Monday, September 19, 2011



On Feb. 4, 2011 Ira Flatow of NPR’s Science Friday hosted Kerry Emanuel, a climate science professor at MIT and an expert on hurricanes. Kerry authored an excellent book called Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes. The interview was called, Taking the Politics Out of Climate Science. Emmanuel is a conservative and a Republican, even though it seems that denying the science of climate change has become a litmus test for Republican candidates running for major political office. He has some very interesting views - well worth listening to. At:

Another oldie but goodie from Science Friday is a Dec. 3, 2010 broadcast in which Ira Flatow interviewed Anthony Leiserowitz 
Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, and Bob Inglis, an outgoing Republican representative from the 4th Congressional District of North Carolina and former member of the House Energy Committee. Again, well worth listening to. At:

On May 9, 2011 IPCC Working Group III on Climate Mitigation released the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN). It concluded that 80% of the world’s energy demand in 2050 could be supplied by six renewable energy resources: bioenergy, direct solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy and wind energy. The press release is at:
The Summary for Policy Makers is at:

On July 21 Chris Jordan-Bloch of Earth Justice posted a 7-minute video titled, An Ill Wind – The Secret Threat of Coal Ash. It shows a number of members of a Piute Indian tribe who have the misfortune of living with a coal-fired power plant just upwind of their village. The prevailing wind blows the fine particles containing chromium, arsenic and lead into their homes and lungs, causing unnecessary illness and death. The site allows you to sign a petition asking that coal ash be regulated as a hazardous waste – a common sense thing to do. At:

On July 28 the Government Accountability Office issued a report titled, Climate Engineering: Technical Status, Future Directions, and Potential Responses. Climate engineering includes large-scale efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change, such as chemically removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or putting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce the intensity of sunlight falling on Earth’s surface. A public opinion poll done as part of the study indicates that people generally support research, but are concerned about the possible adverse consequences of trying to modify Earth’s climate. At:
While the full report is 135 pages, a 1-page summary can be found at:

Robert Bradley, The CEO of the Institute for Energy Research, posted an article on Forbes on Aug. 15 titled, Where Energy Federal Subsidies Really Go. He wrote that the federal government provided $37.2 billion in direct energy subsidies in 2010, an increase of more than $19 billion over 2007. He said that wind power was the largest recipient of federal energy dollars, with $5 billion in subsidies; solar got $1.13 billion. Biofuels (mostly ethanol) got $6.6 billion. When I add these numbers up, I get $12.7 billion, much less that half of the $37.2 billion total, yet he claims that federal spending to promote renewable energy has very little to show for the dollars spent, and that it’s part of the out of control federal spending driving the deficit. At:
Bradley ignores the illness and death resulting from fossil fuel use, and the climate change costs of continuing to burn them. When I did a quick Google search for the Institute for Energy Research, I found a Sourcewatch report on the organization saying that the “think tank” has received funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers, is opposed to renewable energy, and thinks that climate change is a hoax. Nuf said? See:

On August 18, NASA posted the first complete map of Antarctic ice flows, based on radar data from satellites. There is even a short video so that you can watch the flows. The report quoted Thomas Wagner, NASA's cryospheric program scientist in Washington, saying, "The map points out something fundamentally new: that ice moves by slipping along the ground it rests on. That's critical knowledge for predicting future sea level rise. It means that if we lose ice at the coasts from the warming ocean, we open the tap to massive amounts of ice in the interior." At:

On August 19 the University of Delaware’s UDaily posted an article titled, Energy Conservation Initiative. It described the proceeds of a sale of a nearly $73 million bond, which, when added to $11 million from the state, will provide $84 million to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy development in Delaware. Others may look at what Delaware has done as a model. At:

Bill Chameides, Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, posted a Huffington Post story on August 23 titled, Confirmed: U.S. Emissions Up in 2010. He reported that CO2 emissions were up by 3.9% over what they were in 2009 – partly as a result of the economic recovery and partly because of a hot summer in 2010, with increased demands for air conditioning, much of whose electrical energy comes from coal. The article has a bar graph showing the sources of increased electrical generation in several states. Kentucky and Wisconsin got most of their increase from coal. California and Colorado got most of theirs from wind. Other states used natural gas. At:

On August 24 the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media posted an article titled, Earth Science Teachers Surveying Members;
Climate Seen ‘Second Only to Evolution’ in Controversy. “The National Earth Sciences Teachers Association, NESTA, is asking its members and other teachers to respond anonymously to a 71-question “Survey Monkey” online questionnaire.” The results on the teaching of climate change in grades of K-12 will be posted in November. The article goes on to say, “Science magazine reported in its August 5 issue that “the U.S. political debate over climate change is seeping into K-12 science classrooms, and teachers are feeling the heat.” Reporter Sara Reardon wrote in that story of conflicts among secondary school science teachers, school boards, and sometimes parents and students over expectations to teach climate change science in a “balanced” way.” “Her article pointed to a law passed in 2008 in Louisiana listing climate change, along with evolution, as “‘controversial’ subjects that teachers and students alike can challenge in the classroom without fear of reprisal.”” At:

On August 25 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) posted an interview with Dr. Timothy Persons, the Chief GAO scientist, about a recent report titled,
Climate Engineering: Technical Status, Future Directions, and Potential Responses. The interview can be heard or downloaded as a podcast at: The full report is available at:, and a 1-page summary of highlights is at:

On Aug. 31 Justin Gillis of the NY Times posted an article titled, Documenting a Collapsing Ice Shelf. The article describes the breakup of the ice shelf in front of the Petermann Glacier in Northwestern Greenland. This is the first loss of a Greenland ice shelf this far north, and is consistent with rising temperatures of seawater in the area, though direct measurements of waters temperature beneath the shelf before it broke up are not available. At:

On Sept. 2 Helen Turner of WalesOnline posted an article titled, Scientist left speechless as vast glacier turns to water. The article quoted Dr Alun Hubbard from the Aberystwyth University’s Centre for Glaciology, after his return from the Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland. He said: “Although I knew what to expect in terms of ice loss from satellite imagery, I was still completely unprepared for the gob-smacking scale of the break-up, which rendered me speechless. It was just incredible to see. This glacier is huge, 20 km across, 1,000 m high. It’s like looking into the Grand Canyon full of ice and coming back two years later to find it’s full of water.” At:

On Sept. 7 the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, and a number of other organizations sent a letter to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives opposing the legislative agenda proposed by Majority Leader Cantor. If successful he would greatly reduce environmental protections for U.S. citizens and cause in untold death and illness – all in the name of promoting jobs and reducing the deficit. At:

On. Sept. 7 Climate Communications hosted a press conference with expert reviewers discussing the connections between extreme weather and climate change. The full audio recording of the conference can be downloaded at: 9/7/11 Climate Communication Press Conference. The article has a number of interesting graphs and explanations, including why small increases in temperature can cause large increases in extreme weather events. At:

On Sept. 8 the Department of Energy announced awards of $43 million over 5 years for 41 R&D projects to promote the development of the huge offshore wind resource waiting to be tapped off U.S. coasts. At: While the amount of money is small relative to federal subsidies for nuclear power and fossil fuels, it’s a step in the right direction.

On Sept. 10 a video aired on energyNow! called the “Oil Shockwave’ Simulation. The simulation involved an armed Al-Qaeda attack on a major oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia, causing a sudden drop in world oil supply. The video lasts about 5.5 minutes and shows how vulnerable we are to disruptions in oil supply, since we now import more than 60% of the oil we use. At:
energyNow! Is a weekly TV news magazine that deals with important energy issues, like the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring tar sands crude from Canada to Texas for refining.

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.

Sea Level Rise to Continue Despite Efforts to Reduce Emissions, Study Finds

A new study suggests that sea levels would continue to rise in the coming centuries even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted today. The study by a University of Arizona-led team of researchers examined the interaction of the atmosphere and ocean during the warmest period of the Last Interglacial Period -- roughly 125,000 years ago. At that time, sea levels were roughly 26 feet higher than today. Average ocean temperatures, however, were only 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer than today. “This means that even small amounts of warming may have committed us to more ice sheet melting than we previously thought,” said lead author Nicholas McKay. The oceans warm more slowly than the atmosphere. Water also expands when heated. But the study also found that most of the sea level rise during ancient times was because of melting ice sheets, rather than the thermal expansion of water. The study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.
For additional information see: Science Daily

Volcanoes, Pollution Helped Curb Rate of Warming, Study Reports

Volcanic ash and man-made pollution from burning fossil fuels helped slow the rate of global warming in the past decade, a new study found. Although average global temperatures were higher in the 2000s than during the 1990s and 1980s, the rate at which the planet was warming slowed. Six French and American researchers, including staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and scientists at the University of Colorado, found the trend may be explained by an increase in the stratosphere of persistent aerosols that block sunlight. Although no massive volcanic eruptions have occurred since 1991, smaller eruptions occurred in 2006, 2008 and 2009. The addition of the volcanic ash to the haze of man-made pollution in the upper atmosphere was enough to help slow the rate of warming by 20 percent since 1998, according to the study. However, the brake on the rate of warming is only temporary. Eventually, the shading effect will be overwhelmed by greenhouse gases building in the atmosphere. The study provides more information on the interaction of forces shaping the global climate. It was published online July 21 in Science.
For additional information see: The Washington Post, ScienceNOW, Study Abstract

Climate Change May Doom Wisconsin Fish

University of Wisconsin at Madison researchers estimated that the cisco, a cold water fish and important food source for many of Wisconsin’s iconic game fish, could disappear from most of the state’s lakes by 2100 because of the warming climate. In a new study in the journal PLoS One, lead author Sapna Sharma found that climate change could pose a greater risk to the cisco than even invasive species such as the rainbow smelt. "By 2100, 30 to 70 percent of cisco populations could be extirpated in Wisconsin due to climate change," said Sharma. Cisco are found in approximately 170 inland lakes in Wisconsin currently, but face risks above habitat loss from invasive species because it depends on colder water.
For additional information see: Press Release, Abstract

Arctic Permafrost Melting Will Turn North from Carbon Sink to Source: Study

The layer of permanently frozen plant and animal matter in the Arctic, known as permafrost, will turn the region into a major source of carbon emissions if it melts, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Previous predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that the far north would become a carbon sink as warmer temperatures allowed more vegetation to grow, which would store more carbon. The IPCC prediction, however, did not factor into its model the amount of stored carbon in permafrost that would be released from the warmer temperatures. The study predicted that the Arctic could release as much as 62 billion tons of carbon over the next 100 years, an amount equal to Canada’s 2009 carbon emissions. "This is just a fraction of the amount of carbon that we emit as a species per year, but it’s important," said lead author Charles Koven. "The big question is whether that’s going to continue.” In addition, annual emissions of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas, are expected to double, according to researchers.
For additional information see: CBC

Tar Sands Pipeline Poised to Clear State Department Hurdle Amid Large Protest at White House

Amid a two-week long protest in front of the White House, the State Department was due to publish its final environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline on August 26, which would make it easier for the pipeline to be built. The proposed pipeline would traverse several Western and Midwestern states to bring oil from tar sands in Western Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Canada’s environment ministry estimated that production of the tar sands would double in the next decade and increase the greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s oil and gas sector by one-third. Meanwhile, the protest has resulted in the arrest of more than 275 demonstrators, including co-founder Bill McKibben. “This is the primary test for Obama and the environment in the period between now and the election. [Denial of the pipeline permit] is his chance to do something on his own, without interference from Congress,” said McKibben. Release of the final environmental assessment triggers a 90-day public comment period before the decision goes to President Obama for approval or denial. While TransCanada, developer of the pipeline, stated the United States would become more dependent on Nigeria, Venezuela, and Libya if the pipeline is not built, analysts note that the oil coming from Canada to be refined in Texas may very well end up in Latin America or Europe because the companies Shell, Total, and Valero, who have signed agreements to take oil from Keystone XL, run refineries in Texas’ free trade zone which makes it easier to ship oil overseas.
For additional information see: Washington Post, Guardian, Politico

Proposed Australian Coal Mine Taken to Court Over Climate Impact

Landowners and the environmental organization Friends of the Earth have filed a lawsuit against a proposed coal mine in Australia on the basis of climate change, on August 22. The case seeks to ban development of the $6.2 billion Wandoan mine, which would export approximately 30 million tons of coal per year. Litigants in the case said the project will cause irreversible damage to Australia’s natural icons like the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical rain forests in the northeast from climate change. The mining company Xstrata will call witnesses who will testify to the local economic benefits of the mining project, while local landowners claim the project will destroy much of the region’s grazing and crop land as well as affect the air, soil and water quality, local wildlife and the health of livestock.
For additional information see: AFP, AUDIO: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Bhutan PM: Climate Change Impact on Our Hydrology is Severe

The prime minister of Bhutan, a country situated in the Himalayan mountains of Asia, issued a dire warning of the impending negative impacts of climate change on the productivity of his country. Speaking to Agence France Presse, Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley said that his country is already facing challenges from dryer winters and wetter summers. "The glaciers are retreating very rapidly, some are even disappearing. The flow of water in our river system is fluctuating in ways that are very worrying," he said. Bhutan gets the majority of its power from hydroelectric dams that are fed by glaciers in the Himalayan mountains. In the summer months, river systems are overflowing, threatening people who live in the valleys below. During the winter months, the rivers dry up much more than before, creating a shortage of hydroelectric power that the country relies upon. Bhutan has plans to build more hydroelectric capacity to foster its growth and export power to neighboring India. However, climate change threatens that plan. Bhutan will host a conference with India, Nepal, and Bangladesh in November to discuss ways to reduce climate change impacts on the Himalayas, which are a source of water for 1.9 billion people.
For additional information see: AFP

Study Proves that Climate Change is Tipping Point for World Conflict

On August 25, a study published in Nature found that during the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern, civil conflict increased by six percent from non-weather related conflict. The ENSO cycle changes rainfall and temperatures throughout Africa, the Mideast, India, Southeast Asia, the Americas, and Australia, and disrupts weather patterns in over 90 countries worldwide. Researchers used data from 1950 to 2004 to show that the probability of new civil conflicts in the tropics doubles during El Nino years compared to La Nina years. "What [the study shows] and [shows] beyond any doubt is that even in this modern world, climate variations have an impact on the propensity of people to fight," said Mark Cane, a scientist at Columbia University. Some scientists are skeptical of the connection the study drew between climate change and violence. "The study fails to improve on our understanding of the causes of armed conflicts, as it makes no attempt to explain the reported association between ENSO cycles and conflict risk," said Halvard Buhaug, of the Peace Research Institute. Though not all scientists agree on the correlation between El Nino and political instability, they do agree that at-risk governments could use the data to prepare for potential conflicts during times of ENSO-related weather.
For additional information see: AFP, Science Daily, Nature, Abstract

Drought Limits the Positive Effects of CO2 and Heat On Plant Growth in Future Climate

On August 23, a research paper in the journal Global Change Biology found that prolonged exposure to heat limits plant growth, even if there is an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. The study concluded that prolonged exposure to heat dries the soil, effecting nitrogen production and plant growth. "When you've previously seen a significantly higher plant growth at elevated CO2 concentrations, it is typically because it has been controlled studies, where only the CO2 concentration was changed. We fundamentally had the theory that you have to look at the combination of the different climate variables, since the plants in the future will be exposed to multiple changes simultaneously," stated Klaus Steenberg Larsen, lead author on the study.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

Study Finds Mental Illness Increases as Result of Climate Change

A study released by the Climate Institute found that increased incidence of mental illness stemming from severe weather events will increase due to climate change. The study focused on the effects of Australia’s 10-year drought, the increased frequency and intensity of bush fires, and cyclones and floods. A loss of social cohesion after these events may lead to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse, according to researchers. For example, the suicide rate in rural areas has increased by 8 per cent, while one in ten elementary school children have shown signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after Cyclone Larry in 2006. “[R]ecent conditions are entirely consistent with the best scientific predictions: as the world warms so the weather becomes wilder, with big consequences for people's health and well-being,” the report says.
For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald, International Business Times, Report

Reducing Soot Emissions May Be Fastest, Most Economical Approach to Global Warming

According to a new study, cutting soot emissions could be one of the fastest and more economical ways to reduce global warming. Soot emissions consist of tiny particles known as “black carbon” and come from diesel cars, buses, trucks, ships, aircraft, agriculture and construction machines and even from dung burned as fuel in developing countries. It warms the planet by absorbing light and emitting heat back into the atmosphere and also by blocking light reflected from Earth’s surface. Even though soot is second only to carbon in terms of its contribution to global warming, it is often overlooked in climate models. According to Stanford University’s Mark Z. Jacobson, author of the study, reducing soot emissions could lower the temperature in parts of the Arctic by up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit within just 15 years. The reason is that while carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for years, soot only remains for a few weeks. Reducing soot emissions would have a more immediate impact on the atmosphere than reducing carbon emissions. Further, the technology already exists to reduce up to 90 percent of soot emissions in only 5-10 years if aggressive policies are enacted.
For additional information see: Science Daily, American Chemical Society

Heat-Related Deaths Among Elderly to Rise in California

An aging population and global warming will lead to a steep increase in heat-related deaths, according to a new report commissioned by the California Air Resources Board. The report found that heat spells lasting 10 days or more could rise two to 10 times by 2090 and the number of heat-related deaths among people 65 and older could rise five to 17 times. Researchers from the University of Miami and Kent State University used two climate models and various population growth and socio-economic scenarios to estimate the impacts in nine major urban areas of the state. Currently, an average of 508 elderly people die from excessive heat in these areas each year. “The public is generally under-educated about the dangers of extreme heat and heat waves," said the researchers. "Because of this, many of the most vulnerable people are unaware of the risks associated with excessive heat events or of the proper steps to take to reduce their risk to heat exposure.” The report recommends that California set up extreme heat warning systems to inform weather forecasters of which days are most dangerous to human health, and that every major California city establish a heat-health task force.
For additional information see: Environmental News Service, Orange County Register

Climate Change May Increase Asthma-Related Emergency Room Visits

A study conducted by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine has revealed that changes in atmospheric ozone levels could increase asthma attacks in children by an estimated 7.3 percent over 1990s levels by the 2020s. Researchers calculated the increase by comparing regional climate and air quality data to asthma-related emergency room visits for 14 counties within the New York Metropolitan area. They used regional and atmospheric chemistry models to simulate the expected changes in ozone levels for the months of June through August in the 2020s to determine the increases in asthma-related emergency room visits. While the median increase was 7.3 percent, each county varied from as low as a 5.2 percent increase to as high as a 10.2 percent increase. According to lead author Dr. Perry Sheffield, "This study is a jumping off point to evaluate other outcomes including cost utilization, doctors' visits, missed school days, and a general understanding of the overall burden of climate change on children with asthma." The study was published in the journal American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Study Abstract

GAO Study: Geo-Engineering Technologies Not Yet Ready to Combat Climate Change

Climate engineering technologies are not yet developed enough for large-scale implementation, according to a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The proposed technologies fall into one of two categories: carbon dioxide removal or solar radiation management. Carbon dioxide removal would reduce atmospheric CO2 and, therefore, reduce heat trapped by the atmosphere. Alternatively, solar radiation management involves dispersing reflective materials into the atmosphere or space in order to scatter and deflect incoming radiation from the sun. The GAO ranked the “technological readiness” of each option on a scale of one to nine, with the “direct air capture of carbon dioxide” receiving a three, the highest rank. The GAO cited cost, effectiveness and adverse consequences as the highest causes for concern in geo-engineering technologies. The GAO also surveyed 1,006 U.S. adults unfamiliar with geo-engineering technology and stated that “when given information on the technologies, they tend to be open to research but concerned about safety.”
For additional information see: Scientific American, GAO Report

Climate Change Threatens California Chinook Salmon

A recent study found that populations of spring-run Chinook salmon may be depleted in California by the end of the century because the waters will be too warm to spawn. The researchers used a model of the Butte Creek watershed, and considered hydropowered dams located on the river, as well as several models that project climate change through 2099. Nearly every scenario suggested that rising temperatures will render the salmon incapable of spawning. According to the lead author of the study, the depletion of salmon is avoidable, but the solutions would affect hydroelectric power generation. One option would likely require reducing hydroelectric power generation during the warmest months, which are also the peak months for energy consumption in California. Other potential solutions include holding water for salmon at other locations, and dumping cooler water into the stream during heat waves. The study was published in the Journal of Water Resources and Management.
For additional information see: Summit County Voice, Science Daily, Abstract

Pole to Pole Data Collection Flights Reinforce Mathematical Models of Global Warming

Data collected from several years of pole-to-pole flights in a project known as HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) reinforce the mathematical model predictions that climate change is impacted by human activities, according to scientists associated with the project. Data from HIPPO have been used to quantify processes of carbon cycling that are important in managing greenhouse gas emissions. The flights enabled scientists to observe the distribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) to test the predictions of previous mathematical models about climate change. One of the most significant research milestones for the project was quantifying seasonal fluxes of CO2 that are processed by the land plants and the ocean. The studies, which included collecting and quantifying over 80 different gases, also include strong evidence that areas of the ocean surface that have been exposed due to melting ice caps are emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas. (emphasis added)
For additional information see: LA Times, Science Daily, Science News
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action