Friday, January 18, 2013



I recently came across an Op-Ed by Thomas Friedman in a NY TImes of Dec. 2009, titled The Copenhagen that Matters.  In it he described how Denmark, a tiny country of only 5 million people, has become a green energy leader with benefits to its industry, economy and balance of trade.  In 2009 Denmark already got nearly 30% of its electricity from renewable energy sources and was the most energy efficient country in the E.U.  Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the Danes.  At: 

In August the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) issued a fact sheet by Samuel Brock titled, Faith Organizations and Climate Change, which cites quotations from many of the world’s great religions on the need for a moral and ethical response to the threat of climate change to human welfare and God’s Creation.  At: 

The November 2012 issue of Scientific American had an article by John Carey titled, Global Warming: Faster than Expected?, which pointed out that loss of ice, melting of permafrost and other climate changes are occurring at an alarming pace.  The explanation he gives lies in three positive feedbacks: meltwater altering ocean circulation, thawing permafrost releasing carbon dioxide and methane, and loss of ice worldwide.  Ocean circulation is responsible for a lot of the heat transfer from the tropics to the poles; thawing permafrost allows methanogenic bacteria to  convert previously frozen plant material to CO2 and methane (a more powerful greenhouse gas); loss of ice reduces the reflectivity of earth’s surface, causing it to absorb more solar radiation.  Citing the growing danger of rapid climate change as a result of climate feedbacks, he quotes Jim Hansen (Columbia University) thinking about his grandchildren: “It would be immoral to leave these young people with a climate system spinning out of control.” 
The end of the article has some web sites worth looking at.  One is a 1.9-minute video by Kelly Anthony of the University of Alaska showing methane from warming permafrost catching fire.  At:
A few years ago I wrote an article for the LWVUS titled, Positive Feedback and Climate Runaway: The Need to Act Without Delay, describing some of the positive climate feedbacks.  At: 

The Commonwealth Club of California  met in San Francisco on Dec. 4 for a little more than two hours.  The first half of the meeting was a panel discussion (Climate Change and Politics) moderated by Greg Dalton - with three speakers: Professor Michael Mann from Penn State University, Professor Katherine Hayhoe from Texas Tech, and Bill Anderegg, a graduate student at Stanford.  The discussion was captured in a 65-minute C-Span video.  The second half was an interview of Dr. James Hansen (NASA and Columbia University) by Greg Dalton, on the occasion of Hansen’s winning the 2012 Steve Schneider Science Communication Award.  That was made into a 72-minute video titled, James Hansen on Climate Change.  Both parts of the meeting are well worth watching and can be found at: has posted a great 4.5-minute video titled, Climate Change 101 by Bill Nuy, the Science Guy.  It cuts through the noise and lays out the facts in a way that anyone can understand.  It even shows a simple experiment that illustrates the greenhouse effect.  At:

On. Dec. 4 Forecast The Facts posted a 1.5-minute video showing part of a speech by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) talking about how Congress is spending a lot of time and energy debating what should be done about the “fiscal cliff” while ignoring the much larger threat that the planet will go over the “climate cliff.”  At: 
There you can watch the video and also sign a petition to Congress to address the really dangerous problem.

On Dec. 5 Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) gave a similar message to the Senate in a 3.5-minute speech, which you can see at: 

Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe had an article on Dec. 29 titled, Wistful hopes for US offshore wind industry, in which he points out that while offshore wind is growing rapidly in Europe, in the U.S. it is caught in the crosswinds of American politics.  Congress has agreed to extend the Production Tax Credits that could incentivize offshore wind power development for only one year.  The more favorable economic environment elsewhere is driving investment there.  Congress has also failed to reduce the unnecessary tax credits for U.S. fossil fuel industries, which have favored them for over 100 years. At:

On Dec. 20, Elisabeth MacNamara, the President of the League of Women Voters of the United States, sent a letter to President Obama asking him to lead the fight against climate change.  After quoting the president’s own words, she wrote, “We need you to lead the U.S. and the world through the greatest environmental challenge of our generation.”  “President Obama, if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. If the United States doesn’t lead, the rest of the world cannot follow.  Saving the world is a legacy worth fighting for.”  At:

A coalition of national, MD state, regional and local organizations has signed a statement titled, Maryland Fracking Moratorium Now!: A Resolution Calling for Statutory Protections Against the Dangers of Hydraulic Fracking for Natural Gas in Maryland.  It lists a whole series of bad environmental effects, and asks for a statutory moratorium on fracking until the General Assembly determines that the risks to public health, rural communities, the natural environment and the global climate are acceptable.  At:
Alex Gullen has an article in the Jan. 2 POLITICO MORNING ENERGY with a lot of information on U.S. energy issues, including a list called 2013’s Top Energy Questions.  Well worth a look at

Willett Kempton et al. published an important paper in the Journal of Power Sources, Vol. 225, March 1, 2013, pp. 60-74 titled, Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time.  They modeled how the actual regional load on the 72 GW PJM system (20% of the total U.S. electricity load) over a 4-year period could be supplied by various combinations of on-shore and off-shore wind, solar PV, energy storage and fossil fuel backup using actual meteorological data over the 4-year period in the PJM grid region (including DC and all or parts of 13 states) to calculate the amounts of renewable energy available each hour. They found that the load demand could be supplied without fossil fuels 99.9% of the time at prices competitive with the current mostly fossil fuel system if health effects were taken into account.  At:
An interview with Kempton explaining their results was posted on Jan. 11 by Dan Ferber in Midwest Energy News.  At:

On Jan. 11 Tom Zeller Jr. posted an article for the Huffington Post titled, National Climate Assessment Details Stronger Evidence Of Global Warming And Its Impacts.
The draft report was prepared by the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee by a group of 240 scientists, and will be subject to a three-month period of review and public commentThe full draft report can be downloaded from a link at:

The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its weekly newsletter are posted on its website under "publications" at 
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

Senator Boxer to Form a Climate Change Caucus

On December 11, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced that she will form a climate change caucus. “I am going to form a climate change caucus, because people are coming up to me, they really want to get into this. I think Sandy changed a lot of minds,” Boxer said. “It is going to work with all the committees and all the committee chairmen to make sure we can move forward legislation that reduces carbon pollution and also works on mitigation and all of the other elements,” she continued. “I think you are going to see a lot of bills on climate change.”
For additional information see: The Hill

Senate Superstorm Sandy Appropriations Bill Acknowledges Climate Risk

On December 12, the Senate Committee on Appropriations released its $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package requested by President Obama for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The request includes a call for infrastructure planning for future climate-related disasters. The request says, “In carrying out activities funded by this title, Federal agencies, in partnership with States, local communities and tribes, shall inform plans for response, recovery, and rebuilding to reduce vulnerabilities from and build long-term resiliency to future extreme weather events, sea level rise, and coastal flooding.”
For additional information see: Senate Appropriations Package

EIA Report Projects Emissions Cuts, Shift in Power Generation Portfolio

On December 5, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Annual Energy Outlook report for 2013. The report concluded that the United States will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions nine percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, falling short of the 17 percent target. In addition, energy-related carbon emissions are projected to remain about five percent below 2005 levels through 2040. The report shows that by 2040 the power sector will become more reliant on low-carbon sources, with renewable power increasing from 13 percent of the electricity mix to 16 percent, natural gas from 24 percent to 30 percent, and coal falling from 42 percent to 35 percent. The EIA attributes the shift to “both market and policy factors, including the adoption of tighter economy fuel standards, the implementation of efficiency standards, and a continued shift to less carbon-intensive fuels.”
For additional information see: SNL Financial, EIA Report

Security Assessment Finds that Conflicts Could Increase as Temperatures Rise

The National Intelligence Council, which reports to the U.S. director of national intelligence, issued a report on December 10 revealing that competition for resources and new regional conflicts are expected to increase as global temperatures rise. The “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” report assesses expected geopolitical changes in the coming decades, stating that, “Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50 percent, respectively, owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class. Climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources.” Researchers believe that climate change will become a major factor driving internal migration, as extreme weather events and ethnic conflict displace people throughout the developing world. The results are similar to recent American Security Project and National Research Council reports (see November 5 and November 19 issues).
For additional information see: The Hill, Washington Post

Summer Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Caused by Arctic Wildfires

Ohio State University geographer Jason Box presented new satellite observation research to the American Geophysical Union on December 7 that indicates smoke from Arctic wildfires might have triggered this summer’s unprecedented ice melt in Greenland. In a matter of four days during July 2012, almost 97 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet was believed to be melting. While climate change and arctic weather conditions contributed to the thaw, Box’s research also suggests that smoke and soot particles from wildfires darkened the snow and ice surfaces, causing Greenland’s ice sheet to absorb more sunlight. The wildfires experienced in the Arctic tundra were triggered by warmer and greener conditions attributed to climate change. Researchers are using satellite images and computer models to track the smoke trajectories of the fires to identify whether the soot traveled to the ice sheets. The team will return to Greenland in the summer of 2013 to conduct further research on what they have named the “Dark Snow” project.
For additional information see: Guardian

Poll Finds that Nearly 80 Percent of Americans Think Climate Change is Occurring

An Associated Press and GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications poll released December 14, found that 78 percent of Americans believe that climate change is occurring and 80 percent reported that it was a serious problem. The findings are an increase from 2009 when 75 percent of respondents said they thought climate change was occurring and 73 percent said that it was a serious problem. The poll was conducted in telephone interviews between November 29 and December 3 with 1,002 American adults.
For additional information see: Washington Post

Conclusions from COP 18: Doha Renews Kyoto Protocol, Postpones Tough Decisions

On December 8, the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar, drew to a close. Over 17,000 people and nearly 200 countries attended to work on a global climate treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming. European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard hailed the fact that nearly 200 countries agreed on a framework for negotiating the details of such a treaty over the next three years. However, the negotiations were criticized for putting off difficult decisions, mainly, how major developing countries such as China and India will cut their greenhouse gas emissions and how much the richest nations will aid developing nations with climate change adaptation.

In a final agreement – agreed to almost a day after the conference was supposed to end – delegates agreed to extend the expiring Kyoto Protocol. The agreement, however, only covers around 15 percent of the world's total carbon output. While the European Union (EU), Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Norway agreed to the extension, many Kyoto participants, such as Canada, Japan, Russia and New Zealand, declined to participate in another round of emissions cuts. The second commitment phase will begin on January 1, 2013, and end December 31, 2020. It is seen as a bridge to the next climate agreement to take effect in 2020, which was agreed to in principle at COP 17 in Durban. The Doha agreement also included a non-binding call for Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to reassess their emission reduction pledges by 2014 and consider cuts in the range of 25-40 percent.

Developed countries expressed concern that plans to curb climate change would not be effective unless nations such as India and China agree to emissions cuts. Furthermore, scientists and environmentalists indicate that the extension of the Kyoto Protocol will be insufficient to keep global temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – generally considered the maximum tolerable rise if we are to prevent the worst effects of climate change. According to a recent World Bank study, without action, global average temperatures could rise four degrees Celsius by 2100. 

2012 Warmest Year on Record in the Continental United States

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States. In addition, 2012 had the second most extreme weather on record, as measured by the U.S. Climate Extremes Index. According to NOAA’s report, the average temperature for 2012 was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This is 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th century average and an entire degree warmer than the previous record, which was set in 1998. There were more drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and storms than average in 2012, and only tornado activity was at a below average level. In addition, every state in the contiguous United States had an above average temperature for the year, and many states experienced significant heat waves over the summer. It is estimated that nearly one-third of the U.S. population experienced ten or more days when the temperature reached above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, stated on Twitter that, “There must be a strong policy and civil society response to the fact that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the [United States].” Weather records for the contiguous United States reach back to 1895. Alaska and Hawaii are normally not included in national weather reports because their records are not as extensive.
After the announcement, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said, “Every new data point serves to highlight the folly of putting special-interest politics and partisanship before science and fact. The climate is changing. It is time for both sides of the aisle to accept the evidence, recognize the overwhelming scientific consensus, evaluate the risks of continued inaction, and come together to have meaningful discussions about climate change. Though it may be too little and too late, policies focused on prevention of deeper, more devastating climatic shifts should still be our primary objective. Therefore, we must act boldly and we must act swiftly. Policymakers also have a responsibility to do everything that we can to ensure that communities, the agricultural sector, and other critical industries can adapt to the costly impacts of a changing climate.”

Sen. Boxer Hires Climate Change Lawyer for Environment and Public Works Committee

On January 10, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, announced the hire of an environmental lawyer for the role of Climate Change Counsel on the EPW committee. Joe Mendelson will join the committee from the Climate and Energy Program at the National Wildlife Federation where he served as policy director. Sen. Boxer stated, “Dangerous climate change poses an urgent threat and we have a responsibility to address that threat. I am so pleased that Joe Mendelson will be joining the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee team. We will make the most of his expertise as we craft solutions to climate change.” Sen. Boxer recently announced the creation of a “climate change clearinghouse” to coordinate on climate legislation in the 113th Congress (see January 2 issue).
For additional information see: Press Release

Green Groups Submit Letter to President Calling for Action on Climate Change

More than 70 environmental groups signed an open letter to President Obama, asking the president to be more vocal on climate issues during his second term. The groups called on the president to speak up on behalf of climate change and to clarify the connection between carbon emissions and climate change. They also requested that the president pursue new greenhouse gas limits on existing power plants and that he reject approval for the Keystone XL Pipeline project. The groups write, “We urge you to elevate climate solutions to the top tier of your domestic agenda and America’s bilateral and global diplomatic priorities.”
For additional information see: Guardian, Letter

Climate Advocates Supportive of Nomination of Former Sen. Hagel to Secretary of Defense

President Obama’s decision to nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as the Secretary of Defense has received positive responses from some environmentalists and clean energy advocates. Sen. Hagel has a mixed past on environmental issues. In 1997 he co-sponsored the Bird-Hagel Resolution which effectively prevented U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol, but he has stated that climate change is an important issue facing the nation and that his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol was because he was concerned that it could lead to job losses and other economic difficulties within Nebraska. Climate groups are optimistic because in 2005 Sen. Hagel introduced three bills related to clean-technology innovation, and in 2007 he co-sponsored legislation for a multi-agency intelligence assessment of threats on national security from climate change. Under current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Department of Defense has identified the environment and energy as key issues facing the military, notably focusing on the effect of climate change on global stability and the cost of the military’s energy consumption, and has created programs to address these issues. Although environmental groups do not expect Sen. Hagel to make the environment a priority as Defense Secretary, they also do not expect him to dismantle current programs.
For additional information see: E&E Publishing, Christian Science Monitor

Study: Cheaper to Reduce Emissions Now than to Wait until 2020

A January 2 report in Nature concludes that waiting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent average global temperature from increasing more than two degrees Celsius by 2100 will increase the cost of action. Study coauthor Dr. Keywan Riahi, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, explained, "It was generally known that costs increase when you delay action. It was not clear how quickly they change." The study finds that if global prices on emissions were put in place today, it would cost $20 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) to ensure a 60 percent chance of keeping the temperature increase below two degrees Celsius. By 2020, a price of $60 per tonne of CO2 would be required to achieve the same effect. The authors predict that by 2030, there may be no price at which it would be possible to keep the temperature from rising above the limit agreed upon at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.
For additional information see: Reuters, Responding to Climate Change, Study

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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light

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