Friday, April 22, 2016



On January 16 the World Resources Institute posted and article by Kristin Igusky titled, The Clean Vehicle Revolution: Driving Fuel Savings and Emissions Reductions in the United StatesShe wrote, Americans are on the road to greener vehicles. Over the last five years, the number of SUV models getting at least 25 miles per gallon (mpg) has doubled, while the number of car models achieving at least 40 mpg has increased sevenfold. By 2025, cars and light trucks will be almost twice as efficient as new cars are today, thanks to recent greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT). These lower fuel costs are expected to save drivers an average $3,400 to $5,000 over the life of the vehicle, compared with 2016 cars and trucks.”
“While fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrids are taking off, next-generation vehicles like electric and hydrogen-powered cars and trucks are also approaching their heyday. In fact, the first three years of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle sales significantly outpaced hybrids’ first three years on the market.”
“In addition to federal and state measures like tax credits and the eight-state mandate to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, the 40 percent decline in battery prices over the past four years also pushed clean vehicles forward. Electric vehicle battery prices are likely to drop even further—Tesla believes that its “gigafactory” will drive prices down another 30 percent by 2017 (or possibly sooner). This could culminate with electric vehicles becoming cost competitive with more conventional vehicles in the early 2020s, which the Department of Energy predicts.”
“Continued fuel economy improvements will also help enhance U.S. energy security and improve air quality. The National Academy of Sciences found that reducing light-duty vehicle CO2 emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 could yield $670 billion-$2.3 trillion in net savings due to reduced fuel costs. However, additional policies and programs are needed to accelerate the technological progress and infrastructure improvements needed to achieve a goal like this. (emphasis added) For example:
  • Public and private funding can help increase the number of alternative fuel stations, such as electricity and hydrogen, to give drivers a sense of security that their car won’t lose its charge before getting to a recharging station. This type of investment would also provide the certainty auto companies need to commit to alternative-fuel vehicle manufacturing.
  • Federal and state regulations or mandates could help improve charging options by eliminating barriers to access, such as ensuring all charging stations are public as opposed to private networks. They can also help utilities to use energy stored in electric vehicle batteries as a backup source of power for renewable energy users, saving money for grid operators and vehicle owners.
  • Congress should increase federal funding for research and development for next-generation technologies to help the United States become a leader in alternative vehicle manufacturing.
  • Federal and state zero-emission vehicle mandates and tax incentives to promote sales of alternative vehicles should be sustained and expanded to bring lower-cost alternative vehicles to market faster.”

NOTE: Utilities use of electric vehicle batteries as a backup source of power for renewable energy sources like solar PV and wind is sometimes called Electric Vehicle Grid Integration (EVGI) or Vehicle to Grid (V2G).  It is capable of making an electrical grid system independent of fossil fuels 99.9% of the time, according to a modeling study on the PJM grid.  It also provides a pathway to a mostly renewable energy-powered transportation system.

On March 22 James Hansen posted a short article on his website titled, Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: The Threat of Irreparable Harm, which was accompanied by his 15-minute video.  The same day he posted an abbreviated verson of the full paper with the same name, written by him and 18 coauthors.  The abstract says:
We use numerical climate simulations, paleoclimate data, and modern observations to study the effect of growing ice melt from Antarctica and Greenland. Meltwater tends to stabilize the ocean column, inducing amplifying feedbacks that increase subsurface ocean warming and ice shelf melting. Cold meltwater and induced dynamical effects cause ocean surface cooling in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic, thus increasing Earth’s energy imbalance and heat flux into most of the global ocean’s surface. Southern Ocean surface cooling, while lower latitudes are warming, increases precipitation on the Southern Ocean, increasing ocean stratification, slowing deepwater formation, and increasing ice sheet mass loss. These feedbacks make ice sheets in contact with the ocean vulnerable to accelerating disintegration. We hypothesize that ice mass loss from the most vulnerable ice, sufficient to raise sea level several meters, is better approximated as exponential than by a more linear response. Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield multi-meter sea level rise in about 50, 100 or 200 years.

NOTE: As Hansen points out, multi-meter sea level rise would inundate most of the world’s major cities and be a catastrophe on a scale unparalleled in human history. Anyone who has children or grandchildren or cares about the future should at least watch the video; more detail can be found in the longer papers.  Hansen is a strong advocate of putting a price on carbon emissions to provide a path to a viable future.

On March 23 ClimateHome published an article by Tim Radford titled, US faces rising tide of climate change refugees.  He wrote,
A study of US counties vulnerable to sea level rise warns that if the coasts are not protected, the movement of people could match the scale of the 20th-century “Great Migration” of African-Americans from the south to the northern states.
Altogether, the new research concludes, more than 13 million people could be affected by a sea level rise of 1.8 metres. This is the high end of climate science projections for sea level rise, but even at the low end a rise of 0.9 metres will put more than 4 million people at risk.
And another study of vulnerability worldwide suggests that, everywhere, the chance of being affected by sea level rise has been underestimated. What matters in such calculations are the concentrations of population in the coastal zones.”
“Finnish scientists report that 1.9 billion people live within 100 kms of the coast and lower than 100 metres above sea level. By 2050, this number will have increased to 2.4 billion, and 500 million will dwell less than 5 metres above the high-tide mark.
Given that the resettlement of one Alaskan coastal village is put at $1m per resident, the cost of such relocation on a scale of millions could reach – at 2014 values – an estimated $14 trillion.”
NOTE: This last estimate refers only the 13 million displaced in the U.S. for a 1.8 meter (about 6 feet) sea level rise - not to the 200 million displaced globally.
E&E (Energy & Environment) Publishing posted an article by Amanda Reilly on March 25 titled, CLIMATE: Top scientists find it hard to make public see riaks.  She wrote:
“Officials and scientists who write and review the nation's chief climate analysis say they are struggling to get across the risks of climate change to policymakers and the public.
Finding ways to portray risks in time scales and language that people understand remains a challenge, they said this week at a two-day meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
And it's as difficult to explain risks on a localized level as it is to show, without facing accusations of fearmongering, that climate change is an existential threat to the human race, they added.”
She points out that the total investment in global energy infrastructure is about $25T, with 80% of it in fossil fuels.  That big of a system is not going to change quickly, but we need to get started now.
The NY TImes for March 30 had an article by Justin Gillis titled, Climate Model Predicts West Antarctic Ice Sheet Could Melt Rapidly.  The article points out that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet rests on rock thousands of feet below sea level.  The combination of warming air above and warming water below could cause to loss of the ice there much sooner that was previously thought.  By the next century it could be contributing a foot per decade to sea level rise.  The research was carried out by Dr. David Pollard at Penn State University and Dr. Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  The new model was able to simulate the observation that 125,000 years ago, during the previous interglacial period, when the global average temperature was about 1 degree higher, sea level was 20-30 feet higher.  The paper, published in Nature, does hold out a glimmer of hope:  A much more vigorous effort to reduce GHG emissions that that envisioned in the Paris agreement might be able to save the West Antarctic Ice from collapse.
The Yale environment360 posted an article on April 4 by Judith L. Mernit titled, With New Tools, a Focus on Urban Methane Leaks.  She wrote, 
“Until recently, little was known about the extent of methane leaking from urban gas distribution pipes and its impact on global warming. But recent advances in detecting this potent greenhouse gas are pushing U.S. states to begin addressing this long-neglected problem.”
Battered by storms and weakened with age, the natural gas distribution pipes of urban New Jersey have long been in need of repair. And for a long time, the state’s largest utility, Public Service and Enterprise Group (PSE&G), has wanted to replace them. The problem is that pipelines cost upwards of $1.3 million per mile, and the utility owns 4,330 miles of them. Replacing it all would cost at least $6 billion, not to mention decades of work.
In December 2014, however, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) approached the utility with a solution. Using new technology that can trace methane emissions back to their sources with great precision, researchers could home in on the highest-risk pipes, allowing the utility to prioritize repairs along the worst offending lines. EDF and its collaborators, from Colorado State University and Google Earth Outreach, then spent six months gathering data the utility could use.”

Once the leakiest sections of pipelines  were identified, the utility could replace only 510 miles at a reduced cost of $1.6 B.  Leaking methane causes risks of fires and explosions, wastes money, and increases the concentration of a powerful greenhouse gas.  The city of Boston, which also has aging pipelines, loses an estimated $90 million a year from leaking pipes. Leaking methane in Massachusetts accounts for 10% of the state’s GHG emissions.  A wellhead failure last year on a methane storage tank near Los Angeles caused the emission of over 100,000 tons of methane - the global warming equivalent of the CO2 emissions from burning 900 million gallons of gasoline!
The new technology for finding leaks is based on what is called a “cavity ring-down spectrometer.”

NOTE: It was methane leaking up in 2010 through the drilling pipe on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that caught fire and exploded, killing 11 men on the rig and causing one of the worst oil spills in history - an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil.

The NY TImes for April 5 had an article by Richard Conniff titled, Our Natural History, Endangered.  He writes: When people talk about natural history museums, they almost always roll out the well-worn descriptive “dusty,” to the great exasperation of a curator I know.”
“Worse, this rumored dustiness reinforces the widespread notion that natural history museums are about the past — just a place to display bugs and brontosaurs. Visitors may go there to be entertained, or even awe-struck, but they are often completely unaware that curators behind the scenes are conducting research into climate change, species extinction and other pressing concerns of our day. That lack of awareness is one reason these museums are now routinely being pushed to the brink. Even the National Science Foundation, long a stalwart of federal support for these museums, announced this month that it was suspending funding for natural history collections as it conducts a yearlong budget review.”
“It gets worse: A new Republican governor last year shut down the renowned Illinois State Museum, ostensibly to save the state $4.8 million a year. The museum pointed out that this would actually cost $33 million a year in lost tourism revenue and an untold amount in grants. But the closing went through, endangering a trove of 10 million artifacts, from mastodon bones to Native American tools, collected over 138 years, and now just languishing in the shuttered building.”
“The pandering can be insidious, too. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, which treats visitors to a virtual ride down a hydraulic fracturing well, recently made headlines for avoiding explicit references to climate change. Other museums omit scientific information on evolution. We don’t need people to come in here and reject us,” Carolyn Sumners, a vice president at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, explained to The Dallas Morning News.” (emphasis added)
NOTE: In some cases museums change or drop exhibits because of the concerns of wealthy donors whose investments might lose value if the truth were known.  Recently scientists urged museums of science and natural history to cut ties with billionaire David Koch because of his ties to fossil fuel industries.
The Electricity Markets and Policy Group of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently issued its U.S. Renewables Portfolio Standards: 2016 Annual Status Report.  Here are some selected highlights and infographics from the report:
  • RPS policies collectively apply to 55% of total U.S. retail electricity sales
  • Significant recent policy revisions include new or increased RPS targets in California, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and New York (in development), while Kansas replaced its RPS with a voluntary goal
  • More than half of all growth in renewable electricity (RE) generation (60%) and capacity (57%) since 2000 is associated with state RPS requirements, though other drivers also likely contributed to that growth (infographic)
  • Wind energy has been the primary form (64%) of all RPS-driven RE capacity growth to-date, but solar was the largest source (69%) of RPS builds in 2015
  • Total RPS demand will double from 215 TWh in 2015 to 431 TWh in 2030; U.S. non-hydro RE generation would need to reach 12.1% of retail sales to keep pace (infographic)
  • RPS demand could require an additional 60 GW of RE capacity by 2030, roughly a 50% increase from current non-hydro RE capacity (114 GW through 2015) (infographic)
  • Achievement of RPS requirements has thus far been high, with states collectively meeting roughly 95% of their interim RPS targets in recent years (infographic)
  • RPS compliance costs totaled $2.6 billion in 2014, averaging $12/MWh-RE and equating to 1.3% of average retail electricity bills; though costs rose from 2013, future growth will be capped by RPS cost containment mechanisms in most states (infographic).  
Here are some of the 29 states with current RPS goals, listed in order of decreasing targets, and giving their target dates:
HI, 100% by 2025; VT, 75% by 2032; CA 50% by 2030; OR, 50% by 2040 (large IOUs); ME, 40% by 2017; NY, 30% by 2015; DE, 25% by 2025.  A number of southern states and some others have no RPS.

The Maine coastal paper The Record ran an article on April 14 by Holly Ramer titled, Oyster hatchery sows pearls of wisdom on climate change.  It reported that Bill Mook, who raises millions of tiny seed oysters for growers along the East Coast, started having problems growing oyster larvae in the hatchery five or six years ago.  Peers on the West Coast who had experienced similar problems figured out that the culprit was ocean acidification.  As the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere increases, the ocean dissolves more, forming more carbonic acid (H2CO3), and lowering the pH as the ocean become more acidic.  This makes it more difficult for shellfish and other sea creatures (like coral polyps) to form calcium carbonate.

NOTE: High ocean acidity during a time 56 million years ago known as the PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum) knocked out the phytoplankton at the base of the oceanic food chain, causing a global extinction event.  You can read more about the PETM below.

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. 

pastedGraphic.pdfHouse Republicans Form Group to Support Clean Energy

On March 15, Politico reported that a group of 12 House Republicans launched a new group to support clean energy, called the Energy, Innovation and Environmental Working Group. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) established a similar coalition last year. The House Republican group says it will work for "market-based reforms that will grow America's economy, promote cleaner energy production, and preserve the quality of our air and water." The group has yet to endorse any specific policies, but Politico talked to a source who said climate change, national security, jobs and renewable energy investment were all being discussed. Members include Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Joe Heck (R-NV), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Tom Reed (R-NY) and Bob Dold (R-IL).

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_1.pdfObama Administration Offering $65.8 Million to Support Economic Development in Coal Communities

On March 17, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced $65.8 million in funding to support economic development in traditionally coal-reliant communities that are seeing negative impacts from the decreasing use of coal. Any community that has coal-related manufacturing or logistics supply chains, mining, power plants, or transportation can apply for funding, which will be administered by the Obama Administration Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. Funds will go towards projects that diversify local jobs and economies, partnerships to attract new investments in these communities, and increasing capacity and technical assistance to foster economic growth.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_2.pdfChina Releases its Five-Year Plan and Outlines it Emissions Fight

On March 17, China released its 13th Five-Year Plan, which sets key goals for 2016-2020, including a commitment to "implement and enhance" its climate strategy. The new goals include a push to cap energy consumption at 4.3 billion metric tons of "coal-equivalent," fire 1.8 million steel and coal workers, grow the economy by 6.5-7 percent, cut sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions 15 percent, have all cities meet "good" or "excellent" air quality standards 80 percent of the time, and reduce carbon intensity 18 percent from 2015 levels, all by 2020. The lay-offs in steel and coal will prepare China to work toward "deindustrialization and urbanization," Premier Li stated.

For more information see:

Polling Shows U.S. Concern over Global Warming at Eight-Year High

On March 18, new polling released by Gallup indicated that 64 percent of Americans are worried a "great deal" or a "fair amount" about global warming, the highest level of concern in eight years and an increase from last year's level of 55 percent. The survey, taken March 2-6, also indicated that 59 percent of Americans think global warming's effects are already being felt, an increase from 55 percent who thought so last year. Only 10 percent of those surveyed said that global warming's effects will "never happen," a decrease from 16 percent last year. Finally, the polling found that concern with global warming increased across party lines, with 40 percent of Republicans saying they are concerned over global warming, up from 31 percent last year, and 84 percent of Democrats expressing concern, up from 78 percent last year.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_3.pdfCalifornia Pension Fund to Require Corporations to Place Climate Experts on Government Boards

On March 14, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest public pension fund in the United States with a valuation of $288 billion, voted to require the companies it invests in to place experts in climate change risk management on their governing boards. "Updating our requirements ensures that corporate boards have the expertise and competence to adequately understand and address the challenges and risks imposed by climate change," California Controller Betty Yee said in a statement. CalPERS is the first pension fund to put in place this kind of requirement.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_4.pdfGlobal Emissions Not Tied to Global Economic Growth, IEA Says

On February 16, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that worldwide economic growth in 2015 did not result in increased greenhouse gas emissions. Preliminary estimates from IEA showed carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the energy sector remained flat in 2015, even as the world economy grew by over three percent. "We now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth," commented IEA executive director Fatih Birol. IEA data indicated that the increasing use of renewable energy generation was critical in avoiding energy sector emissions growth, with renewable energy making up about 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015. According to IEA, the only other past years when CO2 emissions fell or remained the same were years of worldwide economic weakness.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_5.pdfNASA and NOAA Data Shows February Hottest on Record by Large Margin

On March 12, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released data showing that February 2016 was the warmest month in recorded history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed this finding on March 17. NASA found that February's global average surface temperature was 2.34 degrees F (1.35 degrees C) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 average, the largest deviation from historic recorded average temperatures NASA has ever found. NOAA, which uses a different calculation, found that February's average global temperature was 2.18 degrees F (1.21 degrees C) above the 20th century average, the largest deviation from historic average temperatures that NOAA has ever found. "We are now hurtling at a frightening pace toward the globally agreed maximum of 2C warming over pre-industrial levels," commented Dr. Jeff Masters and Dr. Bob Henson on WunderBlog.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_6.pdfSea Level Rise Threatens Millions in the United States

On March 14, a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change showed that if sea levels rise by three feet (0.9 meters) by 2100, 4.2 million Americans will be affected by flooding. If sea levels rise 5.9 feet (1.8 m) by 2100, 13.1 million people would be affected - three times more than current flooding projections estimate. The study authors found that previous studies of the number of people impacted by sea level rise failed to account for population growth, and therefore significantly underestimated the size of the problem. Study author Jason Evans said, "Counties and cities need to look at their vulnerabilities and be thinking, in 30 years what kind of infrastructure am I going to be maintaining."

For more information see:

Two New Studies Show the Cooling Effect of Aerosols Helps Global Warming

On March 14, two studies released in the journal Nature Geoscience showed evidence that climate change could be amplified as countries address aerosol pollutants, which are industrial emissions of fine particles or drops that accumulate in the atmosphere and block solar radiation, producing a cooling effect. According to the studies, aerosols' cooling effect has "masked" about one-third of the global warming from greenhouse gases over the last 50 years. Aerosols have a short lifetime in the atmosphere, and only consistent pollution has kept the cooling effect going. As countries reduce emissions, "regional brightening" happens and solar radiation increases, increasing regional warming. One of the studies found that European reductions of aerosol pollutants caused up to 0.5 degrees C warming in the Arctic from 1980 to 2005.

For more information see:  

 NOTE: As China and other large coal-burning developing countries clean up their sulfur and particulate emissions, the rate of global warming is likely to increase - unless CO2 emissions are also substantially decreased.

pastedGraphic_7.pdfSenators Clash over US Contribution to Green Climate Fund

On March 18, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) wrote a letter asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to "provide funding" for the United Nations Green Climate Fund (GCF) in fiscal year 2017. Their letter stands in sharp contrast to a letter from 26 Republican Senators sent the same day to the Appropriations Committee to request that it stop future transfers of U.S. funds to the GCF. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) led the second group, which included Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-TX) and James Inhofe (R-OK). The Green Climate Fund works to support climate resilience and adaptation efforts in developing nations with support from developed countries. The United States has pledged to support it with $3 billion, $500 million of which was sent recently. Last year, Senators Kirk and Collins cosponsored an amendment to support the GCF.

For more information see:

 NOTE: A lack of U.S. support for the Green Climate Fund - money intended to help poor developing countries adapt to climate change - is unconscionable, since the U.S. is the country that by far has put the most CO2 into the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, while poor countries are least responsible.

pastedGraphic_8.pdfMaryland Passes Bills to Raise State RPS and Increase Targets for Emissions Cuts

On March 21, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 92-43 to raise the state's renewable portfolio standard from a 20 percent renewable energy generation target by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020. The bill, called the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2016 (HB 1106), will now go to the Maryland Senate. HB 1106 is projected to create 1,300 megawatts (MW) of new renewable energy generation in Maryland, with an accompanying 1,000 new solar jobs and 4,600 wind jobs. The bill will help Maryland accomplish its probable new emissions reduction goal of 40 percent cuts in Maryland greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2030, enshrined in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016 which was sent to Governor Larry Hogan (R) last week to be signed into law.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_9.pdfAustralia Announces A$1 Billion in Funding for Clean Energy Innovation

On March 23, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the creation of a new clean energy innovation fund, which will annually put A$1 billion (US$761.60 million) toward "cutting edge" clean energy technologies and businesses. Turnbull stated that the money would ensure Australia is playing its part in "cracking the very hard problems, the challenging technical difficulties that we face in terms of reducing emissions." Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the fund would be "investing in storage, in new battery technology, in smart grids, in some of the exciting solar visions that people have hoped for and imagined for Australia."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_10.pdf95 Percent of Meteorologists Say Climate Change Real, Caused by Humans

On March 25, a new study by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications revealed that more than 95 percent of meteorologists say climate change is happening, and more than 80 percent of them say human activities are contributing to it. Ed Maibach, lead author of the survey, stated, "[It] does appear that more meteorologists are now more convinced that human-caused climate change is happening. That is exactly what one would expect, of course, given the trajectory of our changing climate and the ever increasing [state] of the science." The meteorologists said they were increasingly convinced by new studies, the scientific consensus on climate change, and evidence of climate change near them.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_11.pdfHealthier Diets with Less Meat Emit Less Greenhouse Gases

On March 21, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provided new evidence of the environmental and health benefits of shifting to a plant-based diet. The current food system releases more than a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions, but the study found that if people ate less or no meat, food sector emissions could by reduced 29 to 70 percent by 2050, and up to $700 billion in healthcare costs and five billion deaths could be avoided. Vegan diets release the least greenhouse gases, followed by diets that cut out red meat and poultry. "For a high probability of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees C, we need urgent and dramatic shifts toward plant-based diets," said Brent Kim, an agriculture and climate researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_12.pdfCarbon Emissions at Highest Level in 66 Million Years

On March 21, a study released in Nature Geoscience showed that the current rate of carbon emissions is greater than any in the past 66 million years, surpassing the largest known natural carbon emissions surge (known as the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM), 56 million years ago. The study found that the current carbon emissions rate is about 10 billion metric tons annually, much higher than the historic rate of 1.1 billion annual metric tons rate which triggered the PETM global warming event. PETM saw a five degrees C (nine degrees F) temperature rise over 4,000 years, a much slower change than the one currently underway, as scientists project temperatures could rise 4.8 degrees C by 2100. Lead author Richard Zeebe at the University of Hawaii said, "Our results suggest that future ocean acidification and possible effects on marine calcifying organisms will be more severe than during the PETM."

For more information see:

NOTE: While carbon emissions are the highest the earth has seen in the past 66 million years, the CO2 concentration is not yet as high as it was 56 million years ago, during the PETM.  That was long before there were any humans, who are now responsible for the very high emissions rate.  During the PETM there was a global oceanic extinction event, which we are now capable of causing within the next few centuries.

pastedGraphic_13.pdfWMO Report Says 2015's Extreme Weather Is Glimpse into the Future

On March 21, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its annual Statement on the Status of the Climate for 2015. The WMO found that 2015 broke previous global average surface temperature records by a large margin, with a global average temperature 0.76 degrees Celsius greater than the 1961-1990 average. The WMO report also notes the extreme weather events that took place last year, including increased tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean, torrential monsoon rains leading to flooding in India, and severe heat waves and drought in South Africa. The report concluded that 2015 is likely reflective of what we can expect from the climate going forward. "Our planet is sending a powerful message to world leaders to sign and implement the Paris agreement," commented WMO chief Petteri Taalas.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_14.pdfUnited States and China Commit to Signing Paris Deal this April

On March 31, the United States and China released a joint statement affirming their commitment to sign last December's United Nations (UN) deal on climate change at the coming April 22 (coincidentally, Earth Day) signing event in New York. Both nations encouraged other countries to sign onto the deal as well. To come into effect, the Paris agreement needs a minimum of 55 signatures which cover 55 percent of global emissions. Together, the United States and China account for over 40 percent of global emissions, making their early commitment critical for the deal's success. White House senior adviser Brian Deese commented, "Our hope is that as that process proceeds, you will see growing momentum toward having this agreement enter into force early and swiftly."

For more information see:

 pastedGraphic_15.pdfUnited States and China Commit to Signing Paris Deal this April

On March 31, the United States and China released a joint statement affirming their commitment to sign last December's United Nations (UN) deal on climate change at the coming April 22 (coincidentally, Earth Day) signing event in New York. Both nations encouraged other countries to sign onto the deal as well. To come into effect, the Paris agreement needs a minimum of 55 signatures which cover 55 percent of global emissions. Together, the United States and China account for over 40 percent of global emissions, making their early commitment critical for the deal's success. White House senior adviser Brian Deese commented, "Our hope is that as that process proceeds, you will see growing momentum toward having this agreement enter into force early and swiftly."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_16.pdfMassive Wind Power Transmission Line Earns DOE Approval

On March 25, the Department of Energy (DOE) approved the Plains and Eastern Clean Line, a proposed 705-mile transmission line to move 4,000 megawatts of wind power generated in Oklahoma and Texas to the southeastern United States. This is the first time DOE has used a 2005 statute to approve an interstate project over state objections. The developer, Clean Line Energy LLC, plans to start construction in 2017 on what company president Michael Skelly calls the "largest clean energy infrastructure project in the nation." DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz commented, "Moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is in high demand is essential for building the grid of the future." Clean Line Energy LLC plans to have the new line in service by 2020.

For more information see:

Coalition of States Forms to Support US Climate Action

On March 29, a new coalition of 25 states, cities and countries led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was announced at a one-day climate change conference. The coalition will work together on climate-related initiatives, such as defending the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) air regulations, including those on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. "With gridlock and dysfunction gripping Washington, it is up to the states to lead on the generation-defining issue of climate change," said Schneiderman.

For more information:

  pastedGraphic_17.pdfNew States Join Investigation of ExxonMobil Over Climate Change Denial

On March 29, Attorneys General from Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands announced that they would be joining New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in investigating whether ExxonMobil has been lying to the public and its shareholders for decades about climate change. The investigation, which Sneiderman began in November, was prompted by 2015 reports from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that ExxonMobil's climate change-doubting statements were out of line with its own in-house climate research. ExxonMobil's actions are being compared to tobacco companies' denial of science linking smoking to cancer, which was found to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. Executive Director of May Boeve commented, "With more states jumping on board, these investigations are sure to generate some waves." California began a separate investigation into ExxonMobil earlier this year.

For more information:

pastedGraphic_18.pdfMaryland Legislature Setting Ambitious Emissions Goal

On March 30, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill 97-39 that would set a new, more ambitious state target to reduce greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2030, an increase from the existing target of 25 percent reductions from 2006 levels by 2020. Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Mike Tidwell commented, "This bold, and strikingly bipartisan, commitment to stronger climate action will help protect Maryland's economy, health, and increasingly flooded shoreline." The measure now awaits Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's signature.

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 Poll Finds Partisan Split in Thoughts on Climate Change Causes

On March 28, a new Gallup Poll was released showing that 69 percent of Americans agreed with recent scientific reports that 2015 set heat records. The same poll of 1,019 adults found that 49 percent thought human-caused climate change was the cause, with 46 percent saying the record heat was from natural changes. Gallup reports that similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats were aware of reports that 2015 set heat records, but that there are "striking partisan differences in terms of belief in the reports' accuracy," with 84 percent of Democrats persuaded by the scientists and just 52 percent of Republicans. The poll also found that young adults (18-34) were more likely to find the science credible than older adults (55 and up).

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pastedGraphic_19.pdfTask Force on Climate Financial Risk Releases First Report

On April 1, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFC), created in December 2015 by the Financial Stability Board, released its "phase 1" report outlining the scope and objectives for the Task Force's coming guidance on how companies should report climate-related financial risk. "The TCFD's plans represent a robust and comprehensive approach to providing investors the information they needs," commented Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR). The Financial Stability Board's member organizations include 204 long-term investors who manage more than $30 trillion in assets.

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pastedGraphic_20.pdfAntarctic Melting Could Double Sea Level Rise

On March 30, a study was published in Nature detailing how the melting of the West Antarctica ice sheet, which is larger than Mexico, could by itself raise sea levels up to three feet by the end of the century. Combined with glacial melt from other areas and the thermal expansion of ocean water, the study estimates the world could experience sea level rise of five to six feet by 2100. Beyond 2100, the West Antarctic ice sheet could contribute to a rate of sea level rise of about one foot per decade. "We are not saying this is definitely going to happen," said study co-author David Pollard from Penn State University, "but I think we are pointing out that there's a danger, and it should receive a lot more attention." Previous sea level rise estimates had assumed there would be minimal ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica.

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pastedGraphic_21.pdfU.S. Government Publishes Report on Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health

On April 4, the White House released a report assessing climate change-related public health risks over the next century. The research found that climate change impacts such as rising temperatures and extreme weather will lead to greater air pollution, more premature deaths from heat waves, longer seasons for tick and mosquito-borne illnesses, increased exposure to water contaminants, greater food insecurity, and associated depression and stress. These effects are worse for the world's vulnerable populations - children, older adults, pregnant women, immigrant groups, some communities of color, those with chronic medical conditions and low-income communities. Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said this report is the most comprehensive scientific study yet of climate change's human health impacts.

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  Republican Maryland Governor Signs Bill to Cut Emissions into Law

On March 4, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) signed into law The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016. The bipartisan law sets a target to cut statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 2006 levels by 2030, making Maryland one of the most ambitious states in the country on GHG emissions reductions. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) estimates that the new law will create 26,000 to 33,000 new jobs and add $2.5-$3.5 billion to the economy, by 2020. MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles applauded the action, stating, "The bill reflects Governor Hogan's commitment to finding common ground for the common good . . . When we do this right, we create a climate of opportunity for balanced environmental and economic progress that also boosts energy security and community resilience."

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   pastedGraphic_22.pdfClimate Change Threatens $2.5 Trillion of Global Assets

On March 4, a new study by the London School of Economics was published in Nature Climate Change, showing that if the world continues along a "business-as-usual" emissions pathway without significant reductions, $2.5 trillion of global financial asset values could be gone by 2100. The study notes that there is also a small chance (in the 99th percentile) that up to $24.2 trillion in asset values are at risk. According to the study, climate change-exacerbated droughts, floods, heatwaves and related damages and dislocation will decrease economic growth and diminish the performance of bonds and stocks. Study lead author Simon Deitz commented, "It makes financial sense to a risk-neutral investor to cut emissions, and even more so to the risk-averse."

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New Report Shows 21 Countries Have Decoupled Economic Growth From Emissions

On April 5, a study by the World Resources Institute found 21 countries have decoupled economic growth from carbon emissions (meaning that their economies grew while emissions diminished) in the past 15 years, including the United States. The countries are mostly from Europe, but not all of them have advanced economies - Bulgaria, Romania and Uzbekistan also successfully decoupled emissions from economic growth. The drivers behind the decoupling vary by country, but include the use of carbon taxes, (emphasis added) increased renewable energy power generation, and fuel-switching from coal to natural gas power generation. Lead researcher Nate Aden, commented, "It's really exciting, and it suggests that countries can sever the historic link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions." Although 21 countries have achieved emissions decoupling, the study shows more than 170 countries still have not. The study states that decoupling "needs to be scaled up rapidly" to stop global average temperatures from increasing by more than two degrees C.

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  pastedGraphic_23.pdfScientific Panel Warns that Immediate Action Needed to Combat Ocean Acidification

On April 4, a panel of 20 scientists convened by the California Ocean Science Trust released a report warning that carbon dioxide emissions are acidifying waters off the North American West Coast, and if the process isn't slowed there will be "devastating ecological consequences" in the coming decades. When carbon dioxide reacts with seawater, it forms carbonic acid, lowering the water's pH, and reduces the concentration of carbonate ions, which are critical to the construction of some marine organisms' shells and skeletons. The report found that ocean circulation in the Pacific leads to disproportionately high levels of acidic seawater along the West Coast, causing high mortality in shellfish and hurting associated industries. The report highlights five local and regional approaches that can help, although it states the problem is global and "will require global solutions."

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NOTE: The only practical way to combat ocean acidification is to substantially reduce CO2 emissions through a combination of energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuels by renewable energy sources.  For more about the PETM see the earlier article pastedGraphic_24.pdfCarbon Emissions at Highest Level in 66 Million Years.

pastedGraphic_25.pdfSenators Lift Hold on Bipartisan Energy Bill

On April 13, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and several others lifted a procedural hold on a bipartisan energy bill (S. 2012), after senators came to an agreement over Stabenow's proposed amendment to provide $600 million in assistance to Flint, Michigan, which is suffering from lead contaminated water. The energy bill, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), would support energy efficiency measures and upgrades to the aging U.S. energy infrastructure. The bill, which could be the first major energy bill passed since 2007, has strong support from both sides of the aisle, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calling it "something very important and very much worth doing for the American people." The bill could come up for consideration this week.

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pastedGraphic_26.pdf155 Countries to Sign United Nations Climate Agreement

On April 14, the United Nations (UN) released a list of 155 countries that have formally or informally confirmed that they will sign the Paris agreement on climate change this April 22, 2016 in New York, a record for the number of countries that will sign an international deal on its opening day. Of these countries, eight have also confirmed they will provide the UN with an "instrument of ratification" that day, signaling their consent to be legally bound by the deal. The UN notes that the information is subject to change. All 193 member nations of the UN were invited to sign the Paris agreement, and more than 60 heads of state have indicated they will attend the event.

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pastedGraphic_27.pdfInvestors to Ask ExxonMobil to Evaluate its Climate Risk

On April 12, more than 30 investment organizations with over 6 trillion in collective assets stated their intent to vote in support of a shareholder resolution asking ExxonMobil to disclose the risks climate change poses to its business. The investors, convened by nonprofit Ceres, include New York City Pension Funds, CalPERS, BNP Paribas Investment Partners, and Church Commissioners for England. The shareholder resolution asks ExxonMobil to "stress test its capital planning and business strategies for resilience in line with the globally agreed upon target to limit climate change to well below 2 degrees Celsius." Last month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that ExxonMobil must include the resolution at its upcoming annual meeting on May 25, 2016.

In related news on April 14, ExxonMobil filed a suit in an attempt to block a subpoena from the U.S. Virgin Islands, which asks Exxon for 40 years of documents related to climate change. The Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker filed the request under an anti-racketeering law, saying the company committed fraud by denying the science of climate change when its in-house climate research showed it was happening.

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pastedGraphic_28.pdfMajor Coal Mining Company Files for Bankruptcy

On April 13, Peabody Energy (BTU), the world's largest private coal mining company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a St. Louis Federal court. The coal producer has accumulated an estimated $10.1 billion in debt after four straight years of reported losses, including a loss of $2 billion in 2015. According to Peabody estimates, 50 coal companies have filed for bankruptcy recently, due in part to low natural gas prices, environmental regulations, and a slowing Chinese economy. Amy Schwetz, Chief Financial Officer at Peabody, commented that the "vast majority of assets that are producing today will produce for the foreseeable future . . . It's much more of a balance sheet restructuring than anything else."

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World's Largest Wealth Fund Divests From 52 Coal-Related Companies

On April 14, Norway's sovereign wealth fund pulled its investments out of 52 companies that qualified as more than 30 percent active in the coal industry, due to new ethical guidelines passed in the Norwegian parliament last year and which came into effect February 1st. The fund divested from stocks and bonds in coal-related companies worth about $2.3 billion, and says it will divest from more companies by the end of the year, following a continued review. The Norwegian fund is financed by the country's oil revenues, and worth about $860 billion. The companies it has divested from are predominantly from the United States and China, and include Peabody Energy, China Coal Energy, and AES.

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pastedGraphic_29.pdfFederal Court Rules in Favor of Children in Climate Change Lawsuit

On April 8, Eugene, Oregon Federal District Court Judge Thomas Coffin ruled in favor of a group of young plaintiffs and Dr. James Hansen, who are suing the fossil fuel industry and the Federal government for failing to protect future generations from climate change. The group of 21 plaintiffs, ranging in age from eight to 19, say the Federal government is violating their constitutional and public trust rights by encouraging and enabling the widespread use of fossil fuels. Under the notion of public trust, the government needs to preserve natural resources like waterways and beaches for public benefit. The plaintiffs argue that the climate is part of the public trust and should be protected as well. The litigation was supported by Our Children's Trust and Earth Guardians. This case is one of many currently going through domestic and international courts.

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pastedGraphic_30.pdf120 Faith Groups Call on Congress to Appropriate for the Green Climate Fund

On April 11, more than 120 faith-based and religious groups wrote a letter to Congress asking them to approve President Obama's suggested $750 million contribution to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an international fund to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change. In the letter, the groups called the GCF a "new way forward in climate finance to build resilience and stability," and said Congress should use its leadership role to support it. While lawmakers did not appropriate President Obama's $500 million budget request for the GCF last year, the President was still able to find funds to make a $500 million initial GCF contribution this March. In total, the United States has pledged to contribute $3 billion to the GCF.

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pastedGraphic_31.pdfGreenland Ice Sheet Is Melting Early and Fast

On April 11, researchers from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) found that 12 percent of the Greenland ice sheet was melting on April 11, after beginning to melt the day prior. This is the earliest recorded ice melt in Greenland, beating the previous record by more than three weeks. Scientists attribute the record-setting ice melt to a combination of warm temperatures and rain from an unusual weather system, as well as climate change. Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), who also recorded Greenland's early melting, said, "This kind of freakish warm spell is another piece in the puzzle . . . we're getting these things more often and that's an indication of climate change." Meier says that over the course of the next century, ice melt in Greenland could raise sea levels a couple feet.

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pastedGraphic_32.pdfSmall Island States Are Drying Out

On April 11, a study published in Nature Climate Change revealed that under a high-emissions scenario, more than 73 percent of small island nations will become more arid by mid-century, due to increased evaporation of freshwater. Out of an estimated 18 million people living in small island nations, 16 million will be affected by reduced water availability by 2050. The study authors said that small islands have been "computationally disenfranchised" because they are generally too small to register in global climate models, leaving them with a lack of information about how climate change will impact them specifically. These small nations, including Easter Island, Mauritius, French Polynesia and the Marshall Islands, are also threatened existentially from sea level rise.

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

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