climate change

Sat, 2013-08-03 08:00David Ravensbergen
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Two Energy Futures: Barriers to Clean Energy Political, Not Technological

two energy futures

For Canadians looking for inspiration in the fight for a cleaner and fairer energy future, there’s a valuable new resource available at Two Energy Futures. Created by the activist group UK Tar Sands Network, the website provides visitors with a detailed infographic that shows the contrast between a fossil-fuelled future and a future powered by clean, renewable energy.

Projecting from our current energy usage, the first future shows that continued reliance on fossil fuels would mean a steady expansion of extreme energy sources, including fracking, deep-sea drilling and the tar sands. The climate impacts of these dirty energy sources will be increasingly severe, and the social implications include intensified global conflicts and the further exploitation of vulnerable populations.

While the parameters of our current trajectory should be familiar, the cleaner, fairer energy future contains a surprise: the world’s energy needs could be met using current levels of technology in wind, solar and other renewables. Coupled with transformations in transportation infrastructure and the elimination of the undue political influence of fossil fuel companies, this future presents an outline for averting the worst effects of climate change and building more just societies.

Sat, 2013-07-27 07:41Don Lieber
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GOP Elder Statesman George Shultz Urges Strong Action on Climate Change - In Stark Contrast To Current GOP Leadership

George Shultz, who served as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State from 1980 through 1984, is urging strong action on climate change and urging the US to move away from oil.    

In an interview in the July 24 issue of Scientific American magazine, Mr. Shultz said that dependence on oil weakens US national security; using coal for electricity ‘gets us nowhere’; using solar power is better than coal and natural gas; and that the US should increase funds for renewable energy research and development.

Mr. Shultz, saying he wanted to ‘walk the talk’, said he installed solar panels on his own roof six years ago – and the savings on his electric bill since then have paid for the initial investment.

He also said that he drives an electric car (a Nissan LEAF), saying “I have a charging device in my garage so I figure I'm driving on sunshine, and it's free. It doesn't cost me anything, so I kind of like it.”

Fri, 2013-07-26 09:00Laurel Whitney
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New Nature Study Calls Melting Underwater Arctic Permafrost An "Economic Time Bomb"

Three academics walk into a bar.

After what must have been the worst happy hour ever, they emerge having discovered that melting oceanic permafrost could come with a hefty $60 trillion dollar price tag, slightly less than the entire world economy.

We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.

Penned in a recent issue of Nature, Gail Whitman (Sustainability professor at Erasmus University Netherlands), Chris Hope (Policy modeler, University of Cambridge) and Peter Wadhams (Ocean physics, University of Cambridge) set out to calculate the economic consequences of an ice-free Arctic, which some have estimated could happen as early as 2020.

Their main concern followed the melting of underwater permafrost - called methane clathrates - in which natural methane gas beneath the ocean is trapped in frozen beds of ice. Normally, the cold temperatures of ocean water and high pressure of ocean sitting atop the clathrates keep them in place. But with the Arctic ice cap quickly melting, the warming may penetrate farther toward the ocean floor and release this 50 Gt reservoir of methane.

Like stinky bubbles emanating from their Arctic bathtub, methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 with about 20x the warming capability, could either be released gradually over time, or in one fell swoop, accelerating atmospheric warming.

Sat, 2013-07-13 06:00Farron Cousins
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Sharknado: Do Cheesy Sci-Fi Movies Cheapen Climate Change Discussion?

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter over the last 48 hours, you’re probably aware of the made-for-TV movie Sharknado that aired on the SyFy channel Thursday night.  It is exactly what the name suggests – a tornado filled with sharks that wreaks havoc upon Los Angeles.

Those of us who watched the movie (and I admit freely that I love horrible science fiction movies), were privy to scenes of sharks exploding out of sewer grates, surfers being eaten in one bite, and the unforgettable moment where the film’s main protagonist cuts his way out of the belly of a great white with a chainsaw that he inexplicably managed to start only after being swallowed by the beast. 

The tornadoes in the film were spawned by a massive hurricane that made landfall around Santa Monica.  And if you blinked, you may have missed the part where the hurricane, the first ever to hit California according to the film, was the direct result of “global warming.”

But here’s the problem – the fact that climate change is spawning more intense hurricanes, like the one depicted in the movie, is real.  The premise of it spawning tornadoes capable of sucking up sharks and hurling them at the public is not.  They have taken a legitimate, serious issue that should be of concern to the public and turned it into a joke.

I’m sure that no one was watching SharkNado and expecting it to be enlightening or scientifically accurate.  But it has the affect of dumbing down the public discourse on a matter that is actually more frightening than a tornado filled with man-eating sharks.

Fri, 2013-07-12 10:53Graham Readfearn
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Climate Sceptic Professor Sacked From Australian University Was Banned By National Science Foundation For "Deceptive Conduct"

A CLIMATE sceptic professor fired from his Australian university for alleged policy breaches had previously been banned for three years from accessing US taxpayer-funded science research money.

Dr Murry Salby, sacked in May by Macquarie University in Sydney, was the subject of a long investigation by the US National Science Foundation.

The investigation (pdf), which was finished in February 2009, concluded that over a period when Dr Salby was working at the University of Colorado, he had likely fabricated time sheets in relation to research paid for through NSF money.

We conclude that the Subject (Dr Salby) has engaged in a long-running course of deceptive conduct involving both his University and NSF. His conduct reflects a consistent willingness to violate rules and regulations, whether federal or local, for his personal benefit. This supports a finding that the Subject is not presently responsible, and we recommend that he be debarred for five years.

The NSF subsequently decided to only “debar” Dr Salby for three years, preventing him from accessing any NSF research grants or being involved in work related to them. The investigation was carried out by NSF’s Office of Inspector General - an arms-length organisation providing oversight to the NSF.

Thu, 2013-07-04 07:00Ben Jervey
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Resilient Communities for America: City Mayors Prep for Climate Chaos

As international bodies and national governments fail to do anything significant to curb the ever-rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, local governments are taking it upon themselves to get prepared for the perilous impacts of unmitigated climate change.

Last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious, sprawling $20 billion dollar plan to do everything from gird the city with levees to fortifying infrastructure to hurricane-proofing buildings.

Then a group of 45 mayors from many of the nation’s largest and most vulnerable cities gathered in the nation’s capital to announce an agreement to create more climate resilient communities.

The elected officials – from Denver, Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Sacramento, to name a few – pledged “to prepare and protect their communities from the increasing disasters and disruptions fueled by climate change.” You can see the growing list of signatories, which stands at 58 as of today.

Wed, 2013-07-03 11:00Farron Cousins
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Obama's War On Coal Doesn’t Exist…Says Coal Lobby?

During the run-up to the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney ran ads and the party adopted as a platform the “war on coal” being waged by President Barack Obama.  While the platform failed when it came to securing votes for the Republican Party, it hasn’t stopped the GOP from re-launching the same talking points in the wake of President Obama’s recent climate change action speech.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner was one of the first to voice his concerns for the coal industry, saying that the President’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants would have a devastating impact on employment and the industry itself

Boehner has fallen into the “those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it” trap.  As it turns out, the coal industry and their lobbying groups have already admitted that the 2012 “war on coal” talking point was an abject failure.

A spokesman for the National Mining Association recently lamented the following in the industry publication “Coal Age” (courtesy of The Huffington Post):

Anyway, ‘war on coal’ never resonated with much conviction among ordinary Americans. For them, the EPA keeps the air and water clean, their kids safe. The Appalachian permits the EPA held up, the Spruce Mine permit the agency yanked, the regulatory standard it proposed to slow greenhouse gas emissions and stop new coal plant construction – all that flew over the head of most voters who, let’s face it, know far more about the Kardashians than they do about coal.

HuffPost goes on to note that the “war on coal” never really ended for the Republican Party:

Mon, 2013-07-01 16:19Don Lieber
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Obama’s Climate Double Standard: Keystone and Fracking

President Obama, during his climate speech last week, surprised many observers by his unexpected remarks about the Keystone XL pipeline.   The President, for the first time, placed a clear condition on the pipeline’s approval – its impact on the climate. 

 “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward” he said, calling on the United States to |lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.”  

Later in the speech, Mr. Obama spoke in favor of the increased use of natural gas as a 'transition fuel' and called on the United States to “strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.” 

In a speech focused entirely on climate change, however, these two positions - placing climate change conditions on one fossil-fuel (tar sands oil) project while ignoring the climate implications (indeed touting the merits) of another fossil fuel industry (natural gas) – contradict each other and call into question Mr. Obama’s pledges, “as President, as a father, and as an American,” to take meaningful action on climate change.

Fri, 2013-06-28 14:21Sharon Kelly
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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Relies on Dubious Coal Tech for Obama Climate Strategy

The key takeaway from President Obama's major climate change announcement this week was his intent to batten down on coal. But if history is any indication, the man Mr. Obama selected to run the Department of Energy may have different plans.

Ernest J. Moniz has a long history of supporting coal-powered electricity, staking his arguments in favor of coal on a technology that remains entirely unproven: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Mr. Moniz will be in a uniquely influential position when it comes to confronting these problems. President Obama announced that he would rely on executive agencies instead of Congress, so Mr. Moniz's Energy Department will play a crucial role in determining precisely how Obama’s strategy is administered.  

The day after Obama's speech, Moniz told Congress  “the President advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy and I am very much in tune with this.”

What’s wrong with an all-of-the-above strategy? It extends reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when scientists warn that we can only burn twenty percent of current reserves before the world tips past the crucial 2 degree Celsius point. Beyond two degrees, some of the most devastating impacts of global warming will be felt. Keep in mind that, if all of the world’s coal is burned, global temperatures could rise by a jaw-dropping 15 degrees Celsius, a study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year concluded.

The stakes, when it comes to controlling American greenhouse gas emissions, are huge.

Tue, 2013-06-25 14:16Brendan DeMelle
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President Obama Pegs Fate of Keystone XL On Climate Change Impact; Slams Climate Denial Flat Earth Society

“I refuse to condemn your generation, and future generations, to a planet that is beyond fixing. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change.” 

President Obama stepped up his game today on the issue of climate change, committing to several strong actions to curb dangerous climate pollution from coal power plants, build resilient communities to deal with extreme weather events, and foster clean energy investments around the world.

The speech was peppered with notable nods to the movement-building work undertaken by the environmental community, especially the clear shout-out to Bill McKibben and 350.org with the “invest and divest” line towards the end.

And it was a rough day for climate deniers, who again took multiple shots to the chin from the commander in chief, who said he doesn't have the “patience for anyone who denies that this problem is real. We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm.”  [Salon.com notes the president of the actual Flat Earth Society accepts climate science, adding insult to injury for climate deniers.]

But perhaps the most important thing the president did today was to confirm that the fate of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be determined chiefly based on its climate impact - whether the pipeline will produce a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions - firmly cementing the issue of climate change as the central determining factor in the president's mind.

Here is what the president said:

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