October 31, 2015

Lexington Senator Mike Barrett wants to put a price on carbon

"We have to step up our fight against climate change," Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Barrett told a packed committee hearing in Boston on Tuesday. Barrett's solution: put a price on carbon.
Tuesday's hearing of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy in Boston was packed. Attendees overflowed the limited seating, sat on the floor, lined the walls, and spilled into the hallway of the State House. The majority of the nearly five-hour meeting focused on the competing carbon pricing schemes, and many of the speakers favored Barrett's bill.
Barrett, the second person to testify, said a carbon price is necessary if Massachusetts is to slash its carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to levels before 1990, a mandate laid out in the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.
Barrett laid out his plan in Senate Bill S.1747, one of two carbon price options before the legislature. Massachusetts joins five other states—Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—with proposed legislation exploring this option for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the idea of a carbon price is not new, it is increasingly seen as a key climate solution in the leadup to the U.N. climate talks in Paris in December. Six major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell and Statoil, have said they support carbon pricing. In recent weeks, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkeland Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg voiced support for a global price on carbon. So have the heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, along with many global leaders in business and politics.
"The idea of putting a price on carbon is catching fire as one of the best ways we can cut emissions and deal with the worst effects of climate change," Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a climate research and communications nonprofit told InsideClimate News. "I do think the Paris agreement is going to galvanize that further.
Read the rest of the Inside Climate News article here 

October 30, 2015

Wind Power Cheaper than Natural Gas

  • Wind energy's current 20-year power purchase agreement price of $25/MWh beats the projected average of $32/MWh price for natural gas over the same time period, according to Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke.
  • Fowke said Xcel does not expect natural gas, presently at an historic low of below $2.50 per MMBTU, to remain at that price indefinitely. The utility plans to invest in 1,600 MW of new wind capacity over the next 15 years as a hedge against natural gas price volatility, Fowke said.
  • On Oct. 2, Xcel set a single-day record for wind energy electricity generation on its Colorado grid by supplying an average of 54% of its customers' electricity over the course of the entire day.
Xcel set a one-day wind energy generation record early this month. On Oct. 2, more than half of Xcel's system's electricity was generated by wind power for almost every hour. The utility also set a new one-hour record for wind energy output that day with 2,352 MWh, outpacing the record reached in 2014 of 2,203 MWh.
The utility's move to increase its wind capacity 20% by the end of 2016 aligns with a goal to cut 60% of its emissions by 2030.
In setting the one-day wind energy generation record, over 50% of the Xcel system's electricity was generated by wind power every hour of the day except the last one, during which it met 49% of load. 
The utility is planning to use wind to replace coal plants being retired to meet EPA pollution regulations. Xcel's plan bucks the trend being set by other U.S. utilities moving to natural gas to meet EPA regulations.

October 29, 2015

Deadly Heat Expected

Pilgrims in Mecca
According to a study published Monday some population centers in the Middle East "are likely to experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans" because of humanity's contribution to climate change.

By the end of this century, areas of the Persian Gulf will experience waves of heat and humidity so severe that simply being outside for several hours could threaten human life.

As climate change causes temperatures to rise around the world, it should come as no surprise that the warm-water coasts in the Middle East could be the first to experience brutal combinations of heat and humidity. The conditions would not be constant, but spikes would become increasingly common.

A temperature that today would rank in the 95th percentile "becomes approximately a normal summer day" by the end of the century, the researchers said. Wet-bulb temperatures that even exceed the 95-degree threshold could be expected to occur once every 10 or 20 years, Dr. Eltahir said. "When they happen, they will be quite lethal," he said.

If the nations of the world reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, the authors concluded, the predicted disasters can be prevented: "Such efforts applied at the global scale would significantly reduce the severity of the projected impacts."

Many cities on the Persian Gulf coast could be essentially uninhabitable by the end of the century for those without air-conditioning. "That is truly shocking," he wrote in an email exchange, and added that he found it ironic, "given the region's importance in providing fossil fuels."

October 22, 2015

Sunscreen linked to coral reef destruction

Coral reefs cannot seem to catch a break this year. Between a particularly strong El Niñoocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures, links between overfishing and reef collapses, and the declaration of a massive coral bleaching event expected to affect 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs by the end of the year, the current state of the global environment has been particularly detrimental to coral reefs.
And now, research has shown that a chemical found in almost every chemical-based sunscreen used in the United States is linked to coral destruction.
The study, published Tuesday in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, was led by Craig Downs from the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia. He told Reuters that the research was conducted in order to help explain why baby corals have not been developing in many established reefs.
Researchers conducted the study in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii — areas that attract large amounts of tourists each year to swim in reef areas. They found that the chemical oxybenzone affects coral in three different ways: it alters its DNA, makes coral susceptible to potentially fatal bleaching, and acts as an endocrine disruptor, which causes baby coral to encase itself in its own skeleton and leads to its death.
To make things worse, it does not take a large amount of this chemical to upset coral. According to the research, concentrations of oxybenzone as low as 62 parts per trillion — equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools — are deemed harmful.

October 21, 2015

Bill McKibben Arrested because "Exxon Knew"

Bill McKibben Arrested at an Exxon Station

The bare facts are, he tried to get arrested in a one-person protest in his home town, and he succeeded - because he wants you to read two well researched articles about Exxon's deception on climate change.  

From The Burlington Free Press:
Climate activist and author Bill McKibben was arrested Thursday afternoon in Burlington after blocking access to a downtown gas pump.

McKibben, a Ripton resident, said he hoped his protest at the Simon's Quick Stop and Deli Mobile station on South Winooski Avenue would draw attention to recent evidence that suggests that Exxon Mobile knew about fossil fuel's role in global warming several decades ago — and shaped drilling strategies accordingly.

"I don't want this story to disappear in all this media clutter," McKibben told journalists and a dozen or so supporters. "We need to let people know what we now know about ExxonMobil."

Now the explanation. Why did he do this? 

At the moment I'm sitting in front of an ExxonMobil station in Burlington Vermont waiting to be arrested and feeling, frankly, a little silly.
But I'm doing it because I want people to read and share two news stories, and I figure this small gesture might be enough to move a few people to do so.  The stories come from teams of reporters at the Los Angeles Times, the Columbia Journalism School, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning Inside Climate News, and they demonstrate—exhaustively, undeniably, and appallingly—that ExxonMobil, the biggest and most powerful company on earth, knew all about climate change in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The company had sophisticated computer models demonstrating exactly how fast the globe would warm, and its highest levels of management were clearly aware that this would be a severe problem for the planet. They even used this knowledge to bid on oil leases in the rapidly melting Arctic.
But they didn't tell anyone. Instead, they lied—they helped fund institutes devoted to climate denial, and bankrolled politicians who fought against climate action. Their CEO—who had overseen much of the research—told Chinese leaders in 1997 that the globe was cooling and that they should go full-steam ahead with fossil fuel.
This is not just one more set of sad stories about our climate. In the 28 years I've been following the story of global warming, this is the single most outrageous set of new revelations that journalists have uncovered. Given its unique credibility—again, it was the biggest corporation on earth—ExxonMobil could have changed history for the better. Had it sounded the alarm—had it merely said 'our internal research shows the world's scientists are right'—it would have saved a quarter century of wheel-spinning. We might actually have done something as a world before the Arctic melted, before the coral reefs were bleached, before the cycles of drought and flood set fully in.
Instead, their silence and their lies—driven by nothing more than the desire to keep making money—helped disrupt the earth's most critical systems. When people ask, how could our species have wrecked our planet, the memos and internal documents uncovered by these reporters offer a huge part of the answer. We wrecked the planet, in no small part, because we were lied to by the most powerful institutions on that planet.
And so here I sit. I don't have any great hope this action of mine will change anything practical. I fear that no one is likely to prosecute Exxon—they're too big and too powerful. And for that matter it wouldn't undo the damage. I know that we can't rally enough Americans to boycott Exxon to make more than a token dent in their endless profits, and that even if we did those profits would flow to some other oil giant whose deeds are yet to be uncovered. Indeed, I know that most of the gas stations that say Exxon or Mobil on the sign aren't even owned by the company. I know that none of this is the fault of the local franchisees—I gave the folks who run this station a hundred bucks before I sat down in hopes that my small protest won't cost them too much in income.
I also know that there are clever and cynical people who will wave off these stories by saying, 'of course, we knew that all along. That's just how the world works.' Or they will say, 'it's not Exxon's fault; we all use fossil fuels.' These clever people are the cousins of the cynics who worked at ExxonMobil; their knowingness is a cover for inaction. Exxon didn't act when its actions could have changed the course of history; that's not true of the rest of us.
My only real hope is that this gesture of mine will lead a few more people to read these pieces of reporting before they disappear into what my wife correctly and despairingly called the overwhelming clutter of our digital culture. I don't want you to sign a petition, add your name to a mailing list, send money to a kickstarter. Just to read.  I guess I figure that some people will say: if it's important enough to someone to get arrested, I can spare ten minutes to read the story.
Perhaps this understanding will lead more people to join in the movement for fossil fuel divestment, or to oppose giant new oil projects, or to take away government subsidies from dirty energy. That would be good—I've spent much of my life on those battles, and will keep at them with my colleagues at 350.org and throughout the climate justice movement. It would help in every battle that matters if the Exxons of the world had less credibility and less power.
But even if these stories simply lead to more understanding without any practical consequence, that seems worthwhile.  People are dying already around the world from the effects of climate change, people who never burned a gallon of oil in their lives. Everyone who comes after us will inhabit a planet much less vibrant than the one we were born into. My daughter graduates from college this spring, and she inherits this world that Exxon did so much to break. They—and all of us–deserve at least to know the truth.
Here are the stories I've been referring to:
Bill McKibben
P.S.—if others elsewhere want to repeat this small gesture, please do it peacefully, and respectfully.

October 10, 2015

Fracking leading to premature births

Preterm births were 40 percent higher among women who lived in areas of intense drilling and fracking operations, and these women's pregnancies were 30 percent more likely to be considered "high-risk," the authors found.
Being born premature is linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, and hearing and vision impairments. In addition, preterm-related causes of death are the single leading cause of infant deaths, the CDC reports, accounting for 35 percent of infant deaths in 2010. Preterm birth can cause long-term neurological disabilities.
A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has linked hydraulic fracturing — the process of pumping chemical-laced water into shale to extract the oil or gas embedded within — to premature births and high-risk pregnancies.

Massive Coral Bleaching Is Sweeping Across The World’s Oceans

This bleaching event began in June 2014, and has been continuously spreading across the Pacific Ocean. By 2015, coral bleaching was occurring in the south Pacific Ocean. It has now spread further in to the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and coral bleaching has been reported in Florida, Cuba, Bahamas, Haiti, Puerto Rico and other coastal countries. Coral in Hawaii, specifically, is in the worst condition scientists have ever seen. 

group of ocean scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), XL Catlin Seaview Survey, the University of Queensland, and Reef Check, confirmed this bleaching event is being brought on by a combination of a strong El Niño pattern, a warm water mass in the Pacific called "the Blob," and increasingly warming ocean temperatures brought on by climate change. This potentially lethal mixture of elements is expected to impact about 38 percent of the world's coral reefs by the end of this year and kill over 4,633 square miles (12,000 square kilometers) of reefs. NOAA predicts that by the end of 2015, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs will have been exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach.

"People are very dependent on coral reefs around the world. Half a billion people rely on coral reefs and fisheries to survive," Eakin said. 

Gov. Brown signs ambitious renewables bill into law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Wednesday that requires state-regulated utilities to get a whopping 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro, by 2030. The law also requires a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by that year. The goals were previously laid out during Brown's inaugural address.

"California is laying the groundwork for a healthier and sustainable future for all of our families," de León said. "We are showing the world through innovation how we can transition and increase access to renewable energy while cleaning up the air we breathe, especially in our most polluted communities."

California already gets more electricity from solar than any other state in the country, with enough solar capacity installed in the state to power nearly 3 million homes — and that investment has paid off. Nearly 55,000 Californians work in the solar industry.

October 7, 2015

Heating Costs Expected to be lower this winter

Most regions of the country are expected to have warmer weather this winter. The Northeast, Midwest, and South are expected to be about 13%, 11%, and 8% warmer, respectively, based on forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

EIA expects households heating with natural gas to benefit from 4% lower residential natural gas prices compared to last winter.

EIA expects households heating primarily with heating oil to spend an average of 47-cent-per gallon (15%) less this winter than last winter. 


Solar and Wind Just Passed Another Turning Point

Bloomberg Business: It has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants

Wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K., even without government subsidies, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

But that's less interesting than what just happened in the U.S. 

One of the major strengths of fossil fuel power plants is that they can command very high and predictable capacity factors. The average U.S. natural gas plant, for example, might produce about 70 percent of its potential (falling short of 100 percent because of seasonal demand and maintenance). But that's what's changing, and it's a big deal. 

For the first time, widespread adoption of renewables is effectively lowering the capacity factor for fossil fuels. That's because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you're a power company with a choice, [or a regulator in California,] you choose the free stuff every time. 

It's a self-reinforcing cycle. As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed. 

"Renewables are really becoming cost-competitive, and they're competing more directly with fossil fuels," said BNEF analyst Luke Mills. "We're seeing the utilization rate of fossil fuels wear away." 

The shift illustrates a serious new risk for power companies planning to invest in coal or natural-gas plants. Historically, a high capacity factor has been a fixed input in the cost calculation. But now anyone contemplating a billion-dollar power plant with an anticipated lifespan of decades must consider the possibility that as time goes on, the plant will be used less than when its doors first open. 

"...onshore wind and solar PV are both now much more competitive against the established generation technologies than would have seemed possible only five or 10 years ago," said Luke Mills, analyst at BNEF.  

What do BP and VW shareholders have in common?

The shareholders of both companies took a major bath because management violated environmental regulations. 

VW lost as much as $33 billion in market value since admitting cheating on emissions tests last month. The company is facing lawsuits and criminal probes with fines that could reach $7.4 billion in the U.S. alone. VW will fall to 80 euros in the short term, according to FXCM analyst Vincent Ganne. 

"You're going to have, as BP still has, long-cycle private litigation. Volkswagen's share price is going nowhere in a hurry," said Anthony Peters, a strategist at Swiss Investment Corp. in London. 

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and five Gulf Coast states announced a $20.8 billion settlement with BP on Monday. 

September 9, 2015

Oceans on Brink of Collapse

Within a single generation, human activity has severely damaged almost every aspect of our global oceans.

That's the finding of a new World Wildlife Fund study, which revealed that marine populations have declined 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. 

"The picture is now clearer than ever: humanity is collectively mismanaging the ocean to the brink of collapse," wrote Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, in the report. Over-exploiting fisheries, damaging marine habitat, and global warming have all contributed to the degradation of the world's oceans.

The study predicted the possibility of losing all coral reefs by 2050 due to warming oceans and ocean acidification. This is not only a huge danger to a quarter of all marine species that live in coral reefs, but also to the communities that rely on reefs for economic and social benefits.

August 28, 2015

How much water does it take to make dinner?

Here are two excellent articles with absolutely outstanding graphics on the amount of water it takes to produce our food. 

Tar Sands Incompatible with limiting climate change

More than 100 scientists from the U.S. and Canada called for a moratorium on the development of tar sands Wednesday, saying the carbon-intensive form of energy was "incompatible" with limiting climate change.

The scientists published 10 reasons why mining of tar sands — an energy source that's found largely in Alberta, Canada's Athabasca region and whose mining has led to significant deforestation and forest degradation in the province — needs to be halted. 

"Independent studies have demonstrated that mining and processing Albertan oil sands releases carcinogenic and toxic pollutants (e.g., heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic compounds) to the atmosphere from smoke stacks and evaporation, and to groundwater from leaching of tailings ponds," they wrote. 

Remember Kalamazoo - 5 years later

Five years ago, a pipeline carrying crude oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in Michigan, spilling over 1 million gallons into the Kalamazoo River in what would become the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

"The Kalamazoo River still isn't clean," Anthony Swift, director of NRDC's Canada Project, told OnEarth. "The EPA reached a point where additional cleanup might do more harm than good. Much of the river is still contaminated."

To Chris Wahmhoff, who grew up a mere 100 yards from the Kalamazoo River, the fifth anniversary... [is] just another step in the long fight to hold Enbridge accountable for the damage they caused. Wahmhoff remembers playing in the river nearly every day as a child — an avid kayaker, the river was an integral part of his life until the 2010 spill, when residents were told to stay away.

In 2012, Wahmhoff returned to the river alongside a former Enbridge employee, who told him about how the company had buried oil on the riverbanks. But he was shocked by what he saw when he finally returned to the river.

"I went to a river that I had been to every day of my life, and it was unrecognizable," he said. "It looked like a grave. There was no vegetation."

While at the river, Wahmhoff stepped into sand that should have been about 10 inches deep. Instead, he was swallowed by a quicksand-like substance that engulfed him to his waist. According to Wahmhoff, when his friends managed to pull him out of the sand, his leg was covered in black oil. Wahmhoff says that he threw up for three days straight, and developed a rash a month later. Now, in 2015, he has been diagnosed with a rare disease that he says is a product of his exposure to the bitumen from the oil spill.

"All of us on the ground, we definitely embrace the idea that we've been the canary in the coal mine," Wahmhoff said. "We want everyone to understand not just that there was an oil spill and not just that those chemicals make people sick, but that [oil companies] don't do a good job of protecting the community or informing the community about what dangers they face."

When the pipeline — an aging structure owned by Canadian oil company Enbridge Inc. — first ruptured, it was the middle of the night on July 25, 2010. It took more than 17 hours for Enbridge to cut off the pipeline's flow, a delayed response compounded by the company's dismissal of alarms as a malfunction and attempts to fix the problem by pumping more oil into the pipeline. By the time the pipeline had been shut off, more than 1 million gallons of tar sands crude oil had spilled into the Kalamazoo River, impacting nearly 40 miles of the river and 4,435 acres of shoreline.

The spill was especially devastating because of the nature of tar sands crude — a substance that OnEarth's Brian Palmer notes "looks more like dirt than conventional crude." To get tar sands crude to travel through pipelines, oil companies mix the substance with natural gas liquids to create something called diluted bitumen, or dilbit. When the tar sands crude leaked into the river, the natural gas liquids vaporized and drifted into nearby neighborhoods, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents who lived in the area. The tar sands bitumen, however, drifted to the bottom of the river. That made cleanup especially difficult, because most oil spill cleanup technology is meant to deal with surface-level oil, through skimmers and vacuums made to remove oil from the water's surface.

That technology was rendered essentially useless in the case of Kalamazoo, which was the first major pipeline disaster to involved diluted bitumen. Enbridge was forced to dredge the river to clean it, a costly and time consuming solution that proved not entirely effective. Even five years after the spill, environmentalists claim that tar sand bitumen remains in parts of the river.

August 25, 2015

5 things you can do today

"The real war against climate is being fought on our plates, multiple times a day with every food choice we make," says Nil Zacharias, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet, "one of the biggest challenges facing our planet, and our species is that we are knowingly eating ourselves into extinction, and doing very little about it."

As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, it is One Green Planet's view that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system, give species a fighting chance for survival, and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.

We can all make a difference right now to help the planet step back from the point of no return by eating less of meat and dairy products and putting more plant-based foods on our plates. By choosing to eat more plant-based foods you can drastically cut your carbon footprint, save precious water supplies and help ensure that vital crop resources are fed to people, rather than livestock. With the wealth of plant-based options available, it has never been easier to eat with the planet in mind.

[One Green Planet]

The Beloved in Nature

My sister helped to create this incredibly beautiful and uplifting short video. I hope you are as moved by it as I was and encourage your friends and family members to watch it as well... 

University of San Francisco's President Father Paul Fitzgerald speaks about climate change, ending with a call to action: simplify and consume less. Incorporates many of the concepts in Pope Francis' Encyclical on climate change.

The video was produced by Green Impact.

July 27, 2015

Renewables supply 70% of new generating capacity in 1H 2015!

In yet another clear indication of the nation's energy future, renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for nearly 70% (69.75%) of new electrical generation placed in service in the United States during the first six months of 2015.

According to the recently-released "Energy Infrastructure Update" report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, 18 new "units" of wind accounted for 1,969 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity – or more than half (50.64%) of all new capacity year-to-date. Among renewable sources, solar followed with 549 MW (71 units), biomass with 128 MW (7 units), geothermal steam with 45 MW (1 unit), and hydropower with 21 MW (1 unit). Twenty-one units of natural gas contributed 1,173 MW.

FERC reported no new capacity for the year-to-date from oil or nuclear power and just 3 MW from one unit of coal. Thus, new capacity from renewable energy sources during the first half of 2015 is 904 times greater than that from coal and more than double that from natural gas.

For the month of June alone, wind (320 MW), biomass (95 MW), and solar (62 MW) provided 97% of new capacity with natural gas providing the balance (15 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 17.27% of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.61%, wind – 5.84%, biomass – 1.40%, solar – 1.08%, and geothermal steam – 0.34%(for comparison, renewables were 16.28% of capacity in June 2014 and 15.81% in June 2013).

Renewable electrical capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.20%) and oil (3.87%) combined. In fact, the installed capacity of wind power alone has now surpassed that of oil. On the other hand, generating capacity from coal has declined from 28.96% in mid-2013 to 26.83% today.  *

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its most recent 5-page "Energy Infrastructure Update," with data through June 30, 2015, on July 21, 2015. See the tables titled "New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion)" and "Total Installed Operating Generating Capacity" at:  http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2015/june-infrastructure.pdf.

* Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Electrical production per MW of available capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. According to the most recent data (i.e., as of April 2015) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources now totals about 14.6% of total U.S. electrical production (see: http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly); however, this figure almost certainly understates renewables' actual contribution significantly because neither EIA nor FERC fully accounts for all electricity generated by distributed renewable energy sources (e.g., uncounted rooftop solar now provides about 45% of U.S. solar capacity).