Sunday, December 22, 2013



In 1980 the astronomer Carl Sagan published a book titled, Cosmos.  A new edition has recently been issued.  It’s announcement contains an excerpt of a 1980 essay on the dangers of climate change that is remarkably perceptive.  Sagan warns that Earth’s climate may be unstable because of feedback effects, and changing its global average surface temperature by only a few degrees could change Earth to a very inhospitable place.  At:

Note: In 2009 I wrote a paper for the LWVUS Climate Change Task Force titled, Positive Feedbacks and Climate Runaway - The Need to Act without Delay.  At: 
In my paper it was not the release of carbon dioxide from calcium carbonate as occurred on Venus, but the release of methane (a more powerful greenhouse gas) from methane hydrate as occurred on Earth about 56 million years ago, during what geologists  call the PETM (the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum).

Cleantechnica claims to be the #1 cleantech-focused website in the world.  I recently found a post from Nov. 7 titled, 18 Fun Renewable Energy Charts From NREL Director Dan Arvizu & Ren21′s Renewables 2013 Global Status Report.  It has some great charts and links to other useful renewable energy sources at:
Note: NREL is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, CO, and REN21 is the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.  It has recently published a Renewables 2013 Global Status Report, available for download at:

Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian for Nov. 20 published an article titled, Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions.  It described a recent study of the sources of fossil fuels that were produced and burned between 1751 and 2010.  The top 90 companies were responsible for 63% of the 1450 gigatons of carbon dioxide emitted by industrial activities during the period since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  All but seven of the 90 produced oil, gas and coal; the remaining seven manufactured cement.  The companies include investor-owned, state-owned, and government-run firms.  Among the 50 investor-owned companies, the top three were: ChevronTexaco (3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions to date), Exxon (3.2%) and BP (2.5%).   
John Ashton,the UK's chief climate change negotiator for six years, said, "The challenge we face is to move in the space of not much more than a generation from a carbon-intensive energy system to a carbon neutral energy system. If we don't do that we stand no chance of keeping climate change within the 2C threshold."  Harvard University’s Naomi Oreskes, who has written extensively about climate change denial, said, "For me one of the most interesting things to think about was the overlap of large scale producers and the funding of disinformation campaigns, and how that has delayed action."

On Nov. 21 CleanTechnica posted an article titled, Alstom Completes World’s Largest Offshore Wind Turbine.  Alstom, a French engineering company, reported the installation of the world’s largest offshore wind turbine (a Halliade 150) in the sea near Belgium.  “The turbine, the largest offshore wind turbine ever installed in sea waters, boasts a 78 metre tower, a nacelle that stands 100 metres above the waves, blades over 73 metres in length, and pillars sunk over 60 metres into the seabed to support the mammoth construction.”  It is capable of supplying the electricity needed for about 5000 homes.  “The Halliade operates without a gearbox, instead working with direct drive, and due to a permanent-magnet generator there are fewer mechanical parts inside the device, which not only makes it more reliable but also helps to minimise operating and maintenance costs faced by traditional offshore wind turbines.”  At:

On. Dec. 2 the nine Northeastern and New England states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) issued a press release on the results they have achieved in reducing their CO2 emissions from electric power production.  Emissions from power plants fell by more than 40% from 2005 to 2012 (from 162.5 to 92 million tons), even as the economy of the region grew.  According to an independent analysis, the RGGI states’ investment of auction proceeds from just the first three years of the program (2009-11) is creating thousands of jobs, reducing energy bills by more than $1 billion and adding a net of $1.6 billion to the economies in the RGGI states.”   At: 

On Dec. 5 the Wilmington News Journal published an item by Cori Anne Natoli titled: DuPont: Ahead of goals.  The company had released its 2013 Sustainability Report the day before.  “Among the achievements, DuPont said since 2004, it reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, compared to a goal of 15 percent, earned $2 billion in revenue from products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and brought in $11.8 billion in revenue from products based on non-depletable resources.”  DuPont has also invested nearly $4 billion in R&D to develop products with environmental benefits for its customers.   At: 

Note: DuPont has posted a historical Sustainability Timeline with Key Milestones at:  This shows that companies with enlightened leadership can be profitable while promoting a sustainable future for all of us.

Inspired by Nelson Mandela’s courage and unyielding resistance to injustice, a group of young people from put together a 1.3-minute video about climate change based on Mandela’s words, “It always seems impossible, until it is done.”  At:

On Dec. 5 the NY Times published an article by Coral Davenport titled, Large Companies Prepared to Pay Price on Carbon.  It says, More than two dozen of the nation’s biggest corporations, including the five major oil companies, are planning their future growth on the expectation that the government will force them to pay a price for carbon pollution as a way to control global warming.”  “A new report by the environmental data company CDP has found that at least 29 companies, some with close ties to Republicans, including ExxonMobil, Walmart and American Electric Power, are incorporating a price on carbon into their long-term financial plans.”  “Other companies that are incorporating a carbon price into their strategic planning include Microsoft, General Electric, Walt Disney, ConAgra Foods, Wells Fargo, DuPont, Duke Energy, Google and Delta Air Lines.”  The article went on to say, “During the 2012 election, every Republican presidential candidate but one, Jon Huntsman, questioned or denied the science of climate change and rejected policies to deal with global warming. Opponents of carbon-pricing policies consider them an energy tax that will hurt business and consumers.”  While many large companies are taking climate change and a price on carbon into account in their planning, “Koch Industries maintains ties to the Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity, which last year campaigned against Republicans who acknowledged the science of climate change. The company also contributes money to the American Energy Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group that campaigns against lawmakers that it claims support a carbon price. This year, the American Energy Alliance says it has spent about $1.2 million in ads and campaign activities attacking candidates who it says support a carbon price.”  At:

On Dec. 6 Juan Cole posted an article titled, NAS: From Ice Sheet Collapse to Mass Extinctions, You’re not Ready for Climate Change.  It describes a recently issued 200-page National Academies of Science report titled, Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises.  The  report describes abrupt changes that can occur in climate and weather patterns but also in biological and social systems on time scales of years to decades.  James White - a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder and chair of the report committee - said, “The most challenging changes are the abrupt ones."  Tony Barnosky, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, added, "The planet is going to be warmer than most species living on Earth today have seen it, including humans. The pace of change is orders of magnitude higher than what species have experienced in the last tens of millions of years."  At:

On Dec. 9 Terrell Johnson of The Weather Channel posted an article titled, What Sea Level Rise Looks Like When Today's Kids Grow Up.  It shows photos of children standing in water as deep as sea level may have risen when they reach the age of their life expectancy later this century.  It also has an excellent 12.7-minute video of a TED lecture by Karen Bolter (a mother getting a geosciences PhD at Florida Central University) titled, Is Miami Really Doomed?, and a link to Surging Seas showing threats from sea level rise and storm surge to all 3000+ coastal towns, cities, counties and states in the lower 48 states . You can click on a label on the map to get started, or type a zip  code or name in a search box.  A sliding arrow lets you see what floods with from 1 to 10 feet of rising water.  At:

On Dec. 16 Tim Radford of the Climate News Network posted an article titled, Tree find confirms Italian alpine melt.  He reported that glaciers in the Alps that had stayed frozen for at least 5000 years are everywhere in retreat  and that the temperature there is increasing at twice the global average rate.  At: 
Note: The doubled rate of warming, as in the Arctic, is probably due largely to decreasing albedo of the surface as the ice melts, exposing the darker surface beneath.

On Dec. 16 P. Weiss posted an article on the American Geophysical Union Blogosphere titled, As the Earth warms, Arctic tundra rots.  It reports that as temperatures in the Arctic rise, the tundra thaws and plant material rots to form a mixture of methane and CO2.  It says, By some estimates, 190 billion tons of carbon could be released into the atmosphere by 2020 as permafrost disappears. That’s half as much carbon as humans have released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. The melting of permafrost is a vicious cycle. More carbon in the atmosphere translates into faster warming of the planet, which releases more carbon.”  At:

Note: The rotting that Weiss refers to is the conversion of carbohydrates (chemical formula CH2O) in plant material to a 1:1 molar mixture of methane (CH4) and CO2.  Not only is there a lot of carbon in the permafrost, but methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.  The ‘vicious cycle’ a good example of a positive feedback in the climate system.  

On Dec. 16 Michael Oates of Anew, Inc./302 Stories, released his 6.3-minute video, Building Coastal Resiliency - State Coastal Programs at Work, prepared for the Coastal States Organization and the Nation Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  It shows what state coastal programs are doing with federal support to adapt to the threat of sea level rise and coastal storms.  At:

The Siberian TImes for Dec. 17 had an article by Anna Liesowska titled, No snow in Siberia?  Locals marvel - and worry - at the ‘snow shortage.’  It shows recent photos of Siberia, with no snow on the ground, ducks swimming in a river that is normally so frozen that you can drive cars across it, and people sunning in swim suits.  Older people cannot remember it ever being like this before.  At:

The Business Standard for Dec. 18 posted an article titled, NASA app shows effects of climate change on Earth.  The app shows pairs of before and after images from around the world, showing dramatic changes caused by climate change or natural disasters.  Some of the images are ground-based and some are space-based.  The images are part of the Images of Change gallery on NASA's award-winning Global Climate Change website, which has the images in the app as well as interactives where you can see changes in temperature, sea level, precipitation and other climate variables over time, based on satellite images.

On Dec. 19 the Columbia Journalism Review posted an article by Alexis S. Fitts titled, Prime-time’s global warming omission.  In it she described a recent study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting that tried to assess how frequently primetime network news organizations that carried stories about extreme weather events mentioned “greenhouse gases”, “climate change” or ‘global warming.”  It turns out to be very little - typically 5% or less of the time.  It may be that they didn’t want to say something controversial, or that scientists can’t say that any extreme event was caused by climate change - only that the probability of those events is increasing.  In any case the news media are generally not helping the public connect the dots, so that they remain largely ignorant of the threat.  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. 

Congressional Budget Office Says Carbon Tax Could Cut $1 Trillion Off Deficit

On November 19, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published a report identifying a $25 per ton carbon tax as the most effective choice to reduce the deficit in the next decade, out of 103 discussed options. According to the report, a tax of $25 per ton carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emission with a 2 percent annual increase could raise just over $1 trillion in federal revenue over a decade, while achieving an estimated 10 percent reduction of emissions from sources subjected to the tax. “One argument in support of the [carbon tax] option is that it would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at the lowest possible cost per ton of emissions because each ton would be subject to the same tax,” the report says. The report also states that the higher producing and consuming cost caused by the tax would incentivize emission reduction actions throughout the economy, while providing more flexibility than regulatory approaches under the Clean Air Act. The next best option on the CBO list is increasing the payroll tax rate for Medicare hospital insurance by one percent, raising an estimated $859 billion between 2014 and 2023.
For additional information see: The Hill, Congressional Budget Office, E&E News

Majority of Americans Support Government Action on Global Warming

On November 13, Dr. Jon Krosnick, Director of the Political Psychology Research Group at Stanford University, presented new polling data revealing that the majority of people (75 percent and up) in every state surveyed (46) think the earth is warming. The poll also reveals that a majority in each state (65 percent and up) think humans are responsible, and at least 62 percent in each state surveyed support federal action to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants. The data, presented to the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force, was collected from almost 20,000 respondents across 46 states from 2006 to 2013. However, according to research from the Center for American Progress, 58 percent of Republicans in Congress reject the existence of global warming or oppose cuts to GHG. Dr. Krosnick commented on the disconnect between lawmaker and public opinion, stating that lawmakers “may not have an accurate view of what their constituents want.” According to task force co-chair, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), “this new report is crystal clear . . . It shows that the vast majority of Americans - whether from red states or blue - understand that climate change is a growing danger."
For additional information see: The Hill, The Guardian, Salon, Committee on Energy and Commerce

Colorado Releases Draft Oil and Gas Methane Emission Rules

On November 18, Colorado health officials proposed new regulations for the oil and gas industry. The rules would require operators to capture almost all of the climate change-causing air pollutants, equivalent to 92,000 tons of toxins per year, from both oil and gas wells and storage tanks. Operators will be responsible for detecting methane leaks and reducing emissions by 95 percent, especially near population centers. The Colorado regulations would be the first in the United States to regulate methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. The rules are aimed primarily at hydraulic fracturing, a process which has proliferated in Colorado in recent years. Areas around wells have seen an increase in ground-level ozone formed from methane and other chemicals, which can cause and exacerbate asthma. According to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, “these are going to amount to the very best air quality regulations in the country.” Currently, the industry’s methane emissions are mostly unregulated. While some industry experts believe the costs will be burdensome to operators, citing compliance costs of up to $80 million per year, the legislation was drafted with industry input. Ted Brown, Senior Vice President at Noble Energy, commented that the rules are “the right thing to do” for the environment and the health of Coloradans, but that “it’s a tough rule, make no mistake. This is an additional layer of regulations and it’s been a very tough road to get here.” The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) helped Colorado draft the regulations, which will face formal hearings in February.

World Bank Reports Growing Losses from Extreme Weather Since 1980

On November 18, the World Bank released a new report calling for greater investment in climate and disaster resilience development, as the costs and damages from extreme weather are increasing due to global warming. Citing data from the reinsurance company Munich Re, the report finds that economic losses from disasters have risen from an annual average of around $50 billion in 1980 to almost $200 billion in 2012, with a total of $3.8 trillion in costs throughout the time period. The report attributes 74 percent of that cost to extreme weather. The data shows that weather-related losses are concentrated in fast-growing, middle-income countries whose high-value assets are becoming more exposed. The average disaster impact in developing countries was one percent of gross domestic product over the period from 2001 to 2006, ten times higher than the average in high-income countries. The report explains that building infrastructure that is resilient to climate and weather disasters is the logical path forward, and although initial costs can be 10 to 50 percent higher, the investments pay off in the long term. Helpful technology such as early warning systems yield benefits four to 36 times their original cost outlay. “We are putting disaster risk management at the forefront of our agenda,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s Vice President of Sustainable Development. “We know there is a lot we can – and must – do to reduce the impact of disasters. The devastation and human tragedy we see in the Philippines now is a stark reminder of the challenges ahead, and it strengthens our resolve.”
For additional information see: World Bank, Bloomberg, Press Release, Report

Global Warming Impacts on World’s Oceans Are Faster than Expected and Expensive

On November 13, the United Nations and several scientific research organizations published a report showing that ocean acidification is occurring at an unprecedented rate, faster than at any time in the last 300 million years. The report synthesized recent scientific reports to create a comprehensive model of ocean acidification, revealing 80 percent more ocean acidification is occurring than previously predicted. The world’s oceans absorb about one quarter of the world's carbon emissions; as seawater absorbs carbon, it reacts to form a mild acid. Global warming has also increased ocean temperatures, which has been observed to decrease oxygen circulation at certain depths. Together, the phenomena of acidification, warming, and decreasing levels of oxygen amplify each other. Report co-author Ulf Riebesell, a biochemist at the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Germany, says these three effects are being described by scientists as making the ocean “hot, sour and breathless.” Oceans have already seen a 26 percent increase in acidity since the 1880's, and levels are expected to grow. In 50 years the acidity will be so high that some mollusks, like clams and mussels, will start corroding. In related news, on November 14 a group of scientists released a report describing the potential economic losses of ocean acidification, which could affect around 540 million people who depend on the ocean to make a living. In the mollusk industry alone, losses could total $130 billion within this century. Reductions in coral reefs could cost up to $1 trillion before 2100. The work was based on research presented at the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World, held in Monterey, CA in September 2012. The report was sponsored by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research.
For additional information see: Huffington Post, Quartz, Report

Study Finds Global Warming More Than Twice As Fast As Previous Estimate Due to Data Gaps

On November 12, a new paper published filled the data gap of UK Met Office’s HadCRUT4 temperature data set, a widely quoted measure of global warming, and found that global surface temperatures have been warming two and a half times faster than Met Office estimates over the past 16 years. Temperature trends starting in 1997 or 1998 were particularly affected. The study, led by Kevin Cowtan from the University of York and Robert Way from University of Ottawa, noted that the HadCRUT4 data set only covers about 84 percent of Earth’s surface, leaving gaps in areas including the Arctic, Antarctica and Africa. By applying two statistical methods (one a geostatistical interpolation and extrapolation method called “kriging,” and the other a combination of data sets to make “hybrid” data) to the satellite data on both surface and ocean temperature, the researchers were able to fill the data gaps. Using kriging and hybrid methods, they found a 0.11 and a 0.12 degree Celsius per decade warming trend since 1997, respectively, instead of the relatively small 0.046 degree Celsius per decade previously estimated by the Met Office. The study was published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.
For additional information see: University of York, The Guardian, Study

Global Carbon Emissions to Hit 36 Billion Tonnes by End of 2013

On November 18, the Global Carbon Project led by researchers from the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia released the latest Global Carbon Budget figure, reporting that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will reach the record high of 36 billion tonnes in 2013, 61 percent above the 1990 baseline for the Kyoto Protocol. Global emissions are projected to rise 2.1 percent for 2013, a slower trend in comparison to the average 2.7 percent annual rise for the past 10 years. According to the report, the biggest emitters in 2012 were China, United States, European Union and India, which contributed 27 percent, 14 percent, 10 percent and 6 percent to global fossil fuel emissions, respectively. The report also identified coal as the greatest source of emissions, saying that its growth accounted for 54 percent of 2012 growth in fossil fuel emissions. Most emissions are from coal, oil and gas, representing 43 percent, 33 percent and 18 percent of the total, respectively. Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the Tyndall Centre who led the Global Carbon Budget commented, “Governments meeting in Warsaw this week need to agree on how to reverse this trend. Emissions must fall substantially and rapidly if we are to limit global climate change to below two degrees. Additional emissions every year cause further warming and climate change."
For additional information see: New York Times, Tyndall Center, Report

Study Shows Need to Cut Carbon Dioxide and Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

A paper published 21 November in Nature Climate Change confirms earlier studies finding that immediate and aggressive cuts in both carbon dioxide (CO2) and short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) are necessary to maintain global temperatures below 2 degrees C through the end of the century. This confirms earlier research by Dr. V. Ramanathan of Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Drew Shindell director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies; and others that mitigation of three of the four SLCPs (black carbon, methane, and tropospheric ozone) would lead to about 0.5 to 0.6 degrees C of avoided warming. “The real challenge for both CO2 and SLCPs is not the science, but rather the politics of how to get the reductions,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.  “There is a profound difference between knowing what to do and figuring out the politics to get it done.” The new paper concludes that “Immediate action on SLCPs might potentially ‘buy time’ for adaptation by reducing near-term warming,” but warns that action to reduce SLCPs cannot replace action to reduce CO2.
For additional information see: NBC News, Reporting Climate Science, The Guardian

Report Finds that Weather and Climate Change Create Risks to Investments

On November 20, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) released findings that climate variability and weather events create and exacerbate risks to near-term financial investments. The study outlined ten ways that climate and weather impact financial investments, including supply chain disruptions, physical threats to the investment itself, legal liability, and changes in the availability of key resources. The study authors conclude that financial decision makers would benefit from increased access to understandable climate and weather information, in order to accurately calculate risks. To this end, the report breaks down the level of understood likelihood of climate change impacts using three parameters: “possible,” “probable” and “effectively certain.” For example, the study authors say that it is “effectively certain” that changes in the climate will cause changes in weather, that it is “probable” that global warming will lead to increased intensity in weather events, and that it is “possible” climate change will cause widespread and major disruptions to key global life-support services. “Near-term financial decisions have long-term implications for the United States’ social and economic well-being that depend, in part, on climate variability and change,” commented Paul Higgins, director of the AMS Policy Program. “Nations that invest most effectively with respect to weather and climate risks will have an important competitive advantage.” The study was based at an AMS workshop held in partnership with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in June 2013.
For additional information see: Report

International Agreement Reached on Mechanism to Address Loss and Damage from Climate Impacts

The U.N. climate negotiations in Warsaw closed with an agreement to launch the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts.”  The mechanism, established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework, aims to better protect the developing countries that are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including loss and damages associated with “extreme weather events and slow onset events such as rising sea levels.”  Recognizing the importance of adaptation to climate change impacts, the decision also crucially acknowledged that “loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change includes, and in some cases involves more than, that which can be reduced by adaptation.”  Developed nations had blocked previous efforts to create a loss and damage mechanism, but relented in exchange for vague financing language.  Work to implement the mechanism will begin when the executive committee meets for the first time in March.  "The big message coming out of Warsaw is that we have an agreement to do something substantive on loss and damage," said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCAD). "It is the beginning of something, it's not the end."
For additional information see: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Text of Agreement

Nations Announce Partnership with Gas Industry to Reduce Methane Emissions

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern and other key climate officials announced at the U.N. climate talks that the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) will soon launch a partnership with major oil and gas companies to reduce methane gas emissions. The effort will require the CCAC and industry representatives to draft a framework that will guide industry action to reduce methane loss from venting, leakage, and flaring. The methane partnership was one of 10 actions announced by the CCAC in Warsaw. Because the goal of the main Warsaw climate talks was to work towards a 2015 agreement on emissions reductions to begin in 2020, the CCAC is seeking to fill this “ambition gap” by focusing on efforts that can be made in the meantime.  “We have a range of initiatives that hold meaningful promise, and we are moving forward, all in a way that fully complements the aggressive action we all need to take on CO2,” explained Stern. The CCAC is a cooperative initiative launched in 2012 by the U.N. Environment Programme and six countries (including the United States) that has grown to 34 member countries and 33 non-state partners, such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization. The goal of the CCAC is to reduce methane and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), which do not remain in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but are much more potent as warming agents.  
For additional information see: Think Progress, CCAC Press Release

Study Finds U.S. Methane Emissions 50% Higher than EPA Estimates

On November 25, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published research findings that indicate U.S. methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), are up to 1.5 times higher than estimates provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 1.7 times higher than the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). Fifteen researchers analyzed 12,700 measurements of atmospheric methane concentrations sampled in 2007 and 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. EPA and EDGAR, by comparison, calculate average methane discharge rates for sources.  In the United States, the oil and gas industry and livestock are the major sources of methane emissions, with contributions from landfills and other sources. Researchers found that emissions from cattle operations are twice as high as EPA and EDGAR inventories, and emissions from fossil fuel operations are roughly five times larger than previously calculated. The findings also demonstrate that oil and gas operations in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas produced five times more methane than prior estimates, and may be responsible for up to 25 percent of anthropogenic methane emissions in the United States. These results come a few months after the EPA reduced national methane emission estimates by 25 to 30 percent, citing reductions in emissions from the oil and gas industry, coal mining, and landfills. As EPA and states craft new emissions standards aimed at reducing emissions, the research findings are particularly salient, according to Dan Lashof, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Methane is a powerful climate change pollutant, and the study gives greater impetus to the EPA and states to establish stronger standards to reduce leaks from the oil and gas system,” said Lashof.
For additional information see: The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Study

Obama Directs Federal Agencies to Nearly Triple Renewable Energy Use

On December 5, the White House released a presidential memorandum establishing a new target to nearly triple Federal use of renewable energy by 2020. The White House commented that the decision will support a national clean energy economy, bolster energy security, mitigate climate change, and benefit taxpayers. The memorandum ordered 20 percent of total energy consumed by each agency to be renewably sourced by fiscal year 2020. The memorandum outlines steps to gradually improve from the federal government’s current goal of a 7.5 percent level of renewable energy use, by aiming to use 10 percent by 2015, 15 percent by 2017 and 17.5 percent by 2019. The document identified top priorities for achieving the target, including installing on-site renewable energy facilities and obtaining renewable energy certificates. The administration also encourages updating building performance and energy management practices by using the Green Button data access system and Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager. President Obama noted in the memorandum that during his administration federal agencies have already reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, stating, “the Federal Government must lead by example.”
For additional information see: The Huffington Post, The White House

White House Releases Data Behind Social Cost of Carbon

On November 26, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published the Technical Support Document for Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) on Federal Register, and requested public comment on the document. SCC is a monetary estimate of social damages associated with increased carbon emissions. In May, the White House increased the SCC from about $21 per metric ton to $35, which will increase the expected net benefits of regulations to limit carbon emissions. That revision drew criticism for being developed without “proper oversight” and public input. The newly released document fills that gap, and explains the calculation of SCC using three underlying integrated assessment models (IAMs). The document includes an updated SCC value that takes into account minor technical corrections to the May estimate. “Rigorous evaluation of costs and benefits is a core tenet of the rulemaking process. It is particularly important in the area of climate change,” said the OMB in a notice. According to the notice, the officials are especially interested in comments on the selection and synthesis of the three IAMs used for SCC calculation, the way SCC is used in “regulatory impact analyses” and the strengths and limitations of the approach. The public comment period on the document will last for 60 days till January 27, 2014.
For additional information see: The Hill, Federal Register Notice, Document

National Research Council Report Calls for Abrupt Change Early Warning System

On December 3, the National Research Council (NRC), a research arm of the National Academies of Science, released a report asserting that greenhouse gases (GHG) levels will soon reach various “tipping points” that will result in sudden changes to various systems, including sea ice and ecosystems. The authors explain that the physical climate in a region can drastically shift over a decade or a few years, potentially triggering other abrupt changes in physical, natural and human systems. The report recommends the development of an “Abrupt Change Early Warning System,” which would function to identify areas vulnerable to abrupt shifts in climate through improved climate monitoring and analysis. Dr. James White, chair of the NRC report and professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, stated that these tipping points are currently unknown, but “with better information, we will be able to anticipate some major changes before they occur and help reduce the potential consequences.” Changes which are already occurring due to elevated levels of GHG include the melting of late-summer Arctic sea ice with accompanying impacts on Arctic shipping and ecosystems, and increasing species extinction. The report warns that “to willfully ignore the threat of abrupt change could lead to more costs, loss of life, suffering and environmental degradation.”  The work was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, U.S. intelligence community, and the National Academies.  
For additional information see: The Hill, Politico, The LA Times, Report

U.N. Green Climate Fund Open, Despite Lack of Funding

On December 4, the U.N. Green Climate Fund (GCF) was opened in Songdo, South Korea. The GCF, touted as the world’s first low-carbon bank, was established to allow developing countries access to clean-energy financing. The fund will begin receiving capital from governments and private organizations in August 2014. According to Torben Moger Pendersen, Chief Executive Officer of PensionDenmark, a Danish retirement fund, the GCF could be a good partner for pension funds, especially if it reduces pension fund exposure to government bonds. Globally, government bond yields have been weak in the past five years, and Pendersen said, “we would be interested in finding investments in high-growth economies in the developing world.” Confusion over the GCF business model and lack of funding were a theme at the recent COP-19 meetings in Warsaw. Pleas for significant funding for the GCF came from developing nations during the meeting; in 2010, developed nations committed to raising $100 billion per year for the GCF by 2020, but to date, investments have hovered around $10 billion per year. Despite these setbacks, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said “governments now have a crucial tool at their disposal to leverage billions in finance for developing countries to green their economies and increase their resilience to the inevitable effects of climate change.”
For additional information see: Bloomberg, Huffington Post, Responding to Climate Change

Report Reveals 29 Major Companies Using Price on Carbon

On December 5, a new report by data company CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, revealed that 27 major companies in the United States and two in London have included an internal price on carbon pollution in their long-term financial plans. The companies, which include ExxonMobil, BP, Walmart, Xcel Energy, Walt Disney and Google, have carbon pricing ranges from $6 to $60 dollars per metric ton. The White House has its own “social cost of carbon” that places the price at about $37 dollars per ton (see November 11 issue). Tom Carnac, the North American President of CDP, commented that the five large oil companies, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, seem to have concluded that a carbon price is inevitable. Xcel Energy’s director for environmental and public policy Jack Ihle stated that “in the long-term, we think that either EPA or Congress will likely impose some form of market-based carbon policy on electric generating units.”
For additional information see: The New York Times, Press Release, Report

Bloomberg Reveals New Tool to Assess Financial Risks of Climate Policy

On November 26, Bloomberg L.P. announced a new investment tool that will assess the impact of climate risk on the valuation of oil, coal and natural gas companies and stock. The “Carbon Risk Valuation Tool” was developed in response to the potential risk that future falling oil demand, rising production costs of oil, and carbon emissions regulations may render large fossil fuel reserves “unburnable.” Recent studies have concluded that carbon emissions need to be curbed in order to keep global warming in the safe range below 2 degrees Celsius; burning current fossil fuel reserves would likely push global temperatures beyond that point (see September 2013 article). Oil and gas reserves underpin the share prices and projected future earnings of fossil fuel companies, so if future reserves are forced to remain in the ground, their share value will be permanently erased. Bloomberg’s valuation tool is currently available to 300,000 traders and analysts. The tool can be manipulated to measure the risk involved in investing in a single company or group of companies, by calculating potential oil, coal and natural gas prices and weighing them against the company’s performance and quantity of fuel reserves. According to Curtis Ravenel, Bloomberg’s global head of sustainability projects, the tool is in its nascent phase, commenting “this is not something that I would use to make investment decisions . . . It's something to start the conversation among the mainstream [financial] community.”
For additional information see: Inside Climate News, Bloomberg Tool

Study Shows Global Warming Continuing Even If Carbon Emissions Stop

On November 24, a new study published in journal Nature Climate Change reported that existing greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere would continue to warm the earth for hundreds of years, even if emissions came to a sudden stop. The Princeton-led study simulated a planet where GHG emissions suddenly ceased after reaching 1,800 billion tons, four times pre-industrial levels. The model predicted that after an initial century-long cooling stretch, the planet would begin a warming period, with a total temperature increase of 0.37 degrees Celsius (0.66 Fahrenheit) within 400 years of the emissions shutdown. “This is illustrative of how difficult it may be to reverse climate change - we stop the emissions, but still get an increase in global mean temperature,” commented lead author Thomas Frolicher, a researcher at ETH-Zurich. The results reveal that the amount of carbon emissions which can be released while keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius would be three-quarters less than previous estimates, or 750 billion tons of carbon instead of 1,000 billion tons. This means that limiting global warming to two degrees would require keeping future total carbon emissions to below 250 billion tons. So far, global emissions have totaled 500 billion tons. Many similar studies suggest that after emissions stop, global temperature would remain constant or decline. Researchers said the reason for this contradiction was that previous models did not account for the declining ability of oceans, especially in polar regions, to remove surplus heat from the atmosphere.
For additional information see: Natural World News, Princeton, Study

Current Climate Goal Will Not Avoid Catastrophic Damages from Global Warming

On December 3, research was published in the journal Plos One finding that the most dangerous effects of climate change will be felt much sooner than the accepted international target of 2 degrees Celsius (2C) warming. The researchers found that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) emissions target is nearly double the threshold that would cause catastrophic damage, such as further sea level rise, ocean acidification, arctic ice melt and extreme weather. To address current shortcomings in climate change mitigation, the authors advocate for an immediate cut of 6 percent in global emissions, large reforestation projects, implementation of a carbon tax and expansion of nuclear power. While the report comments that these actions would be “exceedingly difficult,” the authors warn that if no action is taken until 2020, the date set for implementation of new U.N. emissions targets, emissions reductions would have to be in excess of 15 percent. Eighteen climate scientists analyzed global carbon cycle and temperature data in order to define a target of 1 degree Celsius warming to avoid further impacts of climate change.  Lead author Dr. James Hansen, former chair of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and current adjunct professor in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Columbia University, commented “the case we make for 2C itself is a very dangerous target to be aiming for . . . Society should reassess what are dangerous levels, given the impacts we have already seen."
For additional information see: The Guardian, Climate Central, Reuters, Study

Supreme Court Considers EPA Cross-State Air Pollution Rules, Governors Coalition Petitions EPA

On December 10, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the EPA’s regulation of cross-state air pollution rules (CASPR), also known as the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision. If upheld, the law could require older coal-fired power plants to either install new technologies or shut-down. Under CASPR, part of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) effort to control power plant emissions, 28 Midwestern states would be required to cut power plant emissions of ozone-forming compounds including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter that become airborne and travel into neighboring states downwind. According to the EPA, exposure to ozone and particulate matter is accountable for one in 20 U.S. deaths, 200,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 90,000 hospital admissions and contributes to 2.5 million cases of childhood asthma. EPA estimates that CASPR would save $280 billion annually in healthcare costs and avoid 34,000 premature deaths a year. Fifteen states filed suit against the law, and in August of 2012 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the law, stating that regulations were too costly and arbitrary.
In related news, a coalition of eight Democratic governors filed a petition on December 9 with the EPA to require nine upwind states to reduce emissions that contribute to respiratory diseases. The coalition is made up of the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, who have been critical of their western neighbors' use of coal-fired power plants. According to the coalition, their states have spent billions to reduce air pollution, but cannot reduce pollution traveling from other states. The coalition said that across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, 70 to 98 percent of ozone originates in upwind states. According to Gov. Jack Markell (D) of Delaware, “while [our] in-state sources are well controlled . . . this is simply not true of our upwind neighbors. As a result, Delaware pays more for healthcare resulting for respiratory illnesses and our industries are forced to do more than those in those states causing the pollution."

New York State Court Rules to Continue Participation in Greenhouse Gas Cap-and-Trade Program

On December 5, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of New York State’s continued participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Implemented in 2005 as the United States’ first legally binding cap-and-trade system, RGGI allows states to cap annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at power plants, and utilities to sell extra allowances. The revenue is invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. RGGI is currently in place in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Three small business owners had sued New York, arguing that RGGI had “levied a tax on ratepayers without legislative authorization,” since the RGGI program was approved by former Governor Pataki and did not go through the state legislature for approval. The court ruled in favor of the State, stating that the plaintiffs had not filed the case within the statute of limitations. Since RGGI’s inception, the nine participating states have cut electricity sector emissions by at least 40 percent; economists have valued the economic benefit of RGGI at $1.6 billion and estimate that the program will provide $1.3 billion in consumer utility savings. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a nation-wide cap-and-trade program would cut the federal deficit by $19 billion between 2011 and 2020, and carbon allowance auctions would raise revenues by $751 billion. New York Attorney General Schneiderman commented, “I will continue to use the full force of my office to vigorously defend RGGI and other sensible efforts that reduce climate change pollution and, thereby, protect the health and welfare of New Yorkers.”
For additional information see: Think Progress, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Climate Change Will Double Australia’s Need for Firefighters, Says Report

On December 9, the Australian Climate Council released a report entitled “Be Prepared: The Changing Climate and Australia’s Bushfire Threat," that finds that climate change will continue to increase the severity and number of forest fires in Australia. The report compiles research findings on Australian forest fires and concluded that climate change is making heat waves longer and drought-prone areas drier, therefore increasing the duration and severity of forest fire seasons. Report co-author, Dr. Lesley Hughes, professor of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University, said “we’ve had since the 1960s . . . a doubling in the number of extreme hot days . . . and when we get extreme hot days the risk of bushfires is greater." Since many Australian population centers are located in dry areas, fire adaptation is a crucial aspect of disaster risk reduction. The report finds that by 2030 the number of firefighters in Australia will have to double compared to 2010 levels to meet increased fire risk and increased population needs. The report closes by calling for better fire risk management in the short-term but also states that long-term, “Australia must strive to cut emissions rapidly and deeply to join global efforts to stabilize the world’s climate and to reduce the risk of even more extreme events . . . this is the critical decade." The Climate Council is a privately-funded group that was created in response to the closing of the publicly-funded Climate Commission.
For additional information see: The Guardian, The Age, Report

China Says It Is Not Equipped to Handle Climate Change Impacts

On December 9, the Chinese government’s National Development and Reform Commission released a report that, among other things, details China’s lack of preparedness for the impacts of climate change. While China has taken steps to mitigate climate change, according to the report, much basic work in both mitigation and adaptation has yet to be done. “The mission to deal with climate change is very arduous, but knowledge in society and ability to do this are weak across the board”, according to the Commission. In the past several years, China has experienced more extreme weather, with severe droughts in the north, an earlier typhoon season, and the loss of wetlands as well as sea level rise. According to the Commission, 2,000 Chinese people die a year in natural disasters, and the threat engendered from climate change will increase those numbers. The report also details several potential mitigation steps for China, including the construction of additional reservoirs, increasing forest and wetland protections and better, advanced weather reporting systems, in addition to ambitious renewable energy targets that are already in place. Meanwhile, emissions from China are expected to rise slightly over the next decade, due primarily to population increase and continued reliance on coal-fired power plants. The Commission concludes that despite these obstacles to action on climate change, “in the future the rising trend of temperatures will become even more obvious, there will be even more unfavorable impacts (from climate change), and if effective measures are not taken the losses from disasters caused by extreme weather will be even more serious.”
For additional information see: Reuters, Blue and Green Tomorrow, Futures

Climate Change May Have Contributed to Conflict in Syria

On December 9, scientists presented new findings at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union which suggest that climate change likely made a long drought more severe, crucially contributing to the civil war in Syria. The study authors determined that the three-year drought leading up to the civil war was outside the bounds of observed natural variability in precipitation, based on their study of a century of rainfall patterns and high air pressure over the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Study co-author Colin Kelley at the University of California Santa Barbara explained, “We don’t have any observed evidence to support a 100-year trend in precipitation that we would describe as being natural. We can only assume that the trend is anthropogenic.” In 2012, the Center for Climate and Security reported that in the period from 2006 to 2011, up to 60 percent of Syria underwent one of the worst droughts in recorded history, leading to the loss of around three-quarters of Syria’s crops and 85 percent of Syria’s livestock. The Center for Climate and Security report says, “Syria’s current social unrest is . . . a reaction to a brutal and out-of-touch regime . . . however, that’s not the whole story. The past few years have seen a number of significant . . . climatic changes in Syria that have eroded the social contract between citizen and government . . . and irreparably damaged the legitimacy of the el-Assad regime.”

Note: The finding that serious drought enhanced by climate change contributed to the war in Syria is consistent with the decision of the Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC in 2007 for their work to highlight the danger of climate change to destabilize societies and contribute to armed conflict.  See Gore Shares Peace Prize for Climate Change Work

Climate Mitigation Strategies Should Target CO2 and Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

On December 12, a paper published in the journal Science described the importance of reducing both carbon dioxide (CO2) and short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) to achieve near- and long-term climate protection, as well as associated health and food security benefits. The authors said cuts to SLCPs should not be traded off for increased emissions in CO2, but instead, parallel strategies to cut both CO2 and SLCPs are needed to keep warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels through the end of the century. The report states, “There are real opportunities to reduce emissions of SLCPs without distracting from other mitigation efforts focused on CO2.” Authors include two Harvard professors, Julie Shoemaker and Daniel Schrag, and two professors from the University of California, San Diego, V. Ramanathan and Nobel Laureate Mario Molina. The paper found that cutting SLCPs provides long-term mitigation, continuing to contribute 40 percent of total mitigation even by 2200. Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, commented, “Maximum mitigation of SLCPs, using existing technologies, can cut the rate of warming in half and sea level rise by a quarter. The ability to slow the rate of warming makes fast mitigation of SLCPs one of the best adaptation strategies for vulnerable societies and ecosystems.”
For additional information see: IGSD Press Release

If you would like to receive my Climate Change News automatically by email and don’t already, just send an email message to: 

If you want to stop receiving it, just send a message to If you come across some really interesting information, please send it along and I may include it in the next issue.  Recent issues are available at:

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

No comments:

Post a Comment