Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS FOR FEBRUARY 2012

CC NEWS FOR FEB. 2012

The NY State Climate Action Council has a web page (http://nyclimatechange.us/) with a lot of information on what NY is doing to achieve Executive Order 24, issued by Gov. Patterson on Aug. 6, 2009, which calls for reducing GHG emissions from the state by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, and for formation of a New York Climate Action Council, charged with recommending mitigation and adaptation measures in a Climate Action Plan and assessing how they will contribute to New York’s goals for a clean energy economy. The Executive Order is available at: http://www.nyclimatechange.us/ewebeditpro/items/O109F22395.PDF, and an Interim Report, issued in Nov. 2010, is available at: http://nyclimatechange.us/InterimReport.cfm

Arjun Makhijani has written a book published by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research titled, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy. The 3ed printing was posted to the web in Nov. 2010. Chapter 3, pages 28-72, has very good sections on renewable energy, energy storage and carbon capture and storage. The book can be downloaded at: http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/CarbonFreeNuclearFree.pdf or purchased at: http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree

Environment America has put up a web site showing a map of the U.S. with the number of disasters caused by extreme weather events during the period 2006-2011 shown color-coded by county. Most of the extreme events took place in the Mid-West, though significant numbers occurred in Washington State, Southern California, and in New Jersey through New England. At: http://www.environmentamerica.org/page/ame/map-recent-weather-related-disasters-united-states

The U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its Early Release Overview On Jan. 23 of its Annual Energy Outlook 2012. The EIA projects that U.S transportation energy demand will grow slowly (0.2%/yr) from 2010 through 2035, while electricity demand will grow somewhat faster (0.8%/yr). Per capita energy consumption is expected to decline a little (0.5%/yr) over the same period, while the energy intensity of the economy (energy per dollar of GDP (in 2005 dollars) will decrease 42% over the 25-year period. The amount of electrical energy from coal and nuclear are expected to remain at their current levels, while the projected increase will come from natural gas and renewables. At: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/pdf/0383er%282012%29.pdf

On the same day, Bloomberg posted an article by Christine Buurma titled, U.S. Cuts Estimate for Marcellus Shale Gas Reserves by 66%, saying that, though the production of gas from the Marcellus Shale had doubled during 2011, estimated of the technically recoverable natural gas had been decreased by about 2/3 - meaning that the gas from that shale is expected to last only 6 years instead of 17. At: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-23/u-s-reduces-marcellus-shale-gas-reserve-estimate-by-66-on-revised-data.html

On Jan. 24 David Minkow published a blog on ClimateAccess titled, How the Public Perceives the Risks of Climate Change: Interview with Paul Slovic. In it he describes why many people develop psychological barriers to protect themselves from thinking about or acting on climate change. It makes it very difficult to communicate with people and move them to action. At: http://www.climateaccess.org/. The site has links to a number of resources for helping to communicate the risks posed by climate change.


The January 26 issue of EcoWatch has a report from Cornell University titled, Natural Gas from Shale Not Suitable as ‘Bridge Fuel,’ May Worsen Climate Change. The problem is that so much methane leaks into the atmosphere when it is extracted from shale by fracking that the global warming is greater than what one would get from burning oil or coal. At: http://ecowatch.org/2012/natural-gas-from-shale-not-suitable-as-bridge-fuel-may-worsen-climate-change/. There is a 55-minute video at the site describing our energy choices for a better future.

The University of Delaware’s UDaily published an announcement of Jan. 27 titled, Potential energy - Study of Maryland demonstrates Mid-Atlantic offshore wind capacity. It described a study recently published in the journal Renewable Energy by researchers at UD showing that wind turbines off the Atlantic Coast of MD could generate more than enough energy to meet Maryland’s annual electricity consumption.
At: http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2012/jan/wind-power-012712.html
So far, the U.S. is lagging far behind other nations in deploying offshore wind turbines, even though wind power is less expensive than solar PV.

USAToday ran an article on Jan. 31by Wendy Koch titled, NASA: Global warming caused mostly by humans. She quoted a NASA study, published in the December issue of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, which said that incoming radiation from the sun now exceeds outgoing by radiation by 0.58 watts per square meter and that increasing concentrations of CO2 will cause the imbalance to increase, speeding warming. To get back to radiation balance we would need to reduce the CO2 concentration from the current 392 ppm to 350 ppm. Contrary to claims in a Jan. 27 Wall Street Journal article that global warming is not occurring (without evidence for the claim), “all 11 years of the 21st century so far (2001–2011) rank among the 13 warmest in the 132-year period of record.” At: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2012/01/nasa-global-warming-caused-mostly-by-humans/1

On. Feb. 1 the Wall Street Journal published an article - Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate - by a group of distinguished climate scientists in answer to a Jan. 27 Op. Ed. – No Need to Panic about Global Warming - by some climate skeptics, who claimed that the earth hasn’t warmed for the last 10 years and that climate changes can be attributed to sun spots – not anthropogenic CO2. The real climate scientists wrote. “Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth.” You can find both at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204740904577193270727472662.html

On Feb. 2 Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, posted a blot titled Coming Clean – The Sierra Club and Natural Gas. In it he pointed out a change in Club policy that once favored natural gas as a bridge fuel between coal and renewable energy sources. That has changed because the way that a lot of natural gas is now produced in the U.S. involves hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of gas-bearing shale that poses unacceptable risks – especially to fresh water supplies. The club even gave up substantial financial contributions from Chesapeake Energy, one of the country’s largest natural gas suppliers, in order to avoid any conflict of interest. It’s an inspiring story. At:
http://sierraclub.typepad.com/michaelbrune/2012/02/the-sierra-club-and-natural-gas.html

The Feb. 3 NY Times ran an article by Leslie Kaufman and Kate Zernkie titled, Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot. They write, “Across the country, activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities.” At: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/us/activists-fight-green-projects-seeing-un-plot.html?pagewanted=all
Though the Tea Party types can seem a little kooky, I consider them a serious threat to efforts to improve our environment and deal with the threat of climate change. Backed by lots of fossil fuel money, they are having a chilling effect on an open discussion of important issues, on which our future depends.

Bill McKibben, the founder of www.350.org, has a Feb. 7 post in Grist titled, The great carbon bubble: Why the fossil-fuel industry fights so hard. It shows a beautiful recent NASA image similar to the classic “Blue Marble” photo of the earth taken by Apollo from space in 1972. Trouble is, there is little or no snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. this winter. Comparing the photos clearly shows the change that has occurred in the last 40 years. The article goes on to show how Republican candidates for President, funded by fossil fuel interests, are struggling this year to deny the reality of global climate change. He writes, “Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”” It’s a sad day for America – and for the Earth’s people. It’s a really good article. At: http://grist.org/fossil-fuels/the-great-carbon-bubble-why-the-fossil-fuel-industry-fights-so-hard/

The Feb. 11 issue of ScienceNews has an article by Devin Powell titled, Amazon may become greenhouse gas emitter. Based on regular measurements on about 100,000 trees, scientists estimated that the Amazon was taking up about 1.5 billion tons of CO2 in 2000. However, as a result of deforestation for agriculture and a couple of severe droughts since then that have killed a lot of trees, the Amazon is turning from a net carton sink to a source. The total carbon stored in the forest is estimated to be the equivalent of 10 years of global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The concern is that climate change and human activity may eventually destroy the rain forest, adding its 100 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere. At: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/337827/title/Amazon_may_become_greenhouse_gas_emitter

ScienceNews has a Feb. 16 article by Devin Powell titled, Natural gas wells leakier than believed. He reports on a study to be published soon by Gabrielle P├ętron, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her group has monitored the atmosphere near Denver and found that methane from a leaking natural gas field can be found when the wind is blowing from that direction. The field source of the methane can be determined by analyzing for other light hydrocarbons that are typical of the field. She concludes that about 4% of the gas produced from the field is leaked into the atmosphere, where it has a powerful greenhouse effect. Leakage of natural gas produced by fracking shale formations in other parts of the country is also a concern. At: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/338505/title/Natural_gas_wells_leakier_than_believed

On Feb. 19 the Wilmington News Journal published an article by Sally Bakewell titled, Who pays for damages if stored CO2 bubbles up? It points out that the sudden release of carbon dioxide from Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986 that killed 1700 people is a shadow looming over the financing of attempts to capture and store CO2 from power plants as a way to reduce GHG emissions from burning fossil fuels. While the IPCC has said that there may be enough capacity in suitable sites around the world to hold 2000 Gt (billion tons) of CO2 (about 40 times last year’s global emissions), the sticking point is who will pay for the damages if the CO2 is released (for example in an earthquake). Insurance companies are unwilling to write 100-year or 1000-year policies, so insuring against catastrophic loss may be left to the government (us) to insure. Sound familiar? At: http://www.allvoices.com/news/11549193-who-pays-for-damages-if-stored-co2-bubbles-up


The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications"
 at http://www.eesi.org/publications/Newsletters/CCNews/ccnews.htm
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community.


Obama Administration Publishes Draft Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

On January 19, the Obama administration, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a draft national strategy to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The paper proposes strategies to mitigate climate change over the next five years, and provides a road map to manage wildlife habitats. “The impacts of climate change are already here and those who manage our landscapes are already dealing with them,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes. “The reality is that rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, loss of sea ice and changing precipitation patterns – trends scientists have definitively connected to climate change – are already affecting the species we care about, the services we value, and the places we call home. A national strategy will help us prepare and adapt.” The strategy is available for public review and comment through March 5, 2012.
For additional information see: Proposal, NOAA Press Release, National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy Website

Climate Skepticism Reaching Classrooms

Teachers in some states are facing opposition to teaching climate science from parents, school boards and other groups. Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Oklahoma have introduced legislation or educational standards that give climate denial time in the classroom. Resolutions denying climate change passed in the South Dakota and Utah legislatures. “Teachers are getting hammered for teaching climate change, the same way they are for teaching evolution,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). NCSE is offering tools and support to parents and teachers in effectively teaching climate science to students. Climate science is typically taught in middle school earth science or high school environmental science classes. In December, new national science standards for K-12 will be released and are expected to include climate change.
For additional information see: Forbes, Los Angeles Times

2011 Ninth Warmest Year Since 1880

According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880 and the 10 hottest years on record all occurred in the past 20 years. Separately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported the average temperature in the United States during 2011 was the 23rd warmest year in their historical records. The average temperature for 2011 for the U.S. was 53.8 degrees, 1 degree warmer than the 20th century average. "We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting," said James E. Hansen, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), "So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures.” According to NASA, the increased temperatures are a result of increased greenhouse gasses, especially CO2.
For additional information see: Reuters, NOAA Report, NASA Report

China Facing Climate Change Risks

China’s prosperity is threatened by flooding, droughts and shifting land-use according to the Chinese government’s “Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change.” The report states, "China faces extremely grim ecological and environmental conditions under the impact of continued global warming and changes to China's regional environment." Chinese emissions will continue to increase until 2030, with few major reductions until 2050. China's emissions, which grew 10 percent in 2010, account for a quarter of worldwide C02 emissions. Imbalances in water distribution will have the greatest impacts, with severe water shortages in 18 provinces and flooding in low lying regions. Changing weather patterns will also affect rice and cotton production. Up to 2020, Chinese emission reductions will amount to 10 trillion yuan ($1.6 trillion), with half the expenditure for energy efficiency and renewables. 
In related news, Beijing publicly announced on January 19 that the capital’s air quality was hazardous in at least two areas of the city. In response to complaints from residents that the city government was downplaying the pollution as “fog”, officials cancelled flights at the city airport and closed highways because of low visibility. Surrounded by mountains on the north and west sides of Beijing, smog and soot from heavy traffic and coal plant exhaust hang in the air over the city until weather patterns clear the area. Beijing officials have announced new steps to improve air quality, imposing regulations to control the release of pollutants from local industries.
For additional information see: Reuters, Washington Post

Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies Could Provide Half of 2035 Reduction Targets

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), $409 billion was spent by 37 governments in 2010 to subsidize the price of fossil fuels. “They need to be removed for a healthy energy economy . . . . Energy is significantly underpriced in many parts of the world, leading to wasteful consumption, price volatility and fuel smuggling. It's also undermining the competitiveness of renewables," according to Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist. The subsidies are provided in developing countries to directly reduce the price of fossil fuels, while in developed countries, they are used for tax breaks or beneficial access to land and infrastructure. Without subsidies, by 2015, 750 million tonnes of CO2 and by 2035, 2.6 gigatonnes of CO2, would be eliminated. This reduction will provide half the needed CO2 emission reduction to limit global warming to 2°C.
For additional information see: The Guardian

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Cuts 67 Million Carbon Allowances

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative plans to eliminate an oversupply of 67 million unsold carbon allowances. The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast-based cap and trade system requires electric power providers to pay for emissions by purchasing carbon allowances equal to one ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Unused allowances can be sold by the companies to other emitters of pollution. The move to remove unused allowances will increase prices and lead to a decrease in CO2 emissions. According to Ashley Lawson, a senior analyst with Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, while the program has proved itself successful, the oversupply of allowances created a lower price for them, easing the pressure on electricity providers to emit less. While the prices have been lower than expected, almost $1 billion in revenue has been generated for the 10 original states, most of which has gone to energy efficiency programs.
For additional information see: New York Times

USDA Updates Plant Hardiness Map for a Warmer Climate

The US Department of Agriculture has updated the Plant Hardiness Zone Map to reflect climate change. The map is used by gardeners to determine which plants will grow in each location based on the average annual minimum temperature. Plants are able to thrive farther north because the coldest days of the year are now warmer and spring is arriving earlier. "People who grow plants are well aware of the fact that temperatures have gotten more mild throughout the year, particularly in the winter time," according to Boston University biology professor Richard Primack. "There's a lot of things you can grow now that you couldn't grow before." The new map is based on temperature data from 1976 to 2005 and reflects a two-thirds of a degree increase in average temperatures from the previous map.
For additional information see: ABC, AP, Plant Map

Climate Change Affects the Global Dinner Plate

On January 20 in Science, researchers published a report urging policymakers to include agriculture in global actions against climate change. Led by John Beddington, Britain’s chief science adviser, the paper states, "Global agriculture must produce more food to feed a growing population, yet scientific assessments point to climate change as a growing threat to agricultural yields and food security." Climate change-related weather events wipe out large crops of available food worldwide, and raise the overall price of remaining supplies. Farmers and scientists have begun to work together to find solutions to the food shortage. In Israel researchers have developed a way to use satellite images to assist farmers with harvests, relaying climate data to farmers that tell them when to plant seeds, when to harvest crops and which crops work best for each square kilometer of land. In Africa, farmers are using agroforestry to mix crops and livestock with shrubbery and trees in order to reduce deforestation and use available animal manure to fertilize the crops.
For additional information see: CNBC, NPR, Reuters, Time, Report

Climate Change Acidifies Oceans Beyond Marine Organisms’ Limits

On January 22, in Nature Climate Change scientists report that over the last 200 years, carbon dioxide emissions have raised the acidity of the world’s oceans to the highest levels in history. "In some regions, the man-made rate of change in ocean acidity since the Industrial Revolution is 100 times greater than the natural rate of change between the Last Glacial Maximum and pre-industrial times," explains lead author Dr. Tobias Friedrich, of the University of Hawaii. The acidic environment is pushing coral reefs, shellfish, and many marine species beyond their natural survival limits. The scientists discovered that greenhouse gas emissions, when reacting with saltwater, significantly reduced the calcification rate of corals and mollusks. Decreased calcification rates impact the reproduction speed of the marine animal’s skeletal system and weaken the organisms by about 15 per cent, with some species reaching a 40 percent drop in calcification rates. "Our results suggest that severe reductions are likely to occur in coral reef diversity, structural complexity and resilience by the middle of this century," says co-author Axel Timmermann. 
In related news, the United Nations Environment Program reports countries could greatly reduce the amount of marine pollution by strengthening fertilizer regulation and introducing incentives to encourage the recycling of nutrients. Less polluted beaches and oceans would increase the tourism industry and increase the areas’ overall value. Countries could also further reduce marine pollution by replacing traditional non-renewable energy sources with wind, wave and tidal power, and greatly reduce the levels of greenhouse gas emissions acidifying the ocean.
For additional information see: Daily Mail, USA Today, Science Daily, Monga Bay, Reuters

California Passes Regulation for Cleaner Cars

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) unanimously passed a package of vehicle polices to reduce the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by putting more electric and hybrid cars on the road. According to the new rules, one in seven new cars in California will be a zero emissions or plug-in hybrid car by 2025. In addition, emission standards for all new cars sold in California were strengthened, making them the toughest in the nation. By placing 1.4 million alternative fuel cars on the road, CARB board members expect the rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent and smog by 75 percent. "These robust, zero-emission vehicle standards will provide the market assurance automakers and the energy industry need to transform the electric vehicle into a mass-market success," said Don Anair, senior engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Clean Vehicles program. While the new fuel-efficient technologies will increase the cost of the vehicle by almost $2,000, owners are expected to recoup over $6,000 in fuel savings over the lifetime of the car.
For additional information see: Reuters,Los Angeles Times, Union of Concerned Scientists, Mercury News, Sustainable Business

Boulder City Council Updates Climate Action Plan

A new multi-department committee in Boulder, Colorado, will "begin an evaluation and planning process that will engage the Boulder community around a vision for future (greenhouse gas) emissions reductions." The city council is debating whether to extend the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) tax, set to expire in March 2013. The CAP tax collects over $1 million per year from city utility bills, and is redistributed towards city programs that focus on mitigating climate change. Boulder’s Environmental Advisory Board wrote a letter to the city council asking to extend the CAP tax. Board member Stephen Morgan said, "I think (climate change) is a huge issue that's facing us, not just in Boulder but the whole country," he said. "We can't shy away from big problems because they're big. I think difficult problems have answers, and it's for the best and the brightest to stand up and find out what those answers are."
For additional information see: The Daily Camera

Forests Capture More Carbon than Previously Thought

A recent map published in Nature Climate Change actively measures the various biomass and carbon storage potential of tropical forests and vegetation in Africa, Asia, and South America. Scientists from Woods Hole Research Centre, Boston University, and the University of Maryland used remote sensing and field data to produce the map. In addition to cataloging carbon storage of forests, the researchers were able to catalog the various levels of emissions produced during deforestation. "For the first time we were able to derive accurate estimates of carbon densities using satellite LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) observations in places that have never been measured," said Alessandro Baccini, assistant scientist at Woods Hole. According to the map, 32 million acres of forests are cut each year, releasing over 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air.
For additional information see: Forbes, Study, Times of India

Study: Model Predicts Changes in Malaria Infections

Climate change will cause changes in both the geographic occurrence of malaria and intensity of transmission over the next 50 years, according to Dr. Andrew Morse from the University of Liverpool, one of the authors of the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study combined simulations of mosquito bite rates and transmission rates with a climate model to forecast malaria infection across Africa. Increases in surface temperature and decreased rainfall will reduce malaria infection in many tropical areas, but in the sub-Sahara Sahel region and East Africa, transmission rates will increase. Malaria is most common in warm, humid environments, and an increase of 2°Celsius may cause epidemics in areas currently free of malaria.
For additional information see: Planet Earth Online

Political Leaders Shape Public Opinion of Climate Change

According to a study published in the journal Climate Change, public opinion regarding climate change issues is greatly influenced by political leaders and the media as opposed to scientific research and extreme weather events. In the study, a Climate Change Threat Index was generated by using polling data based upon multiple factors of influence including “extreme weather events, scientific information, media coverage, congressional attention, and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue.” J. Craig Jenkins of Ohio State University, co-author of the study, said, “More than any other single factor, the content and tone of political discourse about climate change impacted public opinion . . . . The politics overwhelms the science.” The study also found increased media coverage of climate change increases the level of public concern.
For additional information see: The Energy Collective, Yale Environment 360, Columbia Journalism Review, AlterNet

Island Nations Seek World Court Opinion on Climate Change

Palau President Johnson Toribiong has formed an expert advisory committee with other island nations to bring climate change to the World Court. Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University and one of the advisory committee members, says, “The basic argument is that under international law, no nation may cause pollution that causes damage in other nations. Thus the major emitting countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions so as to reduce the damage that sea level rise and other climate impacts cause to the island nations.” The nations hope the court will find greenhouse gas emitting nations have an obligation under international law to reduce those emissions. The countries fear rising sea levels will submerge their low lying islands.
For additional information see: Dawn, Los Angeles Times

Glacial Melting Less than Expected

Some of the Earth's glaciers and ice caps are melting more slowly than expected, contributing about 0.4mm of sea level rise per year, less than half the amount predicted, according to a joint satellite project run by NASA and the German government. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) was able to capture more accurate measurements than previously possible about glaciers throughout the world. Ian Howat, a glacier and ice-sheet specialist at Ohio State University states, “The good news here is that they are not losing mass as quickly as we thought. The bad news is that while we’re not losing mass from ice caps and glaciers as quickly, we’re still not gaining it anywhere.” Previous overestimates of melting could be as a result that many glaciers studied are at lower altitudes and, therefore, more prone to melting while higher glaciers are colder and less susceptible to warm temperatures.
For additional information see: Christian Science Monitor, CNET, The Independent

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Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action