October 21, 2014

Germans love renewable energy

Germans generated one third of their electricity from renewable sources while enjoying unusually low wholesale electricity rates, one of the most reliable electricity grids in the world with only 16 minutes of power outages a year (15x more reliable than the US), due to a national policy for coordinating distributed generation. 

In addition, support for renewables remains very high among the German public with over half the renewable energy capacity in Germany owned by local citizens who benefit from the renewable energy production. [Climate Progress]

GAO: US not doing enough to address ocean acidification

The federal government agencies tasked with studying, monitoring, and preventing the widespread acidification of our oceans have not been doing their job as well as they could be, according to a report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and NASA have indeed been spending money on efforts to study ocean acidification, a phenomenon that happens when oceans absorb the carbon dioxide humans emit from power plants, deforestation, manufacturing, and driving. But more of that money needs to go toward actual strategies to mitigate and stop ocean acidification if detrimental impacts to ocean ecosystems, and by extension the U.S. economy, are to be avoided, the GAO said.

"GAO recommends the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President take steps to improve the federal response to ocean acidification," the report said. "[That includes] estimating the funding that would be needed to implement the research and monitoring plan and designating the entity responsible for coordinating the next steps in the federal response."

Ocean acidification is one of the biggest and least-talked-about effects of global warming. More than 25 percent of all human-made carbon emissions are absorbed by the ocean, and because of that, their acid levels have increased by a staggering 26 percent over the last 200 years, according to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.


Pentagon: Climate Change poses an immediate threat

Pentagon: Global Warming is a "threat multiplier" and poses an 'Immediate Risk' To National Security 

The 20-page “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap” said the U.S. Department of Defense is “already beginning to see” some of the impacts of sea level rise, changing precipitation patterns, rising global temperatures, and increased extreme weather — four key symptoms of global warming. These symptoms have the potential to “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict” and will likely lead to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe,” the report said.

Tar Sands Pipeline spill clean up finally complete - 4 years and $1 billion later

More than four years after an oil leak was discovered July 26, 2010 near Marshall, the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge has completed its cleanup and restoration of the Kalamazoo River.' [MLive

Enbridge Inc. was required to clean up the mess from a pipeline leak that sent an estimated 843,000 gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the river, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, "Enbridge Energy Partners LLP (Enbridge) reported a 30-inch pipeline ruptured on Monday, July 26, 2010, near Marshall, Michigan. The release, estimated at 843,000 gallons, entered Talmadge Creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River, a Lake Michigan tributary. Heavy rains caused the river to overtop existing dams and carried oil 35 miles downstream on the Kalamazoo River."
The EPA  mobilized an Incident Management Team made up of federal, state and local agencies and the spill was contained approximately 80 river miles from Lake Michigan.
Four years later, all sections of the river are once again open for public use, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Weekly Fish Report of Oct. 9.

Mountain Top Removal Linked to Cancer

"As more than 60,000 cancer cases has been estimated to correlate with MTM [mountaintop removal] activities in West Virginia, this finding on the cancer promoting effect of [particulate matter] and related epidemiological data are crucial to raise public health awareness to reduce cancer risk," the study's authors write. [Climate Progress]

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, looks at the carcinogenic potential of the particulate matter that enters the air during mountaintop removal mining, a form of surface mining that blasts the tops of mountains away so that underground coal reserves can be accessed. The study found "new evidence" that breathing in this particulate matter over an extended period of time can lead to lung cancer, confirming previous research that has found increased cases of lung cancer in communities that live near coal mining operations in Appalachia. That research noted that smoking rates in these communities are likely also contributing to the lung cancer risk, making exposure to mining operations only one of the variables involved, but this week's research confirms, for the first time, that dust from mining operations can drive up a person's risk of lung cancer.

"It's a risk factor, with other risk factors, that increases the risks of getting lung cancer," study co-author and West Virginia University cancer researcher Yon Rojanasakul told the Charleston Gazette. "That's what the results show."
The researchers exposed lung cells to dust from mountaintop removal operations over a three-month period. They found that the dust had "cell-transforming and tumor-promoting effects" — it led to certain changes in the cells that promoted lung cancer development.

Hottest September on Record

Last month was the warmest September the globe has experienced since record-keeping began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA also found that September's record-breaking average temperature continues a trend set this year: average temperatures for the January through September 2014 period tied with 1998 and 2010 as the warmest January-September on record. [Climate Progress]

October 2, 2014

Solar Rate Parity is Happening in Massachusetts - Right Now!

I put together this chart that shows the trends for solar photovoltaic (PV) Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) compared to utility rates in Massachusetts over the last 15 years. The top curve shows the Levelized Costs of Energy for solar assuming 25 year expected life and based on the average output of solar panels installed in Massachusetts based on DOER data. The green curve is the PV LCOE including the value of federal and state incentives. Capital costs go from $10 a watt to $3.25 a watt. 

The black curve on the bottom is Massachusetts historical electricity rates and the brown curve adds in the external health care costs from coal pollution and the effects on climate. The health care costs of coal comes from Paul Epstein's "Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal" Harvard Medical School paper and the climate costs are about 2.3 cents / kWh based on social cost of carbon numbers released by the White House last year. 

The two lines are getting closer together as Massachusetts continues to transition to cleaner electricity. 
The big jump in utility electricity rates is based on National Grid's recently approved 50% rate hike starting November 1, 2014 - which the utility attributes to the region's over dependence on natural gas. 

September 30, 2014

Cities Take Climate Action

Cities could put a massive dent in global warming, with or without the help of national governments.

That’s the word from a new report by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), a network of major cities around the world, along with the Stockholm Environment Institute and Michael Bloomberg, the United Nation’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. The top line number from the paper is that city governments could cut the world’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 3.7 billion tons in 2030 and 8 billion tons in 2050 on their own, with no national direction.

Specifically, there are four things city governments can do. The biggest move would be improving building energy use through efficiency and weatherization retrofits, more energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and more rooftop solar to cut fossil energy use. Next, cities can move toward pedestrian and public-transit-reliant traffic through better urban planning. One quarter of the average product’s shipment occurs in urban areas, so the third thing cities could is improve the logistics and efficiency of rail shipments. Fourth, better waste systems and recycling operations can reduce the GHGs from garbage and landfills, and waste.

As the study notes, pledges by national governments so far to cut their emissions have focused on policies that cover multiple industrial sectors, like electricity and industrial production. “Their pledges and action plans have seldom considered or reflected the impact of urban climate actions,” the report said. “Cities also have unique and strong influence overs several policy levers — such as urban planning and public transportation — that may be less available to national actors.”
What this means is that emissions reductions from specifically city-based actions can be considered in addition to national reductions, rather than as a piece of the latter. And when the potential of the two is added together, the reduction is significant.
CREDIT: C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

“The reality is that the work is going to be done in cities,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. “It will be done mostly by mayors. And then we will drive our respective nations’ national agendas around these issues.”

Furthermore, once we’ve emitted carbon pollution, it stays in the atmosphere for centuries. So annual emission rates don’t matter nearly as much as the total amount we emit, ever. And cumulatively, the urban actions outlined in the report could avoid 140 billion tons of GHGs by 2050. The latest work from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pegged the total amount the world can emit and still stay under 2°C of global temperature rise — the threshold beyond which scientist believe climate change will become truly dangerous — at 1,102 billion tons (1,000 billion metric tons). We’ve already emitted 585 billion tons, and under a business-as-usual scenario the IPCC thinks we’ll blow through the rest sometime in the early 2040s. So while cities can’t single-handedly save us, they could buy the world a fair amount of time. [Climate Progress]

Countries and Companies Pledge End of Deforestation by 2030

Endorsed by over 30 countries countries, including the United States, all members of the E.U., and many tropical forest countries, the New York Declaration on Forests aims to at least halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and strives to end natural forest loss by 2030. It also supports the private-sector goal of eliminating deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, paper, and beef products by no later than 2020. More than 40 major companies, including Kellogg's, Walmart, and McDonalds also endorsed the deal. The group also pledged to restore more than one million square miles of forest worldwide by 2030.

"I asked for countries and companies to bring bold pledges, and here they are," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement. "The New York Declaration aims to reduce more climate pollution each year than the United States emits annually, and it doesn't stop there. Forests are not only a critical part of the climate solution — the actions agreed today will reduce poverty, enhance food security, improve the rule of law, secure the rights of indigenous peoples and benefit communities around the world."

Deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide. A decade ago this number may have been closer to 20 percent before Brazil stemmed forest destruction and China ramped up carbon emissions. About 95 percent of current "Intact Forest Landscapes" are concentrated within tropical and boreal regions around the equator and in the northern regions of Canada and Russia. Action at the summit focused on the Amazonian forest, some of the most ecologically diverse and environmentally degraded in the world, as well as West African forest. [Climate Progress]

Australian Heat Wave Tied to Climate Change by 5 independent groups

The savage heat waves that struck Australia in 2013 were almost certainly a direct consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases, researchers said Monday. It is perhaps the most definitive statement climate scientists have made that ties a specific weather event to global warming.

Five groups of researchers, using distinct methods, analyzed the heat that baked Australia for much of last year and continued into 2014, shutting down the Australian Open tennis tournament at one point in January. All five came to the conclusion that last year's heat waves could not have been as severe without the long-term climatic warming caused by human activity.

"When we look at the heat across the whole of Australia and the whole 12 months of 2013, we can say that this was virtually impossible without climate change," said David Karoly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne who led one research team. [NY Times]

September 7, 2014

Sales of Electric Cars Surge

The best-selling electric car in the world, the Nissan Leaf, logged its best-ever U.S. sales in August, selling a record 3,186 units.

This marks its 18th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases, and brings the total sold in almost four years to more than 61,000.

In fact, with more than 12,000 plug-in vehicles---this was the best-ever U.S. sales total for electric cars.

The Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, logged sales of 2,511, its best performance since August 2013.  A total of 67,698 Volts have been sold in the U.S. since the December 2010 introduction of the world's highest-production series hybrid.

Deliveries of the BMW i3 soared in August to a remarkable 1,025, with the sales of the i3 REx range extended version representing 60% of those sales. 

Sales of the Tesla Model S luxury electric sedan are estimated at about 1,200 units.
Sales of the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, the third highest-volume plug-in car on U.S. roads, fell sharply in August to just 818 units.

Each of Ford's Energi plug-in hybrid models beat the plug-in Prius in sales last month, the C-Max at 1,050 and the Fusion at 1,222.

BP Ruling a "Wakeup Call" for investors

A Bloomberg News article suggests that investors ought to view a judge's ruling yesterday as a "Wakeup Call" that deep water oil drilling is inherently risky. 

A U.S. judge's watershed ruling means the final cost to BP Plc for the 2010 Gulf oil spill may eclipse $50 billion, wiping out years of profits and highlighting the risks of drilling as the industry pushes into more dangerous areas such as deeper waters and ice-bound Arctic fields.
Yesterday's court decision that BP acted with gross negligence in the Gulf of Mexico disaster may hamstring the company financially as the industry's search for resources becomes more expensive and dangerous. Companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc are also facing increasing pressure to show investors they can still grow as production declines.
"The decision also casts a cloud over BP's future. Its reputation has already been sullied and important holdings in Russia are at risk because of tensions in Ukraine. In addition to the $28 billion in claim payments and cleanup costs it has paid, BP has been forced to divest itself of more than 10 percent of its oil and gas reserves, along with valuable pipelines and refining facilities to pay claims and increase its profitability. BP shares fell by nearly 6 percent Thursday, closing at $44.89."
If BP is being forced to divest to maintain profitability, perhaps investors should be considering divesting themselves.

Halliburton Agrees to $1.1 Billion Settlement in BP Oil Disaster

Halliburton has agreed to pay $1.1 billion in a settlement that accounts for the majority of the lawsuits against the company for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The settlement, which includes legal fees, still has to be approved by the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The settlement includes punitive claims of property damage and damage to the commercial fishing industry, the company said in a release.
It also includes claims that BP assigned against Halliburton in BP's 2012 class action settlement. According to the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, which is representing spill victims, some individuals and business owners will receive payments from the settlement.

China pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions

China has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon it emits per unit of GDP to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

It has already launched seven regional pilot markets in a bid to gain experience ahead of a nationwide scheme.

"We will send over the national market regulations to the State Council for approval by the end of the year," Sun Cuihua, a senior climate official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told a conference in Beijing on Sunday.

The national market will start in 2016, although some provinces would be allowed to start later if they lacked the technical infrastructure to participate from the outset, she said.

The Chinese market, when fully functional, would dwarf the European emissions trading system, which is currently the world's biggest.

Latest IPCC Report - with a one word summary and a choice

You may have heard that the latest draft report from UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been released. 
Here is a quick one word summary of the report. Irreversible. 
The catastrophic changes to our climate that we are voluntarily choosing to impose on our children — cannot plausibly be undone for hundreds of years or more.

Yes, we can still stop the worst — with virtually no impact on economic growth, as an earlier IPCC report from April made clear — but future generations will not be able reverse impact on our climate that we are too greedy or shortsighted to prevent through immediate action.
The report was leaked to the AP and others. That means we can see the unvarnished language.
The scientists want us to know that "currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous", but it's the future we should be worrying about the most:
Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.
Translation: Continued inaction would be catastrophic and immoral.
The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.
Translation: The more we delay, the worse it can get.
Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.
Translation: Future generations can't simply adapt to the ruined climate we are in the process of handing over to them. Either we start cutting carbon pollution ASAP or we should just stop pretending we are a rational, moral species.
But it is important to remember — "Irreversible Does Not Mean Unstoppable." The IPCC report makes it clear we can still stop the worst from happening, at a very low cost, but we have to start slashing emissions ASAP. Now. What are we waiting for? 

Humanity's choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming and costs a mere 0.06% of annual growth. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic and irreversible levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S

MIT Study finds the benefits of clean power outweigh costs by up to 10x

Savings due to avoided health problems help offset -- and in some cases greatly outweigh -- the costs of carbon dioxide-cutting policies in the United States, according to a new study.
The study, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that health benefits offset between 26 and 1,050 percent of the cost of greenhouse gas reduction policies. The study examined three different types of climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy targeting on-road vehicles and a cap-and-trade program.
Health benefits occur because the policies not only cut carbon dioxide emissions but also lead to reductions in pollutants that form ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, the researchers said. Both pollutants can cause asthma attacks and heart and lung disease.
"If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don't include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies," said lead author Tammy Thompson, formerly at MIT and now a researcher at Colorado State University, in a release.
The results of the study were published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study was funded in part by U.S. EPA, the Department of Energy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The researchers call the study the most detailed assessment to date on the interactions between climate policies, air pollution impacts, and the costs and benefits of both. The team used models to examine the impacts of climate policies on local and regional air quality, focusing on ozone and particulate matter levels between now and 2030.
"We examine the entire pathway linking climate policies, economic sector responses, emissions, regional air quality, human health and related economic impacts, using advanced models at every stage," the researchers wrote.
The three policies were chosen because they resemble approaches that have been considered in the United States. Of the trio, the clean energy standard would require emissions reductions from power plants that are similar to those in EPA's recently proposed clean power plan.
Industry and business groups have charged that the policy would lead to job losses, economic damage and inequality among states.
But the MIT study found that a clean energy standard would lead to health savings of $247 billion compared to a $208 billion cost. The savings from a cap-and-trade program would be higher, more than 10 times the $14 billion cost, they said.
Savings came in the form of avoided hospital admissions and saved sick days linked to reductions in ozone and particulate matter. The savings remained relatively constant among the policies.
"Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality," said Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT and co-author of the study, in the release. "In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution."
The health co-benefits from a transportation policy, though, would recoup just 26 percent of its costs, due to a high price tag of more than $1 trillion.
The results take into account present air quality regulations, but the authors note that benefits would decline if EPA changes the base line by issuing policies between now and 2030 that would require large reductions in ozone, particulate matter and other conventional pollutants.
For all three of the carbon policies, co-benefits would become tapped out after a certain point and carbon emissions reductions wouldn't lead to greater improvements in air quality.
"While air quality co-benefits can be comparable with policy costs for present-day air quality and near-term U.S. carbon policies, potential co-benefits rapidly diminish as carbon policies become more stringent," the MIT study said.
The authors said that carbon policies, though, would need to advance beyond that point in order to effectively manage climate change.
"While air-pollution benefits can help motivate carbon policies today, these carbon policies are just the first step," Selin said in the release. "To manage climate change, we'll have to make carbon cuts that go beyond the initial reductions that lead to the largest air-pollution benefits."

Keystone XL Opposed by Nebraska Candidate for Governor

"I don't see the compelling public interest for the people of Nebraska in helping a Canadian company sell Canadian oil to the Chinese."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook's opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline goes beyond concern for his state: primarily, he's worried about climate change.

"I believe, from all my experience, that building the infrastructure to help facilitate that development [of tar sands] will help speed that development, and ultimately I think that contributes to climate change," he told ThinkProgress. "For me, it's a climate change issue." 
Hassebrook is also concerned about the potential for TransCanada to use eminent domain to secure the land of the holdout landowners.

"The whole idea of eminent domain is we take peoples' property rights when there's a compelling public interest," he said. "From my perspective, I don't see the compelling public interest for the people of Nebraska in helping a Canadian company sell Canadian oil to the Chinese."

August 25, 2014

4th hottest July on record

This July was the fourth-hottest July on record, and 2014 so far is tied for the third-hottest January-July period on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The rankings, which take into account average temperatures on land and ocean surfaces across the globe, come after a string of heat records from this spring and summer. NOAA ranked June 2014 as the hottest June on record, with especially high ocean temperatures adding to the overall global heat, and May 2014 also ranked as the hottest May on record — the 39th consecutive May with warmer than average temperatures.

The Eastern half of the U.S. experienced lower-than-average temperatures this July, but the Western U.S. — along with much of the rest of the globe, was hotter than average. Warm temperatures in the Western U.S. combined with major drought in some places — California is in the midst of an extreme drought right now, and overall, the drought in the Western U.S. cost the U.S. $4 billion from January to May 2014.

Overall, July temperatures were 1.15°F above average for the globe. For comparison, the hottest July on record, which according to NOAA's measurements occurred in 1998, had temperatures that were 1.31°F higher than average.

Today is Earth Overshoot Day

Today is Earth Overshoot day and we're not even two thirds of the way through the year. That means we need 1 1/2 earths to sustain life on earth. 

When I was born, humans were using less than three quarters of the earth's resources. 

It has taken less than eight months for humanity to use up nature's entire budget for the year and go into ecological overshoot, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank with offices in North America, Europe and Asia.
Global Footprint Network tracks humanity's demand on the planet (Ecological Footprint) against nature's biocapacity, i.e., its ability to replenish the planet's resources and absorb waste, including CO2.  Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity's Footprint in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. Since 2000, overshoot has grown, according to Global Footprint Network's calculations. Consequently, Earth Overshoot Day has moved from early October in 2000 to August 19th this year.
"Global overshoot is becoming a defining challenge of the 21st century. It is both an ecological and an economic problem," said Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network and the co-creator of the Ecological Footprint resource accounting metric. "Countries with resource deficits and low income are exceptionally vulnerable. Even high-income countries that have had the financial advantage to shield themselves from the most direct impacts of resource dependence need to realize that a long-term solution requires addressing such dependencies before they turn into a significant economic stress."
In 1961, humanity used just about three-quarters of the capacity Earth had available for generating food, fiber, timber, fish stock and absorbing greenhouse gases. Most countries had biocapacities larger than their own respective Footprints. By the early 1970s, global economic and demographic growth had increased humanity's Footprint beyond what the planet could renewably produce. We went into ecological overshoot.
Today, 86 percent of the world population lives in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew. According to Global Footprint Network's calculations, it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable ecological resources necessary to support humanity's current Footprint. Moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the biocapacity of three planets well before mid-century. This may be physically unfeasible.
The costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. The interest we are paying on that mounting ecological debt in the form of deforestation, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere also comes with mounting human and economic costs.
Governments who ignore resource limits in their decision-making might put their long-term economic performance at risk. In times of persistent overshoot, those countries running biocapacity deficits will find that reducing their resource dependence is aligned with their self-interest. Conversely, countries that are endowed with biocapacity reserves have an incentive to preserve these ecological assets that constitute a growing competitive advantage in a world of tightening ecological constraints.