March 23, 2013

Energy Efficient Homeowners far less likely to default

Living in an energy-efficient home makes you almost one-third less likely to default on your loan payments, according to a study released yesterday from the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 

If banks include this factor when deciding on prospects, a home that shrinks your energy bills could also cut your mortgage rate.

The report controlled for factors like the size of the home, its age, the borrower’s credit score, local unemployment rates, local climate and energy prices. Researchers paid special attention to loans that originated after 2006 and the types of loans disbursed to factor in the housing market collapse.

It turns out that Energy Star homes are 32 percent less likely to go into default. “We were expecting a number like 18 to 20 percent, to be honest,” Sahedi said. In fact, default risks go down as a home’s score on the Home Energy Rating System index goes up. Energy-efficient homes are also 25 percent less likely to prepay their loans, meaning lenders will make more money.

Home Energy Efficiency and Mortgage Risks – This is a PDF of the actual report. 

Wind Power surpasses Nuclear in China

According to new statistics from the China Electricity Council, China's wind power production actually increased more than coal power production for the first time ever in 2012.

Thermal power use, which is predominantly coal, grew by only about 0.3 percent in China during 2012, an addition of roughly 12 terawatt hours (TWh) more electricity. In contrast, wind power production expanded by about 26 TWh. This rapid expansion brings the total amount of wind power production in China to 100 TWh, surpassing China's 98 TWh of nuclear power. The biggest increase, however, occurred in hydro power, where output grew by 196 TWh, bringing total hydro production to 864 TWh, due favorable conditions for hydro last year and increased hydro capacity. [Climate Progress]

March 22, 2013

A Convenient Excuse

You may have read that the Boston Phoenix shut down. They've been publishing some of the best stuff on climate change recently - including this incredible piece from last fall titled - 'A Convenient Excuse' on the great Climate Silence from the mainstream media. 

Wen Stephenson is an outstanding writer. I highly encourage you to read it. It may not be available a week from now. 

Prominently mentioned in the article are Bill McKibben and Kerry Emanuel (a Lexington resident and expert on hurricanes). 

Wen Stephenson raises important questions about why the press' response to climate change has been so inadequate. This is an important message for each and every one of us to consider. 

Jesuit response to climate change

It is well worth reading this Jesuit response to climate - "Healing A Broken World" - in light of the fact that the Catholic Church now has a Jesuit Pope. 

Here are a few thoughts and recommendations from the report. 

"The ecological crisis challenges our faith. It is the entire world, the one God put in the hands of humankind to keep and preserve, which is in real danger of destruction. This is not an apocalyptical message but a very real possibility if we stick to our 'business as usual' attitude and refuse to act with conviction and strength. The first victim is the Earth, the resources that it contains and that are destined for present and future generations. Special mention must be made first of biodiversity, the loss of which is irreversible and dramatically reduces the richness of nature. Next among the victims are the poorest of this world."

"It is difficult not to be confronted also by the implications of greed and over-consumption; by the use (and misuse) of natural resources and land; by the incredible generation of waste."


Sustainability should be a primary goal of our individual and collective activities.

Promote prayerful discernment in our communities and institutions to examine our lifestyle and work environment.

Generate environmental awareness to influence public policy both at the national and international level.

Seek deeper communion with creation and learning from other religious traditions.

Examine our pattern and levels of consumption and firmly commit ourselves to a reduction in consumption.

Make the establishing of right (just) relationships with creation a theme of prayer in our communities.

March 21, 2013

I ♡ Massachusetts

Here is yet one more reason I am so happy to be living in Massachusetts. 

I was privileged to hear three 3rd graders from Estabrook School speak at Town Meeting last night. They have formed a group of Estabrook students called "Save Tomorrow". They came to Town Meeting last night to ask the Town to approve installing solar panels on their school buildings. 

Photo from Lexington Patch

In contrast - the Utah State Government has decided that the theme for Earth Day this year is -  "Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas & Mining?" 

They are asking K-6 students to submit poster designs highlighting "how modern mining and petroleum extraction techniques and reclamation methods minimize environmental impacts while providing society with the raw materials required to have our high standard of living" as part of the Utah's Earth Day celebration. 

March 20, 2013

Adapting to a changing climate in Plum Island

Many homes have been lost in Plum Island after Hurricane Sandy and then the Blizzard of 2013. Now the plan is managed retreat - figuring out how to move homes westward. [NY Times]

A Katrina every 2 years?

Storm Surge from Superstorm Sandy in Marblehead, MA
How many extreme storm surges like that from Hurricane Katrina will there be as a result of global warming? 

New research from the Niels Bohr Institute shows that there will be a 10x increase in frequency with a temperature rise of two degrees Celcius. The results are published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, PNAS.

"We find that 0.4 degrees Celcius warming of the climate corresponds to a doubling of the frequency of extreme storm surges like the one following Hurricane Katrina. With the global warming we have had during the 20th century, we have already crossed the threshold where more than half of all 'Katrinas' are due to global warming," explains Aslak Grinsted.

Did Arctic Ice Melt change Sandy's direction?

Did Arctic Ice Melt change Sandy's direction?

Cornell and Rutgers scientists argue that "all the observations are consistent with such an interpretation."

They conclude that it is plausible that the unprecedented arctic ice melt this year caused the jet stream to block the normal northeasterly path of an October hurricane forcing it to take a left hand turn and head for New York and New England. 

If this is true - one has to wonder if we can expect more October hurricanes to take a left at New York or Boston. 

March 19, 2013

Interior approves 3 of the largest solar projects in history

The US Department of Interior (DOI) granted approval to three of the largest renewable energy projects in the country's history, that together will provide 1.1GW of new clean energy capacity.

Officials authorised plans for the 750MW McCoy Solar Energy Project and the 150MW Desert Harvest Solar Farm in California, as well as the 200MW Searchlight Wind Energy Project in Nevada.

Massachusetts Solar Ranking - #6

Massachusetts ended 2012 as the state with the 6th most installations of solar power. The US added 3.3GW of solar capacity, 4 time more than we added in 2010. That's the good news. 

The bad news is that we still only have about 30 watts per capita installed. That's only enough to power two LED light bulbs per person. We still have a long way to go. 
[Top Ten Solar States]

NY State could be 100% renewable by 2030

A new study concludes that it would be technically and economically feasible for New York State to meet all of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030, but researchers say the transition would involve building wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources on a mass scale. 

Writing in the journal Energy Policy, a team of researchers said that to wean itself from fossil fuels for electricity production and transportation, the state would need to build more than 4,000 onshore wind turbines, 12,700 offshore turbines, 828 photovoltaic plants, 5 million rooftop solar systems, and 2,600 one-megawatt tidal turbines. 

If implemented, New York — the nation's third-most populous state — would meet 40 percent of its energy needs with wind power and 38 percent from solar, the study said. While this dramatic conversion would require initial capital expenses, the study predicts that the long-term health benefits and new jobs would more than make up for those costs. 

The transition would also reduce end-use power demand by 37 percent, prevent 4,000 premature deaths annually, and save $33 billion in health costs each year, the researchers said. 

"We must be ambitious if we want to promote energy independence and curb global warming," said Robert Howarth, a Cornell University scientist and co-author of the study. [Yale 360]

March 11, 2013

Tragedy Continues on 2nd Anniversary of Fukushima disaster

While people mourn for the mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents and children that were lost in the earthquake and tsunami, many of those that fled the natural disaster have been able to return home and rebuild their lives and communities as best they can.
The tragedy continues, however, for those still suffering from the impacts of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear accident. Many areas remain uninhabitable, leaving 160,000 evacuees stuck in limbo, unable to go home, but also unable to rebuild their lives as they lack proper compensation and support.

Families and communities are breaking up, financial ruin is common, as is divorce and mental breakdowns. Recent estimates suggest cancer rates are likely to increase in Fukushima, which weighs heavily on people's minds, and suicides are increasing in the area. It is untrue to say nobody has lost their lives as a result of the nuclear accident.
This ongoing tragedy for the victims of the nuclear disaster is the fault of a system that is supposed to provide fair compensation when there is a nuclear disaster, but doesn't.  This system essentially protects the nuclear industry, not people.
That the nuclear industry is protected before people is a sad and totally unjust reality for most of the world.
The cost of the Fukushima disaster is estimated at US$250 billion, but costs so far have already crushed owner TEPCO so badly it had to be nationalised. TEPCO is one of the largest energy utilities in the world, yet it had to be protected from its responsibilities. Taxpayers are now picking up the tab.
Worse still is that the system offers even greater protection to companies like General Electric, Hitachi and Toshiba. They built the Fukushima plant based on a flawed reactor design. Yet the regulations allow them to walk away and pay nothing to help victims. They also do not show much moral responsibility to help.
The big gap between the costs of a nuclear disaster and what the nuclear industry pays should make everyone angry.
This reality, like other painful truths about nuclear power, has hit home with many Japanese people. They are standing up in protest.

Louisiana facing highest sea level rise on earth

Port Fourchon experienced serious flooding
from Hurricane Ike in 2008. 
Stunning new data shows Louisiana is losing its battle with rising seas much more quickly than even the most pessimistic studies have predicted to date.

While state officials continue to argue over restoration projects to save the state's sinking, crumbling coast, top researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have concluded that Louisiana is in line for the highest rate of sea-level rise "on the planet." Indeed, the water is rising so fast that some coastal restoration projects could be obsolete before they are completed, the officials said.

When new data on the rate of coastal subsidence is married with updated projections of sea-level rise, the southeast corner of Louisiana looks likely to be under at least 4.3 feet of gulf water by the end of the century.

That rate could swamp projects in the state's current coastal Master Plan, which incorporated worst-case scenarios for relative sea-level rise calculated two years ago— which the new figures now make out-of-date. 

Port Fourchon experienced serious flooding from Hurricane Ike, which made landfall in Galveston, Texas in 2008. Scientists say such flooding will become more common, even in smaller storms, as the coast sinks and sea level rises.

Obama: Do not approve Keystone XL

The White House will be making a decision in the next few weeks whether to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Please let the president know your thoughts on this subject. Here is a letter I sent to President Obama. 

Dear President Obama,

I would ask you to reject approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

The pipeline will only create 2,500 temporary jobs - and if history is any indicator - most of those jobs will go to Canadians. 

Tar sands oil spills will pollute our water. Tar sands pipelines have a history of many more spills than light crude pipelines. In fact the first Keystone pipeline had 12 spills in the first 12 months of operation. 

And tar sands spills are extraordinarily difficult to clean up. We are still recovering from the spill on the Kalamazoo River in 2010 with total cleanup costs of over 3/4 of a billion dollars. 

The tar sands oil will be shipped overseas and will likely increase the price of gasoline in the Midwest. The primary reason TransCanada wants to build the pipeline is to sell tar sands oil outside the US at world market prices.

Finally, tar sands destroys our environment, our clean water, our clean air and dramatically accelerates climate change. 

Best regards,
Mark Sandeen

Keystone XL Environmental Report

The primary argument used in favour of the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline has been that building it is essential to delivering jobs, oil and energy security. The US State Department's recently released draft environmental impact assessment (DEIA) disagrees.

The State Department concluded that not building the pipeline would have almost no impact on jobs; on US oil supply; or on heavy oil supply for Gulf Coast refineries. 

Conflict of Interest Found in State Dept Report on Keystone XL

The environmental impact statement the State Department just released on the Keystone XL pipeline was written by a private consulting firm that is being paid by the pipeline's owner. The firm has links to Exxon Mobil, TransCanada, the Koch Brothers and BP. 

This obviously raises concerns about conflicts of interest with the report itself, but it also highlights the problems with turning government work and analysis over to private firms with possible financial ties to other private entities who may be affected by that work and analysis.

March 9, 2013

CO2 emissions jump

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere underwent one of its biggest single-year jumps ever in 2012, according to researchers at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Between the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2013, carbon dioxide levels increased by 2.67 parts per million — a rise topped only by the spike in 1998.

By comparison, global carbon levels averaged a yearly rise of just under 2 parts per million from 2000 to 2010, and increased by less than 1 part per million in the 1960s. The 2012 rise makes it that much more unlikely that global warming can be limited to the 2 degree Celsius threshold most scientist agree is the bare minimum necessary to avoid truly catastrophic levels of climate change. 

There is a limited "budget" of carbon we can dump into the atmosphere while still maintaining a reasonable chance of staying under the 2 degree limit: 565 gigatons by 2050 to keep our chances at 75 percent, to be precise. At our current trends — and as 2012′s jump can attest — we're set to burn through that budget in 16 years.

Earth warming 50 times faster than the last 5,000 years of cooling

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013plus projected warming 
this century on humanity's current emissions path (in red, via recent literature).
An extraordinary look at 11,300 years of temperature data confirms that the global temperature is higher than at anytime in the last 4,000 years and is warming 50 times faster than the rate of cooling over the last 5,000 years. [Climate Progress] [Science]

NY Times and Washington Post abandon environmental coverage

Two of the premier newspapers in the country have basically abandoned the story of the century — climate change — as a specialized beat. The NY Times shut down its Green Blog (fast on the heels of dismantling its environment desk) and the Washingon Post is switching its lead climate reporter, Juliet Eilperin, off the environment beat.

These epic blunders in editorial judgment essentially signal the end of the era of great national newspapers — certainly neither the New York Times nor Washingon Post qualify anymore. One can hardly be a great national newspaper while moving to slash coverage of the single most important story to the nation (and the world), the story that will have the biggest impact on the lives of readers and their children in the coming decades.

"Many readers are unhappy and disillusioned about the changes, believing that they speak to declining interest on the part of top editors in this important subject. And in the case of the blog, they miss having a single online destination for environmental developments that may not be big enough to make it into the paper and for other voices from freelance contributors."

"Here’s my take: I’m not convinced that The Times’s environmental coverage will be as strong without the team and the blog. Something real has been lost on a topic of huge and growing importance."

Coal Plants Closing

American Electric Power (AEP) will shut down three plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky by 2015 — retiring a total of 2,011 megawatts of coal-burning capacity.  AEP agreed to install 200 megawatts of wind and solar energy by 2015 in Michigan and Indiana to partially offset the loss of coal-fired power. 

With the latest shut-downs, utilities have now closed or announced the closing of 142 coal-burning plants since 2010.  [Clean Techies]

March 3, 2013

The Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Bill McKibben has written yet another must read article in Rolling Stone - on the inevitability of the divestment movement on college campuses. 

"The logic of divestment couldn't be simpler: if it's wrong to wreck the climate, it's wrong to profit from that wreckage." 

Next Step: Existing Electric Power Plants

Electric power plants spew about 40 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution in the United States, but, amazingly, there are no federal limits on utility emissions of this potent greenhouse gas. The Obama administration plans to remedy this situation by drafting rules that would curtail these discharges from existing plants. The president should make sure they are tough. Nothing he can do will cut greenhouse gases more.

To achieve these reductions, the rules should favor making homes, buildings and power plants more energy efficient over the more costly conversion of coal-fired plants to natural gas. Expanding energy efficiency will reduce electricity demand and eliminate the need for the coal plants. Closing them is better than converting them to gas.

Strong Communities Build Solutions to Climate Change

Research conducted at the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that if government cares about solving problems like climate change, or clean energy jobs, or entrepreneurship, then social norms — the unwritten rules of community conduct — might matter as much as rebates and incentives.

In fact, bolstering civic participation and fostering communities that value neighborliness, societal cohesion, family relationships, and community-mindedness might be just as important as economic policy in addressing climate change.

It has become clear that to endure in a climate-changed world, we'll have to work with our neighbors in a more real and meaningful way. Maybe a few hours of volunteering every month is a small price to pay.

Oil Subsidies survive sequestration

Big oil tax breaks celebrated their 100th anniversary on the same day that sequestration went into effect. 

The oil depletion allowance went into effect March 1, 1913. Closing this tax break would save $11 Billion over the next 10 years. 

President Obama called for the elimination of the oil depletion allowance and several other big oil subsidies that would save $4 billion dollars a year. 

Congress refused to cut oil industry subsidies and instead we are cutting air traffic controllers and national park funding. 

The top 5 oil companies made $118 Billion dollars in profits at a time when consumers are paying record high prices for gasoline and heating oil. 

GM accelerates Chevy Volt Production

General Motors plans to increase Chevy Volt production by 20% in 2013 as consumers respond to increasing gas prices. 

Overall sales of hybrid cars increased by 50% in 2012. 

Ford accelerates waste reduction effort

Ford plans to reduce waste sent to landfills by 40% and greenhouse gas emissions by 30% over the next three years. 

Ford said the effort will also have financial benefits for the firm. 

Becoming a demitarian

First, we were urged to become locavores - people who eat food from their local area. 

Now there is a new word to consider - "demitarian" - for people who eat half as much meat as usual. 

Eating less meat may be easier than you thought. In fact, most Americans ate significantly less meat 10 years ago, even less meat 20 years ago, and less again for each decade you go back in time. We eat 5 times more meat today than we did just 100 years ago. 

Americans eat 50 pounds more chicken per capita per year today when compared to the 50's. We eat 10 pounds more turkey, 5 pounds more fish and 12 pounds more beef per capita per year than we did in the 50's. [USDA Factbook] [USDA ERS]

"Eat meat, but less often – make it special," he urged. "Portion size is key. Many portions are too big, more than you want to eat. Think about saying, 'I like the taste, but I don't need so much.'"

By filling plates with vegetables as well as the meat, people will be better nourished. "Most people don't notice," he said, citing a recent event at which the chef used less meat and more vegetables.

Both you and our planet will be happier and healthier. [Guardian]

Climate Action in China

Wind has overtaken nuclear as an electricity source in China. In 2012, wind farms generated 2 percent more electricity than nuclear power plants did, a gap that will likely widen dramatically over the next few years. Wind developers connected 19,000 megawatts of wind power capacity to the grid during 2011 and 2012, and they are expected to add nearly this much in 2013 alone. China should easily meet its official target of 100,000 megawatts of grid-connected wind capacity by 2015.

China is among the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gas and has set goals for cutting emissions. The government has vowed to reduce carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic output, by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 in comparison to 2005 levels. China will proactively introduce a set of new taxation policies designed to preserve the environment, including a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.

The government will collect the environmental protection tax instead of pollutant discharge fees, as well as levy a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, Jia Chen, head of the Ministry of Finance's tax policy division, wrote in an article published on the MOF's website. 
[Xinhua - Chinese State News Agency]

Twice as many extreme snowstorms - but...

Twice as many extreme snowstorms... but, total snowfall is shrinking! 

The United States has been walloped by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading federal and university climate scientists. This also fits with a dramatic upward trend in extreme winter precipitation — both rain and snow — in the Northeastern U.S. charted by the National Climatic Data Center. 
Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the past 45 years.
And an upcoming study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years. The study's author said most people live in parts of the United States that are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 percent and 70 percent by the end of the century…. 
Ten climate scientists say the idea of less snow and more blizzards makes sense: A warmer world is likely to decrease the overall amount of snow falling each year and shrink the snow season. But when it is cold enough for a snowstorm to hit, the slightly warmer air is often carrying more moisture, producing potentially historic blizzards.
"Strong snowstorms thrive on the ragged edge of temperature — warm enough for the air to hold lots of moisture, meaning lots of precipitation, but just cold enough for it to fall as snow," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. "Increasingly, it seems that we're on that ragged edge."
[Washington Post]

The Keystone Principle - Stop Making it Worse

Here is an excellent article stating the principle behind climate action and the Keystone pipeline protests - Stop Making it Worse

After a year of unprecedented destruction due to weather extremes, the climate fight is no longer just about impacts in the future. It's about physical and moral consequences, now. And Keystone isn't simply a pipeline in the sand for the swelling national climate movement. It's a moral referendum on our willingness to do the simplest thing we must do to avert catastrophic climate disruption: Stop making it worse.

Specifically and categorically, we must cease making large, long-term capital investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure that "locks in" dangerous emission levels for many decades. Keystone is a both a conspicuous example of that kind of investment and a powerful symbol.

Gasoline costs rise to 4% of pre-tax income

Gasoline expenditures in 2012 for the average U.S. household reached $2,912, or just under 4% of income before taxes, according to EIA estimates. This was the highest percentage of household income spent on gasoline in nearly three decades, with the exception of 2008, when the average household spent a similar amount.