May 31, 2010

What could possibly go wrong?

Tom Tomorrow’s terrific cartoon in Salon is subtitled, “It’s called the Doomsday Bomb and it’s perfectly safe. Trust us.”

May 26, 2010

1000 Year Flood in TN

This report from NOAA on the recent flooding in TN is absolutely amazing. 

Flooding Facts:
  • Fifteen (15) observation sites had rainfall measurements exceeding the maximum observed rainfall associated with Hurricane Katrina landfall.
  • The two day rainfall of 13.57 inches at Nashville International Airport shattered the monthly rainfall record for May which was 11.04 inches.
  • The rainiest month in Nashville is 13.92 inches in January 1950.
  • Nashville International Airport experienced its 1st and 3rd rainiest days on back to back days.
  • The heaviest rainfall occurred in a swath across Davidson, Williamson, Dickson, Hickman, Benton, Perry, and Humphreys Counties.  An average of 14 to 15 inches of rain fell equivalent to 420 billion gallons of water in just two days.
What is a 100 year flood?  A 100 year flood is an event that statistically has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. A 500 year flood has a .2% chance of occurring and a 1000 year flood has a .1% chance of occurring. 

The map below relates the amount of rainfall that fell to the chances of that amount of rain actually occurring.

May 25, 2010

A New Golden Rule

The first 5 or 10 minutes of this video is well worth watching.

Bill McKibben and James Hansen spoke at this conference, but according to the NY Times, the show was stolen by Jostein Gaarder, the Norwegian author of Sophie’s World, who made a moral argument that we need a new golden rule that includes our neighboring generations... "you shall do to the next generation what you wished the previous generation had done to you."

I also really liked Gaarder's other idea that we need a new Copernican revolution. He says that the idea that idea that our generation is the most important generation of humanity, that the sun rises and sets around our generation, is as ridiculous as the notion that the sun and all the stars revolve around the earth.

At the end of the conference he said, "If we don't start thinking about the next generations, they will never stop thinking about us."

May 22, 2010

Biodiversity & Climate Change

Price Waterhouse Coopers published this report on the impact to business of biodiversity loss. 

They include a statement that biodiversity loss will become more important than climate change. 

"Using the implied social cost of carbon from the Stern report ($85 per tonne CO2), the long run economic cost of 2008 net greenhouse gas emissions could be in the region of $1.7trillion*. For the same year, the economic cost of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation was estimated to be between US$2 and US$4.5 trillion† (3.3 – 7.5% of global GDP). While these numbers are not directly comparable, the fact that they are in the same order of magnitude should give pause for thought."

Of course, the two are intimately related, but this is a very interesting statement none the less. 

Here is the UN's recent take on biodiversity from their Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 Report

"The news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history — extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate. The assessment of the state of the world's biodiversity in 2010, ... should serve as a wake-up call for humanity.

Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet. And the linked challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change must be addressed with equal priority and close cooperation." 
Ahmed Djoghlaf
Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity

"Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050."
Achim Steiner
Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme

May 19, 2010

America's Climate Choices

The National Academies, fulfilling a congressional request, have issued a trio of invaluable reports affirming the scientific case for a growing and largely harmful human influence on climate; proposing a path and strategies for curbing American emissions of heat-trapping gases; and urging the country to work to cut risks attending life with no new “normal” climate patterns or coastlines.

Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change
Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change
Advancing the Science of Climate Change

May 18, 2010

Fwd: Hottest April on Record

NOAA's report for April 

NOAA's report for April  - Global Highlights

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for April 2010 was the warmest on record at 14.5°C (58.1°F), which is 0.76°C (1.37°F) above the 20thcentury average of 13.7°C (56.7°F). This was also the 34th consecutive April with global land and ocean temperatures above the 20th century average.
  • The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 16.0°C (60.9°F) and the warmest April on record. The warmth was most pronounced in the equatorial portions of the major oceans, especially the Atlantic.
  • The April worldwide land surface temperature was 1.29°C (2.32°F) above the 20thcentury average of 8.1°C (46.5 °F)—the third warmest on record.
  • For the year-to-date, the global combined land and ocean surface temperature of 13.3°C (56.0°F) was the warmest January-April period. This value is 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average.

Boston Globe - Worst News Story on Global Warming, Ever?

Joe Romm, a well respected climate scientist states that the front page article written by Beth Daley in the May 16, 2010 Sunday Boston Globe "qualifies as one of the worst news articles ever published on global warming.

Problem 1 - The Globe article starts with the headline - A cooling trend 

When the headline is a blatant lie, you know the article can't be good no matter what else is said. The facts are we've had consistent warming now for decades. The last decade 2000 - 2009 was the warmest decade ever, warmer than 1990 - 1999, which was warmer than 1980 - 1989, which was warmer than 1970 - 1979. On top of that, we have set all time records this year for global temperatures with January through April being the hottest January through April on record. Here is the data from NASA

Of course the Globe will claim that the headline is really about the cooling of the relationship between two MIT scientists, but then that claim and the headline are both intentionally deceptive. What newspaper could seriously believe that a strained relationship between two professors was worthy of a front page headline article? 

Problem 2 - The subheadline "... shows how hard climate consensus will be"
is also deceptive. The author's main point throughout this article is that if 2 MIT scientists can't reach agreement on this topic, then there can be no hope of consensus on climate change. Nothing is farther from the truth, but the author does not mention the many statements representing thousands of scientists of scientific consensus on climate change, only a few of which are listed here including

There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.

We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities. 

The scientific evidence is clear: global climate 
change caused by human activities
is occurring now, and it is a growing 
threat to society.

Problem 3 - Creating a false impression of balanced reporting

When an article presents two "experts"  on opposite sides of a debate, it presents a false picture to the public that the scientific community is evenly split on this issue. The truth is that scientists are not evenly split on this issue. E
very national academy of science in the world has come to the same conclusion. 
There are 100 peer-reviewed, published, scientific articles that have found greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change for every 1 paper that doubts that conclusion.  

The author also fails to point out that 12 other MIT scientists have published a paper that states that the effects of global warming are likely to be double that of previous estimates. The facts are that the vast majority of Lindzen's colleagues at MIT disagree with his position quite strenuously. 

Problem 4 - The author chooses a known climate skeptic Roger Pielke as the tie breaker for this debate. The following link is Foreign Policy's list of climate skeptics, which they state is designed to allow you sort out legitimate concerns from the nonsense. 

Pielke is certainly spouting nonsense in his quote in the Globe article, which implies that we need to wait for consensus of all 6.5 billion people on the planet before taking action on climate change. "If these two guys can't agree... how can we expect 6.5 billion people to?" 

Problem 5 - Near-libelous attacks on Kerry Emanuel. I'll quote Joe Romm here. 

Really, has journalism sunk so low that a reporter for a major newspaper simply reprints any charge, no matter how outlandish, against a highly respected scientist like Emanuel, with not one single substantiating fact or independent quote?
Shame on Beth Daley and shame on the Boston Globe for running this piece.  They should quickly run an apology to Emanuel.

UPDATE:   Since I have interviewed Emanuel in the past, I sent him an e-mail requesting a quote for the record, responding to this outrageous charge by Lindzen that the Globe stenographer reprinted.  He answered:
"The only group that has really profited from the denial of global climate change is the media, who have a strong vested interest in keeping a debate going. You are correct that I never said to Lindzen or anyone else that we should take advantage of the situation for the benefit of the department; this is pure fabrication."

Transocean pays stockholders $1 billion

In what it says is a move to protect the interests of its employees, shareholders and the company, Transocean Ltd., the owner of the oil rig that sunk off the Gulf of Mexico, is asking a court to limit its liability for the accident to $27 million. 

“Transocean believes this type of orderly process is in the best interests of all parties involved,” the company’s statement said.

Meanwhile Transocean made $270M in profit from insurance on the blowout.

On top of that Transocean's issued a press release stating that they had approved a $1 billion dollar dividend to their stockholders.  

The best interest of all parties involved - indeed. 

May 15, 2010

Rivers of undersea oil

The NY Times reports that most of the oil from the Deepwater disaster isn't making to the surface. 

Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.

"There's a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water," said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather details about what is happening in the gulf. "There's a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column."

Scientists studying video of the gushing oil well have tentatively calculated that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day. The latter figure would be 3.4 million gallons a day. But the government, working from satellite images of the ocean surface, has calculated a flow rate of only 5,000 barrels a day.

May 11, 2010

UN Biodiversity Report

"The news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history — extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate. The assessment of the state of the world's biodiversity in 2010, as contained in ...over 110 national reports submitted to the Convention Secretariat, and scenarios for the 21st Century should serve as a wake-up call for humanity.

Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet."

Ahmed Djoghlaf
Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity

"Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050."
"...most economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life-forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere."

Achim Steiner
Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme

NJ Nuke leaking radioactive water

Tainted nuke plant water reaches major NJ aquifer

LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Radioactive water that leaked from the nation's oldest nuclear power plant has now reached a major underground aquifer that supplies drinking water to much of southern New Jersey, the state's environmental chief said Friday.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station to halt the spread of contaminated water underground, even as it said there was no imminent threat to drinking water supplies.
The department launched a new investigation Friday into the April 2009 spill and said the actions of plant owner Exelon Corp. have not been sufficient to contain water contaminated with tritium.
Tritium is found naturally in tiny amounts and is a product of nuclear fission. It has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large amounts.
"There is a problem here," said environmental Commissioner Bob Martin. "I am worried about the continuing spread of the tritium into the groundwater and its gradual moving toward wells in the area. This is not something that can wait. That would be unacceptable."
The tritium leaked from underground pipes at the plant on April 9, 2009, and has been slowly spreading underground at 1 to 3 feet a day. At the current rate, it would be 14 or 15 years before the tainted water reaches the nearest private or commercial drinking water wells about two miles away.
But the mere fact that the radioactive water — at concentrations 50 times higher than those allowed by law — has reached southern New Jersey's main source of drinking water calls for urgent action, Martin said.
He ordered the Chicago-based company to install new monitoring wells to better measure the extent of the contamination, and to come up with a plan to keep it from ever reaching a well.
The contamination is not a new issue, plant spokesman David Benson said, questioning the need for Martin's order.
"We have monitoring wells on site, and the tritium concentration is down steadily, sometimes by as much as 90 percent," he said. "We are drilling more wells, and we will work closely with the state. We have been all along."
Should the plant fail to stem the spread of the contaminated water, the state will do it and bill the company for three times the cost as a penalty, the environmental department said.
Department spokesman Lawrence Ragonese said there are several potential ways to address the contamination, including pumping tainted water out of the ground, or injecting a different part of the aquifer with water to force the plume of contaminated water backward and away from wells.
No option has yet been decided upon.
The radioactive water leaks were found just days after the plant got a new 20-year license in 2009 that environmentalists had bitterly fought for four years. Those problems followed corrosion that left the reactor's crucial safety liner rusted and thinned.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Exelon insist Oyster Creek can operate safely until it is 60 years old. But environmental groups disagree.
"The bad news is Exelon's Oyster Creek plant ... has now become a major threat to South Jersey's drinking water," said David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. "The good news is NJDEP Commissioner Martin is taking aggressive action to safeguard our water and hold Exelon accountable for this leaky 40 year old plant."
Julia LaMense of the Eastern Environmental Law Clinic hailed the state's action and condemned the NRC "for letting it come to this."
"It's a sad day when the 'wait and see' approach taken in response to yet another 'trust us' from Exelon results in exactly what we feared — contamination of one of the most significant aquifers in the region," she said.
Oyster Creek went online Dec. 1, 1969, the same day as the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station near Oswego, N.Y. But Oyster Creek's original license was granted first, technically making it the oldest of the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors that are still operating.
Located about 60 miles east of Philadelphia and 75 miles south of New York City, Oyster Creek generates 636 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 600,000 homes a year, and provides 9 percent of New Jersey's electricity.

Deepwater Disaster update

The Washington Post reports that the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico now covers an area larger than Maryland. And there is no end in sight. Now that the containment dome has failed to cap the well, the next best course of action is to drill a relief well. Estimates range from 3 months to 12 months for the time it could take to drill a relief well. 

Gulf Coast marine scientists agree that the unfolding oil disaster could mean devastation beyond human comprehension. 

"It would go beyond just the Gulf of Mexico. If it gets entrained into the Loop [Current], it's up into the Atlantic. And who knows where it's going to go from there. As it moves around Florida, the next or another critical area would be the Florida Keys and the coral reefs we have down there. I don't even want to think about that area being covered in oil. Once it works its way up the East Coast and potentially crossing the Atlantic, it could be far-reaching," said Dr. Jeff Hoffmayer, a shark specialist with the Center for Fisheries Research and Development.

"The magnitude and the potential for ecological damage is probably more ...than anything we've ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico," said Nancy Rabalais, a scientist who heads the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, a research center in Cocodrie, La. "Once it hits the shoreline, it'll get into everything."

Orange-colored oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has washed up on the western side of North Island, the northernmost sliver of the Chandeleur and Breton Island chain.

Among the animals that live along the Gulf Coast, this is the time for hatching and rearing: Species as diverse as pelicans, shrimp and alligators are all reproducing, or preparing to. That could bring sensitive young animals in contact with toxic oil or cause their parents to plunge into oily waters looking for food.

Michael Parr of the American Bird Conservancy said "It's got to be about the worst time right now" for an oil spill to hit.

In south Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, fishermen were already seeing the oil as a thick, brown sludge, washing toward the town of Venice. "It's the chocolate mousse, that's the term they've been using," said Albert "Rusty" Gaudé, a state extension agent who works with fishermen there. He said it had left many fearful that crabs, oysters and shrimp -- part of a Louisiana industry that produces 10 percent of the country's seafood -- could be devastated.

Here is a satellite picture taken yesterday showing the spread of the oil across the Gulf. 

May 7, 2010

Boston Globe on Cape Wind

The Boston Globe ran an article on Cape Wind this morning with the headline 

This is just the sort of attention grabbing headline that leaves people with the false impression that investing in clean energy is going to cost them a lot of money.

Let's put the proposed cost increases from Cape Wind and the cost increases from current energy providers in perspective. 

According to reports from National Grid, Cape Wind will add up to $1.59 to the average customer's monthly bill by 2013. So that works out to a $0.53 increase in a typical monthly bill per year over the next 3 years.

Let's compare that rate of increase to the rate of increase we are seeing with our current electricity bills.

I reviewed the rate increases I've seen on my NSTAR bill over the last year. Our electricity price has gone up 3.4 cents per kilowatt-hour from Mar 2009 to Mar 2010. For the typical consumer quoted above, that works out to an increase of $17 per month and that is just in 1 year.

So we should be comparing a $0.53 increase in the average customers monthly bill for clean energy versus an energy price increase of $17 per month that we've seen in the last year from our current energy providers. 

That makes it look like the proposed Cape Wind costs will be lost in the noise of the increasing energy costs from our current energy providers.

Buried at the end of the article is the key point - "In general, fossil fuels are becoming more expensive over time and will continue to do so, and wind... will come down over time."

CO2 Emissions Down in 2009

There is some good news today. 
The Department of Energy has released a report announcing that CO2 emissions are down more than 6% in 2009.

CO2 emissions are actually declining faster than GDP, which is down about 2.5% in 2009. oiaf/ environment/ emissions/ carbon/ ?featureclicked=1&

Gulf Update

UPDATE 5/4/10 6:30 pm – And here it is. Today's MODIS / Aqua image features a break in the clouds (just barely) to reveal much of the oil slick. Fresh upwelling oil is apparent around the location of the leaking well. Long tendrils of slick and sheen stretch to the east and southwest; the total area of slicks and sheen, possibly including patches of open water, is 3,260 square miles. Nearshore, things get complicated: there are pale bands of turbidity, probably caused by the recent stretch of high wind and waves; and a few dark streaks and elongated patches trending northeast that we interpret as low-wind zones (wind shadow, the result of light winds from the northeast this afternoon). But there could be patches of oil slick obscured by these features. To the south, heavy cloud may also be hiding some of the slick from this ongoing spill.

Texas Gov. says oil spill is an "Act of God"

Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry weighed in on the Gulf oil spill Monday, telling reporters that he had "full confidence" in British Petroleum and suggested the blowout that led to the spill was "an act of God."

Perry repeatedly suggested that the spill was "an act of God" that he hoped would not lead to a "knee jerk" reaction against offshore drilling. "I have concerns about the public being misled," he said, of calls to stop new or existing offshore drilling.

Asked about BP's handling of a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery that killed 15 people — and that is still the subject of litigation — Perry praised BP's record since.

"They've got a bull's eye on their back," said Perry, who made no mention of another BP-related environmental disaster, the leakage of crude beginning in November from an oil pipline owned by BP in Alaska.
Read more:

China - No Water, No Electricity for projects that fail to meet GHG targets

For those who think China isn't serious about GHG emissions, read this report... 

China said on Wednesday it would punish officials who failed to fulfil emissions reduction targets, warning the nation's current environmental situation was extremely serious.

The State Council also ordered local authorities to cut electricity and water to those projects that violated rules, and financial institutions to stop giving them loans.

Measures like this will certainly focus the minds of the entire work force in Chinese companies. 

Religion and Climate Change

The LA Times reports that people of many faiths gathered at a cathedral near downtown Los Angeles to promote what they say is their moral duty to care for the Earth and all of God's creation. Were it not for the setting in a stately Romanesque cathedral near downtown Los Angeles, the gathering might have been mistaken for a political rally.

Many of the people present signed cards to California's two U.S. senators urging them to support legislation to roll back greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Others pledged to oppose efforts by oil companies and conservative activists in California to suspend the state's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. They signed a "carbon covenant" to oppose illegal logging and deforestation in the developing world.

Yet for most of those last Sunday, the underlying motivation was not political but religious. They said they had a moral duty to care for the Earth and all of God's creation. They called for a widened understanding of what it means to love one's neighbor in a world where choices made on one continent can affect people thousands of miles away, including those in poor countries least able to cope with climate shifts.

The gathering at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral was yet another sign of a maturing religious environmental activism and sophistication 40 years after the first Earth Day. At that time, religious bodies were virtually silent about "green" issues. Not now. Indeed, longtime environmental advocates such as author Bill McKibben, the keynote speaker at St. John's, said that whatever success there may be in staunching the worst effects of climate change will depend in large part on people of faith.

What do Massey Energy and BP have in common?

A history of criminal convictions for safety violations at their facilities. 

On October 25, 2007, BP pled guilty to a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act and paid a $20 million fine related to two separate oil spills that occurred in the North Slope in March and August of 2006, the result of a severely corroded pipeline and a safety valve failure. BP formally entered a guilty plea in federal court on November 29, 2007. US District Court Judge Ralph Beistline sentenced BP to three years probation and said oil spills were a "serious crime" that could have been prevented if BP had spent more time and funds investing in pipeline upgrades and a "little less emphasis on profit."

The NY Times reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced the largest fine in its history on Friday, $87 million in penalties against the oil giant BP for failing to correct safety problems identified after a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at its Texas City, Tex. refinery.

The fine is more than four times the size of any previous OSHA sanction. Federal officials said the penalty was the result of BP's failure to comply in hundreds of instances with a 2005 agreement to fix safety hazards at the refinery, the nation's third-largest.

According to documents obtained by The New York Times, OSHA issued 271 notifications to BP for failing to correct hazards at the Texas City refinery over the four-year period since the explosion. As a result, OSHA, which is part of the Labor Department, is issuing fines of $56.7 million. In addition, OSHA also identified 439 "willful and egregious" violations of industry-accepted safety controls at the refinery. Those violations will lead to $30.7 million in additional fines.