Tuesday, May 22, 2012


The U.S. Global Change Researh Program (USGCRP) has a great website with lots of information about hurricanes and climate change, last updated in Sept. 2008.  The intensity and destructiveness of hurricanes has been increasing since about 1970, along with increasing sea surface temperatures.  At:
In 2010 the NAACP issued a Climate Justice Initiative Toolkit, which points out that our current energy system,, based primarily on the burning of fossil fuels, and the climate change it produces, disproportionately affect people of color - especially the poor who are least responsible for carbon emissions.  It’s a matter of social justice.  At: 
A post in National Geographic on May 2 by Bill Chameides of Duke University was titled, The Heat Goes On: CO2 Reaches Another High-Water MarkIt points out the the atmospheric concentration of CO2 on Mona Loa in Hawaii reached 394.45 ppm in March - the highest level ever recorded there.  The highest concentration this year, expected in May, may exceed 395 ppm.  As only Britain and Mexico have legally binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions, it appears very unlikely that humanity will be able to keep CO2 from reaching 450 ppm.  That concentration would eventually give global mean temperatures of 2-4℃, depending on the sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 concentration.
On May 3 the PBS Newshour announced that their web Science Section has a 15-question quiz about climate change by Rebecca Jacobson titled, Are You Smarter Than a 10th Grader on Climate Change?  The questions are taken from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication On the same page you can see how well you did compared to both adults and 10th graders.  You can also read about the difficulties teachers are having teaching about climate change in the classroom  At: 
(I got all the answers correct.  See if you can match me.)
The Guardian Environmental Blog for May 5 has an article titled, Heartland Institute compares belief in global warming to mass murder!  This radical right ‘think tank’ has really gone off the deep end.  I hope that the corporations that have funded the organization have the good sense to pull their support.  Unbelievable!  At: 
I must tell you that I was recently interviewed on a local Wilmington, DE radio station (WDEL) about climate change and was call an environmental Nazi by a listener who called in!
Ted.com/talks has a 9-minute video with Hans Rosling, who uses the example of washing machines to show why the majority of the 7 billion people in the world want to have them - along with all the other conveniences made possible by energy - just like we do.  He touches on population growth, economic growth, and future energy demand in a very entertaining way.  At:
U.S.News on MSNBC.com posted a piece on May 5 by Miguel Llanos titled, US claims 'unprecedented' success in test for new fuel source, which described drilling in the Arctic on Alaska’s North Slope by Conoco Phillips for methane hydrate, a co-crystalized form of ice with about 13% methane by weight. The company and Secretary Stephen Chu of the U.S. Dept. of Energy see this as a great new source of fossil fuel, with perhaps 600 trillion cubic feet of methane under premafrost on Alaskan land and 200,000 trillion under Alaskan waters offshore.  At: 
If all of this carbon is burned to CO2 and released into the atmosphere, it will really do a number on Earth’s climate, which is already at risk from conventional fossil fuels.  It will be even worse if methane gets into the atmosphere without being burned, as it is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.
On May 8 Jason Samenow of the Washington Post announced that during May 2011 to April 2012 the U.S. had the highest average temperature for any 12-month period since record keeping began in 1895, with an average temperature 2.8 degrees F higher that the 20th Century average.  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"
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

EPA Claims No Plans to Regulate Carbon Emissions from Existing Power Plants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it currently has “no plans” for the regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants. A proposed GHG emissions standard for new power plants released on March 27 contained only one reference to plans for existing source standards, while a draft of the rule submitted to the Office of Management and Budget on November 7 contained numerous references to developing standards for existing power plants. At the rule’s release, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters, “We don’t have plans to address existing plants.”   The draft included comments such as, “At a future date, EPA intends to promulgate emission guidelines for states to develop plans reducing [carbon dioxide] emissions from existing fossil-fuel-fired [electric generating units]” and “regulation of new sources of those pollutants triggers a requirement that EPA also promulgate emission guidelines for existing source.” The EPA’s change of plans regarding existing source regulations apparently arose during a White House review of the proposed standard for new sources.
For additional information see: Politico
Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Sea Level Rise
On April 19, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing titled, “Impacts of Rising Sea Levels on Domestic Infrastructures.” Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) ended his opening statement by saying, “The discussion that we’re having today is an important one. Witnesses will be testifying about real-world impacts. I hope that this hearing contributes to the restarting of a national conversation on this important topic.” Five Democratic senators attended, while Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), was the only Republican member at the hearing.  Waleed Abdalati, chief scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), noted at the hearing, “It is clear there are changes coming. It is clear the way we use energy is contributing to those changes, and I think it should be equally clear that our success in the face of those changes really depends on slowing them down, keeping them as small as we reasonably can . . . investments in alternate energy are, I think, essential for a successful future.”

Climate Change Increases Conservation Costs
Studies examining conservation costs and climate change in South Africa, Madagascar and California were published together in Conservation Biology on April 12.  Despite different effects of climate change on local species, the studies predicted conservation costs to increase in all three regions.  "If world leaders want to be effective in both slowing the rate of environmental degradation and helping the poor to prosper now and in the future, they should place biodiversity conservation at the top of their agendas," advised Lee Hannah, a study author. Conservation of biodiversity also benefits humans. For example, “By protecting the plants and animals of its forests, Madagascar is protecting the sources of life-saving medicines, clean water for agriculture, and jobs for people in tourism," according to Jonah Busch, Climate and Forest Economist at Conservation International. Restoring rainforest to avoid species extinction as climate changes is six times more expensive than protecting existing forest in Madagascar.
For additional information see: Phys.org, Conservation Biology

Study: Electric Car Greenhouse Gas Emissions Vary by Local Energy Sources
A recent study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) compared the greenhouse gas emissions of electricity produced in different regions to power the all-electric Nissan Leaf versus the emissions of hybrid and conventional gasoline vehicles.  The study found that 45 percent of U.S. residents live in areas where powering an electric vehicle is equivalent to a gasoline vehicle that attains 50 miles per gallon (mpg) or more and equivalent to over 80 mpg in certain areas, including parts of New York and California.  Another 37 percent of Americans live in areas where power plant emissions for electric cars are at the equivalent of 41-50 mpg, comparable to hybrid cars. An electric car in a region totally reliant on coal power would be equivalent to 30 mpg; on par with conventional gasoline cars. “The good news is that, as the nation's electric grids get cleaner, consumers who buy an EV today can expect to see their car's emissions go down over the lifetime of the vehicle,” said report author Don Anair. Electric vehicles provide protection against changing gas prices, and the report estimates $13,000 fuel savings over an average car lifetime, compared to a 27 mpg conventional car.  The UCS report also stated a need for systemic change, “To prevent the worst consequences of global warming, the automotive industry must deliver viable alternatives to the oil-fueled, internal-combustion engine — i.e., vehicles boasting zero or near-zero emissions.”

Voters Favor Regulating Carbon Dioxide
Three out of four U.S. voters favor regulating carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas pollutant and 65 percent of Americans support an international treaty requiring the U.S. to cut carbon dioxide 90 percent by the year 2050, according to a survey of Americans released by Yale and George Mason University.   Forty-seven percent of respondents favor eliminating subsidies for oil, gas, coal, nuclear or renewable energy.  Sixty-one percent support policies that would hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for, "all the hidden costs we pay for citizens who get sick from polluted air and water, military costs to maintain our access to foreign oil and the environmental costs of spills and accidents.”  Sixty eight percent say the United States should make either a large-scale or medium-scale effort to reduce global warming, even if this has large or moderate economic costs. Seventy percent also believe corporations and industries should be doing more to prevent climate change, and 67 percent believe Americans themselves should be doing more.  The survey of 1,008 U.S. voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
For additional information see: Reuters, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

Sea Level Rise Puts Power Plants at Risk
An April 19 study by science and media non-profit Climate Central identified 287 energy facilities in the lower 48 states, including four nuclear power plants, built less than four feet above local high tide line putting them at elevated risk of flooding from extreme deluges. Climate change has raised sea levels by eight inches since the late 19th century and increases the probability of extreme floods that rise at least four feet above local high tide marks and which normally should occur only once every 100 years. The Climate Central report stated that across all sites, “median odds for floods reaching at least four feet above local high tide lines are 55 percent by 2030.” Facilities at risk are spread across 22 states, but more than one-half are located in Louisiana. Ben Strauss, a report co-author who testified at the April 19 U.S. Senate hearing on sea level rise, warned that flooding energy facilities can cause blackouts, damage to critical access roads, damage to mechanical systems and facilities, oil spillage, oil supply shortages, or even nuclear disasters.
For additional information see: Climate Central, Mother Jones

Methane Released at Breaks in Arctic Ocean Ice
Data from research craft flown over Arctic ice by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) research identified methane at cracks and in areas with melting in Arctic sea ice.  In their report, published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers stated, "the emissions rate we encountered could present a source of global consequence.” The newly-discovered Arctic Ocean methane may be the newest addition to the list of Arctic positive feedback loops, by contributing to further warming and methane release. Thawing soil releases methane, which adds to global warming, which in turns frees more methane, and so on. This study is the first report of methane from melting sea ice, but the source of the methane remains unknown.  The gas is unlikely to be from sediment in the continental shelf as it was found at locations over the deep ocean.
For additional information see: AFP, The Independent, Science Daily

Warm Ocean Water Linked to Antarctic Ice Melt
Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey using a satellite-mounted laser instrument to measure ice thickness in Antarctic floating ice shelves found that warm ocean currents are melting ice sheets from below, contributing significantly to Antarctic ice loss. Dr. Hamish Pritchard, lead author of the group’s report published in the journal Nature, explained that shifts in wind currents driven by factors such as natural weather variation, the ozone hole and climate change have pushed warmer water  towards and under the ice shelves. “It means that we can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt — the oceans can do all the work from below,” he said. Understanding the links between climate change and ice loss will help scientists make more accurate predictions of sea level rise.
For additional information see: Science Daily, BBC News, ABC News

Virginia Supreme Court: Insurance Company Need Not Cover Climate Change Lawsuit
On Friday, April 20, the Virginia Supreme Court  unanimously ruled that insurance provider Steadfast is not responsible for covering power company AES’s cost of defense or settlement in a climate change lawsuit under a commercial general liability (CGL) accident insurance policy.  In February 2008, Alaskan Native Village of Kivalina sued AES and about 20 more oil and energy companies for releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming, which they argue, has caused late freezing and early melting of sea ice that allows winters storms to damage the shoreline and village. The Court stated, "Where the harmful consequences of an act are alleged to have been not just possible, but the natural or probable consequences of an intentional act, choosing to perform the act deliberately, even if in ignorance of that fact, does not make the resulting injury an 'accident' even when the complaint alleges that such action was negligent." The decision sets a precedent for future cases of insurance claims over climate change lawsuits.
For additional information see: The Washington Times, Environmental Finance, LegalNewsline

Air Pollution Cooling Effect Masked Global Warming in Eastern United States
Aerosol particulate pollution emitted primarily by coal-fired power plants has delayed warming in the eastern United States by reflecting incoming sunlight, according to a study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Lead author Eric Leibensperger said, "For the sake of protecting human health and reducing acid rain, we've now cut the emissions that lead to particulate pollution — but these cuts have caused the greenhouse warming in this region to ramp up to match the global trend." Temperatures in the US ‘warming hole' fell by as much as one degree Celsius between 1930 and 1990, while average world temperature rose by 0.8 degrees Celsius between 1906 and 2005.   Clean Air Act legislation in 1970 and 1990 resulted in decreased air pollution and a 50 percent decline from peak pollution levels in 1980. In 2010, average cooling in the East was 0.3 degrees Celsius. Co-author Loretta Mickley warned, “Something similar could happen in China, which is just beginning to tighten up its pollution standards. China could see significant climate change due to declining levels of particulate pollutants."
For additional information see: PhysOrg, TG Daily

Fewer Satellites to Limit Weather and Climate Change Data
United States Earth-observation satellite capacity could decrease by 75 percent by 2020, as new missions to replace older satellites are affected by budget cuts, launch failure, mission cancellations and other problems, according to a National Resource Council (NRC) study sponsored by the  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Dennis Hartmann, chair of the committee that wrote the report, cautioned, "The projected loss of observing capability will have profound consequences on science and society, from weather forecasting to responding to natural hazards. Our ability to measure and understand changes in Earth's climate and life support systems will also degrade." Observation satellites are used to measure sea surface temperatures and sea level, predict and track hurricanes, make long-term forecasts, issue severe weather warnings, track atmospheric carbon dioxide, and pick up signals from emergency beacons.
For additional information see: New York Times, PhysOrg, Report

Emissions May Increase More than Expected
A report from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency predicts that despite voluntary emissions targets set at the Cancun climate negotiations in 2010, global greenhouse gas emissions will be at least 50.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year by 2020. That is 2.5 billion metric tons more than the Agency predicted in 2010, and 7 to 11 billion metric tons more than the limit scientists have established to prevent runaway climate change. Much of the increase comes from emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil that have not set hard caps on emissions.
For additional information see: Reuters, PBL

House Cuts Climate Education Funding
The U.S. House of Representatives passed two amendments to the Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and other agencies which cut funding to federal climate change education and outreach. The House passed an amendment that eliminates funding for the National Science Foundation’s climate change education program by a vote of 238-188. Also, an amendment blocks an increase of $542,000 in appropriated funds for NOAA's Climate.gov website which provided a centralized location for climate information. The NOAA amendment was introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) and passed 219-189. The House appropriations bill now goes to the Senate.
For additional information see: Climate Central

Climate Variability Affecting Idaho’s Water Supplies, Flood Control
Increased weather variability due to global climate change is making it difficult to control floods and water flow for irrigation, recreation and fisheries at reservoirs. For example, coinciding record high temperatures and rainfall sent 26,000 cubic feet of water per second surging into the Boise River dam system and forced federal river managers to increase flow out of Lucky Peak Dam to the highest level since 1998. Runoff is beginning earlier, in late March, with flow peaks in early May rather than late May or early June. Variable weather events like those this April are making it difficult to predict reservoir water levels and river flow rates. Despite modern technology, “Our forecasts were more accurate in the ’60s through the ’70s than they are now,” said Ron Abramovich, a water-supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise. “A lot of people think global warming is going to be a gradual increase in temperatures. It may be a roller coaster . . . kind of like the stock market,” commented Abramovich.
For additional information see: Idaho Statesman

Majority of Public Favors Climate Policies, Support Dips Since 2010
Americans' support for government steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions has dropped from an average of 72 percent to 62 percent in the past two years, according to a poll from Stanford University.  "Most Americans still support industry taking steps aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but they hate the idea of consumer taxes to do it," said lead researcher Jon Krosnick.  The average drop in support for these policies was about seven percentage points among those who identified themselves as Democrats or independents versus 14 points for Republicans. The report suggests that cool average temperatures in 2011 and statements by Republican presidential candidates which expressed skepticism about climate change as reasons for the drop in support.
For additional information see: USA Today, Poll

Reduced Carbon Permit Prices Result in More Coal Burning
The European economic downturn has reduced the cost of carbon permits which has increased the use of coal-fired power plants. The European Union carbon permitting scheme seeks to combat climate change by capping carbon dioxide emissions at industrial and power plants and requiring them to purchase permits for emissions which exceed the caps. The economic slump and decreased industrial output has resulted in a surplus of permits and a 60 percent decrease in permit prices allowing power companies to burn more coal at lower cost and without exceeding carbon dioxide emissions targets. Germany, Europe’s largest power market, has been increasing the use of coal power since January, and profits based on benchmark German prices have risen by around 30 percent.  "If you have anything that's coal-fired in your generation park at the moment — be it lignite or hard coal — you will take advantage of the high margins and burn the stuff," a trader with a major German utility said.
For additional information see: Reuters
NOTE: This increased burning of coal points out a weakness of the cap-and-trade system compared to a direct fee on carbon dioxide emissions.  The fee need not be a tax, in that it could be distributed back to all citizens on an equal per capita basis. 

Geoengineering Strategies Could Cool Climate
Geoengineering strategies that could combat climate change come with costs, political considerations, and risk of unexpected effects. Cooling strategies generally fall into two categories; techniques to block solar radiation, such as artificially increasing cloud cover or dispersing sulfur compounds that will scatter light in the atmosphere, and strategies to remove and store atmospheric carbon in the earth or oceans.  Removing carbon would be a slow, expensive process, but is less risky.  Blocking solar radiation could have unintended side effects, such as altering monsoon cycles or other weather patterns.  Who makes decisions to alter climate, and how these decisions are made could lead to global conflict. Reports from organizations such as the Royal Society, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office are urging the decision maker to consider a situation where geoengineering is required. A recent report from Wilson International Center for Scholars said, “At the very least, we need to learn what approaches to avoid even if desperate.”
For additional information see: The New Yorker
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action