CC NEWS FOR MARCH 2014
An excellent 17.8-minute video of James Hansen giving a TED talk was posted in March 2012. It is titled James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change. In it, Hansen spoke about how he came to understand the threat posed by climate change, and what motivated him to speak out about the need to change national energy policy and reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration back to 350 ppm. He also talked about his favorite method of mitigating climate change: a fee and rebate system with a gradually rising price on carbon, with a full rebate to legal citizens on an equal per capita basis. At: http://www.ted.com/talks/james_hansen_why_i_must_speak_out_about_climate_change.html
You can read his bio at: http://www.ted.com/speakers/james_hansen.html
Another great video shows a 10.6-minute TED talk by Vicki Arroyo, titled Let’s Prepare for Our New Climate, was posted in Dec. 2012. She is from New Orleans, and talks about what we need to do to adapt to our changing climate. At: http://www.ted.com/talks/vicki_arroyo_let_s_prepare_for_our_new_climate.html
You can find her bio and learn more about her work at:
In June 2013 the White House posted a web page titled, President Obama's Plan to Fight Climate Change. It has lots of visuals, deals with both mitigation and adaptation, and quotes the President saying, “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires that some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” The post also says, “Because climate change spans international borders, the President’s plan will also lead international efforts to address global climate change.”
On Oct. 4, 2013 Andrew Freedman of Climate Central published an article titled, IPCC Report Contains ‘Grave’ Carbon Budget Message. He was reporting on the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Assessment Report 5 (AR5) of Working Group 1, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, published in September. He wrote that the world is on track to emit enough CO2 by 2040 to make it unlikely that we can meet the challenge of keeping the global average surface temperature less than 2°C (3.6°F) above it was when the Industrial Revolution started. Many have agreed that that is the point of serious damage to the climate system. “Staying under that temperature target is a daunting challenge, given the lack of progress to date in arresting emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases. In order to meet the temperature target, the IPCC report made clear, the reality is that much of the planet’s known and economically recoverable supply of fossil fuels will need to be left in the ground.” The IPCC found that meeting the 2°C limit will mean that total human carbon emissions between 1750 and 2100 will need to be limited to 800 GtC (a gigatonne (Gt) is a billion metric tons) of carbon), and that as of 2011 we had already released 531 GtC. “To stay within the budget, global emissions would have to peak by 2020, and then become negative – with more carbon being taken out of the atmosphere by plants and the oceans than is put into the air each year — by 2090.
The IPCC report also said that a possible release of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost and methane hydrates — which are “not accounted for in current models” — would shrink the remaining budget even further.”
WARNING: Even ignoring the indirectly produced GHGs from thawing permafrost and methane hydrates, if the arithmetic above is correct, the atmosphere had a remaining capacity of 800 - 531 = 269 GtC in 2011. Since we are are adding about 10 GtC a year, it’s quite clear that on our present course we will exhaust our budget before 2040. If the emission rate continues to increase, we’ll hit the limit even sooner.
The Koshland Science Museum in Washington, DC, operated by the National Academy of Sciences, has a web page called Responses with a couple of great quotes from the National Research Council: “…the environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks of climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts.” and “…an effective response to climate change must include both mitigation and adaptation.” It lists several action headings in each of these categories:
- Reducing the Causes of Climate Change
- Retrofitting Buildings for Efficiency
- Implementing Small-Scale Innovations
- Changing Lifestyles
- Maximizing Distribution of Renewable Energy
- Streamlining Industrial Processes
- Researching New Fuels
- Preparing for the Changing Environment
- Holding Back the Water
- Helping Habitats Resist and Recover
- Planning for Heat Emergencies
- Removing Salt from Seawater
- Changing Agricultural Practices
- Relocating Vulnerable Communities
On Feb. 13 the Daily Mail reported that the world’s largest solar power plant, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, has started generating electricity near the California-Nevada Border in the Mojave Desert. It uses more than 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors to reflect sunlight onto three tower generating units that produce steam that goes through generators to produce as much as 400 MW (million watts) of power. The article says that a conventional coal plant costs about $100/MWh (10 cents/kWh) while this systems costs about $260/MWh (26 cents/kWh) for electricity. At: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2558257/Huge-thermal-plant-opens-solar-industry-grows.html
Note: Keep in mind that the low cost given for coal does not include externalities - the costs to society for the illness and death caused by emissions from burning coal. or the costs of the damage from the climate change it causes.
On Feb. 19, 2014 an article by Lauren McCauley was published by Common Dreams, describing the early morning delivery of five tons of coal and two containers of nuclear waste water to the palace of French President Francois Hollande, who was to meet there later in the day with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss their transition to a renewable energy future. The Greenpeace activists unloaded the nuclear waste and dumped the coal on the ground, unfurling a banner that read, “Energy Transition in Europe, here and now!”; they also called for a 40% renewable energy target by 2030. Twelve were arrested by police. At: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/02/19-3
Sarah Lazare wrote and article titled, Whistleblower Fired After Voicing Safety Concerns at Nuclear Site, which was also published by Common Dreams on Feb. 19. She wrote, “The person responsible for overseeing the cleanup of the former nuclear weapons site in Hanford, Washington—the most contaminated in the United States—was fired on Tuesday after blowing the whistle on the dangerous conditions at the facility.” “Donna Busche—manager of Environmental and Nuclear Safety for the San Francisco-based URS Corporation, a Hanford cleanup subcontractor hired by the federal government — is at least the third senior official who has been fired or forced out after raising the alarm about lack of safety at the site.” She recently declared, “The Energy Department’s overall safety culture is broken and all they are doing now is sitting idly by.” At: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/02/19-4
Note: Nuclear power is one way to produce energy without carbon emissions, but if it is to be used, it has to be done right, including the storage and handling of nuclear waste.
Lewis Sahagun of the LA Times wrote an article published on Feb. 19 titled, Climate Change Brings More Crime. A newly published study, looking at the historical relationships between crime, temperature and precipitation, suggests that climate change can be expected to lead to higher frequencies of murder, rape, aggravated assault, robberies, larceny, burglary, and vehicle theft, with social costs running as high at $115 billion between 2010 and 2099. “Overall, crime rates for most offenses by 2090 will be 1.5% to 5.5% higher because of climate change, according to the study of crime statistics and weather data for each of the nation’s nearly 3,000 counties.” At: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-climate-change-crime-20140219,0,2706550,print.story
On Feb. 24 Sarah Laskow of Grist posted an article titled, Watch the Arctic’s oldest ice melt away, with a 1-minute video showing the loss of the Arctic’s old sea ice over that last 26 years. It’s striking. At: http://grist.org/list/watch-the-arctics-oldest-ice-melt-away/
Diana Yates at the University of Illinois posted an article in R&D on Feb. 24 titled, Team converts sugarcane to a cold-tolerant, oil-producing crop. A team of researchers was able to introduce genes into sugarcane that increased the weight percent of bio-diesel oil in the stems to 1.5% - an increase of 30%. They hope eventually to make the oil 20% of the stem weight and to make the new variety more resistant to cold, so that it can thrive in cooler climates. At: http://www.rdmag.com/news/2014/02/team-converts-sugarcane-cold-tolerant-oil-producing-crop?et_cid=3786736&et_rid=527997207&location=top
Note: Though caution needs to be used when dealing with genetically modified plants, they might help us to wean ourselves from fossil fuels.
Adam Markham the Director of the Climate Impacts Initiative for the Union of Concerned Scientists posted an article on Feb. 26 titled, Climate Change in Maryland: The Health of the State’s Economy Depends on How We Respond. He writes,”According to a new report from the Labor Network for Sustainability, Maryland’s working people are already suffering the consequences of climate change and many jobs may be under threat in the future.
Maryland is already dealing with local climate impacts and there are 2.3 million workers in the state across many sectors — including retail, health care, construction, tourism, manufacturing, farming, and fishing — who could feel the consequences. “For most,” says the study, “their future prospects in life depend on what will happen to their jobs. We now know that future will be deeply affected by climate change.””
“Increased coastal flooding and storm damage, and more weather extremes, including worse and more frequent heat waves, are all projected for Maryland. And with much of its land area and 70 percent of its population in the coastal zone, the fact that the state’s sea level has been rising at around twice the national average gives serious cause for concern.”
Note: Relative sea level in Maryland, as in Delaware and Virginia, has been rising about 6 inches per century more than the national average because the coast is sinking.
Undernews for Feb. 26 posted a report titled, Study: Geoengineering could be a disaster. Geoengineering means intentionally modifying earth’s climate - usually to undo some of the climate change humans have been doing unintentionally through releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants. This blog reports the result of a study in Germany at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research on five possible geoengineering schemes: reflecting sunlight from space, adding vast quantities of lime or iron filings to the oceans, pumping deep cold nutrient-rich waters to the surface of oceans and irrigating vast areas of the north African and Australian deserts to grow millions of trees. It said, “Large-scale human engineering of the Earth's climate to prevent catastrophic global warming would not only be ineffective but would have severe unintended side effects and could not be safely stopped, a comparison of five proposed methods has concluded.” Doesn’t sound too good. At: http://prorevnews.blogspot.com/2014/02/study-geoengineering-could-be-disaster.html
The Feb. 26 issue of ClimateProgress has an article by Kiley Kroh titled, Acidic Waters Kill 10 Million Scallops Off Vancouver. “A mass die-off of scallops near Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island is being linked to the increasingly acidic waters that are threatening marine life and aquatic industries along the West Coast. Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops, estimates his company has lost three years worth of scallops and $10 million dollars — forcing him to lay off approximately one-third of his staff.
“I’m not sure we are going to stay alive and I’m not sure the oyster industry is going to stay alive,” Saunders told The Parksville Qualicum Beach NEWS. “It’s that dramatic.”” About a quarter of the 38 billion tons of CO2 that humans are releasing into the atmosphere each year are going into the oceans, making it more acidic and making it more difficult of organisms with calcium carbonate shells to grow and thrive. Coral reefs are also at risk. At:
On Feb. 28 E&E Publishing posted an article by David Ferris titled, Batteries combined with rooftop solar may speed grid's 'death spiral' -- report. It discussed the findings of a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute titled, The Economics of Grid Defection, which found that solar PV with batteries and diesel generator backup is already less expensive for some commercial buildings in Hawaii, where electricity prices are high. In a number of other places in the U.S. such stand-alone electrical systems are expected to become competitive in the future, as fossil fuel prices rise while prices of solar panels and batteries continue to decline. The article says that solar prices are half of what they were in 1998, while battery prices have fallen nearly as much in just the last four years. The article says, “The nation's largest rooftop solar installer, SolarCity, announced a partnership with the electric automaker Tesla in December to lease batteries to businesses and homeowners the same way it does with solar panels.” At: http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059995296
Note: A related concept called V2G (Vehicle to Grid) would store electricity generated during the day in the batteries of electric (or hybrid electric) vehicles with large batteries and make it available at night or other times when the sun wasn’t shining. It would require that these vehicles be plugged in when not in use. These batteries could also be charged by wind turbines, which tend to generate more at night than during the day.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an excellent report on March 4 titled, CLIMATE CHANGE: Energy Infrastructure Risks and Adaptation Efforts. It says, “U.S. energy infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to a range of climate change impacts--particularly infrastructure in areas prone to severe weather and water shortages. Climate changes are projected to affect infrastructure throughout all major stages of the energy supply chain, thereby increasing the risk of disruptions. For example:
- Resource extraction and processing infrastructure, including oil and natural gas platforms, refineries, and processing plants, is often located near the coast, making it vulnerable to severe weather and sea level rise.
- Fuel transportation and storage infrastructure, including pipelines, barges, railways and storage tanks, is susceptible to damage from severe weather, melting permafrost, and increased precipitation.
- Electricity generation infrastructure, such as power plants, is vulnerable to severe weather or water shortages, which can interrupt operations.
- Electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure, including power lines and substations, is susceptible to severe weather and may be stressed by rising demand for electricity as temperatures rise.”
It goes on to say, “According to the NRC and the USGCRP, changes in the earth's climate--including higher temperatures, changes in precipitation, rising sea levels, and increases in the severity and frequency of severe weather events--are under way and expected to grow more severe over time. These impacts present significant risks to the nation's energy infrastructure.
Economic losses arising from weather-related events--including floods, droughts, and storms--have been large and are increasing, according to USGCRP. Adaptation--an adjustment to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change--is a risk-management strategy to help protect vulnerable sectors and communities that might be affected by climate change.”
Note: The NRC (National Research Council) is an arm of the U.S. National Academies of Science; the USGCRP is the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
On March 6, E&E Publishing posted an article by David Lehmann titled, ADAPTATION: Infrastructure threatened by climate change poses a 'national crisis'. He writes, “The nation's aging infrastructure makes up an interconnected web of systems that are alarmingly vulnerable to the shocks of climate change, according to a report released today that will inform the National Climate Assessment, to be made public next month.” The 109-page report is titled, Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems, and Vulnerabilities. Because many parts of the infrastructure at risk are interdependent, failure of one part can lead to cascading failures in other parts. As Lehmann quotes the report: "Disruptions of services in one infrastructure will almost always result in disruptions in one or more other infrastructures, especially in urban systems, triggering serious cross-sectoral cascading infrastructure system failures in some locations, at least for short periods of time." Because of sea level rise and storm surge, coastal cities are especially at risk. At: http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059995655
When looking into the 109-page report above, I discover a whole series of reports in the National Climate Assessment Regional Technical Input Report Series. They can be downloaded as pdf files at the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) website at www.cakex.org/NCAreports. Printed copies are available for sale on the Island Press website at www.islandpress.org/NCAreports. One that I found particularly informative was the 217-page Coastal Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities - A Technical Input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment. The following are taken from the Executive Summary:
“Impacts on coastal systems are among the most costly and most certain consequences of a warming climate (emphasis added). The warming atmosphere is expected to accelerate sea-level rise as a result of the decline of glaciers and ice sheets and the thermal expansion of sea water. As mean sea level rises, coastal shorelines will retreat and low-lying areas will tend to be inundated more frequently, if not permanently, by the advancing sea. As atmospheric temperature increases and rainfall patterns change, soil moisture and runoff to the coast are likely to be altered. An increase in the intensity of climatic extremes such as storms and heat spells, coupled with other impacts of climate change and the effects of human development, could affect the sustainability of many existing coastal communities and natural resources.”
“ Adapting to the changing climate will be a challenge for coastal economies that contributed $8.3 trillion to the GDP in 2010 …”
“ The coasts of the U.S. are home to many large urban centers and important infrastructure such seaports, airports, transportation routes, oil import and refining facilities, power plants, and military bases. All are vulnerable to varying degrees to impacts of global warming such as sea-level rise, storms, and flooding.”
“No coordinated, interagency process exists in the U.S. for identifying agreed upon global mean sea-level rise projections for the purpose of coastal planning, policy, or management, even though this is a critical first step in assessing coastal impacts and vulnerabilities.”
In the absence of agreement on sea level rise projections, scientists and planers have used a range of reasonable SLR trajectories - usually until 2100. This Coastal Impacts report chose four global mean SLR scenarios of 0.2, 0.5, 1.2 and 2 m (about 8, 20, 48 and 80 inches) by 2100. At:
Notes: Three great uncertainties in projecting future SLR are:1) the future course of human greenhouse gas emissions - particularly CO2 from burning fossil fuels; 2) the future course of CO2 and methane emissions from natural reservoirs (e.g., frozen tundra and methane hydrates as the ice in them melts); and 3) how rapidly ice in the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets is lost through melting and calving.
U.S. GDP in 2010 was $13.2 trillion, so that coastal communities were responsible for more than 60%. See: http://econpost.com/gdp/us-gdp-2010
A March 16 post in ScienceDaily titled, Northeast Greenland ice loss accelerating, researchers say, reports that the Zachariae ice stream in northeastern Greenland, which was considered to be quite stable, is retreating and losing ice rapidly. Lead investigator Michael Bevis of The Ohio State University said, "Northeast Greenland is very cold. It used to be considered the last stable part of the Greenland ice sheet. This study shows that ice loss in the northeast is now accelerating. So, now it seems that all of the margins of the Greenland ice sheet are unstable." Loss of ice from he Greenland Ice Sheet is already responsible for about 1/6 of the total rate of global mean sea level rise - now 3.2 mm/yr). 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.
Senators To Hold All Night Discussion of Climate Change on Senate Floor
On February 12, Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) announced to activists that at least 20 Senators plan to hold an all-night talkathon on climate change in March. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) will organize and lead the event. The talkathon will be the first initiative of the new Climate Action Task Force, begun by Senator Whitehouse and Senator Boxer (D-CA) to create action around climate change. Sen. Whitehouse said he thinks the Senate will begin to focus more on climate change in the coming year, stating, “I think you’re going to see the Senate as a very, very boisterous place on climate . . . it’s not just going to be me giving my weekly speech.” Sen. Whitehouse has been giving a speech on the floor every week the Senate has been in session since April 2012 to encourage action on climate change. He also asked the activists to push lawmakers to go on record with their opinion on anthropogenic climate change, a move he said will make them “very, very uncomfortable,” but is important. Sen. Whitehouse added that the Climate Action Task Force is organizing a May rally at the Capitol, at which people will be encouraged to deliver alarm clocks to members of Congress to "tell everyone that Congress needs to wake up on climate change."
For additional information see: Huffington Post
Secretary of State Kerry Calls Climate Change “Weapon of Mass Destruction”
On February 16, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to a group of college students, civic leaders, and government officials in Jakarta, Indonesia on the need to address climate change. In his remarks, Kerry called climate change the “world’s largest weapon of mass destruction,” and said climate deniers are ignoring the scientific facts. Kerry said the United States has a role to play in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and cited President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which commits to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels. He said while industrialized nations have "a huge responsibility" to reduce emissions, other nations also need to do their part, noting, “it is time for the world to approach this problem with the cooperation, the urgency, and the commitment that a challenge of this scale warrants.” Kerry argued that the world needs a new global energy policy that is not as focused on fossil fuels in order to truly address the problem, and called on the Indonesian people to push their government to promote emissions reduction initiatives. Indonesia is in a unique situation as it is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States, due to high rates of deforestation. Indonesia is also likely to experience some of the worst impacts of unchecked climate change, including sea level rise and more powerful storms.
EPA Emissions Rule to be Debated in Supreme Court
On February 24, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement of greenhouse gas emissions regulations. The case will focus on EPA’s 2010 rule imposing pollution-control requirements on certain expanded or modernized refineries and plants. Under the authority of the Clean Air Act, EPA is authorized to enforce the use of “best available technologies” in refineries and plants, in order to encourage energy savings; however, the parameters of the Clean Air Act as written by Congress could allow EPA to exert its influence on other sources of emissions, including hospitals and commercial buildings. The EPA has revised the rule to exclude these sources, but opponents are not appeased. Fifteen states have come out in support of the EPA ruling, while 12 states have objected, saying in a court brief that the rule is “one of the most brazen power grabs ever attempted by an administrative agency.” However, the EPA and state officials report that the law, which has been issuing greenhouse gas permits for the past three years, is running smoothly and companies are even “looking for and finding opportunities to increase efficiency and minimize greenhouse gas emissions in ways that benefit them directly.” The upcoming court challenge is not expected to significantly alter the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, which required EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In a separate Supreme Court case on December 17, 2013, justices heard arguments on EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act concerning power plant emissions which cross state lines. The Supreme Court's decisions on both cases are expected in July 2014.
California Legislators and Scientists Urge Expanded Emissions Cuts Post-2020
On February 19, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy group, sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators urging them to implement stricter greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards by 2020 in order to cut climate change causing emissions as much as 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The letter was signed by more than 100 California-based climate scientists and researchers from allied fields. Although the California Air Resources Board (ARB) says California is on track to reach its more immediate goal of GHG reduction to 1990 levels by 2020, the letter urges lawmakers to “adopt and implement enforceable emissions caps for 2030 and beyond,” and remarks that achieving deeper cuts than those outlined in state laws translates to additional investment in renewable energy and cleaner transportation.
In related news, on February 19, California State Senators Fran Pavley (D) and Ricardo Lara (D), introduced a bill obligating state air regulators to set post-2020 emissions reductions for carbon dioxide (CO2), black carbon and methane. While Senator Pavley authored the 2006 law which set the 2020 emissions reduction goal (A.B. 32), Senator Lara has historically been critical of parts of the state’s cap and trade program. According to Senator Lara, the inclusion of black carbon and methane in future reductions will not only impact climate change but the health of California’s poorest communities, where air quality is more often worse than in other areas. “We must ensure that all communities, including disadvantaged communities throughout California, have the promise of a clean environment today and into the future.” While California regulators already possess the authority to mandate additional emission cuts, according to ARB spokesman Dave Clegern, they welcome the suggestions.
Billionaire Tom Steyer to Invest in Climate Change Campaigns for 2014 Election
On February 17, billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer announced that he will be investing $100 million in the 2014 elections in an effort to make climate change a top priority issue. This is the first time that Steyer has sought large amounts of funding from other Democratic and environmental leaders; $50 million will come from his personal fortune, and he hopes to raise the other $50 million. The Florida gubernatorial race and the Senate race in Iowa are both potential targets for the money, as both include candidates who either discredit the science on climate change or believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should not limit greenhouse gas emissions. Regarding the amount of funds he is investing, Steyer states that, “I think that [$100 million] would be a really cheap price to answer the generational challenge of the world.” Earlier in February, Steyer met with leading Democratic donors and environmental philanthropists at his ranch in California to urge them to join his efforts. Steyer and his organization, NextGen Climate Action, have spent millions in the recent Virginia governor elections and the Massachusetts Democratic congressional primary, as well airing 90-second commercials opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.
Study Reveals Higher Methane Emissions from Fracking than EPA’s Estimates
On February 13, a study published in the journal Science found that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking from oil and natural gas operations at rates 50 percent higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated. The study concluded that although the leakage is higher than EPA's estimate of 1.5 percent, if leakage rates are below 3.2 percent, natural gas is better for the climate than other forms of fossil fuel, such as coal. However, the study authors cautioned, "If natural gas is to be a 'bridge' to a more sustainable energy future, it is a bridge that must be traversed carefully: Diligence will be required to ensure that leakage rates are low enough to achieve sustainability goals." Researchers analyzed 200 technical publications concerning methane leakages from oil and gas operations, including the production, processing and distribution of natural gas, and compared them to the EPA greenhouse gas inventory, which is based on company reports of leakage and activity. The study authors noted that EPA's inventory does not include "super-emitters," parts of the oil and gas system which leak most of the methane accounted for in atmospheric studies. Steve Hambug, head scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, commented, "There is a high likelihood that a large proportion of emissions are coming from a relatively small number of sites. This strongly indicates that there is a relatively straightforward capacity to reduce those emissions." The study authors said they have been discussing their findings with interested scientists at the EPA. The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, an organization founded by a pioneer in hydraulic fracturing, funded the study.
Arctic Darkening Two to Three Times Higher Than Previously Calculated
On February 18, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, released data in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing the loss of Arctic sea ice is reducing the Earth’s albedo, or reflectivity, by an amount considerably larger than previously estimated. The study shows that two to three times more of the Arctic is darkening from melting sea-ice than previously reported. “Based on our results, the albedo forcing from Arctic sea ice retreat is quite large,” said Scripps climate scientist Ian Eisenman, “Averaged over the entire globe, it’s one-fourth as large as the direct radiative forcing from CO2 during the same period.” The Scripps study is the first to use direct satellite measurements rather than computer models to assess the decreasing albedo from the loss of sea ice. Dr. Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor of Climate and Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps, said, “Scientists have talked about Arctic melting and albedo decrease for nearly 50 years. This is the first time this darkening effect has been documented on the scale of the entire Arctic.”
For additional information see: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, ABC Online, New Scientist, Euronews, Study
Climate Change to Threaten Equatorial Reef Fish Populations & Coastal Communities
On February 12, an Australian-based study published in Global Change Biology found that fish and associated fishing communities living close to the Earth's equator, especially those in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, are at the most risk from climate change. The study authors concluded that "low-latitude reef fish populations [were] living close to their thermal optima and may be more sensitive to ocean warming than higher-latitude populations.” They noted that a "relatively small" two to three degree Celsius increase in temperature could potentially trigger fish population decline and migration. Scientists studied six species of common equatorial fish, holding them in four different temperature points over a two week period to simulate the current equatorial ocean thermal range and projected increases from global warming. Of the six species of fish studied, Chromis atripectoralis in particular were already struggling to survive in temperatures above their preferred temperature of 29 degrees Celsius. According to the study, warming ocean temperatures make it difficult for fish to successfully scope out and evade predators, and produce the energy needed to find food or breed. Dr. Jodie Rummer, leader of the study and researcher from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University in Queensland, noted that as fish populations decline, “this will have a substantial impact on the human societies that depend on these fish."
Senator Markey Hosts 100 International Legislators to Discuss Action on Climate Change
On February 27, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) held a meeting on Capitol Hill for more than 100 international leaders who want to take action at home on climate change in order to build momentum for an international agreement on climate change at the Paris Conference of Parties (COP-21) in 2015. Senior staff from the World Bank and United Nations (U.N.) were present, as well as Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Boxer (D-CA) and House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA). Also present was U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who commented on the necessity of bipartisan action on climate, stating, “I urge you to reach out to colleagues across the political spectrum and help them see policy at home with co-benefits for growth and climate is also an international path to a better tomorrow for all.”
In related news, during the meeting on February 26 GLOBE International Fund, a global organization of national lawmakers, released findings identifying 500 national laws to address climate change in its 4th annual Climate Legislation Study. Efforts have been led by developing countries, including China and Mexico; the United States is one of the few countries without national climate legislation. (emphasis added) Prior to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio, there were fewer than 40 laws addressing climate change. The report examined 66 countries which altogether account for 88 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and found that 62 of these countries have either passed or are in the process of passing “significant” climate legislation. The study was done with the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics, and charts the steady expansion of national laws to address climate, including energy laws and other laws that have an impact on climate. GLOBE also launched the Partnership for Climate Legislation to help legislators develop and implement national climate legislation, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank. These laws, according to Figueres, could be critical building blocks to an international agreement for Paris and beyond.
Supreme Court Hears Challenge to EPA’s Authority to Regulate Power Plants Greenhouse Gas Emissions
On February 24, the Supreme Court heard six consolidated challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate industrial facility-sourced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The challengers include members of private industry and the state governments of Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Fifteen states are in support of the EPA’s authority to regulate GHG, including California and New York. The justices are not revisiting the court’s 2007 decision confirming EPA’s authority to regulate GHG in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, and instead deliberating over whether or not EPA has the authority to set emissions standards. The original ruling in the 2007 decision would have set carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at 250 tons per source per year, which would have brought schools and small businesses under regulation. In order to reduce the regulatory burden EPA raised the CO2 threshold between 75,000 and 100,000 tons per source per year. This revision is the center of the prosecution’s argument, which cited it as a bold overstep. During Monday’s arguments, the justices were divided on whether the EPA’s revision of GHG standards is an executive overreach or a sensible decision, but agreed that regardless of the court’s decision in this case, EPA will still retain other ways of reducing emissions. In a separate Supreme Court case on December 17, 2013, justices heard arguments on EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act concerning power plant emissions which cross state lines. The Supreme Court's decisions on both cases are expected in July 2014.
British Government Plans to Build World’s First Carbon Capture Project
On February 24, Shell UK signed an agreement with the Peterhead gas power station in Aberdeenshire, Scotland to begin the design phase of a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project that would capture over 10 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) throughout the next decade. The project will capture the CO2 emissions from the Peterhead power plant post-combustion, and then transport them to an underground storage facility. Organic compounds called amines will then absorb the CO2. If successful, the CCS project would help Great Britain meet its goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, which the British government had previously outlined in 2012 energy legislation. Shell UK Chairman Ed Daniels said, “the project has the potential to make gas, already the cleanest burning fossil fuel, even cleaner.” According to David Clarke, CEO of the Energy Technologies Institute, “Without CCS, the cost of reaching UK Climate Change targets will double from a minimum of around 30 billion pounds ($50 billion) per year in 2050.” Although the Peterhead project will be the first time CCS technology has been used concurrently at a gas power plant, Shell currently has several other CCS projects underway, including the Quest Oil Sands Project in Alberta, Canada, and the Gorgon Project in Australia.
Settlement Sets Up Expectation That All New York State-Regulated Utilities Prepare for Climate Change
On February 20, the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) and Consolidated Edison (ConEd), New York City’s largest electric utility, agreed that ConEd would now be responsible for preparing for future extreme weather due to climate change. The NYPSC stated their expectation that every utility regulated by New York State would assess its resiliency to climate change, and incorporate climate change impacts into their system planning and budgets. In light of the disastrous affects that Hurricane Sandy had on New York and ConEd’s infrastructure, the settlement requires that ConEd study how climate change, including the impacts of more intense storms and sea level rise, will affect its infrastructure. In the settlement, ConEd committed to spending $1 billion by 2016 to undergo “storm hardening,” a process to make utility lines and infrastructure resistant to strong storms. According to Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law, this settlement is “a very strong signal to other utilities—an unmistakable statement of the intention of the commission . . . and it’s a statement of expectation. It’s the kind of thing that utilities and their lawyers take very seriously.”
Report Says RGGI Revenue to Leverage $2 Billion in Lifetime Savings
On February 25, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) released a report quantifying the cost benefits of measures taken as part of the initiative. RGGI is a market-based carbon reduction program formed by nine states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. RGGI estimates the program will leverage more than $2 billion in lifetime energy bill savings from the $700 million of investments made from RGGI proceeds between 2009 and 2012 from the sale of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances. These savings will benefit more than 3 million households and 12,000 businesses in the region as well as offset 8.5 MWh of electricity generation, 37 mmBTU of fossil fuels and avoid the release of 8 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Examples of projects funded from RGGI proceeds include energy efficiency, weatherization, green community planning and Home Energy Star Programs. According to Collin O’Mara, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and vice chair of the RGGI board of directors, “RGGI proceeds helped support numerous energy efficiency and clean energy . . . helping our states build a smarter and cleaner energy infrastructure.”
Study Says Climate Change at Root of Peruvian Glacier Shrinkage
On February 25, a study released in the journal Geology found that changing temperatures are the primary drivers of the size fluctuations of Qori Kalis, the outlet glacier of the Quelccaya ice cap, the largest piece of ice in the tropics, located in the Peruvian Andes. The scientists were able to date the growth and shrinkage of the glacier during the past 500 years, and by comparing rock deposits from glacier movements to ice core data, they found that temperature, not ice accumulation, was the main cause of glacier retreat and advancement. These findings support hypotheses that recent tropical glacier shrinkage is the result of temperature increase due to man-made climate change. While there has been sound evidence that temperature is the cause of glacial shrinkage in the Northern Hemisphere, tropical glaciers have proved very sensitive to short-term impacts from changes in cloud cover, making their study a more difficult task. This paper is further evidence that temperature is the root cause of glacial fluctuations in the tropics. According to Meredith Kelly, co-author of this study, “this result agrees with . . . earlier suggestions that these tropical glaciers are shrinking very rapidly today because of a warming climate.”
Senators Stay Up All Night to Bring Attention to Climate Change
On Monday night, March 10, the recently formed Senate Climate Action Task Force put on its first event, an all-night talkathon to “wake up Congress” to the need to address the severe impacts of climate change. During the night, 31 Senators (28 Democrats, 2 Independents and 1 Republican) spoke for more than 14 hours, discussing science, policy, impacts and solutions to climate change. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) likened climate change to steroid use in baseball. Comparing graphs of home run averages to average global temperature, he said there is an “obvious correlation” between temperature increases and humans “injecting pollutants” into the atmosphere. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), labeled the talkathon a “partisan exercise,” and said she had not been invited to participate. Collins introduced a bill to reduce carbon pollution from cookstoves on the same day(see below CCN). The event was not a filibuster, since it pertained to no specific legislation. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) commented that “we’ve got a little more work to do to open up some political space” before the Senate could attempt to pass a bill on climate change.
Kerry Makes Addressing Climate Change a Top Priority for U.S. Diplomats
On March 7th, Secretary of State John Kerry released his first policy guidance, Elevating Climate Change Across All Our Platforms, which made climate change a top priority for all U.S. diplomats. In the guide, Kerry instructed all ambassadors and State Department employees – 70,000 in total – around the world to provide “active leadership” to combat climate change both domestically and internationally. Kerry said, “The global climate challenge is about opportunity, security, even our very survival in the long term.” He called climate change the greatest challenge of our generation, adding that it “demands elevated urgency and attention from all of us.” Kerry explained that in practice his Policy Guidance on climate means leading by example through strong action at home and abroad; concluding a new international climate change agreement applicable to all countries by 2015 to take effect in 2020; enhancing multilateral engagement, including the Major Economies Forum, Clean Energy Ministerial, Montreal Protocol, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants; expanding bilateral engagement on clean energy; mobilizing financial resources to transform energy economies and promote sustainable land use, as well as limiting public incentives for fossil fuels; and integrating climate change with other priorities, including women’s empowerment, urbanization, and conflict and national security.
Price of Carbon Permits Reaches New High in RGGI Markets
On March 5, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) sold 23.4 million carbon allowances at a record high price, $4 each, during its first auction under new rules which came into effect this year after a February 2013 update. The updated rules reduced the supply of carbon permits 45 percent, in order to raise prices. The carbon allowance price is up by a third from the last auction in December, which cleared the allowances for $3 apiece, and is the highest price since the first auction in September 2008. Collin O’Mara, vice chairman of RGGI and secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said, “Our first auction under the new cap demonstrates how market-based programs cost-effectively reduce carbon pollution, while driving investments in a clean-energy economy.” The December auction raised $115 million and sold 63 percent more allowances than this latest auction, which raised about $94 million.
Two Government Reports Detail Infrastructure Risks from Climate Change
On March 7, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a report, Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems, and Vulnerabilities, which describes the threat climate change poses to America’s aging infrastructure, including power grid, water, communications and transportation systems. The report also examines the potential economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change-induced interruptions to these systems. The report said infrastructure damages are heightened in urban areas, as specific groups including children, the elderly, and low income communities are “vulnerable because of limited coping capacities.” Report authors add that these risks can be “substantially reduced” by climate preparedness efforts, including better building codes and green infrastructure. The report is part of a series of technical additions to the US government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA), and is the first NCA examination of infrastructure. The NCA is required under the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which stipulates that a report must be produced every four years. The full NCA report is due to be released April 2014.
In related news on the same day, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, Energy Infrastructure Risks and Adaptation Efforts, which found that U.S. energy infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts, especially in areas which often experience severe weather and water shortages. Consequences may include more frequent power outages and fuel shortages. GAO says areas of vulnerability include resource extraction infrastructure, often located near the coast, which is vulnerable to sea level rise; power plants, which may experience interruptions in operations due to severe weather and water shortage; and electricity transmission infrastructure, which is vulnerable to severe weather and stress from rising electricity demand as temperatures increase. The report recommends hardening (improving durability and stability) and resiliency (improving recovery after damaging events) measures to strengthen energy infrastructure. This GAO report was produced upon request.
Report Finds White House Social Cost of Carbon to Be a Low Estimate
On March 13, the Cost of Carbon Project released a new report, “Omitted Damages,” which said the 2013 Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon’s (IWG) estimate of the social cost of carbon (SCC) of $37 should be considered a low number. The Cost of Carbon Project says the scientific studies the IWG estimate is based upon leave out many climate impacts which have additional economic consequences, including various health impacts, food price spikes, the impacts of ocean acidification on marine fisheries, wildfire-associated property losses, inter- and intra-regional violence and conflict from forced migrations, and the impacts of lost biodiversity and species extinction. The IWG was formed in 2010 with participation from 12 federal agencies to develop the SCC, which estimates the cost to future generations of units of carbon pollution emitted over a specified time period. The report, supported by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law, and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), does not suggest an alternate figure for the SCC, but instead points out sectors where new scientific and economic research would help future SCC estimates be more comprehensive. Gernot Wagner, a senior economist at EDF, commented, “What we are doing with this report is pointing the light, guiding scientists toward the kinds of missing damages that ought to be included in the next iteration.”
Carbon Tracker Project Report Says Keystone XL Will Release Significant Emissions
On March 13, Carbon Tracker released a study on Keystone XL pipeline which said cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to Keystone XL would range from 4.9 to 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050, equal to the annual GHG emissions of 1 billion passenger vehicles or 1,400 coal-fired power plants. The report states that Keystone XL would make the oil more than $8 cheaper a barrel, compared to other shipping options such as rail. Study author Mark Fulton commented, “We found there is a significant amount of production that could be enabled by the pipeline with a production cost of $48 to $60 [per barrel of oil].”
In related news on the same day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing examining whether approving Keystone XL is in the national interest of the United States. Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, testified, “Energy vulnerability equals geopolitical vulnerability. [Will the US get oil from Canada] or places far away that don’t share our democratic values and principles?” James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, also testified at the hearing, saying, “We’re screwing our children, grandchildren, all future generations if we think we can use these unconventional fossil fuels.” Secretary of State Kerry testified at a different hearing for the Senate Appropriations Committee on the morning of March 13, and stated that “I am not at liberty to go into my thinking [on Keystone XL] at this point – it is just not appropriate, except to say I am approaching this tabula rasa.”
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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light