Sunday, March 24, 2013



During the past month I became aware of a wonderful web site by the U.S. EPA Sea Level Rise Manager, James G. Titus.  He has a lot of good information and references.  At: http://www.Risingsea.netA 1991 study by Titus and nine co-authors published in Coastal Management was titled, Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise: The Cost of Holding Back the Sea, at: 
They estimated the cost to the U.S. of a 1 meter (39 inch) rise in sea level at $270 to $475 billion - provided there were no more development in areas near sea level. 

On Feb. 25 Tim Brennan, Treasurer & CFO of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), posted an article at Huffington Post titled, Is Divestment the Only Solution to Climate Catastrophe?  He wrote this because of a debate going on within the UUA about whether it should divest itself of investments in fossil fuel industries - like many faith organizations divested themselves of investments in South Africa during apartheid.  He wrote that it might be more effective to speak up at shareholder meetings and work within the corporations to bring about change.  Here are some examples of past changes he attributed to investors:

· The most significant increase in fuel economy standards for vehicles in a generation.
· Dozens of companies pulling their support from the climate science denying American Legislative Exchange Council and Heartland Institute.
· Disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions and strategies to reduce them by numerous companies.
· Mandated climate risk disclosure by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Tim McDonnell posted an article at Mother Jones on Feb. 28 titled, Top 4 Reasons the US Still Doesn't Have a Single Offshore Wind Turbine.  They include:
  1. Begging bucks from Uncle Sam,
  2. Blowback from "stakeholders",
  3. Not a single ship in the Unites States is equipped to handle wind turbines, and
  4. States and feds butting heads.  Not a happy picture for the U.S. at:
Mother Jones has a cheat sheet by James West titled, This Cheat Sheet Will Make You Win Every Climate Argument.  It’s just the thing to have if you meet a climate skeptic who is willing to listen for a few minutes.  At:
The PBS Newshour for March 1 posted an article titled, Is Obama's Climate Change Policy Doomed to Fail? Maybe Not.  It concludes that the chances for national legislation dealing with climate is pretty unlikely - unless a major calamity occurs; however there is a lot that President Obama can do through regulation.  It says, So, notwithstanding last year's experience with superstorm Sandy, and despite some minor changes in polling numbers on climate change, it remains the case that until there is an obvious, sudden, and perhaps cataclysmic event, such as a loss of part of the Antarctic ice sheet leading to a dramatic sea level rise, it is unlikely that public opinion in the United States will provide the tremendous bottom up demand that led to Congressional environmental action in the past.  That need not mean that there can be no truly meaningful, national climate policy -- such as carbon pricing -- until disaster has struck. But it does mean that popular demand may not come in time, and that instead what will be required is inspired leadership at the highest level that can somehow begin to bridge the debilitating partisan political divide.”  At:
The March 3 NY TImes had an Op-Ed by Tom Friedman titled, The Scary Hidden Stressor.  In it he points out that climate change - particular its impact on wheat production and price - may well have been a factor in generating the violent revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East that have come to be known as the Arab Spring.  He cites the recently published work of Princeton scholar Anne-Marie Slaughter titled, The Arab Spring and Climate Change.  Freedman pointed out that a combination of a once-in-a-century winter drought in China and record-breaking heat waves or floods in other key wheat-growing countries contributed to global wheat shortages and skyrocketing bread prices in wheat-importing countries, most of which are in the Arab world.  Countries like Egypt - the world’s largest importer of wheat - saw the global wheat price more than double, from $157/metric ton in June 2010 to $326 in February 2011, shortly before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled.  At:
Will climate change be a major contributor to political instability?  The U.S. Department of Defense thinks so, calling it a “threat multiplier.”  At:
On March 4 Katherine Bagley posted an important article on Inside Climate News, titled, Climate Change Science Poised to Enter Nation’s Classrooms.  New national science standards that introduce teaching about climate change into public schools, starting in elementary school, will soon be released.  They have been developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nonprofit Achieve and more than two dozen states. The article says, “The 26 states that helped write the standards are expected to adopt them. Another 15 or so have indicated they may accept them—meaning climate change instruction could make its way into classrooms in 40-plus states.”  At:
On March 4 Peter Galuszka posted on article on Slate titled, Smooth Sailing for Offshore Wind?  It has a nice summary of the current state of offshore wind development on the U.S. East Coast, and says that construction may begin in a year or two off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia.  Though thriving in Europe, it has been tough getting off the ground here because of numerous difficulties - including cheap natural gas from fracking.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  At: 
On March 7 Emily Adams posted an article for the Earth Policy Institute titled, Where Has All the Ice Gone?  In it she writes, As the earth warms, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and seas are rising. Over the last century, the global average sea level rose by 17 centimeters (7 inches). This century, as waters warm and ice continues to melt, seas are projected to rise nearly 2 meters (6 feet), inundating coastal cities worldwide, such as New York, London, and Cairo.”  She details the accelerating rates of ice loss all over the world, including from Greenland, where the rate of loss increased from 51 billion tons per year in the 1990s to 263 billion tons per year today - an increase of a factor of more than five.  The loss of glaciers on land not only contributes to sea level rise, but threatens water supplies and hydroelectric power for millions of people around the world who depend on water in rivers fed by runoff from summer ice melt.  At:
The NY Times for March 7 has and article by Justin Gillis titled, Global Temperatures Highest in 4,000 Years.  The article reports on recently published studies of the abundance of plant species that can be use to estimate temperatures where they lived long ago.  At:  The result is perhaps not surprising, since the current concentration of CO2 - nearly 400 ppm - is significantly higher that it has been for at least 650,000 years, according to analysis of trapped air bubbles in the oldest ice core samples.
On March 7 CSRwire (the Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire) issued a press release titled, Is the U.S. Insurance Industry Prepared for Climate Change?  It was based on a very recent Ceres report, Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey: 2012 Findings & Recommendations,  based on 184 company responses to a climate risk survey developed by insurance regulators.  “Ceres found only 23 companies in the property & casualty, life & annuity and health insurance sectors have comprehensive climate change strategies.”  “Every segment of the insurance industry faces climate risks, yet the industry’s response has been highly uneven,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, who wrote the report foreword. “The implications of this are profound because the insurance sector is a key driver of the economy. If climate change undermines the future availability of insurance products and risk management services in major markets throughout the US, it threatens the economy and taxpayers as well.”
The Ceres report recommends that insurance companies:
  • Treat climate change as a corporate-wide strategic issue, affecting all functions, at all levels, and formalize this in a public corporate policy statement.
  • Assess how a warming climate will alter extreme weather events, disease vectors, political risk and infrastructure resilience, and implement strategies to adapt their underwriting and investment practices accordingly.
  • Develop catastrophic models that anticipate the probable effects of climate change on extreme weather events.
  • Advocate for public policies that will help reduce carbon emissions and maintain an economy that is resilient to climate risk.
Insurance regulators have a role to play as well. Ceres recommends regulators:
  • Continue to mandate annual, public climate risk disclosure by insurers.
  • Engage with insurers, consumers and other public policy makers to better understand the nature of climate change risk, including how rates should be adjusted to reflect changing risks, and the steps insurers and regulators need to take to better incentivize consumers to reduce their vulnerability to these risks.
On March 11 Andrew Revkin announced in the NY TImes that Justin Gillis has launched a monthly column on energy and climate change in the Science TimesAt:  One of Justin’s well written columns, published on Jan. 21, was titled, How High Could the TIde Go?  At: shows a map of where the U.S. East Coast was 3 million years ago.  It’s an eye opener.
In March the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a report titled,  Global Warming’s Six Americas in September 2012.  It summarized the results of surveys of over 1000 U.S. adults taken between August 31 and Sept. 12, 2012.  The “six Americas” refers to six distinct groups of Americans, based on their climate beliefs, behaviors and policy preferences: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive. The Yale Project has been following the distribution of people in the categories through numerous polls since 2008.  This most recent survey found the following perceived benefits and costs of reduced fossil fuel use and global warming:
  1. For five of the Six Americas, improved public health now ranks among the top three perceived benefits of the nation taking action to reduce fossil fuel use and global warming. 
  1. A range of other important outcomes – reducing our dependence on foreign oil, creating green jobs and improving the economy – are also ranked among the top five benefits by all Six Americas. 
  2. One of the least recognized benefits is improved national security, which is ranked as one of the two least likely benefits by five of the segments. Preventing starvation and poverty worldwide were also largely unrecognized benefits, ranking within the two least likely benefits for five of the segments. 
  3. The drawbacks most likely to be cited were increased government regulation and higher energy prices; these were the top two drawbacks for every segment. 
On March 15 Bill Moyers broadcast an encore interview with scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, about his efforts to galvanize the six Americas referred to above, to work together on the greatest single threat facing humanity. Leiserowitz, specializes in the psychology of risk perception.  The 52-minute interview is excellent, and well worth watching.  It’s called Ending the Silence on Climate Change.  At:
In the March 17 issue of the NY Times Thomas Friedman had an Op-Ed titled, Lose-Lose vs. Win-Win-Win-Win-Win, in which he proposes giving a carbon tax a seat at the table during the discussion of taxation and reducing the federal deficit.  He writes, “Shrinking the tax deduction for charity is on the table. Shrinking Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for the poor are on the table. But a carbon tax that could close the deficit and clean the air, weaken petro-dictators, strengthen the dollar, drive clean-tech innovation and still leave some money to lower corporate and income taxes is off the table. So the solutions that are lose-lose and divisive are on the table, while the solution that is win-win-win-win-win — and has both liberal and conservative supporters — is off the table.”  He writes that a tax of $25 per ton of CO2 emitted - whether for electricity generation, space heating or transportation - would raise about $125 billion a year - raising the cost of gasoline by 21 cents a gallon and increasing the cost of electricity by about 1.2 cents per kWh; it could be gradually phased in as the economy improves.  So why aren’s we doing it?  At:
Andrew Garber wrote an article for the Seattle Times on March 17 titled, Climate Change  a Top Concern for Gov. Inslee.  The new governor of Washington is a champion of addressing climate change, which he made a major issue of his campaign.  In testifying before the House Environment Committee this month on climate-change legislation he said, “This is about pollution with a capital P.  It’s about reducing a pollutant, namely carbon dioxide, which has very, very significant impacts on Washington state, on our health, on our well-being and on our economy.”  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" at 
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

California Holds Second Auction of Carbon Permits

On February 19, California held its second auction of carbon permits under its cap and trade program, which begin January 1. The carbon allowances sold for $13.62 per tonne, more than a dollar above the expected price, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysts. The auction was administered by the Air Resources Board, which auctioned 22 million allowances at a minimum bid of $10.71 per tonne of carbon. The last auction, held in November, raised almost $300 million and carbon permits sold for $10.09 (see November 26, 2012 issue).
For additional information see: Bloomberg, Sacramento Bee

The International Effort to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Celebrates First Year Successes

The Climate & Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) celebrated its first anniversary on February 16 (see February 20, 2012 issue). The CCAC is dedicated to reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) including black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Reducing SLCPs can cut the rate of climate change in half, slowing global temperature rise by up to 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, and provide substantial economic and human health benefits, including avoiding as many as 2.4 million pollution-related mortalities. To address these pollutants, the CCAC has developed seven initiatives: reducing methane from urban landfills and from the oil and gas industry; reducing black carbon emissions from brick kilns and from heavy duty diesel vehicles and engines; promoting alternatives to HFCs; scaling up financing to reduce all SLCPs; and developing SLCP National Action Plans. The Coalition is also developing additional proposals to address open burning of biomass and pollution from cookstoves.
In the course of a year, the CCAC grew from six initial country partners and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to 56 partners, including 28 countries – with the recent addition of Kenya – the European Commission, World Bank, UN Development Programme, UN Industrial Development Organization, and 18 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). “The success of the CCAC shows that more and more countries are now recognizing the multiple, cost-effective benefits that swift, coordinated action on SLCPs can deliver,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a CCAC member organization, added, “In its first year the Coalition has been brilliant in developing a spirit of urgent optimism for solving the fast half of climate change. And it's already working on plans for taking its strategies to the scale it needs to meet the bold challenge of cutting the rate of warming in half for the next 40 years, with the World Bank pledging billions of new dollars for their efforts. The Coalition is a rare climate success story.” EESI and UNEP organized a Congressional briefing about the CCAC on February 1 (see EESI website for more information).

For additional information see: Africa Science News, UNEP Press Release, IGSD Press Release

USDA: Climate Change Will Impact U.S. Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report analyzing and addressing the impacts of climate change on U.S. agriculture. The report states, “Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to U.S. agriculture because of the sensitivity of agricultural productivity and costs to changing climate conditions.” Although farmers should be able to adapt over the next 25 years, mostly by adjusting planting and harvesting times and using drought-resistance strains of crops, longer-term effects will be more severe. According to lead author Jerry Hatfield, a USDA plant physiologist, “We’re going to end up in a situation where we have a multitude of things happening that are going to negatively impact crop production. In fact, we saw this in 2012 with the drought.”
The report suggests that post-2050, uncertain and at times extreme precipitation is likely to reduce crop production. In addition, warmer temperatures reduce crop yields of staples such as wheat. Temperatures over the next 40 years are expected to rise one to two degrees Celsius in the United States, but could rise two to three degrees Celsius in the interior part of the country, where the “breadbasket” is located. Not only will these temperatures be harmful to crops, but they can also be detrimental to livestock. For example, cows in extremely warm weather will be less capable of producing milk, and chickens less able to produce eggs. Compounding this concern, higher temperatures are also conducive to insects and diseases that can harm livestock. The report was written with the input of 56 expert authors from the federal government, universities, the private sector, and other stakeholders. The authors reviewed over 1400 publications on the topic to produce their final report. Also released was a USDA climate change adaptation plan, which is open for a 60 day comment period through April 8.

For additional information see: USA Today, International Business Times, Report, Adaptation Plan

New Poll: Americans View Climate Change as Priority

A poll by the Pew Research Center and USA Today released February 21, found that Americans view climate change as a priority, after the deficit, immigration, and gun control. Of the 1,504 adults surveyed, a majority support (62 percent) regulation of power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, the issue remains contentious along party lines. While almost half (47 percent) of Democrats believe that it is “essential” that the president and Congress enact new climate change policies this year, only 15 percent of Republicans think that should be the case. In addition, 54 percent believe that the priority for U.S. energy policy should be to invest in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, up seven points from October 2012. Only 35 percent believe the United States should expand the production of oil, gas, and coal.
For additional information see: The Hill, Survey

Inspector General Says EPA Needs Better Data about Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Sector

On February 20, U.S. Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Arthur Elkins released a report expressing concern that the EPA does not have enough information about methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. In the report, Elkins stated, “With limited data, human health risks are uncertain, states may design incorrect or ineffective emission control strategies, and EPA’s decisions about regulating industry may be misinformed.” Measuring methane emissions is of particular importance for the EPA, which released the first air pollution emissions standards for natural gas well sites in 2012. Although burning natural gas produces fewer carbon emissions than other fossil fuels, the positive effects could be negated depending on the magnitude of methane leakage during the extraction and transportation process. According to the report, the EPA has minimal data about methane emissions, and many of the existing measurements are of “questionable quality.” It is currently difficult for the EPA to measure emissions leakage, as it is not easy for researchers to gain access to drilling sites, and, when access is available, it can be dangerous and difficult to take measurements. The EPA is working on ways to monitor emissions remotely, but nothing has been fully developed yet.
For additional information see: San Francisco Chronicle, Upstream, Report

Bipartisan Group of Former Lawmakers and Government Officials Call for Climate Action

On February 25, a bipartisan group of U.S. foreign policy and military officials called for action on climate change. In an open letter penned by the Partnership for a Secure America – a group formed by former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN) and former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-NH) – signatories urged that steps must be taken to address the national security threat posed by global warming in poorer nations. “Climate change impacts abroad could spur mass migrations, influence civil conflict and ultimately lead to a more unpredictable world,” the letter states. “Protecting U.S. interests under these conditions would progressively exhaust American military, diplomatic and development resources as we struggle to meet growing demands for emergency international engagement.” Letter signatories include: President George W. Bush’s Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, President Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, retired Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn, former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and 15 other former Members of Congress.
For additional information see: Politico, Letter

Rising Temperatures Could Release Methane from Melting Siberian Permafrost

A study published February 21 in the journal Science concludes that a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise would be enough to begin a major release of methane from melting Siberian permafrost. Lead author Anton Vaks, postdoctoral research fellow at Oxford University, said, “Although it wasn't the main focus of our research, our work also suggests that in a world 1.5 [degree Celsius] warmer – warm enough to melt the coldest permafrost – adjoining regions would see significant changes. Mongolia's Gobi Desert [could] become much wetter than it is today and this extremely arid area could come to resemble the present-day Asian steppes.” The researchers studied growth patterns of stalagmites and stalactites to analyze the possible effects of temperature changes on the present and future. Over thousands of years, stalagmites and stalactites formed in Siberian caves under the permafrost from dripping melt water. The researchers found stalactites in a northern cave on the boundary of the permafrost that showed growth during a period 400,000 years ago at temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times, which indicates the permafrost could begin to thaw again at similar temperatures. Permafrost covers 24 percent of land surface in the northern hemisphere, and scientists are concerned that initial melting could begin a chain reaction, releasing of billion of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
For additional information see: Guardian, New Scientist, Study Abstract

President Highlights Climate in Nomination of New Leaders of EPA and DOE

On March 4, President Obama announced the nomination of two cabinet members who could spearhead his efforts against climate change. Gina McCarthy, a current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator and air quality regulator under former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has been chosen to head the EPA. The president selected MIT physicist Ernest J. Moniz as the nominee to run the Department of Energy. In his announcement of the nominees at the White House, Obama stated, “They’re going to be making sure that we’re investing in American energy, that we’re doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change, [and] that we’re going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity in the first place.” Possible measures that McCarthy and Moniz could take at their respective agencies include: greenhouse gas emission standards for existing power plants, promulgating regulations on fugitive methane emissions from natural gas, tighter emissions standards for medium and high-duty vehicles, increasing energy efficiency standards, and the promotion of clean energy.
In related news, on March 7, the president held a forum at the White House with members of the business and academic communities to discuss what can be achieved in energy and climate policy through executive action and public-private partnerships. The 14 invited guests included NextEra Energy Executive Chairman Lewis Hay III, Southwest Gas Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Shaw and Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein. According to participants, discussion topics included energy efficiency, the resilience of the electric grid and fugitive methane emissions from natural gas extraction.

Atmospheric CO2 Levels Rise Markedly in 2012

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels jumped in 2012. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the amount of atmospheric heat-trapping gas rose to 395 parts per million (ppm), an increase of 2.67 ppm from 2011. This is the second highest rise since record-keeping began in 1959, following an increase of 2.93 ppm of atmospheric CO2 in 1998. Scientists say the rise is due to increased coal-burning power plants in developing countries and a growing world economy. Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, noted that combustion of fossil fuels, not natural causes, is the source of the emissions. “It's just a testament to human influence being dominant,” he stated.
For additional information see: AP

Insurance Industry Just Beginning to Prepare for Climate Change

A report released March 6 by Ceres finds that insurance companies are only just beginning to address the potential impacts of climate change to their industry. Out of 184 companies that participated in the study, only 23 had comprehensive plans to address climate-driven risk, and 13 of those companies are foreign-owned. In addition, 88 of these companies admitted that they see climate change as a future driver for losses. This comes after insured losses due to extreme weather events reached $58 billion in 2012, double the average losses from 2000 to 2011. “Climate change exists, it’s happening, it’s going to have an impact,” said Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It has the potential of being a real game changer” for investments and underwriting. The Ceres report recommends companies “treat climate change as a corporate-wide strategic issue.”
For additional information see: USA Today, Bloomberg, Report

Members of the House and Senate Release Draft Carbon Fee Legislation

On March 12, four Democratic Members of Congress released a new bicameral carbon fee proposal. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) joined with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to solicit public comments regarding the details of the bill. The plan puts forth potential carbon prices of $15, $25, or $35 per ton of carbon dioxide, and a potential annual price increase of between 2 to 8 percent. The lawmakers plan to return the tax revenue to the American public, either through reductions in cuts to social programs, lower tax rates, utility rebates, or through clean energy technology research and development as a means of further mitigating carbon emissions. “Putting a price on carbon could help solve two of the nation’s biggest challenges: preventing climate change and reducing the budget deficit. There have been carbon tax proposals made by others. What’s unique about this one is its novel design,” stated Rep. Waxman in a press release. “We are seeking to craft a system in which each agency does what they are good at and that minimizes compliance burdens and administrative costs.” Public comments can be submitted to legislators at until April 21. This is the second carbon bill floated in the 113th Congress, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced legislation pricing carbon dioxide in February (see February 18 issue).
For additional information see: Washington Post, New York Times, POWER Magazine, Press Release

U.S. Admiral Says Climate Change Top Threat to Pacific Naval Operations

During a trip to New England, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, said he believes climate change is the top threat facing the Navy in the Pacific. Adm. Locklear explained that climate change is likely to “cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about. [. . . ] You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.” Adm. Locklear also spoke about how the U.S. military is working with other nations to plan for the effects of climate change. “We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations. If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’
For additional information see: Boston Globe

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

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