Wednesday, June 13, 2012


The May 14 issue of Chemical & Engineering News has an article by Jeff Johnson titled, Paying for Power Plant Shutdowns.  It describes a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that looked at the decommissioning costs of shutting down 12 nuclear reactors that are reaching the end of their useful lives.  For many of them, the money set aside for decomissioning is inadequate by up to 50% for a number of reasons: an outdated funding formula used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, greater than expected radiological contamination, and poor decisions by owners on where to invest funds set aside for cleanup.  Company decommissioning costs are estimated to be about $400 million to $800 million per reactor.  
Smartplanet for May 18 has an article by Mark Halper titled, Safe Nuclear: UK Eyes Thorium.  For those of you unfamiliar with thorium as a nuclear fuel, the article says it has several advantages over uranium:
  • The waste cannot be used to make weapons.
  • The waste is radioactive for only a few hundred years - instead of tens of thousands.
  • With some reactor designs (e.g., molten salt) it can give higher energy conversion efficiencies.
The Guardian for May 20 has an article by Suzanne Goldenburg titled, Heartland Institute facing uncertain future as staff depart and cash dries up.  The Heartland Institute (HI) - supposedly an organization devoted to giving the public balanced information about climate change - showed its hand when it posted billboard ads comparing those who accept climate change science with Ted Kaczynski, the terrorist Unibomber.  Since then HI staff and financial supporters have been leaving like they are jumping off a sinking ship.  At:
ThinkProgress has a May 21 post by Joe Romm titled, Climate Science Disinformers are Nothing like Holocaust Deniers.  In it, Romm explains why he prefers the term ‘disinformers’ rather than ‘deniers’ or ‘skeptics’ for people who not only deny climate science but actively promote disinformation on the subject of climate change.  His Climate Progress blog covers climate science, solutions and politics, and has been called "the indispensable blog" by columnist Tom Friedman.  You can subscribe for automatic email delivery.  At:
Yereth Rosen of Reuters posted an article on May 21 titled, Study finds permafrost thaw, glacier melt releasing methane.  He reports on a study published online by Nature Geosience - the first to document widespread release of methane from the Arctic as permafrost melts and glacial ice recedes.  The emission rate of this potent greenhouse gas has not yet been measured, but it it gets to be large enough, it could contribute to a positive feedback loop in which the rate of ice loss increases as the amount of ice loss increases.  Not good for the home team.  At: 
The Earth Policy Institute issued a Plan B Update on May 22 by J. Matthew Roney titled, Fukushima Meltdown Hastens Decline of Nuclear Power.  It pointed out that Japan has closed its one remaining operational nuclear power plant, and that opposition to nuclear power, which grew out of the aftermath of the tsunami and meltdown last year, has made it politically impossible to restart any of the 50+ operational plants in Japan.  Within days of the Japanese disaster, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany’s seven oldest reactors would shut down immediately. In May 2011, her government declared that Germany would phase out nuclear entirely by 2022.  Enthusiasm for nuclear power has waned in many other countries, caused in part by construction delays and increases in capital costs.  At: 
A May 24 Reuters article by Michel Rose,titled Global CO2 Emissions Hit Record in 2011 Led by China: IEA, reported that global CO2 emissions rose by 3.2% above what they were in 2010 - to 31.6 billion metric tons - led by China, which increased its emissions by 9.4%.  The article said that the global average temperature was on track to increase by 6 deg C by 2050.  At: 
The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media has a May 24 article by Sara Peach titled, Armed With Maps and Photos, Local Planners Talk Sea Level Rise.  She concludes that though many people are turned off by talk of climate change, they are willing to accept local impacts on their own lives and to want to plan for impacts before they get really bad.  At:
Janet Raloff has an article in the May 25 issue of ScienceNews titled, Rising CO2 promotes weedy rice.  Studies in which rice was grown under various concentrations of CO2 have shown that higher concentrations like those we can expect in decades to come promote the development of a less valuable weedy variant with reduced nutritional value. has a May 26 article titled, VA SHORE: Area's sea-level rise has fastest rate on the East Coast.  Virginia’s Eastern Shore has seen a sea level rise (SLR) of about 18 inches during the past century, but it is expected to accelerate.  The rate is higher that Delaware’s (13 inches this past century), presumably because of more rapidly sinking land.  The Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Working Group - consisting of representatives of local government staff, state and federal agencies, and private groups involved in coastal management - hosted a Coastal Flooding Workshop in Onley,VA on June 13 as part of its efforts to assist the Eastern Shore in preparing for a changing climate, including SLR.  At: 
Mark Hertsgaard has a May 27 article in Al Jazeera titled, The biggest climate victory you never heard of.  The victory is the successful effort of a coalition of concerned citizens - environmentalists, clean energy advocates, public health professionals, community organizers, faith leaders, farmers, attorneys, students and volunteers - working at the state and local levels, to prevent the construction of 166 proposed new coal-fired power plants.  Leadership for the effort came from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.  The victory shows that large powerful companies can be successfully opposed by the grass roots.  At: 
The NY TImes for May 29 has an article by Eric Lipton titled, Even in Coal Country, the Fight for an Industry.  Stricter environmental rules on emissions, the decreasing cost of natural gas, and the opposition of environmental groups in this country are causing coal plants to switch to gas or shut down, putting people out of work who have mined coal for generations.  Some of the coal companies that are losing business here are hoping to stay in business by shipping their coal overseas.  At:
The Washington Post for May 29 has a post by Brad Plumer titled, Why regulating gas fracking could be cheaper than the alternatives.  It indicates that proper regulation of fracking to avoid water and air pollution might increase the cost of the natural gas about 7%, while proceeding without those environmental safeguards might turn people so strongly against fracking that the industry could lose its license to operate - and lost a lot of money in the process.  At:
The Worldwatch Institute has issued a very informative report titled, China Leads Growth in Global Wind Power CapacityThe world now has approximately four times the installed wind capacity that it did in 2005, reflecting the combined effects of falling prices, improved technology, global investment, and various incentive programs. In 2011 global installed wind power capacity grew 21%; China led the way with 43% of the growth in capacity, followed by the United States at 17% percent, India with 7%, and Germany with 5%.  Although the U.S. generated 27% percent more electricity from wind in 2011 than in 2010, wind still accounts for less than 3% of total U.S. power generation. Much of the rapid U.S. growth can be attributed to the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), which reduces corporate income tax by 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour produced. But the PTC is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, and may not be renewed by Congress.  This report and others on carbon capture and storage and CO2 emissions can be found in the 2012 Vital Signs online.  At: 
NOTE: Even though the U.S has a huge renewable energy resource in offshore wind near its heavily populated East Coast, I learned at an international conference on offshore wind energy last year the the lack of a coherent U.S. energy policy and the on-again off-again nature of the federal PTC has spooked investors away from U.S. offshore wind - although it is growing rapidly with their help in other parts of the world.
Brian Merchant, in the May 28 issue of treehugger, has a great article titled, Last Weekend, Half of Germany Was Running on Solar Power.  That’s right, a week ago, on Friday and Saturday, in the early afternoon hours, German solar panels produced a record breaking 22 GW of solar power, providing nearly 50% of Germany’s electric power demand.  The reason for this success - in spite of the fact that Germany is not the sunniest place in the world - is that has had a system of feed-in tariffs (FITs).  At:
The Gazette of Cedar Rapids (Iowa) had an Op-Ed On June 3 by the Rev. Susan Guy, the Exec. Director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, a chapter of a national interfaith organization dealing with energy and climate change.  She addresses the issues of justice and fairness that are being raised, “as those who are least able to adapt to climate change and who contribute least to the problem are likely to suffer the worst consequences.”  At: 
I believe that communities of faith can bring a unique and powerful voice to the most important issues of our time.
On June 4 Mireya Navarro of the NY Times, in an article titled, Emissions Fell Under Cap and Trade Program, Report Says, reported that CO2 emissions from the nine RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) states in the northeastern U.S. fell by an average of 23% during the first three years of the program - in part because of the conversion of some of the coal-fired power plants in the region to natural gas, which produces about half as much CO2 per MWh of electrical energy as coal.  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. 

California Deciding How to Spend Cap and Trade Revenues
California will auction off its first carbon emissions permits in November, but has not yet determined how to allocate the revenue. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has ordered that the money raised, an estimated $1.8 billion in the first year of allowance auctions, be spent to benefit utility customers by reducing the burden of rate increases generated through the trading scheme. California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) analyst Jordan Parrillo believes consumer rates should increase because, “That's part of the intent of cap and trade - it's to embed a carbon price signal throughout the economy, and that includes electricity rates.” The PUC, which must implement the ARB order, proposed returning 90 percent of revenues to customers as rebates, while using the remainder for energy efficiency upgrades to buildings. Other proposals include establishing a "green bank" for alternative-energy projects, funding California’s high-speed-rail project, and reducing gaps in California’s budget. Utility companies want to use the revenues to directly offset the price increases.
For additional information see: San Francisco Chronicle

Companies Partnered with WWF Cut Carbon Emissions
More than 30 companies, including Coca Cola, Nike, IBM, and Nokia, have saved more than 100 million metric tons of CO2 emission equivalents (CO2-eq) between 1999 and 2011 in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Climate Savers Program.  According to a report by sustainable energy consulting firm Ecofys, WWF helped companies set “best in class” emissions targets and gave advice on strategies to reduce carbon footprints and address climate change, allowing the companies to save 27 million metric tons of CO2-eq in 2011 alone. WWF Senior Partnerships Manager Alexander Quarles van Ufford said, “Resource efficiency and the goal of a low-carbon economy have to become part of the corporate DNA, particularly given high fuel and commodity prices,” and also stressed the need for government policies to further reduce emissions.
For additional information see: Bloomberg, Report

Climate Change Damages on Pace to Exceed Economic Growth
A new report from the United Kingdom-based Climate and Development Knowledge Network cautioned that in many low and middle income nations, "Economic exposure to disasters is increasing faster than per capita gross domestic product (GDP), and the impacts of climate change on the severity and frequency of hazards will accentuate existing trends in disaster losses in the future."  Rapid urbanization in coastal areas, loss of mangroves and other natural buffers and lack of planning and legislation are increasing vulnerability to natural disasters in Latin America and South Asia. The report advocates national planning to reduce disaster risks, such as enforcing building codes, and limiting development on flood plains, low-lying coastlines and other risky areas.  Economic risk can be decreased by allocating money for disaster relief or purchasing insurance. Businesses and cities must also be proactive in planning disaster mitigation strategies, urged report co-author Tom Mitchell.
For additional information see: AlertNet, Report

China Plans Pilot Emissions Trading Schemes
China, the largest global emitter of carbon dioxide, plans to start seven pilot carbon emissions trading programs in 2013.  The programs will be in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen and Chongqing, as well as Guangdong and Hubei provinces. Based on the results of the pilots, a national scheme is expected after 2015.  A Stockholm Environment Institute study called the fate of the pilots “one of the most important questions of environmental policy of our time.”  The programs have the potential to revitalize the clean energy industry and the fight against global warming, but failure would set back the establishment of a global trading scheme.  “If the Chinese end up with a national scheme that is compatible with the EU’s emissions trading system, it’s game over for the rest of the world. Everyone will have to do it, including the U.S.,” said Tim Yeo, Chair of the United Kingdom Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.
For additional information see: Financial Times, Report

Statisticians Use Climate Models to Predict North American Warming
Statisticians at Ohio State University analyzed two climate models to produce estimated temperature changes in North America between 2041 and 2070.  The researchers say their analysis overcomes the criticisms that different climate models produce different results by combining them into a “consensus model” that also quantifies certainties.  “We show that there are shared conclusions upon which scientists can agree with some certainty, and we are able to statistically quantify that certainty,” said Noel Cressie, an author of the report published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. The analysis predicts that the Canadian Northeast will experience the highest increase in winter temperatures, about six degrees Celsius, the Great Lakes will have 2.8 degrees Celsius warming, and the Rocky Mountain region will have more warming (3.5 degrees Celsius) in summers than in winter (2.3 degrees Celsius). The analysis can be expanded to include additional climate models.
For additional information see: LiveScience, PhysOrg, Web Project (Ohio State University)

Some Mammals Unable to Keep Up with Climate Change
A new report published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that nine percent of Western Hemisphere mammalian species will be unable to migrate fast enough to remain in suitable habitats as climate changes.  Researchers said that tropical species are most at risk, and estimate that in some areas, such as the Amazon, 30 to 50 percent of species cannot migrate quickly enough to keep up with climate change, and that primates will experience an average 75 percent decrease in range. According to co-author Joshua Lawler, the model is very conservative, making optimistic assumptions about animals always migrating in the best direction as fast as possible and about impacts of human obstacles to migration, such as highways and developments. "Conservation planners could help some species keep pace with climate change by focusing on connectivity — on linking together areas that could serve as pathways to new territories, particularly where animals will encounter human-land development," said lead author Carrie Schloss.
For additional information see: Discovery News, Science News, PhysOrg, Gaurdian

North Carolina Group Pushes Development Over Sea Level Rise
A state-appointed science panel in North Carolina reported that a 1-meter rise in sea levels is likely by 2100 and the state should prepare for the increase.  A group called NC-20, attacked the report saying it is flawed and will hamper development.  NC-20 Chairman Tom Thompson, economic development director in Beaufort County, said his members – many of them county managers and other economic development officials – are convinced that climate changes and sea-level rises are part of natural cycles. When the state legislature met this month, Republicans circulated a measure that would authorize the coastal commission to calculate only how fast the sea is rising based on historic trends, not on predicted increases from climate change. “We’re throwing this science out completely, and what’s proposed is just crazy for a state that used to be a leader in marine science . . . You can’t legislate the ocean, and you can’t legislate storms.” said East Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs. State planners say it is critical to allow for rising water when designing bridges, roads, and sewer lines that will be in use for decades.
For additional information see: Charlotte Observer

Future of Carbon Capture and Storage Is Uncertain
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be an important piece in limiting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) but the technology has been hampered by high costs.  CCS technologies capture carbon dioxide, usually from fossil fuel power plants or industrial facilities, and store it in permanent underground geological reservoirs, preventing its release to the atmosphere.   CCS development has largely stalled with only eight large-scale projects in operation in the past three years.  The lack of growth is tied to the world economic crisis, which has made funding tighter, and the failure of governments to achieve a global climate treaty to take the place of the expiring Kyoto Protocol.   "I'd say the biggest problem we have right now is that there is not a market for CCS because there is no climate policy," said Howard Herzog, a CCS expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "This technology can effectively help lower CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, but that will always cost more than letting business as usual go on. So as long as there is no policy to stop business as usual, it will go on."  The International Energy Agency predicts that in 25 years, 75 percent of energy needs will still come from fossil fuels, and that it will take an estimated $5 trillion investment for CCS to cut GHG emissions in half by 2050.
For additional information see: National Geographic

Ground Water Extraction Explains Sea Level Mystery
Water extracted from underground aquifers, rivers and lakes, but not replenished, is responsible for 0.03 inches per year of global sea level rise, according to a study in the journal Nature Geoscience.  Annual sea level rise has averaged 0.07 inches per year from 1961 thru 2003. The International Panel on Climate Change found 0.04 inches per year of sea level rise is caused by thermal expansion of sea water and meltwater from glaciers and icecaps, which left the remainder unaccounted for.  “When people pump groundwater, they may think it’s only having local effects. But there are huge implications. If we think about the future, what will happen if we use groundwater in the same way as we are doing today? That’s a question we have to consider if we don’t think of some kind of proper management of water resources,” said lead author Yadu Pokhrel.  Depletion of groundwater reserves has more than doubled in recent decades as a result of population growth and the increased demand on groundwater reservoirs for drinking water and agriculture. Most of the water pumped up from ground water, especially ancient reservoirs, is not replenished; it evaporates into the air or flows into river channels, feeding into the seas.
For additional information see: Nature, Scientific American, Guardian

Corporations Contradict Climate Pledges
A number of major US corporations who publicly support climate change science are more likely to donate to campaigns that oppose caps on carbon dioxide than to those supporting emission curbs, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).  UCS evaluated the role of 28 companies listed on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index which weighed in on two efforts to address climate change:  the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and the 2010 ballot initiative in California to suspend the state's own climate law. According to the report, companies acted or made statements in support of climate science and policy in public spaces while simultaneously hindering science-based policy in others. The research suggests that such companies are more likely to express concern about climate change in venues directed at the general public and more likely to undermine climate science in communications directed at the federal government and through their funding of outside organizations.  Chesapeake Energy, Tesoro, Murphy Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Valero Energy, and Peabody Energy were consistently opposed to dealing with climate change but publicly favored climate action.  “While all the companies publicly expressed concern about climate change, many misrepresented climate science or sought to undermine climate policy efforts in other venues,” according to the report.  The report cites several companies, including Nike and nuclear power giant NRG, as being consistent in both message and actions in support of climate action.  UCS notes their findings are limited by the lack of transparency in the business world and the small sample size.
For additional information see: New York Times, Mother Jones, Report

New Computer to Improve Climate Change Modeling
A new super computer capable of 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second will better model climate change and forecast extreme weather at the local level.  The computer, called Yellowstone, will provide scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado with improved data for understanding and predicting the effects of climate change on a regional, rather than continental scale. Marika Holland, chief scientist for NCAR’s Community Earth System Modeling Project, said the new supercomputer is “close to a game-changer. We’ve had incremental improvements in our computational resources over time, but . . . Yellowstone is a whole new scale, and there are things that we will be able to explore that just were not possible before.” Due to limited computing power, climate research has been more difficult at the local scale and scientists rely on larger scale models, which require less power, but are less detailed. The $30 million computer will be able to generate climate projections for seven-square-mile units, instead of the 60-square-mile units typically in use now.
For additional information see: Washington Post

Using Gas Instead of Coal Will Not Help Climate, Says Investor
A study by Scottish Widows Investment Partnership says using shale gas instead of coal does not help the climate because shale gas companies do not use simple technologies to fix methane leaks.  The study claimed that, leaking gas, known as fugitive emissions, from shale gas now contributes about 20 percent of the short-term warming impact of the US's total greenhouse gas output, and this amount is rising. Natural gas has overtaken agriculture as the US's biggest source of methane.  The fugitive emissions could be captured using “green completion technologies” and sold, providing a return on the cost of green completion.  Shale gas produces less carbon than coal when burned, which the gas industry claims will help reduce climate change.  According to the study, fugitive methane is wiping out any carbon saving from switching from coal to gas, and will continue to do so for 20 to 30 years unless the problem is addressed.  Methane is 20 times more potent than carbon as a greenhouse gas and is the main component of shale gas.
For additional information see: Guardian

Northeast U.S. Power Plants Reduce Carbon Emissions
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the cap-and-trade program among 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, announced a 23 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the states’ power plants over the past three years. The findings were presented in RGGI’s Compliance Summary Report for 2009-2011, the program’s first three-year control period. The report found that 206 of the 211 power plants in the 10 states met their compliance requirements. In total, the power plants emitted an average of 126 million tons of CO2 annually over the three-year period, a 23 percent drop from the previous three years and 33 percent below the emissions cap for the period. Electricity consumption in the region declined by less than three percent. The report cites several reasons for the emissions reductions, including increased use of natural gas and renewable energy for power generation, state investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, and climate patterns. The second RGGI three-year control period is underway.

In related news, environmental groups have filed suit against New Jersey for its decision to withdraw from RGGI. Governor Chris Christie announced the state’s departure last year, calling the program an ineffective method to reduce emissions. The state and its 40 power plants are not participating in the second three-year control period. The suit, brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment New Jersey, was filed on June 6 in New Jersey’s Superior Court in Trenton. The suit states that the decision to leave RGGI violated state law by failing to properly notify the public or provide a suitable comment period. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak dismissed claims of illegality, stating, “Participation in the RGGI consortium was via a contractual arrangement with provisions for any state to pull out with notice and without penalty.” The state legislature has twice voted to maintain the state’s participation in RGGI. Gov. Christie vetoed the first measure and will likely do so again.
For additional information see: New York Times, Press Release, Reuters

Climate Change to Reduce Generation Capacity of Power Plants
Nuclear and fossil fuel-fired power plants will likely become less reliable as climate change becomes more severe, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Climate change already has resulted in warmer water temperatures and decreased river flow, a trend that is very likely to continue. Thermoelectric plants — nuclear, coal, and most natural gas-fired power plants — rely on nearby water supplies to cool the steam generated by the plants. Warmer and/or reduced water supplies can inhibit power plants from properly cooling, forcing them to reduce production or temporarily shut down. Such disruptions have become increasingly frequent. The study concludes that reductions in water supply will decrease the overall generation capacity of thermoelectric power plants by 6-19 percent in Europe and 4-16 percent in the United States between 2031-2060. Such a loss of capacity would force additional investment in generation capacity, significantly raise electricity rates, and decrease power reliability. The study projects the largest U.S. disruptions will be located at inland power plants in the Southeast, which rely on especially vulnerable rivers.

UN Report: Growing Refugee Crisis Exacerbated by Climate Change
The United Nations (UN) released its “State of the World’s Refugees” report on May 31. Covering the period 2006-2011, the report found that approximately 26 million refugees are currently displaced within their own countries, and an additional 15-16 million people are refugees in a foreign country. The combined figure represents a 16-year high. The U.N. predicts that the number of refugees will rise over the next 10 years due to climate change, conflict, population growth, and water and food shortages. The report explains that climate change will drive conflict as resources become more scarce, increasing internal displacement and refugees. In the preface to the report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes that the refugee crisis is compounded by “the relentless advance of climate change,” and that, “growing numbers of people are being uprooted by natural disasters.” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres explained that those forced to relocate because of climate change have no legal protection, which has lead to an ongoing international debate on how to best handle the matter.
For additional information see: Washington Post

UN Says Global Growth and Consumption Are Accelerating Climate Change
On June 6 the United Nations (UN) Environment Program published the Global Environment Outlook report, stating that global population growth, urbanization, and consumption of natural resources are negatively affecting the world’s climate. The report says that only four of the 90 environmental goals set by the UN in 2007 have made progress; and furthermore, scientists have found that 20 percent of vertebrate species are under the threat of extinction, and 90 percent of water and fish samples from rivers and oceans are contaminated by pesticides. The report states, “As human pressures on the earth . . . accelerate, several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded. Once these have been passed, abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur, with significant adverse implications for human well-being.”
For additional information see: Reuters, Washington Post, BBC News

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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action