CC NEWS FOR MAY 2011
While most of the articles in this blog are taken from the recent past, I sometimes report on important older work, especially if it is very well written. An example is the 34-page 2009 report of the World Health Organization (WHO), titled Protecting Health from Climate Change – Connecting Science, Policy and People. Here is a small part of the Summary:
“All populations will be affected by a changing climate, but the initial health risks vary greatly, depending on where and how people live. …
Health effects are expected to be more severe for elderly people and people with infirmities or pre-existing medical conditions. The groups who are likely to bear most of the resulting disease burden are children and the poor, especially women. The major diseases that are most sensitive to climate change – diarrhoea, vector-borne diseases like malaria, and infections associated with undernutrition – are most serious in children living in poverty.”
There is a wonderful ca. 50 minute PBSvideo called Crash: A Tale of Two Species. It’s about the Horseshoe Crab and a little bird called the Red Knot, that couldn’t survive without the crab’s eggs. Sea level rise endangers both. At: http://video.pbs.org/video/1200406235/
Another older (2010) but very well done 19-page report is one by Responsive Management on public opinion titled, DELAWARE RESIDENTS’ OPINIONS ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SEA LEVEL RISE - Discussion of Survey Results and Messaging Implications. Sea level rise (SLR) is likely to be one of the most important effects of climate change and is particularly import for Delaware, which has the lowest average elevation (60 feet) of any state in the country. The survey reports a number of interesting results, including: 1) climate change and SLR tend to rank low among issues of greatest concern; 2) concern about climate change and SLR tends to increase with the education level of respondents and to be higher for women than for men; 3) people who live close to the coast are more likely to be concerned and to have seen evidence of SLR with their own eyes; and 4) there is still a significant percentage of people who think that there is a lot of uncertainty in the science. At: http://www.responsivemanagement.com/download/reports/DE_SLR_WhitePaper.pdf
The National Academy of sciences has issued a 298-page report, which can be ordered or viewed online, titled, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia. At: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12877
A 34-page booklet with the highlights of the report can be downloaded by clicking on: Warming World: Impacts by Degree at the website above.
The booklet Summary says, “The impacts of human activities—particularly emissions of carbon dioxide, but also including other greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and population growth—are so vast that they will largely control the future of the Earth’s climate system. This future could bring a relatively mild change in climate, or it could deliver an extreme change from today’s climate to entirely different climate conditions that will last many thousands of years. The eventual course of the climate system over millennia will be determined largely by the actions taken his century by governments, businesses, and individuals around the world.”
The booklet also says that each 1ºC (1.8ºF) increase in temperature is likely to result in 5-15% reductions in the yields of crops as currently grown. This will make it very difficult to feed an expanding population.
On April 12 the Economic Policy Institute issued a 27-page EPI Briefing Paper by Isaac Shapiro and John Irons titled, Regulation, Employment and the Economy – Fears of Job Losses are Overblown. In it they countered arguments being made by some in Congress that regulations harm the economy and cost jobs. The report found, for example, that Clean Air Act regulations had cost $53 billion to implement, but had saved an estimated $1.3 trillion – 25 times as much as they cost. The fruits of the failure to regulate adequately are the financial meltdown precipitated by sub-prime mortgages and the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At: http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/regulation_employment_and_the_economy_fears_of_job_loss_are_overblown
Maria Galucci of Reuters posted an article on April 21 titled, In U.S. Race to Reap Offshore Wind, Ambitions for Maryland Remain High. Although MD Governor O’Malley’s bill was tabled by the state legislature this year, he is confident that it will pass next year. It would involve a $1.5 B 500 MW wind farm with 25-year power purchase agreements with Maryland’s four investor-owned utilities. He is hopeful that his state will be the first to have offshore wind turbines, but several other states are vying for that position. At: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/idUS10289529820110421
On April 23 Rick Daysog posted an article titled, Easier to track renewable energy sources at new Cal ISO HQ. In it he reported that California is now generating 9% of the state’s electrical demand from wind and solar power, and large additional sources will soon be coming online. It can be a challenge for the California Independent System Operator (ISO) because of the intermittent nature of the sources, but the Cal ISO is up to the task. At:http://www.sacbee.com/2011/04/23/v-print/3573198/easier-to-track-renewable-enery.html
On April 28 the Sierra Club announced a new interactive map tool for tracking the locations and emissions of coal-fired power plants in the U.S., which are responsible for much of our emissions of carbon dioxide, mercury, and other harmful substances. You can search by state or enter your Zip code. At: http://www.sierraclub.org/coal/map/
Mother Jones has a May 2 article titled, The Electric Car Strikes Back? It’s an interview with Chris Paine, Director of the 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car, has now produced a new one, Revenge of the Electric Car. He points out that with gas over $4 a gallon and rising, car manufacturers are beginning to build electric cars again – even GM with its new Volt. When asked if China will beat the U.S. in developing the best electric car technology, Paine replied, “I think China is set up to surpass the US on the even more critical industry of green power. Thomas Friedman says it's not red China anymore, it's green China. And not because they care about the environment necessarily, but because they want to dominate this industry where they see everything going to once they hit peak oil. They hope we waste a lot of time arguing about whether global warming is man-made or not, because every day we waste time they get another day ahead with windmills and solar panels and electric cars and charging infrastructure. Our electric cars are still better. They're much better than China's BYD. I think the US has an arguable advantage right now in this area and I hope we can keep it.” At:
ECN News for May 4 has an article titled, Report sees sharper sea rise from Arctic melt. It says that loss of ice from Greenland is accelerating - with the loss during the 2004-2009 period four times as great as during 1995-2000 – and could contribute 5 feet to global sea level rise by 2100. At: http://www.ecnmag.com/News/2011/05/Europe/Report-sees-sharper-sea-rise-from-Arctic-melt/
You can see some pretty impressive videos of Greenland ice melt by M. Tedesco of City University of New York at: http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-greenland-ice-sheet-video.html
A more detailed paper explaining why 2010 set records for ice melt, titled, The role of albedo and accumulation in the 2010 melting record in Greenland, is available on the web at: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/6/1/014005/pdf/1748-9326_6_1_014005.pdf
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.
Melting Ice on Arctic Islands Contributes to Sea Level Rise More than Previously Thought
A new study published in Nature found that melting glaciers and ice caps on Canadian Arctic islands play a much greater role in sea level rise than scientists previously thought. The study found that from 2004-2006, the region lost an average of 7 cubic miles of water per year, which increased to 22 cubic miles per year from 2006-2009, adding about one millimeter to the height of the world’s oceans. "This is a big response to a small change in climate. If the warming continues and we start to see similar responses in other glaciated regions, I would say it's worrisome,” said Alex Gardner, lead author of the study. Scientists performed numerical simulations and then used two different satellite-based techniques to independently validate their model results. Experts project that sea levels will rise one meter by the end of the century, displacing tens of millions of people living in low lying areas, poisoning aquifers, and amplifying the impacts of storm surges and tsunamis.
Soot May Be Responsible for Rapid Arctic Melt
An international team of scientists from the US, Norway, Russia, Germany, Italy and China, have begun a month-long research project to study the impact of black carbon soot particles in the Arctic, where surface temperatures have increased about twice as fast as the global average in the past 100 years. According to scientists, a thin, invisible layer of soot on the Arctic ice is causing it to absorb more heat, rather than reflect it back into space. The main sources of soot in the Arctic come from burning forests and fossil fuels in North America and Eurasia. The study, taking place in Svalbard, Norway, will track the movement of carbon soot through the atmosphere, its deposit on snow and ice surfaces, and its effect on warming in the Arctic. Two unmanned aircraft will collect aerosol soot in the air, and another craft will study the reflectivity of the surface. The Arctic Council, consisting of the eight countries bordering the Arctic, will use the study’s results to decide whether or not to seek reductions in soot from other nations. The study will conclude May 15.
U.S. Forests Sequester More Carbon Than Previously Thought
A study published in the journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology found that forests and other terrestrial ecosystems in the lower 48 states can sequester up to 40 percent of the nation's fossil fuel carbon emissions, a much larger estimate than previously thought. The study was based on satellite measurements and dozens of environmental observation sites. However, researchers stated that major disturbances, such as droughts, wildfires and hurricanes, can all affect the amount of carbon sequestered. The 2002 and 2006 droughts, for example, cut carbon sequestration by about 20 percent compared to a normal year. “[W]e're now learning that this can have significant effects on the amount of carbon sequestered in a given year," said Beverly Law, co-author of the study. According to the study, growing evergreen and deciduous forests have the greatest potential for carbon sequestration.
Increasing Ocean Temperatures Can Be Harmful to Some Fish Species
A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the banded morwong, a long-lived fish species, is experiencing stunted growth due to a 2 degrees Celsius rise in the Tasman Sea over the past 60 years. "By examining growth across a range that species inhabit, we found evidence of both slowing growth and increased physiological stress as higher temperatures impose a higher metabolic cost on fish at the warm edge of the range," said Ron Thresher, marine ecologist and co-author of the study. He stated that sedentary fish, like the morwong, are most likely to be affected by the rising temperature, since they do not move further south into cooler waters. The study incorporated data on the morwong dating back to 1910 that focused on bony structures called otoliths, annual growth rings that are similar to the growth rings in trees, to assess the growth rates of the fish. The scientists concluded that the drop in growth could be related to higher stress levels from rising temperatures, increased oxygen consumption, and a decreased ability to swim for long periods.
Democrats and Republicans Increasingly Divided Over Global Warming
A study published in Sociological Quarterly found that the gap between Democrats and Republicans who believe global warming is happening increased 30 percent between 2001 and 2010, despite the growing scientific consensus that global warming is real. "Instead of a public debate about different policies to deal with global warming, a significant percentage of the American public is still debating the science. As a result, we're failing to significantly address one of the most serious problems of our time,” said Aaron McCright, primary investigator on the study. McCright and his colleague analyzed 10 years of data from Gallup’s environmental poll, an annual nationally representative telephone survey of at least 1,000 people. In 2001, about 49 percent of Republicans said they believed global warming has already begun, compared to 29 percent in 2010. The percentage of Democrats that believed global warming has already begun, however, rose from 60 percent in 2001 to 70 percent in 2010. According to McCright, the political polarization on climate change is not likely to go away anytime soon, hampering a “civil, science-based discussion on this very serious environmental problem.”
Study Looks Beyond 2030 to Find China’s Carbon Emissions Will Level Out
A new report from the China Energy Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that, contrary to popular suspicion, China’s carbon emissions will likely plateau after 2030. Researchers contended that the demand for energy intensive appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners will flatten as the market for them saturates while the products themselves become more energy efficient. In addition, roads and infrastructure build out will follow the same leveled path. Mark Levine, director of the China Energy Group, noted that China will begin to focus its energy development on nuclear and renewable energy, in addition to energy efficiency, as it implements the energy intensity and carbon reduction goals contained in its 12th Five Year Plan-adopted in March 2011.
Imported Goods Cancel Out Carbon Cuts in Developed Countries
A new study found that cuts in carbon emissions by developed countries since 1990 have been cancelled out many times over by increases in imported goods from developing countries. Under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions released during the production of goods are assigned to the country where production takes place, rather than where goods are consumed. Data suggest that developed countries can claim to have reduced their carbon emissions by two percent from 1990 to 2008, but once the carbon emissions from imported goods are taken into account, their actual emissions increased seven percent. China exports more carbon-intensive goods than it imports and is seen as the world’s largest carbon emitter, but its footprint drops by almost one-fifth when its imports and exports are taken into account, putting it behind the United States in carbon emissions. China accounts for 75 percent of the developed world's offshore emissions, according to the study.
First Carbon Capture and Sequestration Project Underway in Canada
On April 26, the Saskatchewan provincial government has approved a $1.2 billion clean-coal project at SaskPower's Boundary Dam generating station, which will be the first carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project of its kind in the world. The project has used $180 million of the $240 million granted to it by the federal government several years ago, but the project has been up in the air due to the absence of federal regulations affecting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal-fired generating stations. The carbon-capture system is expected to reduce carbon emissions at Boundary Dam by one million tons per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 200,000 vehicles or approximately one-quarter of the vehicles in the province.
Young Climate Activists Sue U.S. Government Over Atmospheric Pollution
On May 4, lawyers representing children and young adults filed a series of lawsuits against the U.S. government, claiming that its agencies have neglected their duty to protect the Earth's atmosphere for future generations. Lawsuits are to be filed in every state and Washington, D.C., according to the plaintiffs, a coalition called Our Children's Trust. The goal of the lawsuits is to protect the atmosphere by declaring it a public trust, a concept previously used to clean up polluted rivers and coastlines. Judges will need to decide whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency’s existing regulations on greenhouse gas emissions are stringent enough. Although the cases will likely take years to be resolved, if successful they could significantly impact carbon intensive businesses by effectively forcing the government to impose more stringent emissions regulations.
Vatican Science Panel Addresses Threat of Glacial Melt
On May 5, a report commissioned by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences addressed the widespread loss of snow and ice in mountain glaciers due to climate change. The report listed numerous examples of glacial decline around the world and the evidence linking that decline to human-caused changes in climate and air pollution. According to researchers, the threat to populations dependent on glaciers and snow packs requires immediate attention to mitigate the current and future effects of climate change. The report recommended three measures, including the immediate reduction of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, reduction of concentrations of warming air pollutants such as soot, ozone, methane and hydroflurocarbons by up to 50 percent, and preparation to adapt to climate changes that society will not be able to mitigate.
Climate Change Slowing Production of Food Crops
A study published in Science found that the world's rising temperature is slowing production of major food crops, and will eventually disrupt the economies of many countries and impair the health of their people. Farmers will need to change the types of crops they grow, and many crops, particularly corn and wheat, will need to be grown in new regions, according to researchers. To conduct the study, researchers used computer modeling from widely available crop and climate data to examine the past 30 years of production for corn, wheat, rice and soybeans, four of the world's major food crops. The results found rice and soybeans to be unaffected by climate change. Corn production was four percent lower than normal and wheat was 5.5 percent lower than normal, which possibly caused the six percent rise in global prices for those two crops during the past 30 years. The report stated that millions of people will be forced to consume less food as crop prices get higher, leading to more malnutrition and illness for those least able to pay for the food. However, crops in Mexico, the United States, and Canada remain unaffected, due in large part to the fact that overall temperatures in these areas have not risen significantly in the past 30 years.
New Report Emphasizes Need for Action Against Climate Change
On May 12, the National Research Council released a report warning Americans that not only is global warming real, but the effects are already becoming serious and the need for a strong national policy to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases has become urgent. The report America’s Climate Choices recommended the Federal government take immediate action to reduce carbon emissions and research new technologies to deal with the effects of climate change. The group of authors stated that it did not endorse any specific legislative approach, but that adding a price to carbon dioxide emissions would be essential to any plan. The report was requested by Congress in 2008, to provide information on how the nation should react to the potential consequences of global warming.
IPCC Says Renewables Can Supply 80 Percent of World’s Energy by 2050
On May 9, a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, could supply up to 80 percent of the world's energy needs by 2050 and play a significant role in reducing climate change. To achieve this, governments must spend significantly more money and introduce policies that integrate renewable energy into existing power grids and promote their benefits in terms of reducing air pollution and improving public health, according to the IPCC. Authors of the report agreed that renewable sources are on the rise and their costs are decreasing, allowing them not to only combat climate change, but help poor nations develop their economies sustainably. The report reviewed bioenergy, solar energy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean energy and wind. In related news, on May 10 the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) released a report arguing that the United Kingdom should be able to deliver at least 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. The report called for a significant increase in the implementation of UK renewable energy sources, including wind and marine energy, air and ground source heat pumps, and the use of bioenergy for heat generation, allowing the country to meet its target of generating 15 percent of energy from renewables by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030. The report also included a series of demand management and smart grid technologies that would allow the grid to support high levels of intermittent renewable power.
Increased Ocean Acidification Dissolves Shells
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that coccoliths, very small shells of calcium carbonate that encapsulate a number of species of alga, dissolve when seawater acidifies. Algae plays an important role in our ecosystem by regulating the global carbon-oxygen cycle, which can be significantly disrupted if greenhouse gas emissions continue to raise the acidification of the oceans, according to scientists. The shells completely fell apart during experiments in water with pH levels that many scientists believe oceans will have by 2100. "These findings underscore that the acidification of the oceans is a serious problem. The acidification has enormous consequences not only for coccoliths, but also for many other marine organisms as well as the global carbon cycle," explains Katherine Richardson, professor of biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen.
Climate Disasters Affect Children in Poor Countries
Two studies study published by Unicef, Plan International, and Save the Children, found that there has been a steady increase in reported disasters linked to climate change over the past 10 to 20 years. The study warns that although frequent low-level climate disasters, such as floods and droughts, are not classified as humanitarian emergencies, they still have a significant impact on children. Researchers examined eight countries which experienced these events regularly, and found a correlation between an increase in disasters and diarrhea, disease, low birth weight and malnutrition in children. They also found that in the majority of the countries, the children’s education also suffered because disaster damage and illness kept them from attending school. The study called for investments to help children deal with disasters caused by climate change, such as building schools that are strong enough to withstand cyclones and floods so their education is not halted by extreme weather. "We must invest in preparing children for climate-related disasters so that more children do not die needlessly and are able to grow up, go to school and help to develop their countries,” said David Bull, executive director of Unicef UK.
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action