Wednesday, August 21, 2013



On July 29 Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central in Princeton, NJ, published a commentary in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) titled, Rapid accumulation of committed sea-level rise from global warming.  In it he reported that if global warming continues at its present pace till 2100 over 1400 U.S. cities and towns will be inundated at high tide.  He writes, “The current trend in carbon emissions likely implies the eventual crippling or loss of most coastal cities in the world.”  This quote was taken from the Wilmington News Journal of July 30, 2013 article titled, Study: Sea-level rise endangers 1,400 US cities, towns.  The reference for the original Strauss article is given as PNAS 2013 ; published ahead of print July 29, 2013, doi:10.1073/pnas.1312464110.

There is a related PNAS article by Gavin L. Foster and Eelko J. Rohling published on Jan. 22, 2013 titled, Relationship between sea level and climate forcing by CO2 on geological timescales.  In it the authors write that on time scales of a thousand to a million years, sea level is determined largely by the amount of ice stored on land, which it turn is determined largely by the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and its effect on the radiative heat balance.  They write, “ ...with CO2 stabilized at 400–450 ppm (as required for the frequently quoted “acceptable warming” of 2 °C), or even at AD 2011 levels of 392 ppm, we infer a likely (68% confidence) long-term sea-level rise of more than 9 m above the present. Therefore, our results imply that to avoid significantly elevated sea level in the long term, atmospheric CO2 should be reduced to levels similar to those of preindustrial times.”

Note that 9 meters is about 30 feet and that the atmospheric concentration CO2 prior to the Industrial Revolution - about 1750 - was only 280 ppm.  We are now close to 400 ppm.  The authors note that complete loss of ice on land - especially from Greenland and Antarctica - would raise global sea levels about 70 m (230 ft).

On July 30 Carol Kuruvilla of the NY Daily News published an article titled, Climate change will cause Alaskan village to vanish under water within 10 years: Scientists.  The village, named Kivalina, is on a narrow barrier island off the west coast of Alaska with about 400 Inupiat Indian inhabitants.  They have depended on the buildup of thick Arctic ice in the Chukchi Sea to protect the island from erosion caused by coastal winter storms.  With less ice forming later and melting earlier, the Army Corps of Engineers predicts that the island will be uninhabitable by 2025.  At:

CBS News for Aug. 9 had an article by Michelle Castillo titled, CDC: Heat wave the deadliest extreme weather event.  It reported that heat waves have killed more people in the U.S. than any other kind of extreme weather event, including hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.  People who are particularly at risk are the elderly, children under four, the poor, and those with special medical conditions.  A previous study by the CDC showed that about 650 heat-related deaths across the nation could be prevented each year.  People should also learn how to spot people who are suffering from heat-related illness.”  At:

The magazine Quartz for Aug. 12 has an article by Todd Woody titled, Bureaucrats, not Big Oil, stand in the way of the solar future.  He points out that the cost of solar PV in the U.S. has dropped from about $12 a peak watt installed in 1998 to $5.30 in 2012 for rooftop systems smaller than 10 kW, and dropped an additional 10% in the first half of this year.  In spite of this good news, the installed prices in Germany and Australia are only about half of what they are  here, which Woody attributes to what he calls “soft costs” - labor, installation, and the time and money it takes to secure permits.  While solar panel prices are likely to fall further thanks to technological advances and economies of scale, much of the focus these days is cutting those soft costs, which can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a solar system.”  At:

The Opinion page of the NY Times for Aug. 18 has an article titled, Gorgeous Glimpses of Calamity by Michael Benson.  It describes the earth as seen from space, where one can see humans are doing to this beautiful planet that is our only home.  The online version has wonderful photos and short video clips taken from NASA satellites.  Human impacts visible from space include pollution over China, the burning of tropical rain forests, expanding deserts and melting North Polar sea ice.  Benson writes,President Obama’s speech in June, promising action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, was welcome, if belated. It may be the best he can do domestically. But nobody pretends it is adequate to the onrushing disaster. Having dodged the bullet of cold war nuclear annihilation, we face a new threat just as global, man-made and potentially lethal. A sense of emergency is what is urgently needed.”  At:

John Roach of NBC News posted an article on Aug. 18 titled, Increased flooding may cost the world $1 trillion by 2050.  The author writes, Flood damage in the world's major coastal cities may top $1 trillion a year by 2050 due to rising seas and subsiding land, according to a new study.”  This came out of a study by Stephanie Hallegatte and coauthors, published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change, who looked at flood protections in 136 cities around the world, and found that in many cases they are inadequate for a sea level rise of 8 inches projected by the year 2050.  Hallegatte found that much of the financial losses could be avoided by investing $50 billion a year in global flood protection measures.  It’s a lot of money but a wise investment to avoid much larger future losses.  At:

On August 21 Ben Wolkon and Blaise Sheridan sent out an Issue Brief titled Energy Storage for the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI).  In it they describe current and developing commercial-scale energy storage technologies, federal energy storage policies, and examples of current energy storage project sin the U.S.  According to the Brief, Effective storage technology can keep the lights on during severe storms, supply shortages and power interruptions, and help consumers avoid high utility rates by offsetting the need to generate new electricity during peak demand. Finally, energy storage facilitates the integration of variable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.”  The Brief can be downloaded in pdf format with references 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. 

Senate Environment Committee Holds a Hearing about Climate Science

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on July 18 to discuss recent climate-related impacts and science. The hearing had two panels and EPW Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) limited witnesses to climate scientists and other experts. Experts from think tanks Climate Central and Climate Solutions testified on the immediate impacts of global warming, and Frank Nutter, executive director of the Reinsurance Association of America, spoke about concerns within the insurance industry over projected climate change-related risk. Nutter said, “The industry is at great financial peril if it does not understand global and regional climate impacts, variability and developing scientific assessment of a changing climate. We are committed to work with you to address the exposure of citizens and their property to extreme weather risk.” Representatives from the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and Institute for Energy Research stated that climate change legislation will have significant negative economic impacts and insignificant effect on the climate. The committee last held a briefing about climate science in February (see February 18 issue).
For additional information see: Hearing Archive, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg

Ex-Im Bank Declines Funding for Coal Plant, Cites Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Export-Import Bank rejected a proposal to finance a new coal-fired power plant in Vietnam on July 18, citing the project's likely effect on global warming. The bank said in a statement that the vote against the 1,200 megawatt plant followed a "careful environmental review" of projected greenhouse gas output. This decision follows President Barack Obama’s pledge in the Climate Action Plan that the United States will stop supporting the construction of coal-fired power plants abroad (see July 1 issue).
In related news, on July 16 the board of the World Bank approved a plan (see July 15 issue) to stop financing coal-fired power plants around the world except in “rare circumstances.”

For additional information see: AP, Reuters

Climate Change Impacting U.S. Energy Infrastructure

According to a July 11 Department of Energy (DOE) report, climate-related extreme weather has already – and will continue to – put significant stress on U.S. energy infrastructure. The report notes that there are a range of impacts on all aspects of the energy systems in the United States, and that the costs are significant. For example, the energy system in the West is expected to need 34 gigawatts of electrical capacity by 2050 to meet increased demand from air conditioning alone due to rising temperatures. Jonathan Pershing, deputy assistant secretary for climate change policy and technology at the DOE, explained, “The cost today is measured in the billions. Over the coming decades, it will be in the trillions. You can’t just put your head in the sand anymore,” he said.¬ The report did not make any specific recommendations, but suggested possible future steps could include conserving and recycling water at power plants, adding system redundancy and back-up into electricity grids, and reducing energy demand across the board.
For additional information see: New York Times, AP, Report

Coca-Cola Sets Carbon Reduction Target

Coca-Cola released new targets to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions 25 percent by 2020. The targets include a goal of reducing emissions along the entire value chain: from the product ingredients and packaging, to refrigeration and transportation. Additionally, the company pledged to increase its water efficiency 25 percent by 2020 and use at least 25 percent recycled or renewable material in plastic bottles by 2015. Along with these targets, Coca-Cola announced that it would be renewing its partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to collectively tackle natural resource challenges impacting fresh water. Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola, stated, “As we face a resource-stressed world with growing global demands on food and water, we must seek solutions that drive mutual benefit for business, communities and nature. Working with WWF will continue to challenge our company to advance our sustainability programs, and WWF’s expertise will be instrumental in reaching our environmental performance goals, some of which they help us set.”
For additional information see: BusinessWire

Sea Levels Could Rise 2.3 Meters for Each Degree of Warming

According to a study published July 15 in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, sea levels could rise by 2.3 meters for each degree Celsius of global temperature increase. The study examined historic temperature and sea level rise data in combination with computer simulations of contributing factors to long-term sea-level increases such as the thermal expansion of oceans and the melting of ice sheets. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found previously that sea levels rose by 17 cm during the last century, with the rate of sea level rise accelerating. Lead author Anders Levermann, a professor of dynamics in the climate system at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, discussed the implications of the study’s findings, stating, “Continuous sea-level rise is something we cannot avoid unless global temperatures go down again. Our results indicate that major adaptation at our coastlines will be necessary. It’s likely that some currently populated regions can’t be protected in the long run.”
For additional information see: Reuters, Study

Natural Features Can Protect Coastal Communities from Climate-Related Risks

A July 14 study published in Nature Climate Change by researchers at Stanford University finds that natural costal features such as sand dunes, coral reefs and sea grasses can protect coastal populations in the United States from the effects of climate change. The study concludes that rising sea levels and extreme weather has put 16 percent of U.S. coastlines at “high-hazard” risk, and that this number could double without coastal environmental protection. The study uses five sea level rise scenarios to calculate a hazard index for every square kilometer of U.S. coastline. In addition to warning that risks can increase, the analysis also provides the first national map of naturally-induced risk reduction, and indicates where coastal conservation has the greatest potential to protect communities. It finds that coastal habitats defend the greatest number of people and total property value in New York, California and Florida.
For additional information see: USA Today, TIME, Study

Wildfires Causing Melting in Low-Lying Himalayan Glaciers

A new study published in The Cryosphere Discussions by Indian glaciologists suggests black carbon from forest fires may reduce the “reflectance” or albedo of glaciers and precipitate increased melting. The report indicates that the change in reflectance in 2009 was higher than in any other year from 2000 to 2012 and could only be explained by the extensive forest fires that year. According to Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, “Wildfires and agricultural burning in Africa, Asia, and South America, once thought to have little or no effect on the climate may contribute significantly to global warming. They are only expected to increase as the climate warm, so urgent action to reduce the rate of warming immediately can contribute to limiting such positive feedbacks, where the consequences of increased warming, such as forest fires, themselves increase warming.”
For additional information see: Times of India, IGSD Press Release, Study

Poll: Majority of Americans Support President’s Climate Action Plan

A national poll conducted by Hart Research for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that 61 percent of Americans support President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The poll, which surveyed 808 registered voters nationwide and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent, found that 65 percent of Americans endorse setting limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The poll found bipartisan support for emissions limits, with 49 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Independents supporting the EPA in establishing standards. Other parts of the Climate Action Plan, such as improving vehicle fuel efficiency, increasing energy efficiency for homes and business, and investing in renewable energy, also garnered large support. Peter Altman, NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air Campaign Director stated, “Across our country, Americans feel obligated to protect future generations from the damaging effects of climate change. Americans also overwhelmingly support President Obama’s plan to do something about climate change now. Most importantly, they stand strongly behind the president’s common sense solutions, led by using the Clean Air Act to clean up dirty power plants.”
For additional information see: Fuel Fix, NRDC Press Release

Gov. O’Malley Outlines Plan to Reduce Maryland GHG Emissions 25 Percent by 2020

On July 25, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced a plan to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. The announcement came at a climate change summit at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum, Maryland. Strategies to reach this goal under the plan include creating initiatives to develop offshore wind; promoting solar energy policy; increasing Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard to 25 percent by 2020; and enhancing the EmPOWER program, which is designed to reduce per capita electricity consumption and peak demand by 15 percent by 2015. In addition, the plan outlines increasing Maryland’s recycling rate, eliminating 85 percent of Maryland’s solid waste by 2030, and managing forests to capture and store carbon. O’Malley stated, “As severe weather events continue to grow in size and impact, and elongated trends of poor air quality continue, the costs of inaction would grow exponentially. In Maryland, we are moving forward and taking action by creating green jobs and protecting our land, water, air and public health.”
For additional information see: Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, Speech, Plan

90 Percent of Companies See Climate Change as a Risk

A poll of top global companies found that the almost all see climate change as a risk to business operations. The report, “Weathering the Storm: Building Business Resilience to Climate Change,” released by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), found that 90 percent of companies in the Standard & Poor’s Global 100 Index view extreme weather and climate change as risks. Top concerns of businesses included damage to physical facilities, loss or disruption of water and power supplies, the disruption of supply and distribution chains and rising costs to operate in severe weather. The report also found that despite these concerns, relatively few businesses are working to address climate risks. The C2ES report states, “[T]he research reveals that while the vast majority of companies recognize risks from extreme weather and climate change, and many see these risks in the present or near term, uncertainty about the precise nature, timing and severity of climate impacts often inhibits investment in resilience beyond ‘business as usual.’”
For additional information see: E&E Publishing, The Hill, Report

A Rapid Release of Methane from Arctic Seabed Could Advance Climate Change by 35 Years

A July 25 article published in Nature assesses the economic costs of the release of methane from a melting Arctic. According to University of Cambridge and Erasmus University researchers, the economic gains from the freeing of the vast oil and gas reserves due to climate change do not outweigh the costs of the melting of the Arctic, a region which plays a key role in the regulation of the Earth’s climate. Scientists have estimated that up to 50 billion tonnes of shallow permafrost methane could be released in the Arctic within the next 10 years, raising atmospheric methane concentrations 12-fold. The influx of permafrost methane – a pollutant with 25 times higher Global Warming Potential than carbon dioxide over a 100 year timescale – could hasten the arrival of a two degrees Celsius rise in global average temperatures by 15 to 35 years, as well as add an additional $60 trillion to the estimated costs of climate change. The bulk of the impacts of the increased warming will be felt by developing nations in Africa, Asia, and South America in the forms of crop failure, extreme weather and sea level rise. The report authors assert, “There is a steep global price tag attached to physical changes in the Arctic, notwithstanding the short-term economic gains for Arctic nations and some industries.”
For additional information see: Reuters, New Scientist, Study

Note: Emphasis added

Report: Natural Gas Use Must Peak in U.S. by 2030 to Avoid Worst Climate Impacts

A report released July 24 by the Center for American Progress (CAP) concludes that to meet President Obama’s 2030 target of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 42 percent from 2005 levels, use of natural gas in the United States must peak in the next seven to 17 years. Increased use of natural gas has been favored by policymakers as a near-term solution to achieving CO2 emission reductions by switching from coal, with natural gas-fired power plants emitting 55 percent less CO2 than coal-fired plants. However, the report authors Darryl Banks, vice president of energy policy at CAP, and Gwynne Taraska, research director of the George Mason University Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, caution that investments in new natural gas fired power plants will inadvertently result in long-term dependence on natural gas, resulting in an inability to meet 2030 reduction targets. Thus, use must peak by 2030. The report states, “It is clear that a long-term heavy reliance on natural gas beyond 2030 is incompatible with the emissions reductions necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.”
For additional information see: Responding to Climate Change, Report

Maryland Assesses Impact of Rising Sea Levels

A report by the Maryland Climate Change Commission coupled with a new web tool from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helps Maryland residents understand rising sea levels along the coast. The report predicts that climate change will inundate Maryland with up to six feet of seawater over the next century. Climate change will particularly affect Baltimore, Annapolis, St. Michaels, and the lower half of the Delmarva Peninsula, with the lower lying areas of Maryland experiencing drastic flooding and wind damage from extreme weather events. Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said, “Our estimate is we should prepare for a sea level that’s going to be almost up to my chest, well over my knees. We better prepare for that. We need to be ready to make some difficult and tough decisions about what we’re going to protect.”
For additional information see: Washington Post, Report, Web Tool

200 Christian Climate Scientists Urge Congress to Act on Global Warming

Two hundred evangelical Christian scientists, including climatologists, biologists and chemists, signed a letter urging Congress to pass legislation to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. The letter includes scripture quotes, such as, “We as a society risk being counted among ‘those who destroy the earth’ (Revelation 11:18).” Signee Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, commented on the letter, stating, “Climate change gets turned into a polarizing issue. There are 200 of us, people who specifically have climate science expertise. We wanted to tell our community and nation that not only does science compel us to get involved, but that also faith compels us.”
For additional information see: E&E Publishing

Four Former Republican EPA Administrators Support Climate Protection

On August 1, four former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, and Christine Todd Whitman, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times that backed climate science and strong, immediate action for climate protect. The former EPA administrators suggested that a carbon tax would be the best climate strategy, but agree that President Obama's plan to use executive authority to curb climate pollutants, including phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, is a way to start. They state, “There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. . . . The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”
For additional information see: New York Times

Boulder Considers City Carbon Neutrality by 2050

The city of Boulder, Colorado is considering a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. The city council memo addressing this goal states, “The implications of adopting an ambitious goal such as carbon neutrality are significant and far-reaching. Accomplishing a goal of this magnitude will require very significant changes—both locally and regionally/nationally—from a high-carbon-based economic and social system to a low carbon one.”
For additional information see: G Boulder Daily Camera

Carbon Tax Has Helped Reduce British Columbia Emissions

Published on July 24, a study by Sustainable Prosperity shows that British Columbia’s (BC) revenue-neutral carbon tax, implemented in 2008, has helped reduce per capita consumption of petroleum fuels by 17.4 percent, making BC’s per capita consumption almost 19 percent lower than that of the rest of Canada. BC now has the lowest per capita fuel use of any Canadian province. From 2008 to 2011, BC’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions associated with carbon taxed fuels declined by ten percent. Data also has shown that the carbon tax has had no negative impact on GDP. This is consistent with carbon-tax data from the past two decades from Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK; all of which implemented a carbon tax that had a neutral or slightly positive effect on GDP. To date, the government in BC has returned $500 million in income tax cuts that it has collected as carbon tax revenue.
For additional information see: EE News, Study Abstract, Study

Violence, War Linked to Temperature Increases

On August 1, new research from Princeton University and University of California, Berkeley confirmed a link between significant shifts in climate and precipitation, and a rise in violence and institutional breakdown. The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 60 studies, some containing data from as far back as 10,000 BC to find that a rise in temperature yields significant increases in interpersonal violence and intergroup conflict. The study suggests that if modern day civilization follows these statistical patterns, the risk of intergroup conflict could increase 50 percent by 2050. Lead study author Solomon Hsiang said, "It does change how we think about the value of avoiding climate change. It makes us think that avoiding climate change is actually something we should be willing to invest more in."

Sea Ice Melt Impacting Ocean Life

Research published in Science Magazine on August 2 show that the loss of Arctic sea ice has significant negative impacts on the entire Arctic ecosystem. Algae and plankton found in Arctic sea ice produce 57 percent of total food in northern oceans. As the ice melts, the organisms have an increasingly smaller habitat, and their ability to grow is hindered by the less salty waters around shrinking ice floes. The loss of algae and plankton contributed to the recent mass-deaths of Pacific walruses. The loss of ice itself also affects foxes, wolves, polar bears and grizzly bears, which use the ice to reproduce and hunt. In addition, warming oceans are expected to thaw permafrost as far as 1,500 kilometers inland, leading to an earlier spring growth and a disruption of feeding patterns for many Arctic species.
For additional information see: Ottawa Citizen, Study

Climate Change, Loss of Habitat Harm Record Number of Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly populations in Canada are at a historic 20-year low. In Ontario Canada, a recent butterfly count found that only 31 monarch butterflies had returned from their winter migratory grounds in Mexico, 737 less than last year’s high of 768 monarchs. On an average year, 350 million butterflies spend the winter months in Mexico, but last winter only 60 million butterflies were counted, a decrease of 80 percent. Climate change and the loss of their natural habitat have adversely affected the butterfly population. According to Elizabeth Howard, founder of the monarch preservation organization Journey North, “This year is an extreme. Nobody knows if they can recover from these levels. They may bounce back, but it doesn’t look very good.” Ms. Howard continued, “I don’t think this is a stretch to say how this is an example of how climate change is affecting a species.”
For additional information see: The Globe and Mail

Effort to Relocate Alaskan Village Stalls

Climate change induced landscape transformations are forcing Alaskan communities to consider moving entire villages to safer ground. According to federal reports, 186 Alaskan Native villages, or 86 percent, are facing increased erosion or sinking due to permafrost melt. Current efforts to relocate the village of Newtok, a small community of 350 residents on the coast of the Bering Sea, are stalled because of political disputes within the village. No construction on new homes or an evacuation center are planned for the remainder of 2013.  The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated the cost to relocate Newtok at $130 million. Robin Bronen, a human rights lawyer in Anchorage, said, "When you are talking about a people who have done the least to contribute to our climate crisis facing such dramatic consequences as a result of climate change, we have a moral and legal responsibility to respond and provide the funding needed so that these communities are not in danger."  (bold emphasis added)
For additional information see: The Guardian, Article 1, Article 2

Record Sea Level Rise, Arctic Melt in 2012

On August 6, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published its “State of the Climate in 2012” report. The report found that 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record, and found that the Arctic sea ice cover retreated to its lowest levels since the beginning of satellite records. The report also stated that sea levels increased at an average rate of 3.2mm per year over the past few decades - a record high; and ocean heat remained at record high levels in 2012. Kathryn Sullivan, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator compared the report to “an annual check-up for the planet.” She said, “Many of the planning models for infrastructure rely on the future being statistically a lot like the past, and certainly the data should lead one to question if that will be so. Extreme weather events are more frequent and more intense than what we presumed.”
For additional information see: NOAA, The Guardian, LA Times, Washington Post

Climate Change Accelerating at “Unprecedented” Pace

In a study released in Science on August 2, researchers from Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment evaluated over 20 climate models and geologic climate data to predict what climate could look like by the end of the 21st century. They found that modern day climate change is “comparable in magnitude to that of the largest global changes in the past 65 million years but is orders of magnitude more rapid.” At current greenhouse gas emission rates, the researchers predict that by 2046 annual temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere could increase up to four degrees Celsius, and could exceed six degrees by the end of the century.  Severely hot conditions equal to the hottest summer of the previous 20 years may become routine by the end of the century under such scenarios, further exacerbating extreme weather events. The authors emphasize that there are “opportunities to decrease those risks [. . .] There are many human variables at play that could slow the pace and magnitude of change – or accelerate it.” This trend would also place extraordinary strain on species forced to deal with a quickly changing climate.  The study authors note that “we know from past changes that ecosystems have responded to a few degrees of global temperature change over thousands of years [. . .] But the unprecedented trajectory that we're on now is forcing that change to occur over decades. That's orders of magnitude faster, and we're already seeing that some species are challenged by that rate of change."
For additional information see: KQED, Stanford University, Report

Arctic Ice Becoming Less Reflective

In a report published in Nature Climate Change on August 4, researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helenski documented the changes in the albedo, or reflectivity, of Arctic ice cover over the past 30 years.  The study found that the region’s ice reflectivity is 15 percent lower today than 30 years ago. Darkening of the Arctic’s ice cover is caused by several factors; warmer air and water, as well as thinning ice contribute to reduction of reflectivity, a process that ultimately leads to less ice cover each progressive year.  These results may explain the unprecedented rate of ice loss, which has surpassed previous climate models, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 predictions.  Other studies have predicted that the Arctic may be ice-free by the end of each summer by 2030.  The study demonstrates that “the retreating and thinning sea-ice cover is clearly growing darker. This decreasing albedo is both a cause and effect of change in the sea-ice.”
For additional information see: New Scientist, Nature Climate Change

Natural Gas Field Methane Leakages in Utah Suggest Higher National Average

A study conducted by scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found methane levels in the air above a Utah natural gas production facility to be higher than previously estimated.  Natural gas power plants have are considered to emit less carbon emissions than coal-fired power plants.  However, natural gas production has the potential to leak methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time period.  In the study, recently accepted to Geophysical Research Letters, researchers were able to directly measure methane leakages in the air above and downwind of a natural gas field for the first time, using low-flying aircraft.  Study authors estimate that methane leaked at the Uintah natural gas field in Uintah County, Utah, is between 6.2 and 11.7 percent of total natural gas production.  These findings are contrasted with previous calculations; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that national methane leakage rates are about 1.5 percent, while other studies have placed methane leakage across the process to be between 0.71 to 7.9 percent of total production.  Scientists are planning on applying the research methods to natural gas wells in Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Additionally, the findings have implications for the total carbon budget of natural gas.  Studies point to a break-even point between natural gas and coal-fired power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.  At 8.0 percent methane leakage, scientists estimate that climate benefits from switching from coal fired power plants to natural gas would not be felt for more than 60 years, due to methane’s short term potency as a greenhouse gas. Colm Sweeny, study co-author, commented that “If we’re leaking a lot of methane we’re counteracting any sort of (beneficial) impact in the near-term”.
For additional information see: Climate Central, Report

Namibia Has Worst Drought in 30 Years

The current drought in Namibia is having drastic effects on Namibians, crops, and livestock, with 400,000 people at risk of going hungry. When the government declared a state of emergency after widespread crop failures in May 2013, President Hifikepunye Pohamba said, "It has now been established that climate change is here to stay and humanity must find ways and means of mitigating its effect." As the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, Namibia’s pre-existing level of food insecurity has only been worsened by the drought. One in three Namibians is at risk of malnutrition, and the lack of water for people and livestock could lengthen the crisis.
For additional information see: Washington Post, The Guardian

The above is an example of the social justice dimension of climate change: often the world’s poorest people, like those in sub-Saharan Africa who are least responsible for the problem, suffer the most.

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

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