Thursday, January 31, 2013

Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy to Depart Feb. 1

Charles McConnell, who has spearheaded DOE's efforts in the development of CCUS technologies for nearly two years, has announced he will resign as Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy.

Will Climate Change Hawk Kerry Kill Keystone XL?

The Senate confirmed John Kerry as a Secretary of State by a vote of 94 to 3. I believe this is a turning point in the fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Once again, I do not think that a man who had dedicated his Senate career to fighting catastrophic climate change would start his term as Secretary approving the expansion of one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels in the world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 30 News: China Burning Nearly As Much Coal As The Rest Of The World

As of the end of 2011, China was burning nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined. [WaPo]

China's coal use grew 9 percent in 2011, rising to 3.8 billion tons. At this point, the country is burning nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined.

Coal, of course, is the world's premier fossil fuel, a low-cost source of electricity that kicks a lot of carbon-dioxide up into the atmosphere. And China's growing appetite is a big reason why global greenhouse-gas emissions have soared in recent years, even as the United States and Europe have managed to curtail their coal use and cut their carbon pollution.

Millions of people worldwide are fleeing their homes because of environmental disasters. But the conditions in which the refugees have to take up residence in neighboring countries isn't regulated by international law. [DW]

A new study by the National Wildlife Federation has concluded that climate change in the United States is happening much faster than many of its animal species are able to respond and adapt. [USA Today]

With its carbon cap-and-trade system now up and running, California - the most populous state in the U.S. and the ninth biggest economy in the world - is ahead of the rest of the country in taking action on climate change. [Time]

While air travel only accounts for an estimated 5 percent of global carbon emissions, that share is expected to grow as air travel becomes cheaper and more accessible. [The Economist]

According to a study by researchers at the Zoological Society of London and others, a mangrove forest shared by India and Bangladesh that's home to possibly 500 Bengal tigers is being rapidly destroyed by erosion, rising sea levels and storm surges. [The Guardian]

America's Plants, Fish And Wildlife Are Already Facing A Climate Crisis

Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by 7 to 11°F by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife.

National Wildlife Federation executive summary and news release for new report, "Wildlife in a Warming World."

Our nation's plants, fish, and wildlife are already facing a climate crisis.

Pine trees in the Rocky Mountains are being jeopardized by beetle infestations, while new forests are encroaching on the Alaskan tundra. East coast beaches and marshes are succumbing to rising seas, especially in places where development prevents their natural migration landward. Polar bears, seals, and walrus are struggling to survive in a world of dwindling sea ice, which is their required habitat. Birds and butterflies have had to shift their breeding season and the timing of their seasonal migrations. Fish are dying by the thousands during intense and lengthy droughts and heat waves. Many plant and wildlife species are shifting their entire ranges to colder locales, in many cases two- to three-times faster than scientists anticipated.

Now is the time to confront the causes of climate change.

Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife. America must be a leader in taking swift, significant action to reduce pollution and restore the ability of farms, forests, and other natural lands to absorb and store carbon. This means rapidly deploying clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and sustainable bioenergy, while curbing the use of dirty energy reserves. And it means reducing the carbon pollution from smokestacks that is driving the climate change harming wildlife.

Wildlife conservation requires preparing for and managing climate change impacts.

Because of the warming already underway and the time it will take to transform our energy systems, we will be unable to avoid many of the impacts of climate change. Our approaches to wildlife conservation and natural resource management need to account for the new challenges posed by climate change. We must embrace forward- looking goals, take steps to make our ecosystems more resilient, and ensure that species are able to shift ranges in response to changing conditions. At the same time, we need to protect our communities from climate-fueled weather extremes by making smarter development investments, especially those that employ the natural benefits of resilient ecosystems.

Only by confronting the climate crisis can we sustain our conservation legacy.

The challenges that climate change poses for wildlife and people are daunting. Fortunately, we know what's causing these changes and we know what needs to be done to chart a better course for the future. As we begin to see whole ecosystems transform before our very eyes, it is clear that we have no time to waste.

The National Wildlife Federation report covers eight regions of the U.S., from the Arctic to the Atlantic coast, and details concrete examples of wildlife struggling to adapt to the climate crisis:

  • A recent study looked at 305 species of birds in North America and found that of those, more than half (177) have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the past four decades.
  • Climate change is creating conditions fueling more mega-wildfires, which are having devastating impacts on fish and wildlife habitats and are putting people and property in harm's way.
  • Alaska has warmed about twice as much as the continental United States and warming is severely altering the Arctic landscape including melting permafrost. In the face of this unprecedented warming,many uniquely polar habitats-like the sea ice that polar bears, seals, and walrus require to hunt-are shrinking fast.
  • As superstorm Sandy demonstrated, extreme weather fueled by climate change can turn coastal habitats upside down. Of the 72 National Wildlife Refuges along the Atlantic coast, 35 were temporarily closed because of the storm's devastation, not to mention the widespread destruction of property and infrastructure.

The report recommends a four-pronged attack to confront the climate crisis' threats to wildlife and communities:

  1. Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030.
  2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels while avoiding dirty energy choices like coal and tar sands oil.
  3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
  4. Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather, and more severe droughts.

"We know what's causing the climate changes Americans are seeing in their own backyards and we have the solutions to secure our climate and safeguard our wildlife for future generations," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "What we need is the political leadership to make smart energy choices and wise investments in protecting our natural resources. We can't leave this problem for our children and grandchildren to fix - they'll judge us based on what we do now."

NWF's new report is "Wildlife in a Warming World."

Preparing Transportation for Climate Change: We Are Not Ready

Deron Lovaas, Federal Transportation Policy Director, Washington, D.C.

This past Sunday at church, my daughter and I heard a story based on a children's book that delighted her and caught my attention too. You may have heard of it - "Ming Lo Moves the Mountain." It's a clever parable about a family frustrated at the effects of a mountain looming over their home, including lack of sunlight and occasional boulders crashing through the roof. They determine they have to move the mountain, and after consulting the village wise man repeatedly they finally figure out how to get the job done. They deconstruct their house, pack it up, close their eyes, and take enough steps back that the mountain magically becomes smaller!

It's a cute story which resonated with me because I've been thinking and reading up on climate preparedness. Being prepared requires, first of all, respect for Mother Nature so we can adjust to reality when necessary (i.e., move away from the mountain).

Based on my research so far, I can't help but conclude that we are not ready, at least not in the transportation sector. Far from it.

hurricane-sandy-subway-flooding1.jpgPhoto of flooded NY subway stop after Superstorm Sandy hit, courtesy of MTA

First of all, it helps to diagnose the situation - just how far-reaching and intense might the effects of climate change be? As part of its latest, statutorily required initiative to determine this via a National Climate Assessment, the Department of Transportation held a two-day workshop last fall about the "Systemic Impacts of Climate on Transportation." Here's the final report from the series of presentations by government and academic analysts, followed by a facilitated discussion with our whole group. The presentations are sobering. Sea-level rise scenarios of 0.2 to 2.0 meters (anywhere from 8 inches to 6-and-a-half feet!) by 2100; more extreme events including droughts, floods, storms, heat and cold waves and hurricanes; as well as challenging "slow-motion" shifts like crop migration.

Some of this is echoed in the National Climate Assessment (NCA) draft itself (a nearly 1200-page report which is currently available for public comments here). The transportation chapter (pdf here) provides the first hint that we aren't prepared. There is some useful diagnostic information here, including the bald assertion that changing climatic conditions "are reducing [not will reduce; emphasis mine] the reliability and capacity of the U.S. transportation system in many ways." There's also a useful matrix for illustrating risks of climate-related impacts, with "magnitude of consequences" and "likelihood of occurrence" plotted out; this could be a diagnostic tool for state and local transportation agencies.

But other than some generic advice regarding adaptation and coping techniques, and a few interesting success stories -- no surprise that the transit agency in the progressive haven of Portlandia has already installed expansion joints for rail in vulnerable locations - the chapter is thin gruel when it comes to assessing preparedness at the local, state or national levels. We have to look elsewhere to determine how ready we might be.

So I searched the thousands of papers from this year's Transportation Research Board conference for ones on climate adaptation and preparedness. How many did I find? Just 5.

Transportation is a notoriously close-knit industry so as expected one of the papers was co-authored by one of the authors of the NCA transpo chapter, Professor Michael Meyer (the co-author's a grad student, Thomas Wall). The paper is a "synthesis" examination of infrastructure-specific adaptation frameworks in Australia, Canada, the EU, New Zealand, Scotland as well as the U.K. and U.S. An eye-catching conclusion is a "broad agreement on the limitations of the frameworks developed, and the barriers preventing their further development and implementation."

The other two that were most interesting include one explaining a "sensitivity matrix," a tool for gauging the vulnerability of infrastructure assets to damage based on possible storm surges on the Gulf Coast. The team at ICF consulting developed this with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA, and it's consequently available on the FHWA site here), and unfortunately as the authors note it may not be applicable to public transportation assets.

The other one, entitled "Assessing Public Transportation Agencies' Climate Change Adaptation Activities and Needs," is all about public transportation, and is co-authored by (who else?) two Portland State University professors. In addition to an inventory of climate adaptation projects funded by smart staff at the Federal Transit Administration (I wrote about FTA's work in previous blog entry), the paper reports on the results of a survey of public transportation agencies coordinate with the American Public Transportation Association (or APTA; NRDC is proud to be a member of it). 64 transit agencies from 28 states filled out a survey, and the findings are frankly alarming. Fully 92 percent say they've already been impacted just in the last decade by major storm events, and 60 percent "felt it was somewhat important for their organizations to prepare for future impacts of climate change..." and 28 percent "indicated that their organization feels that climate change is currently impacting their community..."

The good news is that at least 38 percent of agencies are "collecting cost data and/or other information and data about weather events or climate projections to assess the impact on their infrastructure and operations" and 57 percent have "identified assets and infrastructure that are vulnerable to extreme weather events." But "only 21 respondents indicated that their agency was currently involved in adaptation climate change planning activities" and "nearly 34 percent of the agencies are not collecting or using any data related to extreme weather or climate change." [emphases mine] The three big barriers to doing more identified by those surveyed include lack of funding, low institutional priority and need for better data and tools. And these are the subset of 300 agencies surveyed who chose to respond, self-selection that probably entails a higher degree of commitment and preparation than those who ignored the questionnaire.

To be clear, there are examples of leaders in climate preparedness as profiled in the NCA as well as in resources such as the National Academies new report on Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative (report and handy, brief executive summary available here) and U.Va. Professor Tim Beatley's well-written book Planning for Coastal Resilience. And in response to hurricane Sandy, New York City and State have pulled together impressive plans including one looking way out to the year 2100.

The bottom line though is that laggards outnumber leaders in climate preparedness, and policymakers must get to work in order to change that for the sake of our transportation system's future.

Al Gore Says Obama Could Have Had A Climate Bill, Warns Shale Gas 'May Be A Bridge To Nowhere'

Al Gore's new book, The Future, isn't mostly about climate change. In fact, global warming is only one of the "Six drivers of global change."

Others drivers include globalization, the internet (surprise, surprise) and "the reinvention of life and death" from the genomic, biotech, neuroscience, and life sciences revolutions.

Any Gore book is worth reading - Our Choice is one of the best books on climate solutions - and The Future is no exception. Let me cut to the chase on climate and energy.

In his discussion of why the climate bill failed after passing the U.S. House, Gore takes a different view of one recent academic essay and slams the White House:

... the obsolete and dysfunctional rules of the U.S. Senate empowered a minority to kill it in that chamber. Senators in both parties said privately that passage of the climate plan might have been within reach but it seemed to them that President Obama was not prepared to make the all-out effort that would have been necessary to build a coalition in support of the plan. Earlier, he had chosen to make healthcare reform his number one priority, and the badly broken U.S. political system produced a legislative gridlock on his health plan that lasted until the midterm campaign season began, leaving no time for even Senate discussion of the climate change issue.

By then, Obama and his political team in the White House had apparently long since made a sober assessment of the political risks involved in states where the power of the fossil fuel industries would punish him for committing himself to the passage of this plan. So, instead, when his opponents in Congress took up the cry "drill, baby, drill," the president proposed expansion of oil drilling-even in the Arctic Ocean-and opened up more public land to coal mining. For these and other reasons, the positive impacts of the energy and climate proposals with which he began his presidency were nearly overwhelmed by his sharp turn toward a policy that he described as an "all of the above" approach-one that has contributed to the increased reliance on carbon-rich fossil fuels.


Gore has a long discussion on one new source of fossil fuels in particular, natural gas from fracking. The whole discussion is thoughtful and well worth reading.

Here is what the Nobel-Prize winning former VP concludes:

Years ago I was among those who recommended the greater use of conventional natural gas as a bridge fuel to phase out coal use more quickly while solar and wind technologies were produced at sufficient scale to bring their price down even more. However, it is increasingly clear that the net effect of shale gas on the environment may ultimately be inconsistent with its use as a bridge fuel. Global society as a whole would find it difficult to make the enormous investments necessary to switch from coal to gas, and then turn right around and make equally significant investments to substitute were nubile technologies for gas. It strains credulity. In other words, it may be a bridge to nowhere.

Again, precisely.

So many recent futurist books ignore or downplay the polar bear in the room, which isn't a mistake Gore makes. I highly recommend The Future as one of the most comprehensive and readable books on the subject written in recent years.

Related Post:

Nicholas Stern: I Got It Wrong On Climate Change-It's Far, Far Worse

Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.

100 Days of Action for Climate, Clean Energy Kicks Off with Coast to Coast Events

In the two weeks since the Sierra Club launched our Obama Climate and Clean Energy Legacy campaign, Sierra Club volunteers, chapters, organizers, and allies have held more than 30 inspiring (and fun!) launch events nationwide. The events they organized from coast to coast kick off 100 Days of Action, from the Inauguration to Earth Day, calling on President Obama to take bold action on the many climate and clean energy decisions before his Administration in his second term.

From Owensboro, Kentucky to Olympia, Washington and from happy hours to Martin Luther King Jr. Day marches, a movement is growing. Each day I am inspired when I hear about all the great work everyone is doing to engage people across the country in our climate and clean energy agenda for the President.

I'd like to highlight some of the awesome events that have taken place so far in our 100 Days of Action for Climate and Clean Energy.

VA movie
Virginia: In Norfolk, more than 300 people (the line is pictured above) attended a screening of the documentary Chasing Ice and then stayed after to discuss climate disruption and what can be done.

Minnesota: In Minneapolis, a packed room of climate volunteer leaders and allies from faith and local groups met over breakfast to kick off a joint 100 days of action and plan upcoming actions and events.

Climate rally texas
Texas: A crowd of Texas Sierra Club volunteers participated in the Austin Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration march and festival. They carried a banner that read, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy," (see above photo) a King quote and call to President Obama to do more on climate.

At the festival, the marchers also collected handwritten letters to President Obama from children and adults alike asking him to take action on climate.

Colorado: On Saturday, January 19, the Colorado Beyond Coal Campaign hosted a Climate and Clean Energy Legacy Happy Hour in Denver to kick-off the Legacy Campaign. More than 20 folks came by to learn about the campaign and enjoy a beer, with many of them expressing an interest in doing further work with the Sierra Club on pushing for climate action and more clean energy.

Georgia: More than 20 volunteers marched in the Atlanta MLK Day parade calling for clean air, climate justice, and a clean energy economy for Georgia by chanting "Coal power, we gotta fight, 'cause clean air is a human right!"

Philadelphia house party climate legacy2
Pennsylvania: Activists in Philadelphia have held six events so far -- including two house parties (one photographed above) to discuss upcoming climate actions, to a happy hour for interested volunteers, and events with the Sierra Student Coalition on the Drexel University campus to get students involved.

I think my favorite event so far, though, might be the amazing "Tell Your Story" party in Inland Empire, California. Participants produced an amazing video of them telling stories about how climate disruption affects people in the city:

The 100 Days of Action continues, with many more events to come. We encourage to you contact your local Sierra Club chapter or organizer to see if there's an event coming up near you -- or organize your own!

President Obama took the first step by inviting the community to a conversation around climate disruption -- now it's up to us to respond and show the president it's time to act.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

Humans Have Already Set in Motion 69 Feet of Sea Level Rise

Glaciologist Jason Box describes a post-warming world that you won't even be able to recognize.

Last week, a much discussed new paper in the journal Nature seemed to suggest to some that we needn't worry too much about the melting of Greenland, the mile-thick mass of ice at the top of the globe. The research found that the Greenland ice sheet seems to have survived a previous warm period in Earth's history-the Eemian period, some 126,000 years ago-without vanishing (although it did melt considerably).

But Ohio State glaciologist Jason Box isn't buying it.

At Monday's Climate Desk Live briefing in Washington, D.C., Box, who has visited Greenland 23 times to track its changing climate, explained that we've already pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide 40 percent beyond Eemian levels. What's more, levels of atmospheric methane are a dramatic 240 percent higher-both with no signs of stopping. "There is no analogue for that in the ice record," said Box.

And that's not all. The present mass scale human burning of trees and vegetation for clearing land and building fires, plus our pumping of aerosols into the atmosphere from human pollution, weren't happening during the Eemian. These human activities are darkening Greenland's icy surface, and weakening its ability to bounce incoming sunlight back away from the planet. Instead, more light is absorbed, leading to more melting, in a classic feedback process that is hard to slow down.

"These giants are awake," said Box of Greenland's rumbling glaciers, "and they seem to have a bit of a hangover."

Chart of declining areas of glaciers

To make matters worse, there's also Antarctica, the other great planetary ice sheet, which 10 times as much total water as Greenland-all of which could someday be translated into rising sea level. That includes the West Antarctic ice sheet, which is marine- rather than land-based, making it highly vulnerable to melting.

While Greenland is currently contributing twice as much water to sea level rise as Antarctica, situation could change in the future. According to Box, it's kind of as though we're in a situation of "ice sheet roulette" right now, wondering which one of the big ones will go first.

Box also provided a large-scale perspective on how much sea level rise humanity has already probably set in motion from the burning of fossil fuels. The answer is staggering: 69 feet, including water from both Greenland and Antarctica, as well as other glaciers based on land from around the world.

Chart of rising Greenland temperatures

Scientists like Box aren't sure precisely when, or how fast, all that water will flow into the seas. They only know that in past periods of Earth's history, levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases and sea levels have followed one another closely, allowing an inference about where sea level is headed as it, in effect, catches up with the greenhouse gases we've unleashed. To be sure, the process will play out over vast time periods-but it has already begun, and sea level is starting to show a curve upward that looks a lot like...well, the semi-notorious "hockey stick."

So what can we do? For Box, any bit of policy helps. "The more we can cool climate, the slower Greenland's loss will be," he explained. Cutting greenhouse gases slows the planet's heating, and with it, the pace of ice sheet losses.

In the meantime, to better understand where we're headed, Box has launched a scientific project called "Dark Snow," which seeks to crowdfund a Greenland expedition to help determine just how much our darkening of the great ice sheet in this unprecedented "Anthropocene" era will push us well beyond Eemian territory. The video for that project is below. If the remote, dangerous science of ice sheets intrigues you enough (or scares you enough), then you definitely will want this research to succeed:

Groundswell of Support Continues for Cleaning Up Gasoline and Car-caused Smog

Luke Tonachel, Vehicles Analyst, New York City

New polling demonstrates strong public support for tighter standards on gasoline and car tailpipes to reduce smog and other pollutants. The poll results bolster the calls from a diverse set of interests in business, health and environmental communities for the federal government to move forward with Tier 3 sulfur and pollution standards.

According to a poll released today by the American Lung Association, Americans want more protection for air quality. Of the 800 surveyed voters (across parties), "[a] 2-to-1 majority (62 to 32 percent) support EPA setting stricter standards on gasoline and tightening limits on tailpipe emissions from new vehicles."

Some federal leaders have already heard the call from their constituents. As I described in an earlier post, a group of thirteen Senators urged that new standards be set. Echoing the call for action on Tier 3 was a recent joint letter from businesses, labor leaders and environmental groups.

State governors and public health advocates have also weighed in with letters, available here and here.

The automakers support Tier 3 standards too.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration is taking notice. Yesterday, the long overdue Tier 3 proposal from U.S. EPA to cut gasoline sulfur levels and strengthen new vehicle tailpipe standards for smog-forming pollutants like nitrogen oxides was sent for review at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Once the rule clears OMB-which has been targeted for March-it will be made available for public comment. This will be another important opportunity to lend your voice in support-and I'll keep you posted on how to do it.

I won't be surprised to see the oil industry ramp-up its efforts to kill these important standards that will clean our air. They will claim that the standards will cause a large jump in gasoline prices but analysis Navigant Economics has shown that the impact is likely less than a penny a gallon, if perceptible at all at the pump.

On the other hand, the pollution reductions achieved by the standard result in huge health benefits, estimated at over $5 billion per year by 2020 and over $10 billion per year by 2030. Note, also, that as soon as the gasoline sulfur is lowered, existing vehicles on the road will run cleaner. The instant pollution reduction will be equivalent to taking 33 million of today's automobiles off the road.

As the polling released today shows, we value our health and know that it depends on clean air. It's time to move quickly to adopt common-sense Tier 3 standards and make breathing easier for us and for future generations.

CalOSHA Investigation: Chevron Intentionally and Knowingly Failed to Comply with Safety Standards that Lead to Richmond Refinery Fire

Diane Bailey, Senior Scientist, San Francisco

The fifteen thousand people who streamed into Bay-Area hospitals knew there was something terribly wrong with Chevron's Richmond refinery when it caught on fire on August 6th, 2012. What they did not now is that, according to a CalOSHA investigation released today, Chevron USA "intentionally and knowingly failed to comply with state safety standards" leading to a catastrophic fire that put workers and the surrounding community at serious risk.

What happened on August 6th? A severely corroded pipe in one of the crude units (where they begin processing crude oil into gas and diesel) began leaking. Chevron chose not to shut down the leaking unit and instead ordered workers to remove insulation. The pipe then ruptured, igniting a massive fire. Luckily but narrowly, the workers escaped without serious injuries.

CalOSHA's investigation of the incident has resulted in a total of 25 citations, many of them with the highest classification of "willful serious" and totaling roughly $1 million in penalties, the highest fine of its kind in California history. Of most concern, CalOSHA found that:

  • Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its own experts and inspectors who first began warning back in 2002 that the piping that ruptured should have been replaced.
  • When that pipe began leaking, Chevron failed to follow its own emergency shutdown procedures, putting workers at the site and thousands of area residents at extreme risk.

The Chevron Richmond plant is the largest polluter in all of California, making the health and safety standards that much more important. In addition to all the pollution from this facility, there is a cloud of fear and anxiety hanging over the workers and the community of Richmond. When will the next accident happen? Will it be deadly? Is it safe for me and my family to live near the refinery?

While Chevron claims that it intends to compensate community members with "valid claims" (what does that mean?), monetary compensation will not address the ongoing health and safety concerns among workers and the community. As Chevron continues to use dirtier, higher sulfur and more corrosive grades of crude oil at the refinery, we can expect similar incidents and higher pollution levels.

As an engineer, it's shocking to see the photos and reports from CalOSHA and other agencies, showing pieces of piping that were corroded by 80 percent with little more than a shell of the original pipe holding things together. This kind of shoddy and seriously negligent maintenance is not what you expect to see from one of the largest companies in the world (Chevron Corporation earned more than $200 billion in revenue last year). It poses a deadly safety risk to workers and residents alike.

The Chevron Richmond refinery urgently needs a safety face-lift. Every recommendation from CalOSHA must be implemented immediately, and the use of dirtier, more corrosive and dangerous heavy crude oils must cease. Chevron needs to live up to its claims of caring about the environment and safeguarding its employees. The Richmond facility needs to be upgraded to meet modern safety and environmental standards to remove that cloud of pollution and fear hanging over workers and the community.

Peak Oil solved, but climate will fry: BP report

BP's recently released "BP Energy Outlook 2030" report claims that a dramatic rise in new unconventional sources of oil -- tight oil, tar sands and NGLs -- will solve the "peak oil" problem. These new sources of "oil" are primed to gush forth and allow ...
See all stories on this topic »

The Vancouver Observer (blog)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fight Keystone XL Tar Sands Pollution and Protect the Climate

Rocky Kistner, Communications Associate, Washington, DC

Up in the pristine Canadian boreal forests and freshwater deltas of Alberta, home to caribou, whooping crane and native communities settled long before Europeans arrived, a poisonous sore is being gouged out of the carbon-rich soil, a massive tar sands oil mining operation that could have huge climate impacts for people across the globe.

New information shows that oil industry plans to more than triple production of tar sands oil in the coming decades will include additional dirty petroleum byproducts, making it even harder for Canada to meet its planned greenhouse gas emission targets. Right now there is one major project standing in the way of tar sands expansion-a roadblock that Canadian oil interests are desperate to crash through.

That roadblock is the Obama Administration's decision whether to grant a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion project that would pump more than 800,000 barrels of toxic tar sands crude each day from Alberta's forests through America's agricultural heartland to refineries in the Gulf, where much of the oil would be processed and exported. The administration is expected to release a supplemental Environmental impact Statement soon, with the final Keystone decision expected in coming months.

You can help stop the tar sands devastation and protect the climate. Watch this video about climate threats posed by the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and find out how to join the February 17 Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, DC.

Climate scientists warn that further development of fossil fuel energy sources like tar sands oil will spell disaster for the planet's climate, a point made clear in the release of the draft study of the National Climate Assessment this month. "If we fully develop the tar sands resources we will certainly lose control of the climate, we will get to a point where we can no walk back from the cliff," says University of St. Thomas energy expert John Abraham, who has studied the climate impacts of tar sands oil emissions.

That's because tar sands oil is particularly dirty--at least three times as carbon intensive as conventional oil--resulting in a refining process that includes carbon-intensive byproducts like petroleum coke-or petcoke-that can be burned like coal in refineries at the receiving end of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. According to a new report released by Oil Change International, petcoke burned from tar sands oil would equal the climate pollution of five additional coal fired power plants, boosting overall carbon emissions from the Keystone XL pipeline by 13 percent. Oil Change International research director Lorne Stockman describes it this way:

"The refineries at the end of the Keystone XL pipeline are some of the biggest petcoke factories in the world today. By supplying them with tar sands bitumen, the petcoke embedded in the tar sands would find its way to the world market...petcoke from the tar sands is making coal fired generation dirtier and cheaper and this puts another nail in the coffin of any rational argument for further exploitation of the tar sands."

Oil industry supporters claim that if the Keystone XL pipeline is not built, tar sands oil will find its way to other markets through future North American pipelines built to the east or west coasts. But many researchers say those projects are mere pipedreams, since the tar sands industry faces major opposition from local communities on the east and west coasts, where residents are worried about tar sands oil spills and other environmental impacts. The Pembina Institute's Nathan Lemphers worked on a new comprehensive report that lays out the facts surrounding tar sands expansion and the Keystone XL pipeline, which he says is a crucial lynchpin in the development of the tar sands:

The Keystone XL pipeline is critical for further expansion of the oil sands. Major financial institutions in Canada have said that the lack of pipeline capacity is a rate limiting step for the oil sands...if it's (Keystone XL) not build, it'll start to moderate the growth of the oil sands and it will send a clear signal to the financial community and the oil sands community that they need to address the carbon emissions that come from the oil sands.

Tar sands processing plant in Alberta Photo: David Dodge, The Pembina Institute

But growing opposition to the Canadian tar sands is not just a not-in-my-backyard concern--everyone is hurt by higher emissions from the dirtiest oil on the planet. The scientific community is especially concerned about rapidly melting Arctic ice, rising sea levels and extreme weather events associated with climate change that we are already witnessing. In December, some of the country's top climate scientists sent President Obama a letter urging his administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, citing last year's recent record-setting temperatures and storms as evidence that we need bold action to cut global fossil fuel emissions.

Earlier in January, 70 groups wrote President Obama urging him to take bold and decisive action to help protect the nation against climate change's ravages. Danny Harvey, an energy and climate expert at the University of Toronto, said it best in our video: "Right now President Obama faces a critical choice. There's no better time to say no to further expansion, say no to business as usual, and to begin the process of turning things around."

On February 17, join people from all walks of life, from climate scientists to ranchers and farmers, who will gather in Washington, DC, to call for strong action to fight climate change. The Forward on Climate Rally will point the way for Obama to shape his climate legacy. One of the most important decisions he can make is to reject the Keystone pipeline and to tell the EPA to set carbon standards for power plants.

We the people have the power to demand action from our political leaders, to tell the lobbyists and oil industry fat cats that we're tired of their business-as-usual dirty energy campaigns. We want clean energy solutions that create new technologies and long-term job opportunities, including money-saving projects like NRDC's innovative plan to cut coal-fired power plant pollution.These are the kinds of investments that will build a more sustainable planet for all who inherit the Earth.

That's certainly worth fighting for. Because if we don't, who will?

For more information on how to sign up and participate in the February 17th march, check out the Forward on Climate Rally site.

Sea Change: The Bay of Bengal's Vanishing Islands

Rapid erosion and rising sea levels are increasingly threatening the existence of islands off the coast of Bangladesh and India.


Schoolteacher Nurul Hashem lives in a grass hut set among coconut palms and pine trees, yards from a pristine beach on the sparkling Bay of Bengal. It sounds idyllic, but he longs to return to the island of Kutubdia, 50 miles away, where his family home has been swallowed by ever-rising tides and is now out at sea under several feet of water.

To make matters worse, the local government, which welcomed him when he arrived three years ago, wants him and thousands of other families who have fled to the coast from the island, to make way for an airport and hotel developments.

Kutubdia is one of many islands off Bangladesh and India affected by increasingly rapid erosion and some of the fastest recorded sea-level rises in the world. These "vanishing islands" are shrinking dramatically. Kutubdia has halved in size in 20 years, to about 100 sq km. Since 1991 six villages on the island of fishermen and salt workers have been swamped and about 40,000 people have fled. Like Hashem, most have relocated to the coast near Cox's Bazar.

"The sea water is rising every day," says Hashem, who calls himself a climate refugee.

To keep reading, click here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

NASA Retirees Who Have No Climate Expertise Try To Debunk NASA Scientists Who Do

by Dana Nuccitelli, via Skeptical Science

In April of 2012, 49 former NASA employees sent a letter to the current NASA administrator requesting that he effectively muzzle the climate scientists at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). None of those former NASA employees have conducted any climate science research, but based on their own lack of understanding of the subject, they objected to the conclusions drawn by the climate experts at NASA GISS. This letter drew media attention because folks who have worked at NASA are well-respected (and rightly so), but there was really no substance to it, or any particular reason to lend it credence. Astronauts and engineers are not climate experts.

Now in January of 2013, a group of 20 "Apollo era NASA retirees" has put together a rudimentary climate "report" and issued a press release declaring that they have decided human-caused global warming is not "settled" and is nothing to worry about. This time around they have not listed the 20 individuals who contributed to this project, but have simply described the group as being:

"...comprised of renowned space scientists with formal educational and decades career involvement in engineering, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, geophysics, geology and meteorology. Many of these scientists have Ph.Ds."

The project seems to be headed by H. Leighton Steward, a 77-year-old former oil and gas executive. The press release also links the NASA group to his website, "co2isgreen", which also has an extensive history of receiving fossil fuel industry funding.

This story can be summed up very simply: a group of retired NASA scientists with no climate science research experience listened to a few climate scientists and a few fossil fuel-funded contrarian scientists, read a few climate blogs, asked a few relatively simple questions, decided that those questions cannot be answered (though we will answer them in this post), put together a very rudimentary report, and now expect people to listen to them because they used to work at NASA. It's purely an appeal to authority, except that the participants have no authority or expertise in climate science.

Answering the NASA Retirees' Questions

Most of the group's report is devoted to summarizing some basic aspects of climate science, such as the greenhouse effect. At the end it lists seven "conclusions", most of which are questions they claim "are still to be resolved", but in reality are generally simple to answer.

1) How really well known is the global temperature of the earth over the past century?

Quite really well known. The accuracy of the surface temperature record has been confirmed by many different studies using a variety of different approaches, including by natural thermometers and satellites. There is very little difference between the results of different groups analyzing the surface temperature data (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The four main global surface temperature measurement datasets.

Ocean measurements also show an immense amount of heat accumulation in the world's oceans, well outside the margin of error (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Time series for the World Ocean of ocean heat content (1022 J) for the 0-2000m (red) and 700-2000m (black) layers based on running pentadal (five-year) analyses. Reference period is 1955-2006. Each pentadal estimate is plotted at the midpoint of the 5-year period. The vertical bars represent +/- 2 times the standard error of the mean (S.E.) about the pentadal estimate for the 0-2000m estimates and the grey-shaded area represent +/- 2*S.E. about the pentadal estimate for the 700-2000m estimates. The blue bar chart at the bottom represents the percentage of one-degree squares (globally) that have at least four pentadal one-degree square anomaly values used in their computation at 700m depth. Blue line is the same as for the bar chart but for 2000m depth.

2) How important to the factors that determine the surface temperature of the earth are the human related increases of CO2?

Human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant cause of global warming. The science is entirely settled on this question, which simply boils down to physics. Long-term global warming is caused by a global energy imbalance. Human greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for by far the largest such energy imbalance over the past century. The graph below (Figure 3), is taken from Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, light green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange), and Wigley and Santer 2012 (WS12, dark green).

Figure 3: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years.

3) What exactly are the true feedback effects and how do they vary?

There are a number of different climate feedbacks which amplify or dampen global warming. The NASA document accurately summarizes their net effect.

"The net effect, which includes feedbacks) on the temperature anomaly from the IPCC (AR4) was ... 2.0 - 4.5 K"

By itself, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will cause an energy imbalance sufficient to ultimately warm global surface temperatures about 1.2°C. Through a variety of different types of studies, climate scientists have concluded that the net effect of the various temperature feedbacks will amplify that warming to somewhere in the range of 2 to 4.5°C in response to doubled CO2.

4) Since the 1988 Hansen paper and presentation to Congress, through the IPCC 2000 and subsequent projections of the global temperature anomaly, the models have consistently over-projected the actual measured temperature anomalies in the subsequent years.

This statement, derived from a blog post, is simply incorrect. As we at Skeptical Science have shown several times, the IPCC temperature projections have been exceptionally accurate (Figure 4).

Figure 4: IPCC temperature projections (red, pink, orange, green) and contrarian projections (blue and purple) vs. observed surface temperature changes (average of NASA GISS, NOAA NCDC, and HadCRUT4; black and red) for 1990 through 2012.

Conclusion 4 in the document also incorrectly states that "the IPCC projections are intended to represent the worst-case scenario." The IPCC projections are based on a wide variety of human greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, not simply a single worst-case scenario. Given that many climate variables are changing faster than the IPCC anticipated, it would make for a pretty terrible worst case scenario.

5) What accounts for some of the observed differences between the steady increase in CO2 concentrations over the last century and the more erratic changes in estimated global temperature anomaly?

Cooling from human aerosol emissions offset warming from human greenhouse gas emissions in the mid-20th century, and on top of that there is natural internal variability in the climate system, as Kevin C's video illustrates.

6) What are the relative effects of natural climate oscillations such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, (ENSO), the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) on the earth's temperature trends? Are they compensating for the radiative forcing of CO2 (and other GHG) increases?

These are some of the contributors to the short-term natural internal variability mentioned in the answer to the last question. No, natural variability is not 'compensating' for the radiative forcing (global energy imbalance) caused by greenhouse gases. Recent research by Sedláček & Knutti (2012) found that warming caused by internal variability creates a very patchy pattern, whereas we observe a very smooth pattern of warming, consistent with an external forcing like an increased greenhouse effect. However, the ocean cycles mentioned in this question have caused a short-term dampening of global surface warming over the past decade or so.

7) Why is it assumed that, aside from the more obvious impacts of significant sea level rise on existing infrastructure, that the net effect of more CO2 is negative? After all, CO2 is often added to commercial greenhouses to promote plant growth.

This is not an assumption, it is the result of a wide body of scientific research. More CO2 means more global warming, which means more climate change, which means more extreme weather, like more heat waves and droughts, which does not bode well for plant growth or for most other life on the planet. Species are already going extinct at a relatively rapid rate. And on top of climate change, there's the damage CO2 causes via ocean acidification, global warming's evil twin.

These are not difficult questions, in fact we have answered them all here on Skeptical Science.

Risk Management - Uncertainty is not Your Friend

After failing to do more than the most rudimentary climate research, the NASA retirees wrongly conclude that uncertainty can be used to justify inaction.

"Despite claims of consensus and other appeals to authority, no one knows these answers. Once politics is removed, the evidence so far (2011) is that the actual net effect is low or uncertain (considering multiple known and potential feedbacks). As such, aggressive and extraordinarily far-reaching steps by governments to reduce production of CO2 is not warranted."

This conclusion illustrates a risk management failure which is very common amongst climate contrarians. It's no different than saying "I don't think that I'll be in a car accident, so I won't purchase auto insurance." The average American has a 30 percent chance of being involved in a serious automobile accident in his or her lifetime, and the odds of very dangerous and damaging climate change are even higher if we continue on a business-as-usual path - in fact that is the most likely scenario.

Climate contrarians like these NASA retirees essentially believe that the best case scenario will occur, that the net climate feedback and sensitivity will be near the low end of the possible range, and that we will be able to cope with future climate change. That is a possibility, but the best case scenario is only one possible outcome, and thus represents a very low overall probability of occurring. And when we fail to prepare for or prevent the worst case scenario, or even the most probable scenario, bad things happen.

Appealing to Authority Requires Actually Having Authority

Ultimately the NASA Apollo-era retirees expect the public to defer to their opinions on climate change, despite the fact that they have failed to do more than the most basic climate research and do not understand the most fundamental aspects of risk management (which is rather strange, since Apollo 13 was a good lesson in preparing for the worst case scenario).

In reality many of the questions they believe nobody has answered are actually settled science. We know humans are causing global warming, we know there is also natural variability in the climate system, and we know the climate consequences will be bad if we continue on our present course. Just how bad is an open question, which depends in large part on how quickly we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. However, these NASA retirees are asking us to delay action in the hopes that the best case scenario will occur. This is a total risk management failure, because if they are wrong and the best case does not come to fruition, we will face some nasty consequences, and there will be very little that we can do about it.

As with the last NASA retiree letter, there is no reason why we should pay heed to this document, and very good reasons why we should reject its conclusions. We are again left wishing that these retirees would leave the climate science to the real climate experts at NASA, who are some of the best in the world.

- Dana Nuccitelli, reprinted with permission from Skeptical Science

Climate change impacts to U.S. coasts threaten public health, safety and economy

According to a new technical report, the effects of climate change will continue to threaten the health and vitality of U.S. coastal communities' social, economic and natural systems.

Media Bias in Covering Obama Climate Change Policy?

I understand why fossil-fuel-funded conservatives assert that climate change is "liberal." By why do the Associated Press and Washington Post fall into the label trap? Now even Rasmussen, a firm with a well-known conservative bias, found in a poll the day before the election that 68% of American voters see global warming as a "serious problem."

New video explains the climate threat from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Danielle Droitsch, Director, Canada Project, Washington, D.C.

A new video released by NRDC and explains how the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a lynchpin enabling the climate intensive tar sands industry to grow unimpeded. The video also discusses cutting edge research from Oil Change International showing how tar sands oil causes more carbon pollution than originally estimated. Recently, four energy experts and climate scientists from Canada and the U.S. traveled to Washington DC with an urgent message: if we are to truly respond to climate change which is causing extreme life-threatening weather, we must reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Watch the video and join tens of thousands of others on February 17 for the Forward on Climate rally in Washington DC. Join us and send a message to the Obama administration to move forward on climate action. President Obama promised that "we will respond to the threat of climate change." As my colleague Dan Lashof said, delivering on that promise means setting carbon pollution standards for existing power plants and rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The video co-released by the NRDC and today brings the message from these four experts.

It features Dr. Danny Harvey, professor at the University of Toronto who noted that "The human race is in big trouble. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real. If Keystone is approved, we're locking in several more decades of fossil fuels and higher levels of carbon dioxide and global warming."

Dr. John Abraham, an Associate Professor at the University of St. Thomas said the exploitation of tar sands will significantly worsen the climate. "Climate change is the story related to Keystone. The drought and heat wave in Texas cost Texans $5.2 billion. Hurricane Sandy cost us $70 billion. Some people say it's too expensive to develop clean energy. I say it's too expensive not to. We can choose to expand clean energy or make the crazy choice to extract and use the dirtiest of the dirty."

Lorne Stockman, Research Director for Oil Change International announced new research that shows that the emissions from tar sands oil are worse than originally believed. This is because the climate emissions from a byproduct of tar sands, petroleum coke which is made in the refinery process and is used in coal-fired power plants, have not been previously considered.

Nathan Lemphers, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute talks about how Keystone XL is a critical ingredient to significant expansion of tar sands. He dispels the myth being promoted by the tar sands oil industry that tar sands development is inevitable with our without Keystone XL.

These experts also counter the notion that the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are small compared to total U.S. global greenhouse gas emissions. In short, approving Keystone XL would open the gateway to dramatic new development of tar sands oil and far more harm to our climate. Continuing to enable the expansion of tar sands in the face of catastrophic climate change is precisely a step in the wrong direction.

As Dr. Harvey best said, "There is no better time to say no to further expansion [of tar sands], to say no to business as usual, and to begin the process of turning things around. If we don't say no now, when will we say no?"

Melting Glaciers in Andes Could Spell Continental Water Crisis in ...

The great glaciers of South America are disappearing at rates never seen in modern times and the continent's fresh water supply is at serious risk if the trend continues, says a new study. Part of the Pastoruri glacier is seen ...

Melting Glaciers in Andes Could Spell Continental Water Crisis in ...

The great glaciers of South America are disappearing at rates never seen in modern times and the continent's fresh water supply is at serious risk if the trend continues, says a new study. Part of the Pastoruri glacier is seen ...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Watch How The United States Got So Cold

Huddling up around your PC to watch the cold hit Twitter's trending topics won't get you warmer.

A persistent cold snap across the U.S. has already affected millions of people, and resulted in some incredible situations (such as a Chicago warehouse getting covered in instant ice even as fire fighters battled to put out a fire inside it--check out the mindboggling images).

Wonder how it got this way? This video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posted on NPR shows how the cold air descended throughout the country. It's all about cold lumps of air that keep sinking down from the North. But the video demonstrate this in a sort of chilly no-frills infographic that really needs no explanation:

Read Full Story

Explained in 90 Seconds: It's Cold. That Doesn't Mean Global Warming is Fake.

This crash course on climate modeling will come in handy if you ever have to explain a cold snap to a climate denier.

At Climate Desk, we like to call them-affectionately-our "pet trolls." (You know who you are. Hi!) They are regular readers that pepper us on Twitter and Facebook with one of several climate myths upon the publication of every article, sometimes with freakish speed. One of the most popular myths is this: Global warming isn't real because it's really cold outside; climate models are thus full of sh*t. So, here in 90 seconds, is our attempt to explain something we interact with every day, in all sorts of ways, from flying in a plane, to getting a loan, to betting on a horse: computer modeling.

Our video features Drew Purves, from Microsoft in Cambridge, UK, a statistics whiz specializing in modeling the climate and ecosystems. Think of him as the Nate Silver of carbon. You can read about his latest research project, a rallying cry to model the entire world's ecology-that's right, the entire world-in the latest edition of Nature.

As The Music Stops For Superstorm Sandy Funding, NOAA Left Without A Chair

By Michael Conathan

Next week the Senate is expected to take up and pass the House's version of a disaster relief package for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, which passed on January 15. The relief has been a long time coming: It has been nearly three months since the superstorm devastated coastlines from Maryland to Massachusetts.

First, action was stalled by November's election, and then House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to bring a Senate-passed bill to a vote before the clock ran out on the 112th Congress, prompting highly critical responses even from members of his own party, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), and Rep. Peter King (R-NY). Their anger was justified: By comparison, it took Congress just days to send emergency funding to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

But chronology and delays aside, the bill has plenty of flaws in its content as well. In particular, for a package intended to help coastal communities rebuild, it is remarkably light on funding for the federal agency most closely linked to our coastal communities: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The House disaster relief legislation actually came in two parts-an initial $17 billion outlay, which was then amended by adding a subsequent $33.7 billion package offered by Rep. Rodney Freylinghausen (R-NJ). His initial proposal wasn't all bad for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It included $476 million for the agency-just a bit less than the $486 million in the Senate-passed bill and the $493 million requested by the Obama administration. But after the House voted on amendments to Freylinghausen's bill, the agency's funding fell to just $326 million.

In the wake of a storm that shifted sands and wrecked infrastructure from Maryland to Massachusetts, rebuilding and even reconceiving management of coastal landscapes must be a priority. In fact, about 80 percent of the money the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requested for Sandy relief was for coastal restoration and land acquisition.

After the Senate passed its bill, which included $150 million for coastal restoration and another $47 million for land acquisition under the Coastal and Estuarine Lands Conservation Program, Rep. Freylinghausen put $150 million into his bill for coastal restoration efforts. But instead of following the lead of the Senate and funneling the money through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs, he eliminated all funding for land acquisition and designated the restoration funding specifically for "regional ocean partnerships"-collaborative coalitions of neighboring states that help coordinate and streamline management of their shared ocean space and resources.

So now, unless the Senate opts to delay the bill's passage further by amending it and sending it back over to the House, the Sandy relief package that lands on President Obama's desk will include not a penny for the programs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified as its highest priorities.

Rep. Freylinghausen's decision to reallocate the Senate's $150 million landed this funding squarely in the crosshairs of a coalition of Republicans who have made great political hay by lambasting the Obama adminstration's National Ocean Policy, implemented by executive order in 2010. And despite the fact that many of these organizations were actually created during the Bush administration, regional ocean partnerships have come to be viewed as an integral part of President Obama's ocean priorities.

Many regions of the country-including the Northeast and mid-Atlantic areas affected by Sandy-are energized and eager to participate in these partnerships. And granting the money to these bodies would actually give states a greater say in how their coastal restoration funds were spent. Yet despite this clear desire on the part of the states to participate in such programs, conservatives in Congress, led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), have made the National Ocean Policy a poster child for government overreach. Conveniently ignoring their well-established commitment to states' rights, Hastings and his allies falsely decry the National Ocean Policy as a bogeyman likely to spawn "job-killing regulations" rather than an opportunity for states to play a greater role in managing their own affairs.

Playing right along, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), whose amendment successfully stripped funding for the National Ocean Policy from the House version of a 2013 appropriations bill, filed an amendment to the Sandy relief bill proposing to eliminate all funding for the regional ocean partnerships. His amendment passed overwhelmingly-though advocates for the National Ocean Policy should take some consolation that his margin of victory was 23 votes smaller this time around.

Whether by ignorance, hubris, or calculated machinations, Rep. Freylinghausen's decision to peg this funding to the regional ocean partnerships ensured the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would not receive a dime of funding to restore shorelines devastated by superstorm Sandy.

With Senate passage of the House version of this legislation all but assured, it appears the window has closed for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to receive any additional funding for coastal restoration. And that is a financial and environmental disaster adding insult to injury in a region desperate for relief.

Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Panasonic: We'll save Earth by turning CO2 INTO BOOZE

Scrub air of greenhouse gas, get plastered to celebrate

Electronics giant Panasonic is showing off its ambitious attempt to slow global warming - with a plant-like machine that uses light to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere....

Climate shocker: Carry on as we are until 2050, planet will be FINE

Doubled CO2 means just 1.9°C warming, says Norwegian gov

New research produced by a Norwegian government project, described as "truly sensational" by independent experts, indicates that humanity's carbon emissions produce far less global warming than had been thought: so much so that there is no danger of producing warming beyond the IPCC upper safe limit of 2°C for many decades....

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Changing climate change debate to a risk analysis debate

There's a big debate going on about the reality of climate change, and whether it is human-caused or what. The debate is delaying effective action to mitigate climate change, because of the doubts being raised.&nbsp...

Obama administration focusing on tech solution to climate change, not carbon tax

Monday's inaugural address by President Obama raised the hopes of environmentalists around the world by promising to take serious action about climate change. However, by Wednesday his Press Secretary, Jay Carney, was deflecting questions...

President Obama Vows Action on Climate; Latino Groups Support Swift Action

Adrianna Quintero, Senior Attorney, Director, La Onda Verde de NRDC, San Francisco

In his second inaugural speech yesterday, President Obama presented his vision for the future of our country, calling on us to seize the moment and highlighting the strength of our country's diversity. For Latinos across the nation there was much to cheer for, and much to hope for.

Answering the concerns of so many families, the President affirmed his commitment to ease the path to citizenship for immigrants, improve outdated education programs, and create greater equality in our workforce. And in a bold pledge to protect the health of our families and communities, President Obama declared that his administration would work to address climate change--a commitment strongly supported by Latinos nationwide.

With communities still recovering from the flooding and devastation left by Hurricane Sandy, the President's call for action to curb climate change could not come soon enough. 2012 saw thousands of records broken in the U.S. for heat, rain, and snow across the country, with American families suffering the consequences. From devastating droughts in the Midwest that ruined crops and the livelihoods of American farmers, to violent storms that left thousands without power or water along the East Coast, 2012 proved to be a shockingly dangerous--and deadly--year of extreme weather events.

Ready or not, our climate is changing, and we're witnessing the consequences in our backyard. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the continental United States. A warmer climate fuels more heat waves, downpours, floods, fires, and other extreme weather events--just what we've seen across the country over the past few years.

The President got it right when he stated that we will all be affected by a changing climate. As the President stated, "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms."

We can't afford to wait any longer. That's why leading Latino groups, along with small business owners and environmental organizations, are urging President Obama to act quickly to address the growing climate threat. In a new letter to the President, Voces Verdes, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and over a dozen other leading Latino organizations, called on President Obama to curb harmful carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants.

The President has already acted to reduce pollution from new power plants. But we can't stop there. Coal-fired power plants are the nation's largest source of global warming pollution. Implementing new standards for existing power plants will put us on a path toward climate stability, unleash investment in new clean energy technologies, and help stem the devastating storms, droughts, and floods worsened by climate change. And, even while Congress remains gridlocked, the President can act now to implement these new standards, using the authority already given to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up our air.

For Latino communities, action on climate change now means a healthier and more prosperous future for our children. Half of all U.S. Latinos live in places where air pollution often makes the air unsafe to breathe. Cutting pollution from existing power plants will not only clean up the air in communities near the plants, but will also help reduce the health impacts of climate change--like increased asthma attacks that come with warmer air. And with unemployment still hovering around 10% for Latinos, jobs in areas like construction, home weatherization, solar panel installation, and energy efficiency retrofits, will help get our workers back on their feet.

President Obama faces a long, difficult road in his second term, but his commitment to confront climate change could be a defining part of his legacy. The President has the opportunity now to drive global action on climate change, showing that we are committed to creating a healthier environment for all.

As President Obama outlined in his inaugural address, "America cannot resist this transition. We must lead it." Mr. President, the Latino community, and Americans across the nation, stand ready to support your actions to respond to the threat of climate change and protect our children and future generations.

Time to Dump Dirty Diesels Worldwide

Peter Lehner, Executive Director, New York City

When I took over the environmental prosecution unit of the New York City Law Department in 1990, I conducted an informal survey of everyone I knew, asking: What's the worst environmental problem in New York City? By a big margin, people said it was the black smoke coming out of trucks and buses, emitted from a tailpipe at the same level as kids' heads.

Today, few people would even mention it. Real change happened here, and relatively quickly. Ducking to avoid a smelly cloud of toxic, cancer-causing diesel exhaust is a reflex that New Yorkers need rarely call upon, thanks to clean air laws and strict emission standards on diesel. When the last of the dirty diesels are phased out across the country, around 2030, we'll be saving about 26,000 lives each year.


Diesel pollution from buses in Jakarta (courtesy Asian Development Bank via Flickr)

In the developing world, however, diesel is still a killer. (Diesel emissions certainly played a role in China's recent off-the-charts smog.) Dirty diesel engines, along with power plants and traditional cookstoves, are major generators of particulate matter--more commonly referred to as soot--which is responsible for 3.2 million premature deaths each year, worldwide.

Diesel engines are also a major contributor to climate change. At the heart of every diesel soot particle lies a light-absorbing, heat-emitting core of what's called black carbon. According to a major new study published last week, black carbon is the second largest human-made contributor to global warming. It has twice the global warming impact previously thought. And diesel engines are responsible for 20 to 25 percent of the world's black carbon emissions.

So diesel exhaust is not only a deadly public health risk, but a powerful agent of global warming as well. Yet we know from experience that we can slash diesel pollution, quickly and effectively.

In the United States, programs to clean up diesel have been remarkably effective. When New York City got rid of its dirty diesel buses (in response to a campaign spearheaded by NRDC), particulate emissions from the fleet dropped 97 percent. Black carbon emissions were likely cut by a similar amount through that effort. In California, total black carbon emissions have fallen nearly 50 percent in the past 25 years, largely due to strict diesel emission standards.

New diesel engines in this country are now 90 to 95 percent cleaner than engines that were sold just a few years ago, thanks to a national low-sulfur fuel standard and emissions standards that have made new filter technologies standard equipment on all new trucks and buses. America's clean diesel programs are expected to prevent 26,000 premature deaths every year.

Similar programs around the world have the potential to save millions of lives--and can also help put the brakes on global warming in the short term. Unlike carbon dioxide, black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant. It takes effect quickly, and wears off quickly. When we pump less of it into the atmosphere, the benefits are almost immediate.

Diesel vehicles in developing nations burn high-sulfur fuel and lack even the most basic emissions controls, exposing people to nearly 100 times as much toxic pollution, while also generating tons of global warming pollution. Because diesel pollution occurs in densely populated areas, right at breathing level, it has an outsized impact on human health, making diesel a critical target in the fight for clean air. And because diesel exhaust produces black carbon, which has now been confirmed as a major global warming pollutant, it's also a critical target in the fight to curb climate change.

NRDC, a founder of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, has been working on cleaning up diesel pollution throughout the developing world.

Through the partnership, countries around the world have started working toward creating a standard for ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel. This fuel is already available in some major world cities, including Delhi, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Beijing, but its use is not widespread, and certainly not standard.

The partnership's previous success in eliminating lead from gasoline worldwide-a move that is expected to generate $2.4 trillion in health, social, and economic benefits--lends hope that it could achieve similar success with diesel. Cleaning up diesel worldwide would prevent millions of premature deaths from cancer, heart attacks, and lung disease. It would also help to quickly reduce global warming pollution. Along with our efforts to counter the long-term, potent effects of carbon dioxide, it makes eminent sense to tackle short-acting pollutants like black carbon as well. Dumping dirty diesel is an excellent way to start.