CC NEWS FOR AUGUST 2012
Here is some climate news you can use! ClimateCounts.org has developed a scorecard to compare companies on their commitment to reduce global warming The higher the score on a scale of 0 to 100, the greater the commitment. “Climate Counts use a 0-to-100 point scale and 22 criteria to determine if companies have:
- MEASURED their climate "footprint"
- REDUCED their impact on global warming
- SUPPORTED (or suggest intent to block) progressive climate legislation
- Publicly DISCLOSED their climate actions clearly and comprehensively”
Now you can:
- Support high-ranked companies when you shop and invest.
- Let businesses know that climate does count. Want them to do better? Tell them. Excited about their leadership? Let them know that, too.
- Tell your friends, colleagues, and family to join you in supporting companies that are taking responsibility for climate change.
Find the ratings and print pocket guides to take with you when you shot. At:
Chemical and Engineering News for July 16 had an article by Jeff Johnson titled, Stumbling on the Path to ‘Clean Coal’: Carbon capture and sequestration appears stuck, dashing hopes of cutting CO2 while burning coal. It points out that the future of coal use for electricity generation in the U.S. may depend on the development of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, which can capture CO2 from power plants, compress it, and pump it underground for long-term storage (sequestration). Although the Dept. of Energy (DOE) has provided nearly $7 billion since 2005 to support development of the technology, it has not led to the demonstration of economic viability at scale. (A typical coal-burning 1000 MW power plant produces about 1000 tons of CO2 per hour!) It is estimated that CCS would increase the cost of electricity from a coal plant by 75%. Future funding for CCS development is in doubt - especially in view of falling prices for natural gas and renewable energy.
On July 19 Bill McKibben posted a compelling article at Rolling Stone Politics titled, Global Warming's Terrible New Math. In it he writes about three important numbers:
2 degrees C, 565 Gt (gigatons, or billions of metric tons) and 2795 Gt.
The Washington Post for July 23 had an article by Peter Brennan titled, Offshore wind farms will be encouraged in tracts along the East Coast. It described a coming auction by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to lease 2,434 square miles of the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean for wind farms about 10 miles off the shores of six states from Massachusetts to Virginia. The article shows a map of the areas to be auctioned. Full development of the wind resource off the East Coast would permit generation of about 1000 GW of electrical power - the total now used by the United States. At: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/offshore-wind-farms-will-be-encouraged-in-tracts-along-the-east-coast/2012/07/23/gJQAD2Pu4W_story.html
On July 24 the Earth Policy Institute issued an article by Lester Brown titled, World in Serious Trouble on Food Front. In it Brown pointed out that corn, by far the world’s largest grain crop, started out looking very promising in the spring, with a record number of acres planted, but is now suffering from a severe drought in the major U.S. corn producing states. On May 21st, 77% of the U.S. corn crop was rated as good to excellent. In the following two months, that dropped to 26% - one of the lowest ratings on record. The high prices expected from a poor harvest will affect food prices around the world. Brown wrote, “Time is running out. The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage – replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability – than most people realize.” At:
InterPress Serice (IPS) has an article dated July 24 by Stephen Leahy titled, Scientists Discover New Threats to Corals. It points out that most corals grow only in shallow water, where there is enough light for them to grow; however those that cannot grow fast enough to keep up with accelerating sea level rise (now 3.3 mm/yr) may die. Carbon dioxide, which is responsible for most of the sea level rise, also threatens corals by increasing the sea surface temperature and by dissolving in seawater to form carbonic acid, making the water more acidic. If enough dissolves, as has happened before in Earth’s history, the calcium carbonate that supports the coral dissolves.
The article says, “Overall, some one billion people depend directly or indirectly on reefs for their livelihoods, and more than two billion depend on seafood as a major source of protein.” At:
Many fish spend at least part of their life cycle in reefs.
BloombergBusinessweek News for July 24 ran an article by Seth Borenstein titled, NASA: Strange and sudden massive melt in Greenland. NASA found from satellite observations that the surface of the Greenland ice sheet went from 40% melted to 97% in the course of four days - starting on July 8. Until then, the largest extent of surface melt seen by satellite was 55%. At: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-07-24/nasa.
You can see NASA images at:
It’s hard to tell if this is a one-off event, or will become commonplace. It could herald a greater acceleration of ice loss. Loss of all Greenland ice would raise global sea level by 7 m (23 ft).
On July 25 the Union of Concerned Scientists posted a description of a report titled, Heat in the Heartland: 60 Years of Warming in the Midwest. It describes studies of temperature and humidity in five major Midwestern urban areas - Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis, and St. Louis. Findings include:
- Heat waves lasting three days or more have become more common over the last six decades.
- Hot humid days have increased in frequency, while hot dry days have higher temperatures.
- Hot air masses have become hotter and more humid during nighttime hours.
The Executive Summary, the full report, and Fact Sheets about each major city studies can be downloaded from the site. There are also links to a number of other sites, including Global Warming 101, Global Warming Impacts, and What You Can Do about Global Warming . At: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/global-warming-and-heat-waves.html?utm_source=SP&utm_medium=head&utm_campaign=heat%2Breport
Guest blogger Peter Anderson posted an article July 26 in ThinkProgress titled, Why We Need To Pay More Attention To The Role Of Landfills In Global Warming. In it he pointed out that, while it sounds good to capture methane from landfills to produce electricity, the typical landfill releases about 80% of the methane produced into the atmosphere, where it acts as a very powerful greenhouse gas. The contribution of landfill gas to global warming has been seriously underestimated. At: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/07/26/516575/why-we-need-to-pay-more-attention-to-the-role-of-landfills-in-global-warming/
When cellulosic materials - like paper, cardboard, wood or yard waste - are left under anaerobic (oxygen-starved) conditions, such as in a landfill or marsh, methanogenic bacteria convert the carbohydrate molecules to a 1:1 mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. A good compost box allows air in, so that only CO2 is produced.
Paul Gipe had an article on July 26 in Wind-Works.org titled, Britain Powered by FITs Surpasses US in 2011 Small Wind Capacity, describing the role that Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) have played in the rapid growth of electrical generation from small wind turbines in Britain. FITs usually have a power distribution company pay a fee (tariff) above the grid price of electricity to small scale (distributed) generators that use renewable energy sources, recovering their cost from other users. At: http://www.wind-works.org/SmallTurbines/BritainPoweredbyFITsSurpassesUSin2011SmallWindCapacity.html
This kind of policy has been very successful in promoting the development of distributed solar PV in Germany.
On July 26 Common Dreams published an article titled, Study: At Least 70% of Arctic Sea Ice Loss 'Man-Made' - Scientists fear the impact of feedback loops as dramatic ice loss begets further melting. It was prompted by the recent reports that an ice berg twice the size of Manhattan had broken off Greenland and that scientists were astounded to find that nearly all of the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet had melted for a time - the first time that had been observed. A new study by climate scientists at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, “found that the loss of sea ice around the Arctic is at least 70% due to human-induced climate change -- much higher than previously thought -- and that the number could possibly be as high as 95%.” “Most concerning to the scientists is the possibility that 'feedback loops' have already begun in which loss of ice begets increased future loss.” As sea ice is lost less solar energy is reflected and more is absorbed, causing more rapid warming of water and air. At:
It has been known for some time that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average - consistent with positive feedback.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced on July 27 that it expects that electricity generators will lose 27 GW of coal-fired power during the next 5 years - considerably more than the 6.5 GW retired during the past 5. The 27 GW of retiring capacity is 8.5% of total 2011 coal-fired capacity of 318 GW at the end of 2011. At: http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=7290.
No reason for the increase in retirement rates was given, but my bet is that it’s a combination of the low price of natural gas and the costs involved in expanding coal capacity in the face of EPA requirements for emission reductions for new power plants or major capacity increases for existing plants.
On July 31 Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute released a report titled, We Can Reforest the Earth. In it he points out that the shrinkage of forests - primarily in the tropics exceeds reforestation, resulting in an net addition to the atmosphere of about 1.5 billions tons of carbon - about a quarter of what we release from the burning of fossil fuels. He points out the importance of reforestation, especially in the tropics, where trees grow much more rapidly. One hectare (about 2.5 acres) of forest plantation produces 4 cubic meters of wood per year in eastern Canada, 10 cubic meters in the southeastern United States, and 40 cubic meters in Brazil. At:
D.C. Dennison of the Boston Globe has an article on Aug. 1 titled, New Bedford sees opportunity in wind farms.
The National Academies Press has issued a 250-page report, Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington: Past, Present, and Future. The full report is available online or can be purchased as a book. The Key Findings of the report can be read, and committee member Gary Griggs shares key findings about sea-level rise projections in a short Video. Gauge measurements showed that global sea level rose by about 7 inches in the 20th Century. Recent satellite measurements show that sea level rise is accelerating.
If you want to have a good laugh or cry, Grist has posted a short videoclip of a recent hearing by the U.S. Senate Energy and Public Works Committee. The Aug. 2 article is titled, Senators Fiddle While Nation. Burns. At: http://grist.org/climate-energy/senators-fiddle-while-nation-burns/
Democracy Now has a short video interview with Bill McKibben of 350.org titled, Even Industry-Funded Climate Change Deniers Can’t Ignore Planet’s Warming. It’s well worth watching. McKibben tells it like it is. At:
On Aug.3 James Hansen published an Opinion piece in the Washington Post titled, Climate change is here — and worse than we thought. In it he described a study, recently published by the National Academy of Sciences, making clear that while the global average temperature has been slowly rising due to a warming climate (1.5 degrees F in the past century - mostly in the last 30 years), extremes are becoming much more frequent and more intense. Droughts and floods that were once very rare are now becoming almost commonplace. At: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/climate-change-is-here--and-worse-than-we-thought/2012/08/03/6ae604c2-dd90-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_story.html
You can watch a 5-minute video on PSBNewsHour with Hari Sreenivasan interviewing Hansen on his new findings 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.
Bipartisan Support for Carbon Tax; Disagreement over Proposed Tax Swaps
Organizations, activists and policy experts from across the political spectrum show increasing support for inclusion of a carbon tax during the expected tax reform package in the next session of Congress. There is disagreement, however, on whether the tax should be used to raise revenue or cut other taxes. Conservatives who support a carbon tax, including economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute, former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), and former President Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz, favor a revenue-neutral system that will cut corporate or income taxes. While some organizations argue for "consumer-centric" cuts to payroll and dividend taxes as a method to offset higher consumer prices caused by the carbon tax, other organizations refuse to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Instead, these organizations favor using the carbon tax to reduce the deficit. In related news, aides of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said neither official would support a carbon tax.
Conservatives Launch Climate Change Initiative
On July 10 George Mason University announced the launch of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI) which promotes conservative solutions to America's energy and climate problems. Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), who called his belief in climate change his "most enduring heresy" in an interview with Grist writer David Roberts, will lead E&EI. “Conservatives have the answer to our energy and climate challenge," said Inglis. "It’s about correcting market distortions and setting the economics right. We need to stop retreating in denial and start stepping forward in the competition of ideas.” E&EI supports pairing a carbon tax with an income tax reduction as a revenue-neutral way to tackle climate change. The initiative has support from Gregory Mankiw, economic advisor to the Romney campaign; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former head of Bush's Council on Economic Advisers; Arthur Laffer, conservative economist and former senior adviser to President Reagan; and George Shultz, former Secretary of State to President Reagan.
Climate Change Forces Businesses to Adapt
A recent study by Oxfam and several companies found that businesses worldwide incurred upwards of $60 billion in weather-related insurance losses in 2011. As stated by Dr. Juan José Daboub, CEO of the Global Adaptation Institute, “People have started to realize there are water shortages and droughts. . . Not only are their businesses in jeopardy, but there is a business opportunity to provide solutions.” Entergy Corp., a Louisiana electric utility, spent nearly $2 billion rebuilding following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In the aftermath, the utility relocated its offices and mobilized the local business community towards adaptation. Jeff Williams, director of climate consulting for Entergy, said, “All too often, we use the uncertainty of climate change to ask ourselves, 'Is it happening or isn't it?' I think the uncertainty isn't that. It's how big the impact is going to be."
Greenland Glacier Calves Ice Island
On July 16 researchers at the University of Delaware and the Canadian Ice Service reported that an ice island had broken off from Greenland’s Petermann glacier. Andres Muenchow, University of Delaware associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering, said, “The Greenland ice sheet as a whole is shrinking, melting and reducing in size as the result of globally changing air and ocean temperatures and associated changes in circulation patterns in both the ocean and atmosphere.” The Petermann glacier shed a large ice island in 2010, and Monday’s 46-square mile ice island is twice the size of Manhattan. Continued Muenchow, “The fact that it follows so closely to the 2010 event brings the glacier’s terminus to a location where it has not been for at least 150 years.”
In related news, a record amount of Arctic sea ice melted during the month of June. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records show that the Arctic lost 1.1 million square miles of ice in June, the most on record. While Arctic sea ice melting is normal during the Northern hemisphere summer, the magnitude of the loss means that the Arctic sea ice extent is 9.8 percent below average, the second lowest on record since 1979.
China’s Carbon Emissions Now Similar to Europe’s on a Per Capita Basis
On July 18 PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre published a study which found that the average Chinese person’s carbon emissions are on par with an average European’s. The study reports that China’s emissions increased 9 percent in 2011 to 7.2 tonnes per person, only slightly less than the European average of 7.5 tonnes per person. Chinese per capita emissions are still less than half of the average American at 17.3 tonnes per person. When import and export of goods and international travel are accounted for, the developed world emits more carbon per capita than China, since it is estimated that one-fifth of goods produced in China are for export.
For additional information see: Guardian
Annual Global Carbon Emissions Increase in 2011
Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose to 34 billion tons in 2011, up three percent from the previous year, according to a report from the European Union’s Joint Research Center. Global emissions must be less than 1,500 trillion tons of CO2 between 2000 and 2050, in order to limit global temperature increase to the United Nation’s goal of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. "If the current global trend of increasing CO2 emissions continues, cumulative emissions will surpass this limit within the next two decades," said the report. As reported last week, China’s emissions increased nine percent in 2011 (see July 23 Issue), while the United States cut its emissions by two percent. [Emphasis added]
Environmental Group Targets Republicans who Question Climate Change
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) launched a $1.5 million campaign July 24 aimed at preventing the re-election of five House Republicans who question the connection between climate change and human activity. The LCV, an environmental group that tracks politicians’ environmental voting records, is targeting to defeat Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) and three other yet-unnamed House Republicans because of their stance on global warming. Both Rep. Buerkle and Rep. Benishek have questioned whether anthropogenic emissions have contributed to climate change in the past. “There’s still a debate about how to address these issues, but Americans expect their politicians to be informed and to accept basic science,” said Navin Nayak, LCV Senior Vice President for Campaigns. “Independents are with us. All of these members are in places where they have to win a majority of independent voters to win reelection.”
Pulling Carbon Directly from the Air May Become Economically Feasible
Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a technique for extracting carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the air using newly-developed adsorbent materials. In a series of papers published this month, the researchers detailed how a CO2 removal unit about the size of a shipping container could extract 1,000 tons of CO2 per year at a cost of $100 per ton. This technique could initially be used to collect carbon for use in biofuels production or advanced oil recovery, but it could eventually be applied on a wider scale to help lower CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Georgia Tech professor Christopher Jones is collaborating with a startup company to establish a pilot plant to demonstrate the direct air capture technique.
In a related story, a new paper from Columbia University’s Earth Institute argues that direct air capture techniques may become important tools to combat global warming. The authors say methods of capturing carbon from stationary sources, such as factories and power plants, do not address emissions from airplanes, vehicles, and other small emissions sources – which account for almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, direct air capture techniques could be the best way to stabilize atmospheric carbon levels in the future.
American Opinions about Climate Change Unchanged from 2011
The most recent “Global Warming’s Six Americas” study concludes that opinions are relatively unchanged since May 2011. The ongoing study by researchers at Yale University and George Mason University, seeks to understand American opinions toward climate change. The researchers separate respondents in to six groups—alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive—representing the spectrum of climate change views. The July 18th update which includes polling results from November 2011 and March 2012, finds that 13 percent of Americans are alarmed, 26 percent are concerned, 29 percent are cautious, 6 percent are disengaged, 15 percent are doubtful and 10 percent are dismissive. Overall, the attitudes are mostly unchanged, but the number of “cautious” increased from 24 percent in May 2011 and the number of “disengaged” decreased from 10 percent. The majority of respondents believe that climate change is affecting the weather in the United States, including 93 percent of the “alarmed” group and 92 percent of the “concerned” group. More than half of the study participants (60 percent) said they would vote for a candidate who supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax in which the returns from a carbon tax are used to offset the federal income tax. The March 2012 survey included 1008 adults, the margin of error is plus or minus three percent.
Climate Change Would Displace Millions
In a recent interview on National Public Radio, researchers discussed the danger of forced displacement due to lasting effects of climate change. Celia McMichael, research fellow at Australia’s La Trobe University, and Jon Barnett, political geographer at Australia’s University of Melbourne, discussed the need for global policy to counteract climate change-induced forced displacement, planned resettlement, and urban migration. Celia McMichael said, “Any climate change–related migration is going to be along the lines of existing migratory patterns, and they are typically within developing regions. So I think at a policy level the point is to look at migration not as a problem that needs to be managed, including by undeveloped countries, but [as] part of an adaptation portfolio, with this issue in mind that migration can have adverse outcomes, including health outcomes.”
In related news, a study published on June 12 in Global Change Biology found that climate change, particularly rising sea levels, would turn millions of Southeast Asian and Pacific islanders into climate change refugees. Lead author Florian Wetzel said, "Sea level rise will lead to the permanent inundation and erosion of coastal areas,” displacing anywhere from 8 to 52 million people.
Drought Emphasizes India’s Vulnerability to Climate Change
Because of a late-arriving monsoon, India is suffering its second drought in four years. Rainfall across the nation is down an average of 20 percent, but in India’s northern agricultural regions the drought is much worse. "We know that the rainfall in August will not be able to fill the gap, and the problem is getting really serious," said Harjeet Singh, an international climate justice coordinator at ActionAid. "The impacts on the ground in terms of food security are yet to be seen. Unless the government prepares, it could be really tragic." Low precipitation levels are also reducing India’s ability to generate hydroelectric power, which contributed to last week’s blackouts that left over 600 million people without power. "With climate change, wetter regions may get wetter; dry ones may become drier," said Andrew Robertson, a scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University. "With the monsoon season, some rainfall may be distributed less evenly. We may see larger extremes, more intensity. That's what the models suggest.”
For additional information see: E&E News
Climate Change Altering Way of Life in Alaskan Villages
Melting permafrost, receding Arctic ice and more severe storms are threatening the way of life of many Alaskan villages. Point Hope, a coastal village north of the Arctic Circle, is struggling to cope with these changes. “So much of our culture is being washed away in the ocean,” said Point Hope Mayor Steve Oomittuk. “We live this cycle of life, which we know because it’s been passed from generation to generation. We see that cycle breaking.” Native Inuits, like Oomittuk, have stored whale meat in ice cellars under their houses for thousands of years, but melting permafrost is causing these cellars to disintegrate. Villagers rely on hunting and fishing for a substantial portion of their diet, but receding sea ice is making it much more difficult to hunt seals than in years past. The biggest threat, however, comes from soil erosion as the Alaskan soil heats up and begins to thaw. The town of Kotzebue constructed a $34 million sea wall, primarily funded by the federal government, to protect its beach from rising seas and erosion, but many villages have given up and are trying to relocate to higher ground. The U.S. Department of the Interior is launching an effort to evaluate the environmental, social and economic impact of climate change on the Arctic infrastructure.
For additional information see: Washington Post
Shellfish Vulnerable to Ocean Acidification
A study published in the journal Global Change Biology, finds that ocean acidification is impacting the ability of crustaceans to produce shells, which could leave them exposed to predators. The study analyzed clams, sea snails, lamp shells and sea urchins at 12 sites from the North Pole to the South Pole. “The results suggest that increased acidity is affecting the size and weight of shells and skeletons, and the trend is widespread across marine species,” said study co-authors from the British Antarctic Survey in a written statement. The ocean is a major sink of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) (see August 6 issue). Dissolved CO2 forms carbonic acid which inhibits the formation of calcium carbonate-based shells and skeletons, a phenomenon especially pronounced in cold water. "Where it gets colder and the calcium carbonate is harder to get out of the seawater the animals have thinner skeletons ... we think that the polar regions, and especially Antarctica, are likely to be the first places where animals reach these critical problems for making skeletons," said Professor Lloyd Peck of the British Antarctic Survey. Historically, animals have adapted by forming lighter skeletons, and according to study co-author Dr. Sue-Ann Watson of James Cook University, “Given enough time and a slow enough rate of change, evolution may again help these animals survive in our acidifying oceans.”
Severe Drought May Become the New Normal in American West
A study published on July 29 in Nature Geoscience has found that, in the coming century, the climate in western North America will be similar to conditions during the long-term drought that hit the area from 2000 to 2004. The study warns that conditions will be closer to the "wet end" of a drier hydroclimate during the latter half of the 21st century. "Climatic extremes such as this will cause more large-scale droughts and forest mortality, and the ability of vegetation to sequester carbon is going to decline," said co-author Beverly Law, a professor of global change biology and terrestrial systems science at Oregon State University. The 2000 to 2004 drought, the worst in 800 years, severely reduced carbon absorption in western forests, and the area’s ability to sequester carbon will decrease even further in the future, according to the study.
For additional information see: Environmental News Network
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action