May 15, 2014

Predictable Carbon Tax vs. a Wildly Unpredictable Climate Change Tax

Seth Godin suggests that when talking to businesses - we should be asking managers, owners, shareholders if they'd prefer a predictable tax on emissions or a wildly erratic and totally unpredictable tax on their businesses? 

Climate Change: The shift in our atmosphere causes countless taxes on organizations. Any business that struggled this winter due to storms understands that this a very real cost, a tax that goes nowhere useful and one that creates countless uncertainties. As sea levels rise, entire cities will be threatened, another tax that makes it less likely that people will be able to buy from you.

The climate unpredictability tax is large, and it's going to get bigger, in erratic and unpredictable ways.

Decreasing carbon outputs and increasing energy efficiency are long-term investments in global wealth, wealth that translates into more revenue and more profit

We're Running Out of Time

Here's the key finding [from the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report]: The world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming. 

"We cannot afford to lose another decade," says Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. "If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization."


NASA Preparing Orbital Carbon Observatory for launch

A NASA spacecraft designed to make precise measurements of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere is at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, to begin final preparations for launch.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 arrived at its launch site on California's central coast after traveling from Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Gilbert, AZ. The spacecraft now will undergo final tests and then be integrated on top of a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket in preparation for a planned July 1 launch.

The observatory is NASA's first satellite mission dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, a critical component of Earth's carbon cycle that is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate. It replaces a nearly identical spacecraft lost due to a rocket launch mishap in February 2009.

OCO-2 will provide a new tool for understanding both the sources of carbon dioxide emissions and the natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and how they are changing over time. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution more than 200 years ago, the burning of fossil fuels, as well as other human activities, have led to an unprecedented  buildup in this  greenhouse gas, which is now at its highest level in at least 800,000 years. Human activities have increased the level of carbon dioxide by more than 25 percent in just the past half century.

While scientists understand carbon dioxide emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels and can estimate their quantity quite accurately, their understanding of carbon dioxide from other human-produced and natural sources is relatively less quantified. Atmospheric measurements collected at ground stations indicate less than half of the carbon dioxide humans emit into the atmosphere stays there. The rest is believed to be absorbed by the ocean and plants on land.

But the locations and identity of the natural "sinks" absorbing this carbon dioxide currently are not well understood. OCO-2 will help solve this critical scientific puzzle. Quantifying how the natural processes are helping remove carbon from the atmosphere will help scientists construct better models to predict how much carbon dioxide these sinks will be able to absorb in the future.

The mission's innovative technologies will enable space-based measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide with the sensitivity, resolution and coverage needed to characterize the sources of carbon dioxide emissions and the natural sinks that moderate their buildup, at regional scales, everywhere on Earth. The mission's data will help scientists reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions.
In addition to measuring carbon dioxide, OCO-2 will monitor the "glow" of the chlorophyll contained within plants, a phenomenon known as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence, opening up potential new applications for studying vegetation on land. NASA researchers, in collaboration with Japanese and other international colleagues, have discovered that data from Japan's GOSAT (Greenhouse gases observing SATellite, also known as Ibuki in Japan), along with other satellites, including OCO-2, can help monitor this "signature" of photosynthesis on a global scale.

The observatory will fly in a 438-mile altitude, near-polar orbit in formation with the five other satellites that are part of the Afternoon, or "A-Train" Constellation. This international constellation of Earth-observing satellites circles Earth once every 98 minutes in a sun-synchronous orbit that crosses the equator near 1:30 p.m. local time and repeats the same ground track every 16 days. OCO-2 will be inserted at the head of the A-Train. Once in this orbit, OCO-2 is designed to operate for at least two years. This coordinated flight formation will enable researchers to correlate OCO-2 data with data from other NASA and partner spacecraft.

Scotland plans to write environmental protection into the constitution

An independent Scotland would be greener, cleaner and "lead the world in tackling climate change", the country's Environment Minister has claimed.

Richard Lochhead said that enshrining protection for the environment in the written constitution of Scotland would be one of five "big green gains" that would result should this year's independence referendum return a "yes" vote.

Scotland would also become nuclear-free, ensure a fairer share of EU funding is targeted at environmental schemes, leverage its direct representation in Europe to drive the green policy agenda, and show international leadership in tackling climate change and championing climate justice. 

The Scottish government has already set a target to use its abundant wind and marine resources to meet 100 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by the end of the decade and is also pushing faster on emissions reductions than England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, aiming for a 42 per cent cut by 2020. 

Independence offers the opportunity to create a greener, cleaner, nuclear-free Scotland which is a world leader in tackling climate change and championing climate justice," he said in a speech at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. "Our vision for Scotland is to make the most of Scotland's extraordinary green energy assets to deliver a secure, sustainable energy future. 

"With independence, we can seize the opportunity to place the environment at the heart of our nation by enshrining environmental protection in a written constitution. And an independent Scotland will show international leadership in tackling climate change, with a seat at the global top table enabling us to inspire and influence others to follow our ambition. [Business Green]

Climate Change ...biggest challenge of all time.

"Climate change is not the biggest challenge of our time, it's the biggest challenge of all time."
Those were the words of Sir David King, UK's erstwhile chief scientist and current Foreign Office adviser on climate change. King responded to a question asking whether climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism. 

Building Codes Could Revolutionize Electric Car Market

A Palo Alto law that requires new single-family homes to come rigged for electric vehicle chargers could soon be extended to other developments.
The City Council's Policy and Services Committee is slated to review a similar ordinance that would apply to new hotel, multifamily and commercial developments.
Conduits for electrical wiring would be required for multifamily developments with "tuck-under garages" or other individual attached parking. Otherwise, one EVSE-ready outlet would be required for each housing unit; in addition, equipment capable of charging a vehicle at 30 amps or higher at 208 or 204 volts would be required for a number of resident parking spaces equal to 5 percent of the total housing units in the development.
Five percent of guest parking spaces at multifamily developments must have charging equipment and 20 percent a conduit. The same standard would apply to commercial developments.
As for hotels, 10 percent of spaces must have charging equipment and 20 percent a conduit.
The proposed ordinance was requested by the council in December, when it approved a law that requires builders of new single-family homes to install conduits. Peter Pirnejad, the city's development services director, said at the time that he expected the law to add $500 to the cost of a new home. [San Jose Mercury News]
Some state laws are looking to improve the situation. The most ambitious was California's AB 1092, which passed near the end of 2013. It requires that at least three percent of parking spaces in multi-family buildings, and 10 percent in offices and non-residential buildings, have an outlet. Colorado's SB 126 has also passed, though it's less ambitious: merely clearing out legal and administrative hurdles for anyone in a multi-family residence who wants to install an outlet in their parking space.
There are also similar bills pending in Connecticut and Hawaii. [Climate Progress

Climate Change and Food Production

A friend recently asked whether more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would help plants grow faster. If you've wondered the same thing, the research is clear that hotter and dryer conditions have dire impacts on plant growth. 

Plants die quite rapidly without water - and we are seeing unprecedented drought conditions throughout much of California and the Midwest where most of our food is grown - as a result of climate change. 

Even with adequate water supplies, high temperatures cause significant yield loss in our crops. And extended heat waves of 4 days or longer, even with irrigation, devastate crop yields. 

It was 102 degrees on Sunday May 4th in Kansas where we grow a lot of our wheat. This is the hottest temperature ever recorded during the month of May in Kansas.  Those record temperatures continued 4 days through Wednesday. The earliest we've previously seen 102 degrees in Kansas was on June 2nd - almost a whole month later.

On top of that, Kansas has had the least rain this season since the time records have been kept - even worse than during the Dust Bowl year of 1936. 

The combination of the worst drought in recorded history and the hottest temperatures in recorded history are happening right now - in Kansas - America's bread basket. This is not some distant future effect of climate change. This is now. This is affecting our food supply this year. 

For those who like peer reviewed data, here is some academic research to back up the common sense understanding that the combination of scorching heat waves and drought conditions result in crop failures. 

Productivity of wheat and other crop species falls markedly at high temperatures. All stages of development are sensitive to temperature. It is the main factor controlling the rate of crop development. [FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization]
For every 1°C rise in temperature, there is a depression in grain yield by 8 to 10%, mediated through 5 to 6% fewer grains and 3 to 4% smaller grain weight.
While a linear model works well to describe wheat development as long as temperatures remain within 10 to 30°C, a non-linear model as in Figure 6.1 [shown below] is needed to describe development when a crop is exposed to extreme temperature stress.
This chart shows growth rate of wheat vs temperature. Wheat grows well till temperatures reach 86 degrees F, after that productivity falls off rapidly. 

With high night temperatures (in the 70s or 80s) more of the sugars produced by photosynthesis during the day are lost; less is available to fill developing kernels or seeds, thereby lowering potential grain yield. Low night temperatures during grain fill have been associated with some of Ohio's highest corn yields in past years. Soybean plants subjected to a night temperature of 85°F resulted in a 10% yield loss.  Corn subjected to 85°F at night experienced grain yield reductions of 40%. [Ohio State University

Our food future in 5 alarming charts

This chart shows crop yields in Illinois and Indiana compared to maximum temperature between 1980 and 2007. 

Different crops respond differently to temperature increases. The following chart assumes that adequate water supply and soil moisture will be maintained - a precarious assumption as we'll see in the next few charts. 

California - our vegetable basket is increasingly strapped for irrigation water. 

Dry spells are on the rise - This map shows the predicted increase in the maximum number of consecutive dry days, comparing the 1971-2000 period to projections for 2070-90.

Heavy downpours are washing huge amounts of top soil away. Known as "gully erosion," this kind of soil loss currently isn't counted in the US Department of Agriculture's rosy erosion numbers, which hold that Iowa's soils are holding steady. But Richard Cruse, an agronomist and the director of Iowa State University's Iowa Water Center, has found Iowa's soils are currently disappearing at a rate as much as 16 times faster than the natural regeneration. According to the National Assessment, days of heavy rain have increased steadily in Iowa over the past two decades, and will continue doing so.