contribute more to global warming than previously thought. The findings are controversial due to previous estimations that natural gas had a fraction of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of coal, and “shale gas” has been widely credited in many circles for keeping energy prices low during the recession. According to the study, however, the production of gas from shale produces much higher methane emissions, a GHG many times more potent than carbon dioxide, which is enough to negate the carbon advantage that it has over coal and oil when they’re burned for energy. “The [greenhouse gas] footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years,” stated Robert Howarth, one of the authors of the study.

For additional information see: Time, NY Times, Study

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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action