Thursday, January 19, 2017



I just found an old but excellent article by Justin Gillis in the NY Times for Nov. 28, 2015 titled, Short Answers to Hard Questions about Climate Change.  Here are the questions:

  1. How much is the planet heating up?
  2. How much trouble are we in?
  3. Is there anything I can do?
  4. What’s the optimistic scenario?
  5. Will reducing meat in my diet help the climate?
  6. What’s the worst-case scenario?
  7. Will a tech breakthrough help us?
  8. How much will the seas rise?
  9. Are the predictions reliable?
  10. Why do people question climate change?
  11. Is crazy weather tied to climate change?
  12. Will anyone benefit from global warming?
  13. Is there any reason for hope?
  14. How does agriculture affect climate change?
  15. Will the seas rise evenly across the planet?
  16. Is it really all about carbon?

Here are some partial answers; see the article for more:

  1. Scientists believe most and probably all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. If emissions continue unchecked, they say the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population.
  2. … if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities.
  3. You can reduce your own carbon footprint in lots of simple ways, and most of them will save you money.  In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.
  4. … in the view of the experts, simply banking on a rosy scenario without any real plan would be dangerous. They believe the only way to limit the risks is to limit emissions.
  5. That is actually hard to say, which is one reason scientists are urging that emissions be cut; they want to limit the possibility of any worst-case scenario coming to pass. Perhaps the greatest fear is a collapse of food production, accompanied by escalating prices and mass starvation. 
  6. People like Bill Gates have argued that crossing our fingers and hoping for technological miracles is not a strategy — we have to spend the money that would make these things more likely to happen.
  7. The ocean is rising at a rate of about a foot per century.  … the crucial issue is probably not how much the oceans are going to rise, but how fast. And on that point, scientists are pretty much flying blind. Their best information comes from studying Earth’s history, and it suggests that the rate can on occasion hit a foot per decade, (emphasis added) which can probably be thought of as the worst-case scenario. A rate even half that would force rapid retreat from the coasts and, some experts think, throw human society into crisis.
  8. Most of the attacks on climate science are coming from libertarians and other political conservatives who do not like the policies that have been proposed to fight global warming. Instead of negotiating over those policies and trying to make them more subject to free-market principles, they have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.
  9. Scientists have been warning since the 1980s that strong policies were needed to limit emissions. Those warnings were ignored, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have since built up to potentially dangerous levels. So the hour is late.   What is still largely missing in all this are the voices of ordinary citizens. Because politicians have a hard time thinking beyond the next election, they tend to tackle hard problems only when the public rises up and demands it.  (emphasis added)
  10. Many forest experts at the Paris climate talks in late 2015 considered the pledge as ambitious, but possible. And they said it was crucial that consumers keep up the pressure on companies from whom they buy products, from soap to ice cream.
  11. The greenhouse gases being released by human activity are often called “carbon emissions,” just for shorthand. That is because the two most important of the gases, carbon dioxide and methane, contain carbon. Many other gases also trap heat near the Earth’s surface, and many human activities cause the release of such gases to the atmosphere. Not all of these actually contain carbon, but they have all come to be referred to by the same shorthand.  When you hear about carbon taxes, carbon trading and so on, these are just shorthand descriptions of methods designed to limit greenhouse emissions (emphasis added) or to make them more expensive so that people will be encouraged to conserve fuel.
On December 15, 2016, Bloomberg Tech published an article by Tom Randall titled, World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That’s Cheaper Than Wind.  
A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.” 
This has happened in isolated projects in the past: an especially competitive auction in the Middle East, for example, resulting in record-cheap solar costs. But now unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.” 
This year has seen a remarkable run for solar power. Auctions, where private companies compete for massive contracts to provide electricity, established record after record for cheap solar power. It started with a contract in January to produce electricity for $64 per megawatt-hour in India; then a deal in August pegging $29.10 per megawatt hour in Chile. That’s record-cheap electricity—roughly half the price of competing coal power.”
NOTE: The  above Bloomberg New Energy Finance has a short video titled, The Peak Oil Myth and the Rise of the Electric Car - well worth watching.
Around Dec. 18 an article was posted in The Onion titled, ExxonMobil CEO Relieved It Finally Too Late To Do Anything About Climate Change.  It said,
Saying the multinational oil and gas conglomerate had “really dodged a bullet,” ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told reporters Wednesday how relieved he was now that it was finally too late to do anything about climate change.
The 64-year-old petroleum executive, who acknowledged that throughout his career he had feared the public might take action to curb rising temperatures by imposing emissions restrictions or mandating a switch to alternative energy, said he was just happy that the window for avoiding the planet’s environmental destruction had closed, and that the entire industry was now free to carry on as usual(emphasis added)
“I was really worried for a while there that some kind of law would be passed to stop us from releasing all those hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, but I guess not,” said Tillerson, describing how he felt as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders now that catastrophic climate change was an inescapable certainty. “Seriously, it’s a huge load off. There were a number of real tense years after the recycling movement picked up momentum when we thought people might all turn away from fossil fuels next. But it’s just so reassuring to know that we passed the point where it’s no longer possible to stop global warming through environmental regulation or green energy or anything like that.”
“Now I can finally just relax,” he continued. “This really makes things so much easier.”
The CEO remarked that, back when it was still possible to halt the devastating effects of climate change, he constantly feared that the energy industry would be forced to make costly concessions toward sustainability, perhaps investing in expensive technology that would reduce oil and gas companies’ environmental impact, and thereby severely harm his corporation’s bottom line.”
“And thank goodness,” he added. “Everyone’s complete hopelessness about the whole situation really is the best thing that could have happened to us.”

NOTE:  The Onion is well known for its wry humor, so don’t take this literally.

The Nation on Dec. 21 posted and article by Daphne Wysham titled, This City Just Banned Virtually All New Dirty-Energy Infrastructure.  She wrote:  
“On December 14, the city council in Portland, Oregon, voted unanimously” for “a groundbreaking new zoning ordinance that effectively bans all new fossil-fuel-export infrastructure within the city’s limits—including new port facilities for shipping coal, and holding tanks for oil and natural gas—and prevents existing facilities from expanding. The vote marks a hard-fought victory for local activists and environmental groups. And, in anticipation of the Trump administration’s pro–fossil fuel agenda, it signals to other cities that innovative action to counter climate change is still possible at a local level.”
A related article posted on Dec. 14 by the Center for Sustainable Economy by Daphne Wysham said: 
This victory is the result of over two years of organizing from local activists and community members committed to the betterment of Portland’s environment and the protection of our neighbors’ health and safety. The ordinance is an important step forward for Portland and should serve as a model for other municipalities and states.  (emphasis added) 
This policy was worked on by 350PDX, Audubon Society of Portland, Columbia Riverkeeper, Climate Action Coalition, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Center for Sustainable Economy, the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club, and more.”
NOTE: This important victory shows what can be accomplished by groups of passionate people working together to save the environment for future generations.

The Washington Post for Dec. 22 has an article by Chelsea Harvey titled, The coming battle between economists and the Trump team over the true cost of climate change.  The Obama administration, especially the EPA, has been using a metric called “the social cost of carbon,” which is an estimate of the cost to society of each additional ton of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere.  The cost includes things like increased illness and disability (e.g., microencephaly in babies born to mothers infected with the zika virus by mosquitoes, whose range in increased at higher temperatures), property damage from sea level rise, stronger hurricanes (e.g., Hurricane Sandy), coastal storms, tornadoes and forest fires, and loss of crops through droughts and floods.  The federal government has been using a figure of $36 per ton of CO2 to justify regulations (e.g., to increase corporate average fuel efficiency standards for automobiles).  

The NY Times for Dec. 26 had an article by the Editorial Board titled, States Will Lead on Climate Change in the Trump Era.  It said,
State governments will serve as an important bulwark against any attempt by President-elect Donald Trump to roll back the progress the United States has made in addressing climate change. And that’s good news for the planet.  Over the last decade or so, most states have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by promoting energy efficiency and renewable fuels. These trends should continue as clean energy costs continue to decline and, in some parts of the country, fall below the cost of dirtier fuels like coal.  
The Brookings Institution reported this month that between 2000 and 2014, 33 states and the District of Columbia cut carbon emissions while expanding their economies. That list includes red states run by Republican legislatures, like Alaska, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia.  
It’s hard to know how Mr. Trump will change climate policy, but it is almost certain that he won’t advance it. He told The Times last month that he has an “open mind” about climate change, but has also called it a “hoax.” The people he has chosen to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior — the three agencies with the greatest influence on energy policy — have either denied or expressed skepticism that human activity is causing global warming, something that virtually all scientists agree on.
And many people expect him to walk away from President Obama’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement and get rid of or weaken the E.P.A.’s Clean Power Plan, which requires states to lower carbon emissions from the electricity sector. He and his appointees might also try to water down fuel economy regulations for cars and trucks, and cut clean energy tax incentives and research spending.”
California and New York plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Hawaii hopes to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. This month, Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, proposed new rules for power plants and vehicles to make sure the state achieves its goal of a 25 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2020. Emissions are already down by around 20 percent.
Cheap natural gas, which has increasingly replaced coal as a fuel source, has had a lot to do with this progress, but so has the drop in the cost of wind and solar power — 41 percent in the case of land-based wind turbines and 64 percent for solar, between 2008 and 2015, according to the Energy Department. The cost of batteries has dropped by almost three-fourths. In some states, including Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Texas, new wind turbines can generate electricity at a lower cost, without subsidies, than any other technology, according to a report published this month by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.”
States are also beginning to put a price on carbon emissions to increase the cost of older fuels and encourage cleaner sources of energy (emphasis added), which Congress has refused to do. California has a cap and trade system in which electric utilities, fuel distributors and other businesses have to buy emission permits through auctions or from one another. New York and eight other Eastern states have a similar program for power plants. And this month, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington proposed a tax of $25 per metric ton on carbon emissions to increase education funding.
Lawmakers, environmental groups and individuals who care about climate change ought to fight every effort to take the country backward on this issue. But it will be just as important for them to support states that are trying to advance the cause.”

NOTE: It’s clear to me that cities, states and regions can do a great deal to address climate change even though Trump and his majorities in both the House and Senate are very unlikely to be helpful or supportive during the next four years.  
Individuals can also do a great deal in their own homes to reduce their families’ carbon emissions and energy bills.  A good source of ideas and information is Cooler Smarter - Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Island Press, Washington, 2012.

On Dec. 27 Bruce Lieberman of Yale Climate Connections posted a tool developed by NOAA called Climate Connections.  There is a 1.5 minute audio describing it.  You can enter a Zip code (or the name of a city or country) and see the past and projected future of climate variables like temperature or precipitation in that area for two scenarios of climate change - a high and a low.  You can for example ask how many days in future years are expected to have temperatures above 95 degrees.

Truthout for Dec. 28 posted an article by Dahr Jamail titled, We Have Released a Monster: Previously Frozen Soil is “Breathing Out” Greenhouse Gases.  The author wrote,A study published in the journal Nature has revealed an alarming new climate feedback loop: As Earth's atmosphere continues to warm from anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), soils are respirating carbon -- that is, carbon is being literally baked out of the soils.
Microorganisms in soil generally consume carbon, then release CO2 as a byproduct. Large areas of the planet -- such as Alaska, northern Canada, Northern Europe and large swaths of Siberia in Russia -- have previously been too cold for this process to occur. However, they are now warming up, and soil respiration is happening there. As a result, these places are contributing far, far more CO2 and methane to the atmosphere than they ever have.”
“The study also shows that if Earth is warmed to 2C above preindustrial baseline temperature levels by 2050, which is essentially a certainty in the best-case scenario, then an average of approximately 0.71ppm of CO2 will be released from soils every year through the year 2050.
The Earth has already warmed by more than 1C above preindustrial baseline temperatures. It is unlikely that human civilization can survive warming of 3.5C or higher, as humans have never lived on a planet that warm. However, we are currently on track for a minimum warming of 5 to 7C, or worse, by 2100.”

The NY TImes for Dec. 30 had an article by Erica Goode titled, Fish Seek Cooler Waters, Leaving Some Fishermen’s Nets Empty.  Goode wrote, 
“There was a time when whiting were plentiful in the waters of Rhode Island Sound, and Christopher Brown pulled the fish into his long stern trawler by the bucketful.  “We used to come right here and catch two, three, four thousand pounds a day, sometimes 10,” he said …”
“But like many other fish on the Atlantic Coast, whiting have moved north, seeking cooler waters as ocean temperatures have risen, and they are now filling the nets of fishermen farther up the coast.  Studies have found that two-thirds of marine species in the Northeast United States have shifted or extended their range as a result of ocean warming, migrating northward or outward into deeper and cooler water.”
One problem is that the allowable fish takes for coastal states have been set according to the historical fractions of a particular species off the states’ coasts, and those fractions no longer reflect the species distribution.

On January 4, 2017 Science published an article by Eric Hand titled, Fossil leaves suggest global warming will be harder to fight than scientists thought.  The article describes various methods for estimating the CO2 concentrations in earth’s ancient atmosphere, including a relatively new method based on the size of stomata in fossil leaves.  The stomata are the pores in the leaf surface that allow CO2 to enter the leaf where it can be converted to sugars by photosynthesis.  When atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher, the stomata tend to be smaller, which minimizes water evaporation from the leaf.  Peter Franks, one of the scientists working on the gas exchange method, said, “Temperatures are going to climb further for less carbon and we better be mindful of that.”
Climate scientists use the term “climate sensitivity” to describe how much earth’s global average surface temperature will eventually increase for a doubling of CO2 concentration.  For decades it was thought to be about 3 degrees C, but these new measurements suggest a higher value of 4 degrees C.

NOTE: A climate sensitivity of 4 degrees C for a doubling of CO2 means that we already have enough CO2 in the atmosphere (over 400 ppm) to eventually increase the global average temperature by more than 2 degrees C over what it was in 1750 (with 280 ppm CO2) - passing a red line which international agreements say we should not pass. 

BBC News on Jan. 10 posted an article by Mark Kinver titled, Warming world harming insects’ reproduction, says study.  In laboratory experiments fruitflies were exposed to a temperature increase of 5.5C (9.9F) for 10 days, which was enough to cause permanent damage to the insects' ability to reproduce.”  
"Lots of insects in their juvenile stage can't move very far because they are larvae or because they are small nymphs - they are smaller and they do not have wings so they are not as mobile so they're stuck where they are."
One of the scientists in the study said, "I think that this is going to be a very common effect, a very common phenomenon across insects."
“While global average temperatures are not projected to increase by 5.0C or more, climate modellers have suggested that extreme weather events, such as heat-waves and droughts, are set to become more frequent. In these events, localised temperatures are set to meet the conditions in which insects' ability to reproduce will be harmed.
Dr Snook suggested that any change in insect populations could result in changes in ecosystems, but to what extent would require further research.”

On January 18 James Hansen et al. posted an article on his Columbia University  web site called, Global Temperature in 2016.  They point out the earth’s  global average surface temperature for 2016 was the highest ever recorded.  Surface temperatures on a global scale go back to about 1880.  The average temperature in 2016 was 1.26 degrees C (2.3 degrees F) above the average for the period 1880 to 1920, and broke the third world record in a row.  Their Fig. 2 shows  that the temperature increases are greatest in the Arctic, where they are more than twice the global average increase.

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.pdfPresident Obama Announces Permanent Ban on Offshore Drilling Over Vast Stretch of Arctic Ocean

On December 20, President Obama announced a permanent ban on offshore drilling operations across a vast stretch of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic Ocean. The action also banned oil and gas exploration and development in 31 ocean floor canyons in the Atlantic. The administration cited the high environmental risk of offshore drilling in these regions, the importance of safeguarding distinct ocean ecosystems and biodiversity, and a desire to reinforce U.S. climate change mitigation policies. President Obama stated, "It would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large-scale oil and gas leasing production in the region - at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels." The President's authority to implement the ban comes from the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953, which declares the president "may, from time to time, withdraw" unleased federal waters from future oil and gas development. However, the statute has no language or legal precedent for a reversal, suggesting any such action would require years of court battles by the incoming administration. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly announced his own government's ban on offshore Arctic drilling, subject to review every five years.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_1.pdfScientists Warn Trump Administration May Try to Distort or Delete Public Climate Information Sites

Scientists and environmental communication experts are concerned that climate information hosted on government websites may be deleted or distorted under the incoming administration. Sites run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others are among the top hits for people trying to learn more about climate change on the web. The sites are designed to educate general audiences and ensure accurate, factual information on climate change is available for public discourse. Advocates fear the removal of these resources could create a vacuum filled by inaccurate or misleading information. Susan Hassol, co-author of three U.S. national climate assessments, noted a precedent exists for government officials removing "politically inconvenient" information from government websites. Under President George W. Bush, Philip Cooney of the White House Council on Environmental Quality was exposed by a whistleblower after altering language in government reports to downplay the risks and scientific consensus around climate change. Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists is concerned that state officials may follow the lead of a Trump administration, stating, "If the worst comes to pass and there is a concerted attack and removal of material, the public loses in terms of its trust in government."

For more information see:

Study: Zika Outbreak Influenced by El Niño and Climate Change in South America

A new study asserts the 2015-16 Zika outbreak was likely driven by unusually high temperatures from a strong seasonal El Niño event and anthropogenic climate change. The warm temperatures were "especially conducive" to spreading Zika-carrying mosquito species across South America, where the human population lacked a natural immunity to the virus. While factors such as access to sanitation and healthcare can set the pace of a disease outbreak, the climate is what "sets the background," according to lead study author Cyril Caminade of the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool. The distribution, life cycle, and habits of mosquitoes are all affected by the climate, in addition to the incubation period of the virus itself. The research, appearing in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used data from 1950-2015 to model how climate-related factors affected the risk of Zika transmission. Caminade added that warming temperatures may allow vector-borne diseases like Zika to appear in higher latitudes and altitudes in the future.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_2.pdfCalifornia's Forests Struggle to Regrow in Wake of More Severe Wildfires

A new study has found that forests in California are struggling to recover from severe forest fires. Researchers examined 1,500 plots spread across 14 burned areas in California, and concluded that recent wildfires killed mature, seed-bearing trees in such large numbers that the forests are now unable to re-seed themselves. Warmer temperatures have also enabled small shrubs to take root more quickly following fires, further inhibiting the re-seeding. Wildfires were historically less frequent in the national forests studied, but climate change, prolonged droughts, and heatwaves have made the regions more susceptible to fire. Park Williams of Columbia University summarized the study's findings: "In the more intense fires that we've been seeing recently, the patches killed by the fire are tending to be far larger and it could take a very long time for the native tree species to repopulate these areas. With climate getting warmer in the coming centuries, it seems more likely that many large burned forest areas in the Southwest United States will be recolonized by shrub species that can reproduce quickly and tolerate heat and drought."

For more information see:

Disappearing Sea Ice Disrupts Way of Life in Alaska's Indigenous Communities

Alaska's indigenous communities are being forced to navigate new challenges as climate change upends their local environment. "In December, we normally have waters covered in ice but right now we have open water out there. We are so dependent upon sea ice conditions. It's our life, our culture," said Vera Metcalf, director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission representing 19 native communities in Alaska. The Arctic sea ice extent reached a record low in November 2016, while the average temperature in the region is 3.5 degrees Celsius warmer than a century ago. Metcalf noted the decline in sea ice has narrowed the "window of opportunity for hunting," leading to food insecurity for remote communities where a gallon of milk can cost $15. As the ice continues to melt earlier each year and the land beneath coastal settlements starts to erode away, many communities in Alaska are thinking of re-locating. However, prohibitive costs make moving even a small village difficult to achieve.

For more information see:

Coalition of Attorneys General Urge Incoming Administration to Uphold Legal Defense of Clean Power Plan

On December 28, attorneys general from 15 states, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Virginia, issued a letter to President-elect Trump and congressional leaders requesting the federal government continue its defense of the Clean Power Plan. The letter invokes the "significant human and economic costs inflicted by unchecked carbon pollution" and cites the Environmental Protection Agency's obligation to adhere to the Clean Air Act. The signatories also provide a direct rebuttal to a December 14 letter signed by attorneys general in 22 conservative states that urged an "executive order on day one" to rescind the "unlawful" rule. The latest letter in defense of the rule states the question of its legality is still under consideration by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and that a strong legal precedent exists for the Clean Power Plan as issued. The attorneys general go on to argue that an executive order striking the rule would not be upheld in court.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_3.pdfSkeptics Posit Exxon's Climate Stance Under Tillerson was an Elaborate Public Relations Ploy

Climate watchdogs question the sincerity of Exxon's stance on climate change under the leadership of former CEO, Rex Tillerson. As the Trump administration's nominee for Secretary of State, Tillerson would hold authority over the office that represents the United States in international climate diplomacy. Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Exxon "agree[s] with the IPCC on climate science - except where it's inconvenient." Though Tillerson publicly endorsed a carbon tax in January 2009, industry monitors point to growing pressure on Exxon to shift its position at the time, as the pro-climate Obama administration took power and momentum gathered behind the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill. Exxon lobbied against the failed bill, but has not pursued a carbon tax bill in its place. Exxon continues to fund organizations hostile to climate change policies, despite announcing it would no longer fund other like-minded groups. Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University characterizes Exxon's transition under Tillerson as a "clever and sophisticated" form of climate denial.

For more information see:

California Leaders Vow to Continue Climate Policies Regardless of Federal Actions

Governor Jerry Brown and California legislators have pledged to work directly with other states and foreign nations to enact climate policies, despite opposition from Republican leaders at the federal level. California's cap and trade program is already connected to the province of Quebec, Canada, while state officials have discussed potential partnerships with Mexico and China. Critics say California's aggressive policy stance could isolate it and present a competitive disadvantage versus states with less stringent regulations. However, as one of the ten largest economies in the world, California's actions carry weight with private markets. The state's clean air and energy efficiency efforts have become a vital part of the regional economy, but could suffer if the federal government reverses course on climate and environmental protection. Gov. Brown remains confident that governments already have the necessary momentum, stating, "In a paradoxical way, [Trump's election] could speed up the efforts of leaders in the world to take climate change seriously. The shock of official congressional and presidential denial will reverberate through the world."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_5.pdfOntario's Cap and Trade System to Go Live in January 2017

On January 1, 2017, the Canadian province of Ontario will launch its own cap and trade system. The system will connect with existing cap and trade programs in Quebec and California, boosting the cross-state carbon market to 60 million people while driving down costs. Ontario's Environment Minister, Glen Murray, says the large economy of scale is necessary to make the carbon cuts economically viable. Starting in 2018, participants will be able to sell carbon credits across all three markets. Ontario's system will set a hard cap on emissions for companies, which will decrease annually. The mandatory cuts will be 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Cap and trade revenues, estimated at C$1.9 billion annually, will fund programs designed to increase electric vehicle ownership, retrofit buildings, introduce more efficient industrial equipment, and other climate actions. Estimates suggest Ontario's initial price on carbon will be C$19 per tonne, which could add C$13 to an average household's annual heating and gasoline costs.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_6.pdfEarth Scientists Urged to Push Back Against Anti-Science Political Agendas

Climate scientists are grappling with how best to advocate for and protect their work as climate deniers prepare to take prominent posts within the federal government. December's American Geophysical Union conference saw this debate play out on a small scale among 20,000 scientists. An outdoor rally urging people to "stand up for science" was held near the conference site, drawing 500 attendees. Kim Cobb of Georgia Tech expressed dissatisfaction with the relatively small crowd, asking, "What is the nightmare scenario that will get you [to speak out]?" The conference itself featured sessions on how best to achieve the community's goals and navigate a new political landscape that has many earth scientists concerned. Jane Zelikova with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said, "We as scientists have to become comfortable saying how we feel, even if it sounds political. And we need an organization like the Union of Concerned Scientists to be less risk-averse, and yell louder, and be political."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_7.pdfMore Research Needed if Negative Emissions Technologies are to Make an Impact

A range of "negative emissions" technologies are being explored by scientists as tools for aiding global climate mitigation goals. A technique called "enhanced weathering" would use agricultural lands to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through a natural chemical reaction. The crushed silicate would be applied across a field, capturing CO2 while releasing nutrients back into the soil. A major drawback of weathering is the economic and environmental cost associated with mining, preparing, and transporting the silicate. Another method, "bio-energy with carbon capture and storage," uses fast-growing plants to remove CO2, which are then harvested and burned in power plants. However, scaling up the process to sufficient levels would require an inordinate amount of arable land. According to Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, "All the negative emissions technologies, except for growing forests, are in the very early stages of development. If these technologies are going to make a difference, they're going to have to go from essentially nothing now to a massive scale in decades."

For more information see:

NOTE: ‘Negative emissions’ is a term that means pulling ambient carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  It can be done by using trees or other plants to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere by photosynthesis, or by chemical reactions, for example with amines.  

pastedGraphic_8.pdfChina to Invest $361 Billion in Clean Energy by 2020

On January 5, China's National Energy Administration unveiled a plan to overhaul its electricity generation sector by investing $361 billion into clean energy development between 2016 and 2020. The investment would focus on developing wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear power, resulting in about a $72 billion annual effort. The projects would make up roughly half of China's new electricity generation during that span, as the world's largest economy moves to meet its goals under the Paris Climate agreement. The agency in charge of China's economic planning, the National Development and Reform Commission, projected in its own five year plan that 1,000 yuan would go towards ramping up solar generation capacity, with 700 billion yuan going to wind, 500 to hydroelectric, and additional funds to tidal and geothermal projects. However, China's substantial demand for energy means the boost in clean energy sources will still account for just 15 percent of its overall energy consumption, with coal fueling more than half of the country's installed generating capacity in 2020.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_9.pdfAgriculture's Role in Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Planning Continues to Grow

Agricultural practices are being targeted by numerous countries as a way of meeting greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Paris Climate Agreement. Over 90 percent of the agreement's participating countries have said they would use changes to farming, and forestry and land use connected to farming, as a means of reducing emissions. "Agriculture has really lagged" until recently, said Craig Hanson of the World Resources Institute. Hanson added, "Considering [agriculture] contributes 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and 24 percent of net emissions with land-use change, it's surprising it's taken so long." About a decade ago, research began to define the impact of agriculture in global emissions and now features prominently in national mitigation and adaptation plans, particularly for developing countries. Agriculture is responsible for 35 percent of emissions in developing countries compared to only 12 percent in developed countries. However, many farmers face financial limitations in implementing such measures and will look to their governments to provide assistance.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_10.pdf"Eco-Right" Movement Touts Free Market Solutions to Combat Climate Change

A band of Republicans calling themselves the "eco-right" hope to convince President-elect Trump to steer the United States toward a low-carbon future. The movement consists of think tanks, activists, and political operatives advocating for a "free market approach to environmentalism," based around conservative ideals. Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis has been a vocal member of the movement. Inglis said, "I think the path [to dealing with climate] is mostly through the business community, where unlikely partners could really step forward and say, 'There's a free enterprise solution to this. Don't give us regulations. Don't try to tell us how to run our business. Just internalize the negative externality and we will deal with it.'" The eco-right supports replacing existing taxes with a "revenue-neutral, border-adjustable" carbon tax as a centerpiece for cutting emissions, rather than regulations like the Clean Power Plan. Eli Lehrer, leader of the think tank R Street, described a carbon tax as "good tax policy," predicting state-level efforts to adopt such a tax as "very likely in the next four to eight years." (emphasis added)

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pastedGraphic_11.pdfLawsuit Accuses Exxon of Endangering Public Health by Failing to Prepare Its Facilities for Climate Impacts

A first-of-its-kind lawsuit is being filed in Boston's U.S. District Court by the Conservation Law Foundation against Exxon Mobil for the company's purported negligence in safeguarding communities against the effects of climate change. The suit states that rising sea levels will make it more likely that carcinogenic materials will leak from Exxon's oil terminal on the Island End River and into the basements and streets of nearby towns like Everett and Chelsea. The suit states, "Exxon Mobil's failure to adapt the Everett Terminal to increased precipitation, rising sea levels, and storm surges of increasing frequency and magnitude puts the facility, the public health, and the environment at great risk." Exxon has called for the suit's dismissal, claiming the Foundation lacks standing to sue. However, the Foundation claims Exxon is currently in violation of existing environmental laws and the consequences of such violations will be made worse by projected climate impacts.

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pastedGraphic_12.pdfLabor Advocates Call for a "Just Transition" for Workers Formerly Employed by Fossil Fuel Industries

As the global economy moves toward renewable energy and other sustainable industries, the portion of the workforce reliant upon industries driven by fossil fuels are trying to keep up with the transition. Other groups, like Arizona's Navajo tribe, suffered from the negative impacts of fossil fuel-based electricity generation, but are now seeing the few economic benefits once afforded to them depart for cleaner energy technologies. In order to better cope with the "human impact" of the fossil fuel sector's decline, advocates are calling for the adoption of "just transitions" to reduce hardships for these workers, allow them to adapt their skills to new industries, and preserve public health and the environment in impacted communities. Sam Smith of the International Trade Union Confederation said, "It doesn't really help us to solve climate change in a way that creates massive economic and social disruption ... we want to come out not only with a world where emissions are down, but actually people have decent and better lives."

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pastedGraphic_13.pdfAmerican Forests Face Heavy Losses as Climate Change Allows Destructive Insects to Expand Their Range

Climate change, global trade, and drought are allowing invasive insects to harm forest biodiversity across the United States. The insects cause billions of dollars in damages annually in the form of dead tree removal, declining property values, and timber industry losses. According to a peer-reviewed study in the journal Ecological Applications, 63 percent of the nation's forests will be at risk from the pests through 2027. Several species of hemlock and nearly 20 species of ash may be threatened with extinction due to the onslaught. The die-offs erase habitat and food sources for wildlife, remove carbon sinks, and can increase the risk of wildfires. Invasive insects pose the greatest risk to forests in the Northeast, Midwest, California, Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina. U.S. Forest Service entomologist Andrew Liebhold said, "The primary driver of the invasive pest problem is globalization, which includes increased trade and travel, but there are cases where climate change can play an important role. As climates warm, species are able to survive and thrive in more northerly areas."

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pastedGraphic_14.pdfWhite House Recommends Federally Funded Research to Improve Understanding of Geoengineering

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) submitted a new advisory report to Congress outlining a research roadmap for geoengineering through 2021. The report marks the first time the White House has recommended investing federal funds in geoengineering. Geoengineering primarily consists of two major fields designed to reduce the impacts of climate change: altering the reflectivity of the earth and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The measures have stirred controversy among scientists, with some arguing the risks are too great and not well understood. The report itself calls for the funding of basic research to address these uncertainties. Michael McCracken, chief scientist for the Climate Institute, said the proposal is a "very first step of what is needed - given the faster than projected severe [climate] impacts that are emerging." Other scientists fear that geoengineering may be characterized by policymakers as a viable last-minute solution and an excuse to not take current action on climate change through emission reductions.

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Judge Orders Exxon to Share Internal Climate Change Documents in On-going Massachusetts Case

On January 11, a superior court judge denied Exxon an emergency motion or a protective order in relation to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's request to release the oil conglomerate's internal research on climate change. Exxon is currently under investigation by the states of Massachusetts and New York for the company's concerted efforts to downplay climate change risks resulting from fossil fuel emissions, despite findings to the contrary produced by their own scientists. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Heidi E. Brieger wrote that Healey had the right to pursue evidence as to whether Exxon may have violated consumer protection statutes. Judge Brieger rejected Exxon's argument that the document request "lacked specificity," noting Healey "seeks information related to what (and when) Exxon knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels on climate change and what Exxon told consumers about climate change over the years." Exxon had previously provided the same documents to New York's attorney general.

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pastedGraphic_15.pdfNational Academy of Sciences Recommends Updates to Social Cost of Carbon

On January 12, the National Academy of Sciences published a new report, "Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide," recommending updates to the social cost of carbon (SCC) formula. Developed by the Obama administration in 2009 and applied to various regulatory cost-benefit analyses, SCC attempts to capture the global monetary cost of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) to society. According to Michael Greenstone, former chief economist on President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors and professor of economics at the University of Chicago, "Social and economic understanding of climate change has advanced greatly in the last six years ... the report identifies important ways to take advantage of those improvements in our understanding." The current price is approximately $36 per ton of CO2. The report recommends updating SCC estimates every five years to reflect changing conditions and the most up-to-date science.

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NOTE: The Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is an estimate to the economic damage to society for each addition ton of CO2 emitted to the environment by human activites.  According to the EPA, global emissions of carbon dioxide in 2010 from burning fossil fuels were about 33 billion tons in 2010.

pastedGraphic_16.pdfNational Labs Publish Report on the Impact of State Renewable Portfolio Standards

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have released a new study examining the future cost-benefit of state renewable portfolio standards (RPS). The study assessed the impacts of RPS's through 2050 using one scenario with no change from today and a second where RPS's expand to every state and achieve higher targets. According to the study, the business-as-usual scenario projects renewables will make up 26 percent of the nation's electricity generation by 2030 and 40 percent by 2050. The more ambitious scenario sees a 35 percent renewable electricity share by 2030 and a 49 percent share by 2050. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have RPS. Half of all renewable energy installed since 2000 was done so to meet RPS standards. The study projects that the ambitious scenario would add 11.5 million job-hours, but the overall number of energy jobs would remain roughly equal as renewable technology jobs displace other roles across the industry.

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pastedGraphic_17.pdfBusinesses Ask Trump to Uphold Paris Climate Agreement

On January 10, the group Low-Carbon USA sent a letter signed by over 600 businesses and investors to President-elect Trump, urging the next administration to implement the Paris Climate Agreement. The letter states, "Implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all." The latest letter builds upon a similar effort in November 2016. An additional 200 companies have signed since, including giants like DuPont, Mars Incorporated, Nike, Unilever, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and others. They are part of a broader effort spanning many areas of the private sector, which continues to make a strong case for the business opportunities inherent to addressing climate change. According to the signers, "We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk."

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

1 comment:

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