CC NEWS FOR OCTOBER, 2012
On Oct. 23 Frontline is airing a show titled, Climate of Doubt, exploring the campaign financed by wealthy fossil fuel interests to sow doubt on the science of climate change. You can see it on pbs TV or online. See the announcement at:
Nearly 6 years ago, on Feb.1, 2007, Ian Sample of The Guardian wrote an article titled, Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study, reporting that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was offering $10,000 to scientists who would make a public statement denying the validity of the soon to be issued Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The AEI had received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies. At that time Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, was the Vice-Chairman of AEI’s Board of Trustees of the AEI. At:
I was personally affected because I was one of those offered $10,000. I am sorry to say that I tore the letter up in disgust. It’s too bad, because I could have framed it.
Physician Alan Lockwood has recently published a book, The Silent Epidemic, available from Amazon, that “describes and documents the impacts of the coal fuel cycle on human health. Lockwood’s comprehensive treatment examines every aspect of coal, from its complex chemical makeup to details of mining, transporting, burning, and disposal—each of which generates significant health concerns. He explains the impact of global warming on coal-related health problems and discusses possible policy approaches to combat coal pollution.”
An 18.5 minute audio recording of an interview with Dr. Lockwood is available at:
On Sept. 21 Susan Milius posted an article on ScienceNews titled, Birds Catching Malaria in Alaska. We usually think of malaria as a tropical disease, carried by mosqitoes. The article points out that avian malaria is spreading to higher latitudes (and higher elevations) so rapidly that it could be a matter of only decades before birds are infected north of the Arctic Circle. Birds living near the poles that have had no exposure to malaria, have not had a chance to develop a natural immunity, and may be especially at risk. The author warns that as Antarctica warms, even penguins may have to cope with malaria! At:
On Sept. 24 Bob Berwyn published an article in Nation of Change titled, Record Ocean Temperatures Recorded off New England Coast. He wrote, “The warm waters led to the earliest, most intense and longest-lasting plankton bloom on record, with implications for marine life, from the smallest creatures to the largest marine mammals like whales.” The average sea surface temperature of 51 degrees F in the first half of 2012 topped the previous record, set in 1951. Temperatures climbed even higher in the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, where sea surface temperatures were more than 6 degrees above historical averages and more than 5 degrees above average at the seafloor. At:
Felicity Carus posted an article on Oct. 1 on AOL Energy titled, GE Launches Breakthrough Natural Gas Turbine for Baseload and Fast Ramping. The new turbine, called the FlexEfficiency 60, is capable of “idling” at 75 MW of output power and ramping up rapidly to as much as 750 MW at a rate of 100 MW per minute! This is said to make it an ideal backup for intermittent energy sources like solar PV and wind that might change power output suddenly, for example if a cloud passes over the sun. At: http://energy.aol.com/2012/10/01/ge-launches-breakthrough-natural-gas-turbine-for-baseload-and-fa/?icid=related1
That drawback of these renewable energy sources can be reduced or eliminated by spreading the sources over a wide geographical area or by storing their energy, for example in a fleet of electric vehicles or plug-in electric hybrids that are plugged into the grid when not in use.
On Oct. 5 the magazine Renewables International posted an article titled, German baseload power cheaper than French 12 months running. Information released by the European Energy Exchange showed that the cost of baseload power in Germany has fallen by 0.8 cents per kWh during the past year - about 18% - from 5.264 cents per kilowatt-hour in September 2011 to the current 4.467 cents in Sept. this year. The lower price than in France may come as a surprise since France gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear plants, whereas Germany has been closing nuclear plants, and now gets nearly 20% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. At:
The times they are a changing.
On September 21, 2012, the Union of Concerned Scientists hand-delivered nearly 20,000 postcards to the New York headquarters of News Corporation, calling on it to stop misleading its audiences about climate science. News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. An analysis by UCS of climate change “news” in these sources over several months showed that the WSJ misled readers in 81% of the articles, while Fox news was even worse, misleading its viewers in 93% of its climate change broadcasts. You can read about it and watch a short video at:
On Oct. 17 the Worldwatch Insitute issued a press releast titled, Degrowth Offers Alternative to Global Consumer Culture. It says, “If everyone lived like the average American, according to the Global Footprint Network, the Earth could sustain only 1.7 billion people----a quarter of today's population----without undermining the planet's physical and biological systems.” The idea of degrowth is go get away from the fixation with economic growth and increasing levels of consumption with the debt burdens, long working hours, increased rates of obesity, dependence on pharmaceuticals, and social isolation that characterize our modern society. The article describes a paper titled, The Path to Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries by Eric Assurian that appeared in Chapter 2 of State of the World 2012 (http://www.worldwatch.org/system/files/SOW12%20Summary%20%28Chapter%202%29.pdf). The press release can be found at: http://www.worldwatch.org/degrowth-offers-alternative-global-consumer-culture. Degrowth also provides a path toward avoiding catastrophic climate change while making it possible for the world’s poorest to increase their consumption to a decent level in a world with finite resources.
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.
The House Votes to Limit EPA’s Power to Regulate Carbon Dioxide
As its last act before Congress recesses until after the November election, the House voted 233-175 to approve the Stop the War on Coal Act (H.R. 3409) on September 21. The H.R. 3409 package includes five bills which excise or inhibit a number of Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that some Representatives claim harm the coal industry. Title II of the Stop the War on Coal Act blocks the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) by declassifying it as an air pollutant. This would prevent the EPA from finalizing its regulation which sets a maximum greenhouse gas emissions level per unit of energy for new power generation facilities. Title II previously was passed by the House as H.R. 910 in April 2011 (see April 11, 2011 issue). The White House has threatened to veto the legislation if it ever reaches the President.
French President Calls for 40 Percent Reduction of EU Carbon Emissions by 2030
At an environmental conference in Paris on September 14, French President Francois Hollande announced France’s commitment to reducing worldwide carbon emissions. President Hollande recommended that the European Union raise carbon emissions reduction targets to 40 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2040; a significant increase from the current goal of 20 percent by 2020. The President also advocated action at the global level stating, “Our goal is to reach a global climate agreement in 2015. France is fully committed to achieving this.” Hollande added that France would be happy to host the 2015 UN Conference of the Parties climate change discussions.
The Montreal Protocol Turns 25
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, often hailed as the world's most successful international environmental treaty for setting a path to prevent the destruction of the protective ozone layer, celebrated its 25th anniversary on September 16. The treaty has nearly phased out about 100 ozone depleting chemicals, and put the ozone layer on the path to recovery by 2065, saving more than $4 trillion in projected health costs in the United States alone. Because many of the same chemicals also contribute to climate change, phasing them out has produced climate mitigation equivalent to eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, equal to the emissions of some 1,900 power plants, according to the World Bank. "The Montreal Protocol is the world's best climate treaty, so far, and can do the equivalent of another 8 billion tonnes of CO2 mitigation per year by phasing down HFCs," said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, noting that, "HFCs are now the fastest growing greenhouse gas in the United States and other countries."
For additional information see: United Nations Environmental Programme
El Salvador Feeling the Impacts of Climate Change
Rising sea levels due to climate change are threatening the livelihood of many communities around the world, including El Salvador. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that global sea levels have been steadily rising throughout the last century by about 1.7 millimeters per year and are expected to accelerate to around 4 millimeters per year. El Salvador's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources predicts that the country will lose between 10 and 28 percent of its coastal territories in the next century due to rising sea levels. Since 2005, the village of La Tirana has lost 1000 feet of mangroves – which are crucial ocean buffers and animal habitats – due to receding coast lines. Also diminishing due to rising sea levels are punche crab populations, a major part of local subsistence. Coupled with rising sea levels, major deforestation (only 2% of El Salvador's original forests remain) has left natural drainage systems unable to cope with increased rainfall leading to flash flooding that devastates homes and harvests. Dr. Ricardo Navarro, director of the El Salvador chapter of Friends of the Earth, commented, "There is no doubt that the deforestation has left El Salvador even more vulnerable to climate change and the storms it is increasingly bringing."
For additional information see: The Independent
Arctic Sea Ice Melt May Increase Extreme Weather in United States and Europe
Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that on September 16 the record melting of the Arctic sea ice stopped for the year. The previous record since measurements began in 1979, set in September 2007, was surpassed August 26 (see September 3 issue) and melting conditions continued into September. Satellite images show that at the minimum, sea ice covered 1.32 million square miles, or only 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean, 18 percent lower than the previous record. Mar Serreze, the director of NSIDC said, “We are now in uncharted territory. . .While we've long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.” “The only strategy – short of geo-engineering – that can have any impact on our future Arctic ice melt is the strategy to reduce black carbon Short-Lived Climate Pollutants,” said Durwood Zaelke, President for the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.
In related news, according to Jennifer Francis, a researcher at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, the loss of sea ice is having several noticeable effects on atmospheric temperatures and weather patterns. Arctic ice reflects light and solar energy back into space and with the ice melting, heat is being absorbed by the darker ocean which then leads to increased water temperatures and¬ ice melt. In addition, the flux in water temperature slows down the jet stream – which controls the formation and movement of storm systems. The slowing of the jet stream causes weather conditions to last longer, in some cases causing extreme weather leading to floods and droughts. Francis argues that the shrinking Arctic ice can be tied to such recent weather events as prolonged cold spells in Europe, heavy snows in the Northeastern United States and Alaska, and heat waves in Russia. "We can't make predictions yet. . .[but] I wouldn't be surprised to see wild extremes this winter," Francis said. Walt Meier, a research scientist at NSIDC commented, “The Arctic is the earth’s air-conditioner. We’re losing that. It’s not just that polar bears might go extinct, or that native communities might have to adapt, which we’re already seeing – there are larger climate effects.”
New Study Questions Government Assessment of Carbon Emission Cost
On September 12 the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences published a study that re-assesses the social cost of carbon emissions. The study challenges a government assessment conducted by 12 government agencies that determined the unpriced, societal cost of carbon emissions to be $21 per ton and that the discount rate for future costs should be three percent. However, the authors of the new study contend that the social cost is significantly higher – somewhere between 2.6 and 12 times ($55-$266) that calculated in the earlier government study – and the discount rate should be two percent or less. The authors assert that by using a high discount rate, the governmental assessment fails to consider economic damages of carbon emissions on future generations. Dr. Laurie Johnson, co-author of the study and chief economist in the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council says, “With approximately 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the United States coming from power plants, the economic advantages of clean electricity sources are significant.” The authors come to the conclusion that investing in wind and solar, rather than natural gas and coal, is more cost-effective in the long run when the social costs of carbon are included.
Economic Effects of Climate Change Quantified in New Study
On September 26, DARA, a humanitarian non-governmental organization, published a report that estimates climate change-related economic losses at $1.2 trillion annually, or 1.6 percent of annual global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This figure will double by 2030 if no action is taken. Developing countries will suffer the brunt of this in the form of extreme weather which impacts agricultural production, resulting in deaths by malnutrition, poverty and associated diseases. Globally, these conditions result in five million deaths annually, with the number set to increase to 100 million by 2030 if no action is taken. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says, “[A] one degree Celsius rise in temperature is associated with 10 percent productivity loss in farming. For us, it means about four million metric tonnes of food grain, amounting to about $2.5 billion. That is about two percent of our GDP. Adding up the damages to property and other losses, we are faced with a total loss of about three to four percent of GDP. Without these losses, we could have easily secured much higher growth.” Developed countries are not immune. By 2030 drought, flood and severe storms could result in a 2.1 percent drop in GDP for both the United States and China. The report suggests that it will take about 0.5 percent of GDP this decade to transition to a low-carbon economy.
Study Warns Insurers Must Adapt to Changing Climate
The increased frequency of extreme weather events driven by climate change threatens economic losses for the insurance industry. A new report issued by Ceres, a nonprofit advocating sustainable business practices, warns that the risk models used by insurance companies are outdated. Scientists recorded 14 extreme weather events in 2011, costing insurance companies nearly $1 billion per event. It is expected that the 2012 drought alone will cost $20 billion, mainly in the form of federally-backed crop insurance. Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler commented, “Insurance is the first line defense against extreme weather losses, but climate change is a game-changer for the models that insurers have long relied on.” Companies are now charging higher premiums in locations prone to weather events, or are pulling out of these areas altogether; actions that the report argues will not be sustainable in the long term. Ceres recommends that insurance companies take an active role influencing infrastructure development, advocating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and researching weather and climate patterns to prepare future risk management strategies.
For additional information see: The Huffington Post
Japan Implements New Carbon Tax
On October 1, Japan began taxing carbon emissions from fossil fuels as a result of a broad tax package passed by Japan’s Parliament in March. The tax is levied on petroleum, natural gas, coal, and other fossil fuels and amounts to 289 yen ($3.70) per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted. The tax will rise in stages until 2016 when it will settle at 780 yen ($10) per tonne for liquified petroleum and natural gases, 760 yen ($9.73) per kiloliter (264 gallons) for crude oil, and 670 yen ($8.58) per tonne for coal. The tax is expected to raise 39.1 billion yen ($500 million) in its first year and 262.3 billion yen ($3.36 billion) when the tax is raised to the maximum in 2016. The Japanese government states that the carbon tax revenues will be spent on clean energy and energy efficiency projects. When the full tax is implemented in 2016, the average Japanese household is expected to pay an additional 1200 yen [$15.37] per year. Yugo Nakamura, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, stated that, “The tax translates to a gasoline price hike of less than 1 yen [$0.012] per liter [.26 gallons]. . .[having] little effect on suppressing demand.”
Ocean Acidification a Serious Threat to Marine Life
Earth’s oceans have absorbed nearly two-thirds of carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution, and the impact of ocean carbon dioxide absorption is now being felt worldwide. Scientists estimate that ocean acidity has increased 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and at the current rate of emissions, acidity levels could double by 2100. Previous studies reveal that acidity impedes shell formation, internal skeletons, and reproduction capabilities of marine animals. Recent reports also suggest that acidity impairs neurological pathways in some marine species, impacting their decision making and behavior. Gretchen Hofmann, professor of marine biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, calls it, “An all-hands-on-deck moment in our country, and it’s happening before our eyes.”
While scientists strive to answer uncertainties, policymakers and fishermen are working together to mitigate expected consequences. Some regions are examining local contributors, such as agricultural runoff, while others are enforcing protections to bolster threatened fish populations. Researchers have suggested installing pH-monitoring equipment, an investment that saved the Pacific oyster industry $34 million in 2011. The equipment allows fisheries and hatcheries to stop the flow of water into tanks when acidified water is detected. However, these short term gains will not be able to withstand long-term acidification. Taylor Shellfish Farm spokesman Bill Dewey said, “Our fate is sealed for the next several decades. Even if we change our carbon dioxide emission policies today and stop the assault, [scientists] have told us it’s probably going to get worse for the next 50 years before it gets better.” Although some species will be able to adapt or even gain from lower ocean pH, others will face severe losses. Because species interact with one another, ocean acidification could have large ripple effects and unforeseen consequences across the entire food web.
EU Refocuses Low-carbon Vision
On October 8, the European Union (EU) Commission launched a new campaign entitled, “world you like, with a climate you like,” designed to foster a shared vision for a low-carbon society across Europe. The campaign is part of the EU Commission’s roadmap to create a low-carbon economy and reduce carbon emissions 80-95 percent by 2050. During the launch of the campaign, EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard stated, “Our ambition for a low carbon society is not some distant future. It’s about jobs now. It’s about the innovation and competitiveness which we can harness today for a better tomorrow.” Through a new website offered in 23 languages, Europeans have access to an idea-sharing platform on ways to tackle climate change from sustainable food production to electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The forum reveals how climate policies improve the lives of European people, something politicians are often criticized for failing to convey. The EU Commission roadmap emphasizes that climate policies cut local pollution, reduce dependency on fossil fuel imports, improve resource efficiency, and save money on energy. “It’s perhaps been a bit too much doom and gloom in the past on climate. We are now emphasizing the need to inspire people,” said an EU official.
Climate Change Could Exacerbate Health Problems
Researchers in California have found that climate change and increasing atmospheric temperatures are likely going to exacerbate health problems. A study conducted by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), predicts that 150,000 additional heat-related deaths will occur in U.S. cities alone by 2100 as a result of climate change. The study found that for every increase of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, there was a 1.7 percent rise in emergency room (ER) visits for heart disease, a 4.3 percent rise in cases related to diabetes, and a 12.7 percent increase in visits relating to low blood pressure. Also, for every 10 degree Fahrenheit increase, incidences of heat illness and strokes rose four-fold and dehydration rose by 25 percent. Lead author Rupa Basu, an epidemiologist at OEHHA, stressed the importance of identifying demographic groups which are most susceptible to rising temperate to help health officials prepare.
In related news, climate change-related heat and drought also result in nitrogen by-products that can cause and exacerbate heart and respiratory diseases. A study published in the journal Issues in Ecology found that increased temperatures and drought spur the chemical conversion of nitrogen into nitrous oxide and ozone. Nitrous oxide and ozone can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, especially in elderly or underserved populations. In addition, researchers warn of both the increasing cost of treating chronic diseases and the potential ripple effects of nitrogen release which include acid rain, building corrosion, the killing of plants and crops, ocean acidification and the consequential death of marine life and coral reefs .
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action