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March 01 2013

20:54

Q and A: The Angry Economist

Because of its natural gas boom, the United States is ahead of Europe in fixing climate change, the Oxford economist Dieter Helm argues.

August 23 2012

14:29

EarthTalk: Atmospheric CO2 – Is it Too Late Anyway?


The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today is roughly 390 parts per million (ppm), well above the 275 ppm it was before we started pumping pollution skyward during the Industrial Revolution. Climate scientists and green leaders today agree that 350 ppm would be a tolerable upper limit.EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I read that CO2 in our atmosphere is now more than 300 parts per million. Doesn’t this mean that we’re too late to avoid the worst impacts of climate change?  – Karl Bren, Richmond, VA

Actually the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today is roughly 390 parts per million (ppm). And that’s not good news. “Experts agree that this level cannot be sustained for many decades without potentially catastrophic consequences,” reports the Geos Institute, an Oregon-based non-profit and consulting firm that uses science to help people predict, reduce and prepare for climate change.

While we’re unlikely to get atmospheric CO2 concentrations down as low as they were (275 ppm) before we started pumping pollution skyward during the Industrial Revolution, climate scientists and green leaders agree that 350 ppm would be a tolerable upper limit. Prior to 2007 scientists weren’t sure what emissions reduction goal to shoot for, but new evidence led researchers to reach consensus on 350 ppm if we wished to have a planet, in the words of NASA climatologist James Hansen, “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”

The non-profit 350.org, launched in 2008 by writer and activist Bill McKibben and others to raise awareness about global warming, has circled the proverbial wagons around the cause of reducing atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm. The group has enlisted the help of thousands of student volunteers around the world to mobilize public support for reducing humanity’s carbon footprint.

McKibben, whose 1989 book The End of Nature detailed the potential effects of climate change and remains one of the most influential environmental books of all time, believes that 350 ppm is attainable.

“We’re like the patient that goes to the doctor and learns he’s overweight, or his cholesterol is too high. He doesn’t die immediately—but until he changes his lifestyle and gets back down to the safe zone, he’s at more risk for heart attack or stroke,” says McKibben. “The planet is in its danger zone because we’ve poured too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we’re starting to see signs of real trouble: melting ice caps, rapidly spreading drought. We need to scramble back as quickly as we can to safety.”

“Scrambling back” will entail nothing short of transforming our energy infrastructure, including how we transport people and goods and power our structures. According to 350.org, it means building solar arrays instead of coal plants, planting trees instead of cutting forests, increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste.

“Getting to 350 means developing a thousand different solutions—all of which will become much easier if we have a global treaty grounded in the latest science and built around the principles of equity and justice,” the group reports. “To get this kind of treaty, we need a movement of people who care enough about our shared global future to get involved and make their voices heard.”

The group is working to create an international grassroots movement to influence political dynamics and implement solutions that show the benefits of moving to a clean energy economy. 350 ppm, while merely a number, represents humanity’s potential capacity to solve the most pressing problem it has faced; it also represents a target for international negotiators to aim for in forging an effective global warming treaty.
——————-
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.

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August 17 2012

22:24

A 20-Year Low in U.S. Carbon Emissions

Energy-related emissions were lower in January to March than for any first quarter since 1992, partly because of the shift from coal to natural gas in power generation.

August 10 2012

11:20

The Secrets of Hissing Trees

Scientists suggest that trees in upland forests infected with a common fungus are a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

March 27 2012

19:12

Breaking News: EPA Issues First Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Power Plants


The EPA proposes its first rule limiting GHG emissions from power plants. The rule could effectively end new construction of coal-fired plants in the USIn a move that could effectively end construction of any new conventional coal-fired power generation in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today has proposed the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

“Today we’re taking a common sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies–in the health and economic threats of a changing climate continued to grow.”

The average US coal plant today emits about 2249 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of power produced. The new EPA rules will limit those emissions to 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour or at about the level of a modern natural gas plant.

“This is an important common sense step towards tackling the ongoing threat of climate change,” said Jackson. “We build on where the industry is going and lock that trend in, which we believe is an important signal for investors.”

The initial impact of the emissions rule on utilities is expected to initially be negligible; with natural gas prices at 10 year lows most utilities are shutting down coal plants, not building new ones. By the end of 2011 the share of electrical power generation from coal-fired plants dropped below 40 percent, the lowest share since 1978 according to the Energy Information Administration.

Jackson said that the EPA has no plans to set rules on existing plants, and the new limit will apply only to the construction of new power plants. Fifteen plants with pending instruction permits are exempt from the proposed rule.

Joe Mendelson, climate policy director for the National Wildlife Federation characterized the new EPA rule as a “milestone in the fight to rein in climate change. The EPA is taking a big step toward protecting the world our children will inherit.”

Additional sources and reading:
Washington Post
Bloomberg

17:16

January 25 2012

17:37

Is Brazil Backsliding on Deforestation?

A bill seeking to overhaul Brazil's 47-year-old Forest Code is the most serious test yet of the president's stance on the environment.

January 10 2012

13:00

Biomass and Electricity, Part 2

ClearEdge Power, based in Oregon, has announced a deal with Güssing Renewable Energy of Austria to supply 8.5 megawatts of fuel cells to run on methane made from renewable sources.

December 21 2011

18:28

Melting Arctic Ice is Releasing Massive Amounts of Methane


Researches ignite escaping methane gas from the melting iceThe melting Arctic ice is causing huge quantities of methane gas to be released into the atmosphere. Concerns about climate change-inducing greenhouse gases are often centered on carbon dioxide (CO2), but methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20-30 times more potent than CO2. Each methane molecule is actually about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide, however, methane breaks down more quickly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The sub-sea layer of permafrost traps methane, preventing it from escaping, but as it melts it allows the methane to rise from underground deposits. According to scientists, large releases of methane gas can cause rapid climate changes.

There are historical precedents to back-up this assertion. Scientists believe that long ago, sudden releases of methane were responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species.

The Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum (55.5 Million years ago) is a period with drastic climate change due to massive releases of methane. It has also been suggested that large temperature swings during the last glacial period have been caused by abrupt releases of methane.

Hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas are locked beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the University of Alaska and Stockholm University have been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years. Early in December, they reported dramatic and unprecedented volumes of methane being released from the Arctic seabed. They estimate that eight million tons of methane is currently leaking into the atmosphere every year.

Vast amounts of methane have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean. There are fields in the Arctic where the release is so intense that the methane does not have time to dissolve into the seawater but rises to the surface as large bubbles.

In an exclusive interview with the Independent, lead scientist Igor Semiletov said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed. Dr Semiletov made his findings public early in December at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr. Semiletov said. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”

Recent observations suggest that previous surveys may have significantly underestimated the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere from the Arctic seabed.

This new information was recorded in late summer 2011 by Dr. Semiletov and his team of researchers. The scientists onboard the vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast. The scientists made their observations with the help of four highly sensitive seismic and acoustic instruments that monitor the methane seeping from the ocean floor.

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr. Semiletov said. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere.”

Expeditions in the Laptev Sea in 1994 did not detect elevated methane levels. However, since 2003 a rising number of methane “hotspots” have been detected.

Research prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union in 2008 by Dr. Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University in Sweden indicated that anomalies were recorded in the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea. These preliminary findings were uncovered by scientists aboard the research vessel Jacob Smirnitskyi. At the time, Gustafsson was quoted as saying:

“The conventional thought has been that the permafrost ‘lid’ on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place. The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leak methane… The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed.”

In 2011, the scientists aboard the vessel Academician Lavrentiev revealed much higher concentrations of methane covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf. These researchers found Arctic seabed methane up to 100 times background levels.

According to Natalia Shakhova, of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, “The concentration of atmospheric methane increased three times in the past two centuries from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7ppm, and in the Arctic to 1.9ppm. That’s a huge increase, between two and three times, and this has never happened in the history of the planet.”

The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on earth. As a whole, the Arctic has experienced an average temperature increase of 4C over recent decades. The World Meteorological Organization said that northern areas like the Russian Arctic experienced the greatest increases in temperature in 2011. They also report that since 1970, the Arctic has warmed at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

Scientists predict that over the next thirty years 45 billion metric tons of carbon from methane and carbon dioxide will seep into the atmosphere as the permafrost thaws. By the end of the century it is expected that about 300 billion metric tons of carbon will be released from the thawing Earth.

Adding in that gas means that warming would happen “20 to 30 percent faster than from fossil fuel emissions alone,” said Edward Schuur of the University of Florida. “You are significantly speeding things up by releasing this carbon.”

The release of trapped methane will cause higher temperatures, leading to even more melting of the permafrost and the release of yet more methane. This troubling trend of melting permafrost on the floor of the Arctic Ocean is accompanied by a dramatic decline in summer sea ice covering the surface. The loss of sea ice will further accelerate the warming trend because open ocean absorbs more heat from the sun than a reflective ice surface. This represents a strong positive feedback that amplifies anthropogenic warming.

Scientists have estimated the amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic to be greater than the total amount of carbon locked up in global coal reserves. Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap and models suggest that if even only one percent of the methane were released from the ocean floor, it would radically accelerate global warming.

——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: WorldCulturePictorial.com 

November 28 2011

22:52

COP17 in Durban South Africa Gets Underway


The COP 17 climate conference is now underway in Durban, South AfricaThe COP 17 climate conference got underway today in Durban South Africa. Reminiscent of the hype surrounding the COP 15 conference in Copenhagen in 2009, many see the Durban conference as the last chance for continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, the first commitment period of which is due to expire next year . As global carbon emissions continue to spike upwards, many see COP17 as a vital opportunity for the international community to begin to forge a meaningful global treaty to combat climate change and fund a new energy economy around the world.

We will follow the conference over the course of the next 2 weeks, and provide news and commentary as the Conference of the Parties grapple with the defining issue of our times.

Following are three videos to help familiarize readers  for what’s ahead in Durban and beyond:

American Progress Senior Fellow Andrew Light give a brief synopsis of what needs to happen in Durban:

US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern gives a press conference on the COP17 conference at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C.:

 

Opening press briefing highlights from Durban: 

Press release from the UNFCCC:

Against a background of record greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, more frequent and intense extreme weather events, but also growing momentum for action to fight climate change, the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban (28 November to 9 December) kicked off today.

At the start of the conference, South African President Jacob Zuma pointed to the climate impacts in Africa as a reason for all governments to take action.

“We have experienced unusual and severe flooding in coastal areas in recent times, impacting on people directly as they lose their homes, jobs and livelihoods. Given the urgency, governments need to strive to find solutions here in Durban. Change and solutions are always possible, and Durban must take us many steps forward towards a solution that saves tomorrow today,” he said.

The newly elected President of the conference, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, stressed that Durban would be a decisive moment for the future of the multilateral rules-based regime. ìIn Durban, we need to show the world that we are ready to tackle and solve our very real problems in a practical manner,î she said.

According to the UNís top climate change official, UNFCCC Executive Secretary
Christiana Figueres, governments can take two major, decisive steps in Durban. The first step relates to completing the most comprehensive package ever to help developing countries adapt to climate change and to limit the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions, which was decided at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun last year.

“The Technology Mechanism and the Adaptation Committee agreed in Cancun can be completed here in Durban so that they can begin benefitting people in 2012,” Ms. Figueres said. “And in Durban, the first phase of the design of the Green Climate Fund can be approved, as a major step on the road towards better supported climate action,”  she stated.

Governments can also ramp up funding towards the 100 billion USD of long-term climate finance they have already agreed to provide by 2020 and need to work out the ìwhatî and the ìhowî for a review agreed in Cancun that will assess the adequacy of a below 2 degrees Celsius temperature limit, including in relation to 1.5 degrees Celcius.

The second decisive step that can be made in Durban relates to how governments will work together to achieve their common goal of limiting the global temperature rise to a level which will prevent the worst ravages of climate change.

“This means, as a central task for Durban, answering the very important question of the future of the Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, governments will need to agree on how they want to pursue a broader framework to reduce greenhouse gases under the Climate Change Convention,” Ms. Figueres said.

Ms. Figueres drew attention to the fact that action on climate change is presently building nationally, regionally and at all levels of society, and that this positive momentum can feed into the UN climate change process.

“These negations are about securing a better future and improving the quality of life of people. The momentum for change is building, not least in developing countries. More can be achieved if governments and the private sector work in partnerships,” she said.

Together with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and South African President Jacob Zuma, the UN Climate Change secretariat will in Durban launch a ìMomentum for Changeî initiative on 6 December designed to demonstrate how the public and private sectors are already working together to fight climate change.

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

November 10 2011

12:49

If You Act Your Age, What's Your Carbon Footprint?

On the whole, the individual American's role in carbon dioxide emissions steadily increases from age 10 to around 60 and then abruptly begins to decline, a study suggests.

November 02 2011

14:03

October 25 2011

15:54

September 29 2011

19:30

New Study Shows Plants Absorb Carbon From Atmosphere Faster Than Perviously Thought


Plants are hard at work absorbing carbonNew research just published in the journal Nature say that plants, trees, and soil are absorbing carbon about 25 percent faster than scientists previously thought.

A team of scientists headed-up by Lisa Welp-Smith of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have developed a new, more accurate, method of determining how much plants absorb and release carbon. The study estimates that global plant life take up between 150 billion and 175 billion metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, 25 to 45 percent more than the previous estimate of 120 billion metric tons annually.

The research is an important step for future climate models, emphasizing the vital role plant life plays in regulating the carbon cycle. But Welp-Smith cautions that the study is only a beginning and making conclusions about the exact nature of a carbon sink plants represent is “several steps beyond the paper.”

“Just because there is more photosynthesis doesn’t mean there is necessarily a greater carbon sink from the land biosphere,” Welp-Smith said. “It means more CO2 is passing through plants, not that it actually stays there very long.”

Welp-Smith explained that plants burn some of the sugar produced in photosynthesis, producing energy the plants need to live and grow, but in the process release some of the absorbed CO2 back into the atmosphere. A process that may also be more rapid than previously thought, offsetting the increased rate of initial CO2 absorption.

But whatever determinations come from future studies, the research is important in helping scientists further understand and quantify the role of plants in the global carbon cycle.

“If we are right, and GPP needs to be revised upward by about 25 percent, it means that our fundamental understanding of how land plants function on the global scale is still a bit fluid,” Welp-Smith said.

Colin Anderson, an atmospheric chemist and co-author of the study, said the research increases our knowledge of “what’s really going on in the atmosphere.”

“It’s still too early to tell what the final impact of this will be on estimates of future climate change,” Allison said. “But by tying this down, it means that from now we will have a better constraint that might modify our understanding of what those future impacts could be.”

Additional sources:
ClimateWire (subscription required)
Mother Nature Network

 

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

September 22 2011

19:13

CO2 is Just a Trace Gas, It Could Never Impact Climate – Right?


How can a trace element comprising barely 0.04 percent of the atmosphere make any difference in our climate? It has become something of a prime “scientific” point from certain political leaders and denier pundits, but most of us know, if we were paying any attention in high school, that without that trace gas, earth would be lifeless and covered in ice. The following video with Dan Miller offers a visual demonstration of how trace elements can have very large impacts, and how we are moving past our “sweet spot” of greenhouse gas concentrations. More information from Miller is found on his website climateplace.org.


 

September 14 2011

15:24
04:00

August 27 2011

22:04

Hurricanes and Climate Change

Scientists disagree on whether hurricanes are already getting stronger because of global warming, but they tend to agree that storms will get more intense in the future as the planet continues to heat up.

August 19 2011

18:16

Green Respite for a Bustling Delhi Suburb

Can a concrete jungle of multinational corporations meet its million-tree goal?

August 04 2011

16:20

Rising Carbon Dioxide Could Reverse Drying Effects of Higher Temperatures On Rangelands

ScienceDaily (Aug. 3, 2011) — Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can reverse the drying effects of predicted higher temperatures on semi-arid rangelands, according to a study published in the journal Nature by a team of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists.  Warmer temperatures increase water loss to the atmosphere, leading to drier soils. In contrast, higher [...]
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