Saturday, December 15, 2012



This year the EPA published a report titled, Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2012, describing changes in 26 indicators ranging from loss of Arctic ice to dates of plant flowereing.  A printable pdf file of the report can be downloaded or printed copies can be ordered at:
A set of slides showing key findings is available at the same site.

Also this year Lester R Brown of the Earth Policy Institute released a book titled, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity.  It can be ordered and a 5-minute video of Brown talking about it seen at:
Brown is an excellent writer and speaker, and explains how climate change and a rapidly increasing demand for meat and animal products like milk and eggs are threatening food security for the world’s poorest people.

In May the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a book published by Island Press called Cooler-Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, based on a 2-year study by UCS staff.  It shows the practical steps you can readily take to reduce your personal carbon emissions by 20%, and can be ordered from the UCS website at:   The website also has an online tool for helping you reduce your carbon footprint after answering a few basic questions about your current lifestyle.

Climate Central has put together a web site titled, Surging Seas, which describes the impacts of sea level rise on the coastal states in the lower 48 and what they are doing to deal with it.  The site points out that global sea level has risen about 8 inches since 1900, but could rise a further 2 to 7 feet (24 to 84 inches) by 2100 - depending largely on how much more carbon dioxide humans put into the atmosphere between now and then.

Catherine Bowes and Justin Allegro of The National Wildlife Federation posted an article  Nov. 13 about a new report titled, The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy: Time for Action to Create Jobs, Reduce Pollution, Protect Wildlife & Secure America’s Energy Future. They write, As America struggles to revitalize our economy, create jobs, secure an energy independent future, and protect our communities and wildlife from the dangers of climate change, one energy source offers a golden opportunity to power our homes and businesses without creating more pollution —– Atlantic offshore wind.”  Their article contains a link for downloading the full report.  At:

The New York Daily News published an article by NY Governor Andrew Coumo on Nov. 15 titled, We will lead on climate change - New York must press ahead with urgency to equip itself for the new age of extreme weather.  The governor wrote, “Extreme weather is the new normal. In the past two years, we have had two storms, each with the odds of a 100-year occurrence. Debating why does not lead to solutions — it leads to gridlock. ... Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all.”  He went on to say, “There is no more time for debate. This is our moment to act.”  At:

On Nov. 19, RGGI Inc. had a press release titled, RGGI Investments Avoid 12 Million Tons of Carbon Dioxide Pollution, Generate $1.3 Billion in Lifetime Energy Bill Savings.  RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, has involved 10 states from Maryland through New York and New England in a regional clap-and-trade system that reduced CO2 emissions from large power plants in the region through the sale of emission allowances - one for each ton of CO2 emitted.  States in the region have used 66% of the money raised for energy efficiency, 5% for clean and renewable energy, 17% for direct energy bill assistance, and 6% for greenhouse gas abatement and climate change adaptation.  Collin O’Mara, Delaware’s Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, chairs the RGGI Inc. Board.  He said, “By helping to modernize the region’s energy infrastructure, RGGI investments are lowering consumer utility bills through energy efficiency, supporting development of cleaner energy sources, and reducing emission from criteria pollutants and carbon dioxide.”  At:

The Inter Press News Service posted an article on Nov. 20 by Patricia Blogg titled, Tomorrow Is Too Late for Adaptation to Climate Change.  It described the devastating effect of Hurricane Sandy on Cuba, which saw winds of up to 200 km/hr (120 mph) and waves up to 9 meters (30 feet) high.  The United Nations office in Cuba estimated that 137,000 houses were damaged in Santiago de Cuba, 65,000 in Holguín and 8,750 in Guantánamo.  At:

The Nov. 23 issue of The Virginian-Pilot has an article titled, Earth to Marco Rubio.  Mr. Rubio is an up-and-coming Senate Republican from Florida and a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, who showed in an interview that he has no idea of how old the earth is, even though scientists have established the age at 4.54+/-0.05 billion years.  In the interview he said, At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”  At: Earth to Marco Rubio on Page B7 of Friday, November 23, 2012 issue of The Virginian-Pilot  Unfortunately, many of our political leaders seem to be as ignorant of earth’s climate as they are of its history.

Erica Etelson posted an article in care2 on Nov. 24 titled, What to Expect When You’re Expecting Clean Energy.  It points out that the rate of development of wind power in the U.S., and the many thousands of jobs that go with it, depends critically on Congress’ renewal of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), due to expire at the end of this year.  The PTC provides a tax credit of about2 cents per kWh for energy generated by wind power, and makes it much easier for wind companies to get financing from banks and power purchase agreements with utility companies.  The continued rapid development of solar power depends on renewal of the Investment Tax Credit) ITC, which helps homeowners and power generators pay for the installation of solar panels, whose price has been dropping rapidly with economies of scale.  It’s worth noting that federal support for renewable energy is still much less that federal subsidies for fossil fuels, which are not needed and contribute to damage like that caused to NY and NJ by Hurricane Sandy.  At: 

Benjamin Strauss and Robert Kopp have an Opinion piece in the Sunday Nov. 25 issue of the NY Times, titled Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines.  In it they point out a recent paper by climate scientist Michiel Shaeffer indicating that no matter how quickly we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we are unlikely to keep seas from rising 5 feet above their current level at high tide.  Add to that wind driven storm surge and the authors conclude that flooding as high as Hurricane Sandy’s may occur every 15 years.  They quote another study, let by geochemist Andrea Dutton, looking back at Earth’s climate and sea level history, which shows that about 125,000 years ago - during the previous interglacial period - global average temperatures were only a few degrees warmer than now (and less than temperatures projected for the end of this century), sea levels were 20-30 feet higher!  At:

NBCNews for Nov. 29 broadcast a description of an article in Science by an international team of climate science experts showing that the loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating.  The rate in Greenland has increased by a factor of about 5 in 20 years; the West Antarctic ice sheet is also losing ice, although less rapidly.  After a short ad, you can see a video of the broadcast at:
The Science article, appearing in the Nov. 30 issue with the title, A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance, says that the current contribution of the loss of polar ice to sea level rise is about 0.6 mm/yr.  At: A shorter summary of the findings by Rickard Kerr in the same issue of Science, titled, Experts Agree Global Warming Is Melting the World Rapidly, says that ice sheet loss now contributes about 20% of current global sea level rise.  At: will no doubt increase greatly in the future.  Complete loss of ice from Greenland would raise sea global levels by 6.55 m (21 ft), while loss of ice on both Greenland and Antarctica would raise them by over 80 m (265 ft).  See Willett Kempton, Sea level Rise and its Effect on Delaware.  At:

On Dec. 1 Katie Valentine posted an article on titled, Irony Alert: American Petroleum Institute Calls For Obama To Aid ‘Economic Catastrophe’ Due To Warming-Fueled Drought.  In it she pointed out that the last year or two of mid-continent drought has reduced the depth of the Mississippi River by 15-20 feet, so that it may soon to too shallow for many river barges that carry grain, fuel and other commodities.  The Great Lakes are also low, with Lakes Michigan and Huron at near-record lows.  Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground reports that the economic damages to the U.S. due to drought in 2011-12 could be as high as $150 billion.

On Dec. 3 PBS broadcast an interview of Coral Davenport, the energy and environment correspondent for National Journal, by Gwen Ifill.  It points out that CO2 emissions last year from fossil fuel burning increased by 3% over the previous year, for a new record of 38 Gt (billion metric tons) - making it nearly impossible to achieve the goal set by the international community of not allowing the global average temperature to rise more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above what it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  After a 20-second add you can watch a 7.5-minute video of the interview.  At:

On Dec. 4 the NY TImes published an article by Justin Gillis titled, To Stop Climate Change, Students Aim at College Portfolios, at:
It describes a movement by students at Swarthmore College and other schools to bring attention to the need for action on climate change by asking their colleges and universities to divest themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies - similar to the actions by many students took during the 1980’s to challenge apartheid in South Africa.  Bill McKibben, a professor at Middlebury College in VT and the man behind is on a tour of 21 cities to get others to join in.  His message is based on an article published in Rolling Stones in July titled, Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, at:

Wendy Koch of USAToday posted a report on Dec. 6 titled, NOAA sees sea level rise of up to 6.6 feet by 2100.  The report said that there is a 90% chance that the global mean sea level will rise somewhere between 8 inches and 6.6 ft by 2100.  The high upper limit is based in part on the accelerating rate of ice loss from Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.  Four scenarios for sea level vs time are shown in a figure, with the lowest showing a linear increase with the same rate as during the 20th Century.  The caption reads, Global sea levels will likely rise between 8 inches (0.2 meters) and 6.6 feet (2.0 meters) by the end of this year (emphasis added), depending on four scenaria that look at different amounts of ice sheet loss and ocean warming, according to a report Dec. 6 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”  At:
I know things are speeding up, but not that much. Mid-Atlantic states of course need to add about 6 inches to the global mean sea level rise because of subsidence (sinking) of the coast.  The Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, on which I serve, has been considering three scenarios with increases in average sea levels along its coast of 0.5, 1.0 and 1.5 m (about 20, 40 and 60 inches or 5.0 ft), based on the best estimates available in 2009.  At:
I presented a paper to the committee in February 2011 titled, Rising Seas and Stronger Storms - Delaware’s Adaptation in the Face of Uncertainty.  At:

On December 7 Eli Kintisch posted an article on Science Now titled, Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Thought.  It reported results reported at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union on improved estimates of the amount of carbon currently frozen in Arctic permafrost.  The new estimate of 1.9 trillion metric tons can be compared with the current carbon content of the atmosphere of about 0.2 trillion tons (200Gt C).  The author writes, “Disappearing Arctic ice, which gets most of the attention from climate scientists, is an effect of humanmade climate change. By contrast, the melting of frozen soil, or permafrost, can drive warming. As it thaws, microbes devour carbon previously locked inside, unleashing carbon dioxide—a potent greenhouse gas—in the process. The carbon dioxide amplifies the warming power of carbon pollution in a vicious feedback loop.“  At:
One thing the author didn’t mention is that microbial action of thawing soil under anaerobic (oxygen deficient) conditions, while slower that aerobic, can convert the soil carbon into a 1:1 molar mixture of CO2 and methane - a much more powerful greenhouse gas.

On Dec. 13 J. Matthew Roney of the Earth Policy Institute posted a report titled, World Nuclear Electricity Generation Down 5 Percent Since 2006.  He writes that world nuclear electricity-generating capacity has been flat since 2007 and is likely to fall as more plants are retired than come on line.  Following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, 13 nuclear reactors in Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom were permanently taken offline, while 7 new reactors - 3 of them in China - were added.  At: 
With a plague of cost overruns, construction delays, and a lack of interest by private investors, the world’s nuclear power future is not very promising - except perhaps in China and Iran.  

Also on Dec. 13 Seth Borenstein posted an article on Xfinity titled, AP-GfK Poll: Science doubters say world is warming.  The poll, conducted with about 1000 U.S. adults contacted by phone, showed that a growing majority of Americans think that the climate is changing, the consequences will become serious, and the government should do something about it - even those who were skeptical of climate scientists.  By political party, 83% of Democrats, 77% of Independents, and 70% of Republicans believe in global warming.  Those numbers can be compared to 97% of peer-reviewed climate scientists.  At: 

On Dec. 13 Readers Support News posted an article titled, Seven States to Sue EPA Over Methane Emissions From Fracking.  Led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the states are taking legal action because the EPA has failed to regulate the large amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere by fracking shale, even though the technology for greatly reducing the emissions is well known.  Methane has about 25 times the global warming potential as CO2 on a per pound basis.  At: 

On Dec. 13 James Hansen posted a short article titled, Storms of My Grandchildren’s Opa, in which he makes a strong case for a carbon fee and dividend system, where companies that produce carbon fuels pay a rapidly increasing fee (e.g., $10 per ton of CO2 produced when the fuel is burned, increasing by $10 per ton each year).  All of the money raised is returned to the people on an equal per capita basis - a strong incentive for improving energy efficiency and switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.  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" at:
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

President Acknowledges Importance of Climate Change, Vague on Responses

On November 14, at the first press conference since his re-election, President Obama addressed climate change. The President said, “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.” When questioned about actions to combat climate change during his second term – after highlighting fuel efficiency standards and deployment of renewable energy during the first term – the President stated, “So what I’m going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what can – what more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary, a discussion, the conversation across the country about, you know, what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.” The President said that he would not support anything that would jeopardize jobs or the economy but said, “If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.” He continued, “So you know, you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support.”
For additional information see: The Hill, Politico, Transcript

Governor Cuomo Says New York Will Lead on Climate Action

In response to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote an opinion article in the New York Daily News propounding the need to be proactive on climate change. “Extreme weather is the new normal,” Cuomo said, “The denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects. Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all.” Cuomo will establish three commissions to address augmenting emergency response mechanisms. The governor appealed to the gripes of New Yorkers, describing power utilities as “the equivalent of vinyl records in the age of the iPod: antiquated, 1950s-style institutions that don’t serve our current needs.” Cuomo suggested the need of more readily available generators, pumping systems and contingency plans for when public transportation and telecommunications are affected, especially with regard to first responders getting to those in need. He said when rebuilding, infrastructure should be better equipped to withstand extreme weather, and when possible, located in less vulnerable areas with upgraded building codes and lower energy consumption. Cuomo continued, “We will not allow the national paralysis over climate change to stop us from pursuing the necessary path for the future.”
In related news, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed that $20 billion be put toward addressing the affects of climate change. The proposal’s primary tenets address flood prevention and infrastructure safeguarding. While she has full backing from environmental organizations like the New York League of Conservation Voters and the Urban Green Council, Mayor Bloomberg suggested that obtaining funds for the proposal might prove elusive.

For additional information see: New York Daily News, WNYC News

Federal Flood Insurance Comes Under Fire after Hurricane Sandy

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, long-standing concerns about federal flood insurance administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have come to the forefront of climate change discussion. The concerns center around outdated flood maps that have not been updated since the 1980s, budgetary shortfalls (the program was $17.75 billion in debt before Hurricane Sandy), and perverse incentives to rebuild property and infrastructure exactly in the same manner and in the same locations that are prone to damage from floods and hurricanes. Experts agree that in the rush to develop coastal and flood-prone properties, adequate planning for flooding was not taken into account as there was the knowledge that FEMA would always insure these properties. Robert Hunter, an insurance administrator in the Ford and Carter administrations stated that, “FEMA. . .encourages unwise construction instead of discouraging it. . .We’ve created coastal bowling-pin communities; we set ‘em up and the weather takes ‘em down.”
A major problem with the flood insurance program is that flood planning is based on historical data instead of future projections that take into account the effects of climate change: rising sea levels, increased flooding due to intense precipitation events, and an increase in the intensity and occurrence of hurricanes. Recently, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have come together to critique and begin to reform the policy of federal flood insurance. Congress has made some progress in considering climate change in developing new flood maps and federal insurance policies. This past summer, Congress allowed FEMA to increase the premiums paid by vacation home owners for houses that are routinely flooded. Senate Democrats added language to the Transportation Bill, also passed this summer, which requires the Department of Transportation to consider, “any relevant information. . .relating to the best available science regarding future changes in sea levels, precipitation, and intensity of hurricanes.”

CIA Commissioned Report Finds United States Ill Prepared for Climate Change Effects on National Security

On November 9, the National Research Council (NRC) released a report commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that analyzed the impacts that climate change will have on U.S. national security. The report found that climate change will place colossal strains on the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, and states, “Some of this [climate] change is already discernible. Many of these events will stress communities, societies, governments, and the globally integrated systems that support human well-being.” The study cautions that the United States is not prepared to assess and prepare for climate change-induced disasters. As an example, the report points to the Nile River watershed where climate-related conflict over water and farmland could occur as the total population of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia reaches 300 million. In a finding similar to a recent American Security Project study (see November 5 issue), the NRC report suggests that underlying tensions will be exacerbated due to increased flood, famine, disease and population migration, and international agencies will struggle to respond. Lead author John Steinbruner, director of the University of Maryland Center for International and Security Studies, stated, “We know there will have to be major climatic adjustments – there’s no uncertainty about that – but we just don’t know the details. . .We do know they will be big.” The report recommends that a “whole-of-government approach to understanding adaptation and vulnerability to climate change. . .[is necessary] to inform choices about responses to climate change.”
For additional information see: New York Times, Politico, Study

Extreme Climate Model Predictions More Accurate, Study Finds

A study published November 9 in the journal Science that compares climate modeling results with actual atmospheric humidity temperatures indicates that, thus far, the more extreme results have served as better predictors of atmospheric conditions. The study analyzed 10 years of atmospheric humidity data from NASA satellites and examined 24 of the most sophisticated climate simulations to see how much warmer the atmosphere would become, should atmospheric carbon dioxide levels double. The analysis was based on the accuracy of computer models in reproducing recorded cloud coverage in the tropics and the sub-tropics. The study found that models that best reproduced the cloud cover also projected higher global temperatures. Co-author John Fasullo, atmospheric scientist at National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), stated, “There is a striking relationship between how well climate models simulate relative humidity in key areas and how much warming they show in response to increasing carbon dioxide. Given how fundamental these processes are to clouds and the overall global climate, our findings indicate that warming is likely to be on the high side of current projections.”
For additional information see: Washington Post, New York Times, Study Abstract

Climate Change Disproportionately Impacts Low Income People

On November 16, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report that concluded that more frequent occurrences of extreme weather events disproportionately affect middle- and low-income families in the United States. Since 2011, most of the cases of flooding, drought, wildfires, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms impacted counties with household incomes between three and 14 percent less than the median annual household income of $51,914. The report states, “These findings reflect a cruel phenomenon sometimes called the ‘climate gap’ – the concept that climate change has a disproportionate and unequal impact on society’s less fortunate.” A post election poll conducted by the National Wildlife Federation indicates that 57 percent of voters believe that climate change is a major factor causing more frequent extreme weather events and 65 percent would like policymakers to take action against climate change. In order to reduce climate change risks and better prepare middle- and low-income counties, the report outlines a series of policy recommendations, such as implementing carbon pollution reduction standards for new and existing power plants, improving infrastructure resiliency, making flood insurance more affordable, and funding disaster relief and home energy programs.
In related news, a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) report released November 16 found that low-income and minority communities are also disproportionately exposed to the health and environmental impacts of coal-fired power plants. After surveying 378 coal-fired power plants across the U.S., researchers found that 39 percent of the six million people living within three miles of the plants were people of color and that the average per capita income was $18,400, well below the national average. NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous stated, “It's very easy right now to talk about climate change as something that is theoretical, to talk about the dirtiness caused by coal plants as something that is aesthetic. But when you. . .actually meet with people in these communities, the stories that they tell you – about their children's lives being diminished, about older people in the communities lives being shortened by the presence of these plants – are disturbing.” Closing the top 75 most damaging coal plants to the environment and human health would reduce the number of families living within a three mile radius of coal plants by 67 percent.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach 391 ppm

On November 20, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rose to 390.99 parts per million (ppm) in 2011, 40 percent above the pre-industrial level. The WMO also reported that in the past 260 years, roughly 375 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) have been released into the atmosphere. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud stated, “These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth.” Jarraud continued, “Future emissions will only compound the situation.” The WMO also warned about the effects of elevated atmospheric levels of potent greenhouse gases methane – which reached 1813 parts per billion (ppb), or more than 259 percent of pre-industrial levels – and nitrous oxide – which reached 324.5 ppb, or 120 percent of pre-industrial levels.
For additional information see: Agence France-Presse, Christian Science Monitor

The World Bank Assesses the Impact of a Four Degree Celsius Warmer World

In a report published November 18 about climate change, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degree Warmer World Must be Avoided,” the World Bank stated that while all nations will suffer from the effects of climate change, the poorest nations will be hit the hardest. The report finds that poorer, developing nations will be disproportionately hit by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones, and droughts. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim stated that countries have a moral responsibility to take action, stating, “We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today.” The World Bank analysis concludes that an average temperature increase of four degrees Celsius is likely by 2060, if governments do not start to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlighted the devastating impacts of a four degrees Celsius warmer world, such as shrinking Arctic ice and more frequent extreme heat waves and droughts. The World Bank report was released a week before the international climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar. Kim expressed his hope that the findings of the World Bank report would spur people into serious negotiations and "shock people into action."
For additional information see: Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Press Release

New Jersey Shore Considers Reconstruction Post-Sandy

Superstorm Sandy caused nearly $30 billion dollars of damage in New Jersey, most of it along the coast. In light of extreme property destruction, there is an ongoing debate, which is now entering political discourse, as whether it is time to pull back development from the shore. Both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and State Senate President Stephen Sweeny warn that it is not in people's best interest to build or rebuild houses along coastal, flood prone areas. Sweeny stated, “Just to put a house back on blocks when you know you're getting flooded, none of that makes sense anymore. The New Jersey I'm living in today is not the New Jersey I grew up with. The storms are stronger and more frequent, and we need to adapt.” Accompanying the debate is the question of whether the federal government should buy out flood-prone areas to prevent development. Since 1989, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has spent close to $10 billion in buying out homes in threatened areas. Representative Rob Andrews (D-NJ), argued that a better investment would be investing in man-made dunes. He stated, “The dunes that were rebuilt by the Army Corps [of Engineers], they did a really good job of protecting houses. . .I think that's a better investment.” Favoring the latter mitigation technique, residents of the Jersey Shore indicate that family and personal connection to the shoreline will prevent people from moving and consider the hurricane risk as, “A trade off for living near the ocean,” said Robert Snyder, a shore resident.
For additional information see: Philadelphia Inquirer

German Renewable Energy Policies Drive Emissions Reductions

The German Environment Agency reports that in 2011 Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions fell 2.4 percent from 2010 levels. The reduction in emissions can be attributed to Germany’s feed-in tariff policy that subsidizes investments in renewable energy technologies. During the first half of 2012, the percentage of German electricity generated from renewable sources increased from 20 percent to 25 percent – of which 38 percent came from wind power and 16 percent from solar – according to the government agency Germany Trade and Invest. “We are on a good track in regard to the increase in the share of renewables,” said Brigitte Knopf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. However, the national energy policy or Energiewende poses significant challenges, including increasing energy prices and increased reliance on coal-fired power plants due to a phase-out of nuclear power, that Knopf says will need to be addressed to keep Germany on track to meet its 35 percent renewable energy target by 2020. Germany’s emissions reduction goals are more stringent than European Union targets, placing Germany at the forefront of the renewable energy push in Europe. Hermann Ott, a Green Party Member of the Reichstag, says of Germany’s renewable energy and climate leadership, “If something goes wrong, you have to speak up and do something otherwise your children will ask you in 20 to 30 years, ‘Why didn’t you do anything?’”
For additional information see: Guardian

UN Warns of Emissions from Melting Permafrost

A report released November 27 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the Doha climate negotiations warns that melting permafrost layers could release between 43 and 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane by 2100. As frozen regions in Russia, Canada, China, and the United States begin to thaw, gases from decaying organic matter that has been trapped for thousands of years in the permafrost could be released and amount to 39 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions. Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, stated, “Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet’s future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us into a warmer world. Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems and infrastructure has been neglected for too long.” Researchers worry that melting tundra will have significant impacts not only for the carbon and nitrogen cycles but also for oil pipelines, communities, roadways, and animal species. “I think it's easy for people to feel that the Arctic is just a faraway place that will never have any direct effect on their life,” comments Ben Abbott, a researcher at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology. “Too often climate change is depicted as a story of drowning polar bears and third world countries. Human-caused climate change has the potential to change our way of life. Mix in the potent feedbacks from the permafrost system and it becomes clear that we need to act now.” Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said, “Warming that feeds upon itself, like we’re seeing in the Arctic, is the wild card of climate. If it gets out of control, we’ll lose the game. Our best strategy is a crash course to reduce black carbon, which is responsible for half of Arctic warming. Along with cuts in the other short-lived climate pollutants, this can cut the rate of Arctic warming by two-thirds.”

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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light

Saturday, November 17, 2012



NOTE:  Double click on the links to reach the sources.

Loss of ice near the poles as the Earth’s climate warms will become the dominant factor in determining future sea level rise and the survival of coastal cities.  The work of Penn State Geoscience Professor Richard Alley has focused on studying glaciers on Greenland and Antarctica in order to understand Earth’s past climate and sea level history, and to predict its future.  PBS broadcast a 54-minute video in April 2012, called EARTH – The Operator’s Manual.  It gives an excellent easily understood description of how earth works and what we can do to avoid passing on terrible suffering and economic loss to our children and grandchildren.  You can watch it and see short previews of other videos titled, Energy Quest USA and Powering the Planet at:

On Oct. 23 PBS FRONTLINE aired a 54-minute program titled, Climate of Doubt, exploring the success of climate change deniers in challenging climate change science and molding public opinion so that many Americans think the science is in doubt, and many political leaders are afraid to address the issue for fear that they will be punished by the big money available to fossil fuel interests.  Leaders from a number of denier organizations were interviewed, including the Heartland Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), and the American Tradition Institute, among others.  A slogan from one AFP rally was, “Reducing emissions is a cover for reducing freedom.”  David Koch, a billionaire who contributed $1,000,000 to the Proposition 23 attempt to repeal California clean energy legislation, is its Chair.  The FRONTLINE program and associated information are available online at:  You can also go to it directly to see it online at  or read the transcript at A DVD can be ordered from 1-800-PLAY-PBS or downloaded from iTunes.  This is something everyone should see.  The secret money contributed to promote fossil fuel interests is not only subverts our democracy, but greatly increases the chances that a global response to climate change will be so delayed that the human suffering caused by increasing fossil fuel use will be unprecedented in human history.  

The Oct. 24 issue of Science News had an article by Tanya Lewis titled, Gulf Stream might be releasing seafloor methane, which says,Changes in the temperature or direction of the Gulf Stream, which carries warm water north from the Gulf of Mexico, have heated sediments in a strip along the North Atlantic seafloor by 8 degrees Celsius, unlocking 2.5 billion metric tons of methane from deep-sea caches, scientists report in the Oct. 25 Nature.”  Methane, which is a gas at room temperature and pressure, can co-crystallize with water at low temperature and high pressure to form a solid that can release the methane if the temperature is increased.  This is the first report that methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - is being released from the sea floor off the East Coast of the U.S.  At:  For the original Nature article by Benjamin J. Phrampus and Matthew J. Hornbach see:
This warming - releasing methane gas that results in more warming - is an example of a positive feedback.

Bloomberg Businesweek for Oct. 25 had an article by Ken Weils titled, Solar Energy is Ready.  The U.S. Isn’t. It points out the clean energy has become a dirty word in the presidential race, with Obama and Romney in the 2nd debate each claiming to be the champion of fossil fuel development.  The article points out that the cost of solar PV panels has fallen 75% in the past 5 years, largely because of inexpensive Chinese imports.  The article says that most of the 4 trillion MWh consumed each year in the U.S. could be generated by solar PV on residential rooftops.  It says,The trouble is, many of the big, investor-owned utilities that provide about 85 percent of America’s electricity see solar as both a technical challenge and a long-term threat to their 100-year-old profit models.”  The result is that we are falling behind other industrialized countries in the use of a technology invented here.  At:

Chris Hayes of MSNBC News produced a 6-minute video on Oct. 27, after the last of this year’s presidential debates, pointing out that this year marks the first time in several election cycles that climate change - one of the most important issues the country and the planet face - was not addressed in the debates. See his video at: 

Melanie Gosling reported in IOLSciTech on Oct. 27 that wind energy in South Africa is now less expensive that electricity from a new coal-fired power plant, and that it should be possible to get 25% of the country’s electricity from wind by 2025.  The variability of power from a single turbine can be addressed by spreading turbines over the large geographical area of South Africa, which has one of the world’s best wind resources.  At:

The Virginian-Pilot has a Nov. 6 article by Jillian Nolin titled, Norfolk’s idea to stem damage from flooding: Get the houses higher.  The article points out that Norfolk has one of the highest rates of sea level rise along the East Coast - about 4.5 mm per year.  Norfolk’s leaders are weighing a proposal to mandate that residents in low-lying areas who build new houses or make significant alterations elevate their homes 2 feet above their community’s flood level, instead of just 1.  The cost of raising existing homes can be in the neighborhood of $100,000 to $200,000 per house.  The article says, “In 2007, Norfolk used $4.5 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to elevate 30 homes. The city recently acquired another million dollars to raise five homes.”  At: Norfolk’s idea to stem damage from flooding: Get the houses higher on Page A1 of Tuesday, November 06, 2012 issue of The Virginian-Pilot  The problem is going to be: Where will the money come from in the future when sea level rise may be a lot more than 2 feet?

The Nov. 7 issue of MIT Technology Review has an article by  titled, What Can Obama Do About Climate Change?   He writes, “One of the most important steps Obama can take in the next four years will be to make climate change the focus of an intense, high level, national debate.”  He also proposes stepping up scientific research, for example for improved batteries for motor vehicles.  At: 

CAMEL Climate Change Education has developed and posted a college-level course on climate change that appears to be very well done.  It’s described as a free, comprehensive, interdisciplinary, multi media resource for educators,” and has lots of resources, including shore videos on important topics.  Check it out.

The Inter Press Service News Agency posted an article on Nov. 15 by Stephen Leahey titled, “Writing Is on the Wall” at Upcoming Climate Summit.  It says, “Two-thirds of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves cannot be used without risking dangerous climate change, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned this week.
Preventing the consumption of those two-thirds will be the primary task of the annual U.N. climate negotiations that resume at the end of this month.  
Late Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama surprised many by saying climate change will be a personal mission in his second term.”  At: 
If this is true, it represents some really good news, as Obama has been largely silent on this important issue.
The Marc Steiner radio show ( posted
a 22-minute interview with guest speaker Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech and an evengelical christian  At:  Well worth listening to.

On Nov. 14-15 The Climate Reality Project held 24 hours of activities broadcast over the internet around the world to bring attention to the climate crisis and the need to act.  Many videos of the activities are available 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" at   EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

Climate Change Not Discussed during Second Presidential Debate

Despite both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney spending a great deal of the October 16 debate discussing energy policy, neither candidate mentioned climate change. After the debate, the moderator, CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, said that she had a question prepared about climate change but ran out of time before she could ask it. Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, defended the President’s decision not to discuss climate change, saying, “Whether it’s on the stump or at the White House, President Obama has long focused on ways to develop clean energy as a core economic pillar. By advocating for the growth of renewable energy, as he did in Tuesday’s debate, President Obama has continually called for action that will address the sources of climate change.”
Recent polls – including a Pew Research Center study released October 15, a University of Texas study released October 16 and a George Mason and Yale University study released October 18 – show that an increasing majority of Americans accept climate change (see October 1 and October 8 issues). The Pew study found that 67 percent of Americans say that there is solid evidence that the Earth’s average temperature is warming, a 10 percentage point increase from a similar study performed in 2009. The University of Texas study found that 73 percent of respondents accept climate change, an eight point increase from March 2012. The George Mason and Yale University study found that 70 percent of Americans accept global warming, an increase of 13 percentage points from January 2010.

Norway to Increase Carbon Tax on Oil Industry

On October 8, Norway’s Ministry of the Environment announced that it will almost double its carbon tax on its North Sea oil and gas industries. In 2013, the carbon tax rate will increase from 210 to 410 Norwegian Kroner (from about $37 to $74) per ton of carbon dioxide, which will make it one of the highest carbon tax rates in the world. Bård Vegar Solhjell, Norwegian minister of the environment, states, “The commitment to the environment must be followed up on in the budget and resolutions.” In addition to an increased carbon tax, Norway is establishing a one billion pound fund to help mitigate the effects of climate change in the developing world. The fund will focus on investments in renewable energy, food security and conversion of existing generation to low-carbon energy sources.

Natural Gas Companies Support Scientific Study to Assess Refuge Methane Emissions

The University of Texas, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and nine major natural gas companies announced a new joint effort to accurately measure methane gas leakage from the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing. The study group will examine the life cycle of natural gas, measuring methane leakage from drilling, preparation, and production at the well and then moving to measure leakage from the gathering and processing of gas, transmission and storage, local distribution to homes and businesses, and natural-gas vehicles and their fueling stations. Previous assessments that have estimated methane gas leakage from as little as less than one percent to as much as eight percent have been scrutinized by both industry and environmentalists for their methodology and scope. A leakage rate of one percent versus eight percent means the difference between natural gas serving as a net decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when compared to coal and oil, or a net increase. The new effort is unprecedented in the amount of access that university researchers will have to well sites and in how the data will be published in a raw format. “A lot of the studies that have been done are based on assumptions. What we’re trying to do is get past the assumptions and the ‘he said, she said’ that comes with that, and having the measurements speak for themselves,” said EDF project manager Drew Nelson. Michael Levi, director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, stated that, “The EDF effort is exciting because they are going to have real data, they are going to have a variety of participants that will give it credibility. . .the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough smart people trying to interpret the data; the problem is that we don’t have enough good data.”
For additional information see: E&E Publishing, Houston Chronicle

Climate Change Increasing Frequency of Weather-Related Disasters

According to a study released October 17 by the world’s largest reinsurance company, Munich Re, weather-related disasters have increased dramatically across the globe over the past thirty years, causing upwards of one trillion dollars in insured damages. The greatest increase occurred in North America, costing approximately $510 billion and claiming nearly 30,000 lives over the thirty year period. According to the report, “Insured losses from disasters [in North America] averaged $9 billion a year in the 1980s. By the 2000s, the average soared to $36 billion per year.” Professor Peter Hoppe, head of the Munich Re geological risks group, stated, “In all likelihood, we have to regard this finding as an initial climate change footprint in our U.S. loss data from the last four decades. Previously, there had not been such a strong chain of evidence. If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing.” Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, suggested, “Quickly addressing SLCPs (short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane and black carbon) is the only mitigation strategy that can protect climate vulnerable people and regions, such as low-lying island states, over the next thirty to forty years.” Zaelke continued, “This is critical for the survival of the world’s most vulnerable countries, and it also can save insurance companies billions of dollars.”
For additional information see: Munich Re Press Release, Huffington Post

Coastal Cities Plan for Rising Sea Levels

Scientists reveal that the rise of sea levels has accelerated over the past 20 years and is now on pace to surpass previously estimated levels. Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann warns, “Once again, we’re ahead of schedule.” In light of new estimates, coastal cities are bracing for a one to two meter rise in sea levels by century’s end. Although the land is capable of absorbing some excess seawater, the predicted rise will be more than land capacity allows. Rising sea level engenders coastal erosion and threatens groundwater contamination. An even greater risk of flooding ensues when high tides coincide with major storms. The U.S. Global Change Research Program report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.,” outlines three primary avenues to combat sea level rise. Building protective structures, such as levees or seawalls, is a method that extends a city’s protection from the encroaching sea and creates jobs in difficult economic times. A giant flood barrier, visible from outer space, is already in place in St. Petersburg, Russia. Another option is to elevate or redesign existing infrastructure, enhance surrounding wetlands, or beach re-nourishment. City planners in New York City, for example, are envisioning Wall Street as the new “Venice” of the west by considering redesigning the streets to flood. The last resort is to retreat from the coastline towns. Some island nations are already grappling with this possibility. Ambassador Masao Nakayama of the Federated States of Micronesia states, “The world has written us off.”
For additional information see: ABC News

Study Finds that the United States Will Meet 2020 GHG Emissions Goals

A new study released this October by Resources for the Future (RFF) concludes that the United States is on track to achieve the 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 to which President Barack Obama committed at the 2009 international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. The study makes this prediction based on market forces shifting away from coal-fired generation and the implementation of various federal and state regulatory measures, including the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and state renewable energy portfolio standards. The RFF study predicts that these forces will reduce U.S. GHG emissions more than the proposed federal cap and trade system would have. “This comes as a surprise, and should be seen as good news for those concerned about global climate change,” said lead author Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at RFF.
For additional information see: Bloomberg Businessweek, Study

Study Reveals Mixed Antarctic Ice Changes

A study published October 21 in the journal Nature finds that previous estimates of Antarctica’s ice melt and contribution to global sea rise were overestimated. Previous studies estimated Antarctic ice melt as high as 246 gigatonnes a year. Using new data and analysis from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, a team from the University of Tasmania found that while the western Antarctic is experiencing glacial melting, the eastern Antarctic glaciers are growing, and the net result is an annual ice loss of 69 gigatonnes. This amount equates to approximately a one millimeter rise per year in ocean water levels. Lead author Matt King, a professor at the University of Tasmania, stated that, “We’re confident that the ice cover is shrinking, and the rate along the Amundsen [eastern] Sea coast is accelerating.” Moreover, Professor King stated that the study found that, “Sea level rise can be expected to change quite sharply if the melt rate continues to increase, on top of what’s already happening.”
For additional information see: Sydney Morning Herald, Study

East Coast Seabed Methane Shows Signs of Destabilizing

A study published October 24 in the journal Nature finds that a shift in the Gulf Stream has caused methane sequestered deep in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast to destabilize. The methane is stored in a frozen mixture with water called methane hydrate. The warmer waters from the Gulf Stream have unsettled the frozen methane hydrates which could weaken sediments and also release methane into the atmosphere. The study estimates that 2.5 gigatonnes of methane hydrate along the U.S. Atlantic Coast could be destabilized. Study co-author Matthew Hornbach, professor of marine geology at Southern Methodist University said, “We know methane hydrates exist here [along the U.S. Atlantic Coast] and, if warming continues, it can potentially lead to less stable sediments in this region.” The study cautions, “It is unlikely that the western North Atlantic margin is the only area experiencing changing ocean currents. Our estimate. . .may therefore represent only a fraction of the methane hydrate currently destabilizing globally.” The climate impact of the melting methane hydrates is still unclear. Carolyn Ruppel, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, states, “We don’t need to worry about any huge blow of methane into the atmosphere.”
For additional information see: Nature, NBC News, Study

Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change

In the wake of the tragic Hurricane Sandy, many in the media inquired whether climate change caused the superstorm. While many climate scientists caution that climate change cannot be directly linked to one event, Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research said, “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” Michael Rawlins, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, stated, "The latest research suggests that a warming climate will lead to more extreme weather events such as flooding rains and drought.” Stefan Rahmstorf, professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, added, "Sea level rise makes storm surges worse and will continue to do so in the future.” Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, called the superstorm “a foretaste of things to come." Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said, “We can slow the fury of future hurricanes and other extreme events by taking fast action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, tropospheric ozone, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons, actions that have the potential to cut the rate of global warming in half over the next thirty to forty years.” Carol Werner, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, said in an interview with Voice of America, “Scientists have been warning us about this for decades, and unfortunately it is all happening much earlier than what they had originally predicted back in the 80s.” Some media outlets were less equivocal. On November 1, Bloomberg Businessweek published an article titled “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Hurricane Sandy’s Political Impact

The devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy compelled politicians to address climate change in an election season that has left the topic largely untouched (see October 29 issue). Political officials in New York stated that increasingly frequent extreme weather is an unsettling phenomenon that must be addressed. On October 30, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “We have a 100-year flood every two years now. We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns. We have an old infrastructure and we have old systems and that is not a good combination.” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg added, “What is clear is that the storms that we’ve experienced in the last year or so around this country and around the world are much more severe than before. Whether that’s global warming or what, I don’t know. But we’ll have to address those issues.” On October 31, Governor Cuomo went a step further saying, “Part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality. Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”
For additional information see: Politico, San Francisco Chronicle

Students Push Universities to Divest from Fossil Fuels

On October 24, driven by concern about climate change and following the tactics of the anti-apartheid movement, students at 18 universities and colleges held a day of action to push their administrations to divest from fossil fuels. Students at institutions including Harvard, Cornell, Amherst and Bryn Mawr, called on their administrations to follow the lead of Hampshire College and to divest their endowments from fossil fuel investments. A leader of the Harvard movement, sophomore Alli Welton, said, “This issue [climate change] will really determine the sort of planet that we live on and the society in which we have our lives. And I think it’s particularly strong to students because we see our entire lives spread out ahead of us.” Harvard officials responded in a written statement, “The university maintains a strong presumption against divesting itself of securities for reasons unrelated to investment purposes.”
For additional information see: Public Radio International, Divest for our Future

Report: Climate Change a National Security Threat

The “Climate Security Report” was released on November 1 by the American Security Project. The report analyzes the international and domestic threats to national security posed by climate change. The analysis finds that, “Climate change acts as an accelerant of instability around the world, exacerbating tensions related to water scarcity and food shortages, natural resource competition, underdevelopment and overpopulation.” Lt. General Daniel Christman (Retired) says, “Climate Change is already a national imperative. Combatant Commanders are preparing now for the consequences of climate change in their areas of operation. The destabilizing impacts in key regions of the world are indisputable and will likely only worsen in the years ahead.” These issues will be especially prevalent in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, forcing civilian and military institutions to adapt. The report cites extreme weather events and rising sea levels as domestic threats to military bases and infrastructure. Furthermore, the report calls for a redefining of security, suggesting that, “Governments must prepare from threats to the security of people, not just states.” The report continues, “Just because a nation has secured its territorial integrity does not mean it has ensured the security of its citizens.”
For additional information see: Press Release, Report

Former Republican Congressman Calls on Party to Acknowledge Climate Change

At an October 31 event hosted by the Climate Desk, former Representative Mike Castle (R-DE), a former Delaware Governor and nine-term Member of Congress, stated that the Republican Party is "falling away from scientific opinion" when it comes to climate change science. Castle suggested that Republicans need "to do a much better job of making sure that [they] are examining the science.” Castle indicated that Republicans who live far from coastal regions are less likely to show support for climate change science as they are not as directly affected by rising sea levels and coastal erosion; however, this past year's droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and the recent destruction brought on by Hurricane Sandy “are factors that may start to change some of the thinking of some of the Republicans in the Congress.” He also suggested the possibility that some conservative politicians reject climate change science in order to oppose legislation, “It may be that people are for example opposed – people being conservative Republicans – to cap and trade because of the cost aspects of it. It’s not just the science of it, but the science is an excuse." Castle stated that his support for climate legislation led to his defeat in the 2010 GOP primary for the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden.
At the same event, Kevin Knobloch, representing the Obama campaign as a private citizen and president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, also spoke of the need to more seriously address climate change. In light of Hurricane Sandy, he stated, "We’re at a place where we have to focus on both mitigation – reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and adaptation – starting to move our vital infrastructure out of harm’s way. We know this is going to be our future. This is our new normal.”

For additional information see: The Hill – 1, The Hill – 2

Lead Climate Negotiator for Developing Countries Pens Open Letter to President Obama

The chair of the United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations for the coalition of the 48 Least Developed Countries, Pa Ousman Jarju, wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama calling for leadership on climate action. In the buildup to the UN climate negations in Doha, Qatar at the end of November, Jarju praised the President for his response to Hurricane Sandy, but stated, “When you were first elected president, your words gave us hope that you would become an international leader on climate change. But you have not lived up to this promise.” He continued, “The framework that you put in place sets the planet on course to warm dangerously, and delays action until 2020 – this will be too late. This year's meeting in Qatar may be our last chance to put forward a new vision and plan to reverse this course. Your legacy, and the future of our children and grandchildren depend on it.” Jarju suggested that ambitious national emissions reduction targets and climate adaptation funds for developing nations are required.
For additional information see: Guardian

In the Wake of Superstorm Sandy, Groups Call for Revaluation of NYC Planning

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, officials are not only deciding the best way to rebuild and repair damage caused by the storm, but also how to improve New York City infrastructure to be more resilient to future extreme weather threats. New York City is home to a very dense population of people in very close proximity to the water, with more than 200,000 living within four meters of the high tide mark. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that apart of moving forward after Sandy, "Is the recognition that climate change is a reality, and it’s a reality that we’re vulnerable to." He continued, “Protecting this state from coastal flooding is a massive, massive undertaking but a conversation that is overdue and a conversation that should begin.”
Many train and subway lines have only recently begun to reopen, with a total of seven subway tunnels having been flooded. As New York continues to move forward, Cuomo suggested, “The challenge is not just to build back, but to build back better than before." Discussion about the best way in which to prevent damage from future storms had increased in the past two weeks. Some changes have already been made, such as raising subway entrances, much lot more needs to be done. Phil Bedient, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, suggested that a three-meter high dike around Battery Park near Ground Zero could provide some protection for lower Manhattan. Other suggestions for future protection include: flood walls and surge protectors; using dredged material to build out natural defenses including restoring marshes and wetlands; planting trees along the shoreline; installing oyster beds and green roofs; creating a flood-proof subway system; installing a more resilient electric grid; building stronger buildings; and creating dams in areas such as Staten Island. Although these improvements are expensive, building a storm surge barrier could cost up to $10 billion, the damages from Hurricane Sandy are likely to surpass $50 billion. In addition, a 2009 study by Stony Brook University Storm Surge Research Group finds that similar extreme weather events affecting New York City are likely to increase in frequency, suggesting the need for resiliency measures. As Governor Cuomo indicated, “We have a 100-year flood every two years now," and we need to plan for them.

For additional information see: National Journal, New York Times, E&E Publishing

Insurance Industry First to Adapt After Hurricane Sandy?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many insurance companies are beginning to examine their current risk models to deal with expected increases in property damage and insurance claims from hurricanes, flood, and wildfire damage due to climate change. Insurance companies are among the first industries that have begun to acknowledge the effects of climate change, as they have been the first to face financial loss due to increased extreme weather events. The main problem for insurance companies is that they are operating under models that look at historical patterns instead of projecting into the future in which there is expected to be more property damage due to climate change.
"We're seeing more of everything [floods, fires, hurricanes], and what we're doing is trying to factor that in going forward as we work with others to have a better sense of what the future holds," says State Farm spokesman David Beigie. Experts believe that if insurance companies begin to change their risk models, they could have a major impact on zoning, building codes, and infrastructure design; just as they impacted fire codes in the late 19th century and seat belt laws in the late 20th century. Insurance companies could lobby the government, or use market incentives, to locate homes away from coastal flood zones, require electrical systems to be moved from basements to rooftops, and storm proof new infrastructure. Peytor Fleming, senior director of communications at Ceres, stated that, “The insurance industry is more focused on this issue than probably any other business sector.” If the insurance industry acts on climate change to protect their own profits, government, as the reinsurer of last resort, will save money as these extreme weather events will not cause as much damage in the first place.

For additional information see: NPR, Wired

PricewaterhouseCoopers Report Warns of Surpassing Two Degree Target

On November 5, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released its annual carbon report, concluding that the continued global use of fossil fuels will drive global temperatures six degrees Celsius higher than average by the end of the century. Global temperatures have already increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. At the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen, more than 150 countries agreed in a non-binding pact to limit the average global temperature increase to no more than two degrees Celsius by 2050. The PwC report studied carbon intensity levels – the amount of emissions per unit of gross domestic product – and found that while carbon intensity has decreased in certain nations, it has increased or stalled in other countries, leading to an overall increase in carbon intensity. This overall increase has made “ambitions to limit warming to two degrees Celsisus appear highly unrealistic,” according to the report. The report found that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have fallen to a 17-year low, mostly due to an increase in the use of natural gas. However, increased coal exports to emerging economic countries such as China and India have offset the decrease in U.S. emissions. Furthermore, the report warned that increased reliance on natural gas could lower investment in renewable energy. Leo Johnson of PwC stated that, “Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with six degrees of warming by the end of the century. To give ourselves a more than 50 percent chance of avoiding two degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.” The report stated that to achieve a six-fold improvement would require the world to reduce its carbon intensity by 5.1 percent per year through 2050.
For additional information see: Reuters, Guardian, The Hill, Study

Climate Scientists: Climate Change Contributed to Hurricane Sandy

In an opinion piece published November 5 in Politico, three climate scientists – Dr. Bob Corell, former chair of the U.S. Global Change Research Project, Dr. Jeff Masters, founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground, and Dr. Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research – discuss the connection between global warming and the occurrence of extreme global weather events. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, questions are being raised about the extent to which climate change is a predominant variable in the devastation. The scientists say, “We’ll probably never know the exact point when the weather stopped being entirely natural. But we should consider Sandy – and other recent extreme weather events – an early taste of a climate-changed world, and a grim preview of the even worse to come, particularly if we continue to pump more carbon pollution from the smokestacks and tailpipes up into the atmosphere.” Scientific research shows that warmer atmospheric temperatures increase the intensity of hurricanes by increasing rainfall and wind speeds. The U.S. East Coast is already experiencing sea level rise at a rate four-times greater than the global average, and with higher sea levels comes ever greater storm surge damage. The scientists warn that extreme storm events could cost the United States $218 billion annually by 2025 if measures are not taken to reduce carbon emissions. “It’s time to stop asking when climate change will arrive. It’s here, and we need to move aggressively to curb carbon emissions while also preparing for a changed world. We are at nothing less than a critical juncture.”
For additional information see: Politico

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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action