Wednesday, October 26, 2011



In July an international team of scientists including Benjamin Horton at UPenn published an important paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled, Climate related sea-level variations over the past two millennia. Based on analysis of marsh sediments in North Carolina and elsewhere, the authors found that sea level was stable from 100 BC to 950 AD, then rose for 400 years at a rate of 6 cm (2.4 inches) per century (Medieval Warm Period), followed by a cooler period with slightly falling sea level until the late 19th Century. Then the rate increased to 21 cm (8 inches) per century during most of the last century. The rates of sea level rise parallel the global average temperature, consistent with both thermal expansion of seawater and increasing loss of ice from glaciers on land. We can expect an accelerating sea level as long as the temperature continues to rise. At:
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is a major driver of global warming.

The Pew Center for Global Climate Change has an outstanding web site showing what various states and regions are doing by way of energy and climate change policy. It also shows what renewable energy resources are available across the U.S. and what is being done to develop them. At: For a map of renewable energy resources, except of offshore wind, see:

The Unitarian-Universalist UN Office has a Climate Change Task Force website with a 9.7-minute audio track and slide show called, Global Warming: Is it True?, presenting scientific evidence for global warming from several disciplines. At:

An important paper on climate change science and public opinion, Communicating the science of climate change, by Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol, appeared in the October issue of Physics Today. They write, “It is urgent that climate scientists improve the ways they convey their findings to a poorly informed and often indifferent public.” They have some good ideas for how to communicate a very important message. At:

The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab at Cal Tech reported on Aug. 7 that NASA satellites used to monitor sea level show that global mean sea level had been rising by about 3.2 mm (1/8 inch) each year from 1993 to 2010, when it fell. The reason was a shift during the year from El Nino to La Nina conditions in the Pacific, changing global weather patterns and causing so much rainfall on land in some regions that global mean sea level dropped about 6 mm! Scientists expect sea level will rise again as the water runs back into the ocean and heat continues to be added as a result of greenhouse gases and black soot. At:

Janet Raloff has an article in the Sept. 8 ScienceNews titled, HIPPO reveals climate surprises. HIPPO stands for HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations, and HIAPER is an acronym for High Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research, an NSF research plane that has been flying over a range of altitudes (500 to 45,000 feet) from pole to pole analyzing concentrations of over 50 atmospheric gases and black carbon. Surprising results included high concentrations of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, near the equator, and high concentrations of methane, carbon dioxide and black carbon particles in the Arctic. The methane and CO2 are consistent with digestion of carbohydrates by methanogenic bacteria as the permafrost melts and warms, and help account for the fact that the Arctic is warming faster than the global average. At:

Alexandra Witze reported on Sept. 14 in ScienceNews that the volume of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the smallest on record. The area of ice was very close to that in 2007, which holds the record for the smallest area. At:
A decreasing area of sea ice is important because it means that less sunlight is being reflected back into space, increasing the rate of warming.

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Green Jobs Alliance, and Virginia Interfaith Power and Light have put up a great website at (most recent entry Sept. 17) to promote the development of offshore wind power in VA. It has a couple of good short videos and endorsements from some important labor unions that are hoping for new manufacturing jobs building wind turbines and components.

Lauren Markoe has a story in the Sept. 22 issue of the Huffington Post titled, On Evolution And Climate Change, Evangelicals Stand Apart According To Poll. The new poll shows that majorities of Americans believe in evolution (57%) and climate Change (69%). Evangelicals and Tea Party members are much less likely to believe in either. Only 41% of Tea Party members believe there is good evidence for global warming, compared to 49% of Republicans generally, 70% of Independents, and 81% of Democrats. 33% of Tea Party members are more likely to support a candidate who denies climate change, compared to 16% of Republicans generally and only 5% of Democrats. Partly because of a disinformation campaign by fossil fuel interests, only 40% of Americans believe that a consensus exists among scientists on climate change, even though over 95% of climate scientists support the consensus position that it’s real, is caused primarily by human activities, and constitutes a growing threat. See:

On Sept. 28 Jim Hansen (Columbia University) posted a short article titled, It's a Hard-Knock Butterfly's Life - Can a Lady Monarch Provide a Role Model? In it he describes the struggles this year of a family of Monarch butterflies on his farm in Eastern Pennsylvania, and ties it to the struggles that young people face in a warming world whose politics are dominated by wealthy and powerful fossil fuel interests. He argues against a cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon emissions and for a tax-and-dividend system in which fossil fuel companies are taxed directly for carbon at the source, and the proceeds are distributed to all citizens on an equal per capita basis (half that much to each child). Most Americans – those who emit more than the average per capita amount of carbon – would come out ahead; the energy hogs would pay more. He suggests gradually raising the carbon tax to $115 per ton of CO2, and says that this would reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 30%. At:

Charmaine Noronha of the Associated Press posted an article in YahooNews on Sept. 30 titled, Canadian Arctic nearly loses entire ice shelf. She reported that two ice shelves that have been there since before Europeans settled Canada broke up this summer, with one nearly disappearing altogether. This loss of ice is a reflection of the fact that the temperature in the Canadian Arctic has been warming rapidly – about 1°C (1.8°F) per decade for the past half century. Loss of the ice shelves – about 3 billion tons of ice – portends more rapid future flow of the glaciers behind them and more rapid sea level rise.

Justin Gillis wrote an excellent article for the Oct. 1 NY Times titled, With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors. It points out that, of the approximately 10 billion tons of carbon that human activities put into the atmosphere as CO2 each year, about 25% is taken up by forests, 25% goes into the ocean, and 50% stays in the atmosphere. That could change as forests are killed by pine bark beetles and forest fires – not only reducing their ability to capture and store carbon, but releasing their stored carbon through combustion and decay. Efforts to save forests in developing countries are being hampered by U.S. economic problems and climate change denial. At:

On October 8 the Huffington Post put up a 1-minute coal energy drink parody YouTube video titled, Coal Isn’t Just Clean Anymore, It’s Refreshing. Good for a laugh. At:

During 2006-2008 the NY Times published a series of articles it called The Energy Challenge. See:

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.

Asian Development Bank Outlines Food Security Threat Due to Climate Change

A recent study from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) illustrated the effect of climate change on hunger and malnutrition in the Pacific. The report detailed how globalization has led to increased reliance on foreign food imports, and how declining growth in agricultural production since the mid nineties will be exacerbated by changes in precipitation patterns and increased frequency of natural disasters. Crop output is expected to continue to decline, while increased acidification of seawater and coastal destruction will render fisheries a less reliable source of food. The ADB suggested methods for mitigating the impact of climate change on food supply such as planting more resilient crops, enhancing traditional food production processes, and careful management of local fisheries. Weather-based crop insurance and emergency input subsidies have also been considered as approaches to alleviating problems faced by Pacific farmers dealing with fluctuating climate patterns and increasing natural disasters.
For additional information see: The Hindu, Report

Carbon Disclosure Project Examines Business Climate Change Plans

According to the 2011 edition of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Global 500 report, 68 percent of the world’s largest companies include climate change in their business plans. In 2010, only 48 percent of businesses included climate change in their business plans. Of the 396 companies included in the investigation, 74 percent reported having greenhouse gas emissions targets, and 45 percent reported reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Key reasons for addressing climate change included the rising price of oil and recognition of the financial benefits of emissions reduction. Over the ten year history of the CDP reports, a correlation between the CDP’s Carbon Performance Leadership Index and higher stock market performance has been observed.
For additional information see: Sustainable Business, Report

Ecosystem Research Reveals Impact of Climate Change on European Coasts

A recent report by the Climate Change and European Ecosystem Research (CLAMER) project observed that the most dramatic changes to Europe’s marine environments on record have occurred in the past 25 years. Marine temperatures and sea levels data indicated a rate of sea water warming 10 times faster than the average twentieth century warming rate. Rising sea levels and more intense winds have eroded 15 percent more of the European coasts, and estimates suggested that the sea level could rise between 60 and 190 centimeters in the next 90 years. CLAMER, which involved 17 of Europe’s marine research institutes, also outlined the societal impacts of marine ecosystem change. Health care costs due to changing marine environments are projected to include contaminated seafood, water-born pathogen infections, and a proliferation of marine bacteria such as the warm-water Vibrio bacteria. CLAMER estimated that 1 trillion Euros of physical assets are vulnerable due to property damage and economic loss caused by rising sea levels and more intense storms, and the fact that 35 percent of Europe’s GDP is generated within 50 kilometers of the coast.
For additional information see: Reuters, Science Daily, Report

2011 Summer Sees Second Most Arctic Ice Melt on Record

In the summer of 2011, the Arctic sea ice melted more than any other summer on record except for the record lows of 2007, and air temperatures were 1 to 4 degrees Celsius higher than average, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. However, according to daily ice map records from physicists at Bremen University, with a week more of expected ice melt the one-day minimum ice area for 2011 will be 4.24 square kilometers, breaking the 2007 record of 4.27 square kilometers. The Arctic ice melts and refreezes each year, but scientists have recorded more and more dramatic cycles of melting since 1972. This August, both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were open. Each decade, about 10 percent of the arctic ice is lost. If the rate of melting observed this summer continues, Arctic summers will likely be ice-free within 30 years, an estimate that is 40 years earlier than the figure proposed at the last International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research suggested that the present volume of ice in the arctic is only 62 percent of the volume of Arctic ice in 1979.
For additional information see: The Guardian, University of Bremen, Abstract

Poll: More Americans Acknowledge Climate Change

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on September 15 revealed that 83 percent of Americans believe in climate change, compared to 75 percent last year. According to the poll, about 72 percent of Republicans achnowledge global warming and 92 percent of Democrats do. Of the participants who believed in global warming, 71 percent are convinced that it is at least partially caused by humans. About 15 percent of voters see global warming as a primary concern. The poll also indicated that, although more Americans recognize climate change, those who are skeptical are increasingly sure of their convictions. Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University, has suggested that the tendency of Republican presidential candidates to deny or criticize evidence of climate change has prompted people to reflect on their own views about global warming.
For additional information see: Reuters, Scientific American, International Business Times

Virginia Appeals Court Sides with Insurance Company in Climate Change Case

On September 16, the utility AES emerged as the winner of a decision over whether its insurer, Steadfast, was obligated to defend it in a lawsuit over climate change. AES is a defendent in the court case Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil Corp. et. al., in which the village of Kivalina, Alaska, accused AES and others of negligence because they knowingly emitted greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change, and subsequent rising sea levels. While the larger Kivalina case is in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, AES sought a decision in Virginia courts on its insurer’s obligation. The decision not to obligate Steadfast hinged on the particular wording of the policy, according to Virginia Supreme Court Justice Bernard Goodwyn. "The relevant policies only require Steadfast to defend AES against claims for damages of bodily injury or property damage caused by an occurrence or accident," he wrote. Climate change did not meet the “accident” or “occurrence” definition in this instance, according to the ruling.
For additional information see: New York Times, Insurance Journal

“24 Hours of Reality” Project Addresses Climate Change Skeptics

“24 Hours of Reality”, a new project led by former vice president Al Gore, illustrated the effects of climate change in 24 locations around the world through live online videos broadcast in 24 different time zones. The website’s counter indicated the program, which was available in 13 different languages, attracted 8.5 million viewers. The purpose of the videos was to raise awareness about the cause and effects of climate change, directly addressing climate change skeptics and deniers. The videos included an investigation into how climate change skeptics are funded and 200 new slides that outline the connection between climate change and increasingly intense natural disasters.
For additional information see: Reuters, NPR, Presentation, New York Times

Number of People Displaced by Climate Change Reaches 30 Million

Over 30 million people were displaced last year by environmental and weather disasters in Asia, according to a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report. This number is expected to rise as disasters intensify due to impacts caused by climate change such as rising sea levels, floods, droughts, and food shortages. Problems associated with the influx of migration are estimated to cost around $60 billion. Areas that face the greatest challenges are low-lying regions such as the Maldives, where populations of entire islands have already been forced to move. The report states that rather than creating a new category of migrant people, climate change will likely influence existing migration factors and patterns, such as reinforcing the strong urbanization trend in the region. The ADB is currently working on a report that will outline potential policies that governments could consider to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
For additional information see: The Guardian, Report

Leaked World Bank Report Calls for Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies to Fulfill Climate Finance Pledges

Wealthy countries should eliminate $50 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies, a leaked World Bank report said. The report, which was intended to be presented to the G20 finance ministers in November, also said that countries should spend their pledged climate change funds on financing carbon markets. It is unlikely that the funds which rich countries have pledged—$30 billion for 2010-2012 and $100 billion per year by 2020—will actually be provided. Removing fossil fuel subsidies could be a starting point though, according to the study. The report further supports a carbon tax on the aviation and maritime industries. "A globally implemented carbon charge of $25/ton CO2 on fuel used could raise around $13 billion from international aviation and around $26 billion from international maritime transport in 2020, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions from each industry by around 5 to 10 percent.” Developing countries have become increasingly frustrated by rich nations failing to fulfill their climate finance pledges. "Rich nations cannot try and pass the buck to private companies who will be more interested in delivering high returns than meeting the needs of some of the world's poorest people,” said Murray Worthy, a policy officer with the World Development Movement.
For additional information see: Guardian, World Bank Draft Report (Via Guardian)

Deep Ocean Layers Can Absorb Heat

A recent study revealed that ocean layers deeper than 1,000 feet can absorb heat for up to a decade. This discovery provided insight into why global temperature does not rise consistently. The study was prompted by the realization that even though carbon emissions have climbed steadily in the past decade, the highest global temperatures on record in 1998 were not exceeded until 2010. By using a software tool known as Community Climate System Model to illustrate complex relationships between the atmosphere, land, oceans, and ice, scientists were able to create five simulations of global temperatures. The simulations projected that there would be periods of relatively stable temperatures that could last about a decade, during which heat energy is buried in deep oceanic layers.The study was published in Nature Climate Change.
For additional information see: Science Daily, International Business Times, Abstract

New Technologies Could Reduce Cost of Climate Protection

New research suggests that funding for new technology is one of the most cost effective ways to address climate change. Funding for new energy technologies with a high potential for cost reduction is more financially beneficial than investing in more familiar technologies. The research was conducted at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research using a computer simulation that processed data from the past 100 years. The analysis shows that companies are uncertain about long term profits from new technologies, and consumers have little incentive to pay more for electricity that was produced with new technology, so inferior and ultimately more expensive technology tends to dominate the market. Funding targeted at new technologie, such as solar energy, offshore wind power, and biomass energy, over a 30 year period, have a more positive cost-benefit ratio, compared to financial support for well-established technologies such as nuclear energy and hydroelectric power. The study was published in the journal Resource and Energy Economics.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Guardian, Study

Study: “Negative Emissions” Necessary if CO2 Emissions Continue Beyond 2020

Cutting carbon emissions may no longer be sufficient to stay within the 2 degree temperature limit on global warming, a series of studies have predicted in the November issue of the journal Climate Change. According to one study, the atmosphere may be saturated with enough carbon to reach the 2 degree increase within 20 years, after which carbon must be removed to compensate for increased emissions. Such an approach, known as “negative emissions”, is getting more attention as emissions continue to grow and global temperatures rise. The atmosphere has already warmed by .8 degrees since before industrial times. "If we want to stay below 2 degrees Celsius and possibly achieve 1.5 in the 22nd century then we're not going to get around these negative emissions," said Malte Meinshausen, lead author of one study. According to Meinshausen’s study, in order to achieve this, we must halt increases in carbon emissions within 5 years, and 3.5 billion tons have to be removed from the atmosphere annually by 2070. If emissions continue to rise after 2020, excess carbon must be removed from the atmosphere at a rate of 18 billion tons annually for about 100 years.
For additional information see: Reuters

Updated Global Adaptation Index Illustrates Regional Climate Risks Around the World

The Global Adaptation Institute recently released a new update to its annual Global Adaptation Index (GAIn) that tracks the potential risks of climate change impact around the world. The goal of the GAIn project is to provide information for governments and private sector investors about climate change adaptation measures and potential around the globe. GAIn consists of a color coded map that assesses both the vulnerability of a region to dramatic climate shifts, and the readiness of different regions to adapt to the changing climate. The readiness component accounts for economic, social and government factors that are considered based on indicators such as financial and investment freedom, political stability and control of corruption, and tertiary education. According to the index, Denmark, Switzerland, and Ireland are among the best equipped to deal with potential threats, while Burundi, Zimbabwe, and the Central African Republic face some of the greatest challenges.
For additional information see: Washington Post, Global Adaptation Index

Global CO2 Emissions Increased 45 Percent in Past Decades

According to a new report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increased 45 percent between 1990 and 2010, reaching 33 billion tons last year. Industrialized nations subject to the Kyoto Protocol, however, are on track to meet their goals. The report stated that a surge of emissions from developing nations such as China and India, whose CO2 output increased 257 and 180 percent, respectively, over the course of the decade, were largely responsible for the global increase. In the United States, CO2 emissions increased by five percent. Nations in the European Union decreased CO2 emissions by seven percent, and Russia saw a decrease of 28 percent. Nations that ratified the Kyoto Protocol and the United States were responsible for about two-thirds of global emissions in 1990, but these countries are now responsible for less than half of global emissions. The report was based on results from the Emissions Database for Atmospheric Research, and recent statistics for energy use.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Environment 360, Report

Panel Urges Government to Implement New Climate Change Mitigation Measures

A panel of scientists and former government officials at the Bipartisan Policy Center recently urged the U.S. government to consider directly manipulating the earth’s temperature to mitigate climate change. Proposed techniques included injecting the atmosphere with particles that would mimic the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions, trapping and storing atmospheric carbon underground, and solar radiation management. Solar radiation management, the most controversial of the proposals, involves reflecting solar energy away from the earth’s atmosphere before it can be absorbed. Such techniques are typically referred to as “geoengineering,” but the panel used the term “climate remediation” throughout the report to emphasize the goal of counteracting past greenhouse gas emissions.
For additional information see: New York Times, Report

Officials from Across Americas Discuss Public Health and Climate Change

On September 30, health officials from throughout the Americas met to discuss public health risks and necessary responses related to climate change. The discussion was part of the 50th Directing Council meeting of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). PAHO/WHO experts agreed that the health effects of climate change are numerous, and the impact of global warming will include both direct effects, such as heat stress and injuries from natural disasters, as well as indirect effects, such as the spread of disease to new areas and malnutrition due to crop failure. Officials agreed that rapid and unplanned urban growth, population displacement, and increased drought and flood risks related to climate change pose new public health issues. Proposed solutions to these climate change-induced problems included improving infrastructure necessary to respond to emergencies and natural disasters, promoting national campaigns to raise awareness about climate change, advancing primary health care services, and establishing a new PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center to study the health effects of climate change.
For additional information see: PAHO

Climate Change Challenges Migrating Species

A new study from Brown University predicted that about 50 percent of existing species will be unable to adapt to changing climates. Researchers concluded that species would need to be able not only to disperse quickly and relocate to more favorable climates, but also endure fluctuating climatic conditions. Using mathematical models to project climate change and observed migration patterns, researchers found that migration—the typical method that animals use to cope with climate change—will be difficult for many populations because fluctuating temperatures will halt migration patterns, confining populations to a specific area that is only temporarily inhabitable. According to a sample study of species of amphibians, about half of the species would survive the migration and fluctuating conditions, while half would be either extinct or endangered. The stdy was published in Ecology Letters.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Examiner, Abstract

Businesses Urge Government Action on Climate Change

Over 175 companies issued a statement urging governments to make progress on ensuring that underfunded developing nations have sufficient climate aid funds by 2020, and to create agreements and financial partnerships to tackle climate change, regardless of the poor chances of a new climate treaty being signed. The communique was sent to the October 14 and 15 G20 meeting in anticipation of the Durban climate discussions. The companies noted that climate change poses an immense threat to future global prosperity, and the continued delay in progress could undermine government credibility. Stimulating private sector investment in cleaner technologies and job creation were among the incentives cited for greater government action. Among the businesses involved were Shell, Tesco, Unilever, Lloyds Bank, and EDF.
For additional information see: Reuters, Business Green, Environmental Finance, National Geographic

Amazon Drought in 2010 Emitted More CO2 Than India

The massive Amazon drought in 2010 resulted in more carbon emissions than the sum of emissions from Amazonian deforestation over the same period of time, according to a study conducted by researchers at the NASA Ames Research Centre and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The drought released nearly 500 million tons of carbon (1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere, exceeding the annual emissions of India, one of the world’s top emitters. The source of emissions was the decomposition of decaying plant matter and the reduced CO2 uptake that should have occurred—but didn’t—due to the limited water necessary for plant growth. The researchers used satellites to measure the differences in net primary production to determine overall changes in plant growth throughout the drought. While some of the losses may be recouped during the forest’s subsequent recovery—as occurred after the drought in 2005—researchers fear that the increasing severity of such droughts may be an indication that the rainforest is on the verge of collapse as a result of fragmentation, deforestation and climate change.
For additional information see: Monga Bay, Yale 360, Study

Study Suggests Climate Change Will Cause Rapid Alterations in Tree Cover

According to a new study, the effects of climate change on tree cover in forests and savannas may be much more rapid than expected. The study used satellite data for global rainfall to observe and predict which areas of Africa, Australia, and South America are most ecologically fragile, and which could readily transform from a forested region to a savanna, or from a savanna into a forested region. The results suggested that, rather than smoothly transitioning from one state to another, tree cover fluctuated between three contrasting alternatives of forest, treeless regions, and savanna, depending on precipitation levels. The study was published in the journal Science.
For additional information see: Science Daily, Abstract

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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action