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October 08 2013


New Research Reveals Climate Warming 55 MYA was Geologically Instantaneous

PETMfig1 (1)New research into past changes in climate indicates that global warming can take place much more suddenly than previously thought – over the course of only about 13 years. Temperatures at high latitudes rose as much as 8ºC (14ºF) and oceans warmed from surface to bottom some 55 million years ago during what’s known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

The rapid rise in global temperature caused massive disruptions and changed climate conditions, weather patterns, the distribution of plant and animal species, and ecology the world over. Driving it all was a massive increase in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. The massive, abrupt injection of CO2 into the atmosphere, in turn, was driven by intense volcanic activity on the seafloor, which also drove a further separation of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates and the widening of the North Atlantic Ocean basin.

Instantaneous Global Warming

The scientific consensus was that a massive release of CO2 into the atmosphere over a period of some 10,000 years drove the PETM temperature rise. Research conducted by two Rutgers University geologists indicates that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 during the PETM occurred in a geologic instant, over a mere 13 years, driving a global temperature rise of 5ºC (9ºF), however, according to a Phys.org report.

Studying drilling core samples from an area of southern New Jersey that was covered by a warm sea during the PETM, Rutgers’ geologists Morgan Schaller and James Wright discovered an alternating, cyclic pattern of dark clay bands about 2 centimeters thick rich in organic material. Analyzing the clay bands, the pair of researchers found changes in ratios of heavier carbon-13 and lighter carbon-12 isotopes.

The 20% drop in atmospheric carbon-13 concentration they measured in the core samples can “plausibly account” for their observations is “a large, instantaneous release of C-13-depleted carbon,” associated with intense volcanic activity, according to their report, “Evidence for a rapid release of carbon at the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum,” in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Scientists have been using this event from 55 million years ago to build models about what’s going on now,” Schaller was quoted as saying. “But they’ve been assuming it took something like 10,000 years to release that carbon, which we’ve shown is not the case. We now have a very precise record through the carbon release that can be used to fix those models.”

The research pair estimates the intense marine volcanic activity some 55 million years ago caused some 3,000 gigatons of carbon to be released into the atmosphere from hydrocarbon-rich, organic mudstone, and methane hydrate deposits on the seafloor of the continental margins.

In addition to forcing rapid warming, this led to an abrupt rise in the acidity of the oceans, which, in turn, led to mass extinctions of the phytoplankton that not only form the base of the marine food chain, but produce as much as half the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorb as much as half the total atmospheric CO2 sequestered as part of the carbon cycle. Similarly drastic changes have been found in terrestrial flora and fauna.

Though nowhere near the same order of magnitude, human CO2 emissions are causing similarly profound and abrupt climate and ecological change today. “We’ve shown unequivocally what happens when CO2 increases dramatically – as it is now, and as it did 55 million years ago,” Wright was quoted.

“The oceans become acidic and the world warms up dramatically. Our current carbon release has been going on for about 150 years, and because the rate is relatively slow, about half the CO2 has been absorbed by the oceans and forests, causing some popular confusion about the warming effects of CO2. But 55 million years ago, a much larger amount of carbon was all released nearly instantaneously, so the effects are much clearer.”

The post New Research Reveals Climate Warming 55 MYA was Geologically Instantaneous appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

June 24 2013


Enviro News Wrap: Obama to Address Climate Strategy; World Bank Commits Billions to Alleviate Climate Impacts; Learning the Lessons of Sandy (or not)

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Obama will outline a grand national climate change plan on Tuesday June 25th.  I hope this effort does not turn out like healthcare did, we need a real solution, not a watered down compromise that panders to skeptics. Obama has executive powers that he has been using, like executive orders and regulation via the EPA, but what legislation will he be able to push through the obstructionist legislature? Straight regulation of CO2 emissions is what we need. And not just because CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but because when you reduce CO2 emissions you also reduce emissions of a whole host of other environmentally damaging pollutants.
  • The World Bank has funded environmentally devastating projects for decades to “develop” the economies of the world. They have opened up markets in Asia, Africa and South America with transportation and energy projects. Now, after all those changes the World Bank is stepping in to help alleviate the effects of so much development. They are now funding projects to protect people from the effects of climate change.
  • Central America has a lot of support for environmental causes amongst the citizens - but an overall plan between the countries would advance the effort greatly.
  • How many people worldwide are employed in the renewable energy sector? Find out here.
  • I sell Solar PV to homeowners and commercial building owners for a living. The thing I spend most of my time talking about with customers is aesthetics and return on investment. The environmentally positive aspects of solar energy is only a small factor in the equation. The average American is willing to buy green, but only if it makes or saves them money. Incentives matter with a “free market” economy, if the incentives for green products is not there then few people will buy.
  • Learning lessons from Sandy? Government subsidized coastal development resumes after Super-storm Sandy tore apart the East coast. This happens all the time, it is both costly and dumb.


The post Enviro News Wrap: Obama to Address Climate Strategy; World Bank Commits Billions to Alleviate Climate Impacts; Learning the Lessons of Sandy (or not) appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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July 25 2012


A Carbon Tax is More Viable than Cap and Trade

A carbon tax is a more viable solution than cap-and-tradePricing carbon is the cornerstone of a blueprint to contain climate change as it would provide both incentives and disincentives to reduce emissions. It would also drive investment and research dollars into renewable energy and efficiency. The best thing that governments can do to reduce emissions is to implement a cap and trade scheme or failing that, a carbon tax.

Cap and Trade

Creating carbon markets is among the most expedient ways to address climate change. Cap and trade rewards efficiency and punishes polluters. It would also increase green jobs, lower electricity bills, enhance competitiveness, and forestall a climate catastrophe.

The cap and trade strategy allows governments to set incrementally lower limits on CO2 emissions. Those who emit CO2 could either reduce their emissions to meet the targets, or they could buy emission credits from those who can come in under the targets.

Several economists, including University of Wyoming economics professor Edward Barbier, say cap and trade has the broadest political appeal because it’s a market-driven incentive to achieve emission reductions as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

Although price volatility and scandals have undermined the European Carbon trading market, others like China and Australia are looking to improve on Europe’s failings. Further, a new report on Tokyo’s cap and trade efforts suggests it has been a great success, as has carbon trading in British Columbia.

Early in 2012, BusinessGreen reported that China is getting ready to set up a direct tax on its largest greenhouse gas emitters by 2015. Seven Chinese cities and provinces are already preparing to launch the country’s first emissions trading schemes.

The results of the first fiscal year of operation of Tokyo’s cap and trade validate the city’s groundbreaking initiative to introduce a market-based approach to emissions reductions at the urban scale. Launched in 2010, new reports indicate that there have been collective emissions reductions of 13 percent over base-year figures. Cited as a “world-leading policy” by World Green Building Council (WGBC), Tokyo’s cap and trade program provides a compelling example for other cities to follow.

Nations like Australia are starting with a carbon tax, then transitioning to cap and trade. Australia’s carbon tax went into effect in July and carbon trading is scheduled to come online in 2015. The current Australian government sees the importance of pricing carbon. “The science is convincing, the threat is real, the economic and environmental benefits are tangible, the need for action imperative,” Wayne Swan, Australia’s finance minister, said in 2011.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has predicted the tax would cut Australia’s emissions by 160 million tonnes within a decade, the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road. Right now, the tax affects the country’s 500 biggest polluters and will be followed by a carbon trading program in 2015, which allows companies to meet 50 percent of their carbon reduction targets by paying for offsets.

Australia’s cap and trade program is expected to benefit emerging countries like Mexico.  Cool nrg International is an example of an Australian company that is providing offset projects. They are planning to distribute 45 million energy efficient light bulbs to 6.5 million low-income households in Mexico City. The project is expected to save 33,000 gigawatt hours of energy, equivalent to about a third of Mexico City’s auto emissions.

“Employment continues to grow just as strongly after we put a price on pollution…Our economy will continue to grow solidly while making deep cuts in carbon pollution,” Swan said. The renewable electricity sector is projected to grow by 600 percent by 2050. “But the only way to get these kinds of outcomes in a cost-effective way is with a market mechanism.” said Swan.

Nonetheless, it remains a tough sell with Australian voters. According to a July 23rd survey, Gillard’s Labor party has the support of only 28 percent of voters. However, a new study by the Climate Institute has found that more information could change the minds of voters.

Carbon Taxes

Historically, taxes have been a non-starter in U.S., particularly with Republicans. However, with the failure of cap and trade, many economists and a growing number of business leaders are looking towards a carbon tax to reign in emissions.

The Breakthrough Institute estimates that a carbon tax of as little as $5 per ton could result in $30 billion a year in the U.S. This could be used for R&D funding, project development, and other clean-tech supports, including a potential rebate for consumers initially hit with higher energy costs in some regions.

Business leaders like Microsoft founder Bill Gates is among those who support a carbon tax. In 2010, Gates expressed his support for a tax over cap-and-trade, stating “it’s ideal to have a carbon tax, not just a price on carbon…”

It is clear that Republican opposition makes cap and trade a dead issue in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. However, one prominent Republican claims that it is still possible to introduce a carbon tax.

In July, George Shultz said that his party could eventually support a carbon tax. The former Secretary of State for the Regan administration has called for a carbon tax to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption. Shultz is the head of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on Energy Policy, which calls for boosting energy efficiency, reducing dependence on oil exports to improve national security, and putting a price on carbon.

“We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs,” Shultz said. “For some, their costs are the costs of producing the energy, but many other forms of energy produce side effects, like pollution, that are a cost to society. The producers don’t bear that cost, society does. There has to be a way to level the playing field and cause those forms of energy to bear their true costs. That means putting a price on carbon.”

“We’ve studied a variety of ways to do that, and to me the most appealing way is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. That is, you distribute all the revenue from the carbon tax in some fashion back to taxpayers, so there is no fiscal drag on the economy. British Columbia has a revenue-neutral carbon tax. They started low and increased the tax over five years to a much higher level, so people could adjust. The revenue is distributed mostly to individuals, so it’s popular.”

According to a new report released in June, the Canadian province of British Columbia introduced a carbon tax that has successfully reduced fossil fuel consumption to the lowest in Canada with little economic damage. The study titled British Columbia’s Carbon Tax Shift, produced by the Ottawa-based think-tank Sustainable Prosperity, offers clear evidence that the tax has helped reduce emissions while producing tangible economic benefits.

Economist and Sustainable Prosperity senior director Alex Wood said as a consequence of the carbon tax, “you’re starting to see in B.C. a separation between economic growth and fossil fuel use.” That “decoupling,” he added, would lead to a more “resilient” economy insulated from oil price shocks.

“The B.C. model is simple, it’s elegant; it’s a lot of different things,” said Wood. “You reduce taxes on income, on corporate income, and you promise to be revenue neutral and you make sure that happens.”

Despite controversy, British Columbians are increasingly on board. Wood says the report demonstrates that dire predictions are unfounded and he further claims that B.C.’s carbon tax policy could be easily exported.

Reasons to Support a US Carbon Tax 

A solid rational for a carbon tax in the US comes from a recent book titled, The Case for a Carbon Tax, written by Shi-Ling Hsu, a professor at the University of British Columbia. According to Hsu, a carbon tax is the most effective mechanism to combat climate change and motivate the private sector while raising much-needed revenue for governments. As reviewed by the Energy Collective, here are 10 reasons to support a U.S. carbon tax from Hsu’s book.

  1. It is economically efficient.  An accurate disincentive for using carbon-based fuels could mimic the increment of damage — the marginal damage — caused by each ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. “The simple genius of a carbon tax is that it aggregates disparate pieces of information, transmitting a price signal at every stage in which there is fossil fuel usage . . . no data collection is required and no model is required.”
  2. It avoids creating physical capital that could actually harm the environment — e.g. coal-fired power plants. “The problem with capital is that once we have it, its high cost makes it difficult to dispose of.”
  3. It doesn’t interfere with other regulatory instruments or jurisdictions. “A carbon tax would have the advantage, because of its simplicity, of forming the strongest foundation upon which other policies can stand.”
  4. Government is better at reducing bad actions than increasing good actions. Taxes work better than subsidies.
  5. Incentives for innovation — price effects. It would impact emissions not only from the largest carbon sources such as power plants and industrial facilities but all carbon sources.
  6. Incentives for innovation — price breadth. It focuses new products and services no matter how much money can be saved by using less electricity or electricity from a different source, e.g. renewables.
  7. It is easy to administer. There are no “offsets” as would be needed with a cap-and-trade program. “Awarding an offset for a project that purports to avoid emissions increases rather than actually reducing them is a tricky proposition.”
  8. International coordination is doable. “An international accord based on a carbon tax scheme would avoid the unfortunate appearance of China being allocated some cap amount by an external bureaucracy.” It “would not represent  . . . a binding limit to economic growth.”
  9. It raises badly needed revenue. There is a lot of money that could be raised from discouraging carbon emissions. However, the less carbon emitted, the lower revenues would be.
  10. It avoids the risk of catastrophe. In the long-run, this is the ultimate measure of efficiency from a public welfare perspective.

A carbon tax may succeed where emissions trading schemes have failed because a tax sends a clear and consistent message to the markets with little opportunity for speculative manipulation.


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: swanksalot, courtesy flickr

May 04 2012


75% of Americans Support Regulating CO2; 60% Support Carbon Tax

Two-thirds of Americans support regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, a majority support a carbon tax as a means of doing so.The following post is republished from my colleague Zach Shahan, site director for CleanTechnica.com. Zach explores the disconnect between the GOP “party line” on taking action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, clean energy development and what people actually want.

March 27 2012


New UK Research Center to Focus on Climate, Carbon Markets and Green Technology

A new center for climate change research has emerged in the UK. With support from government, academia and businesses large and small, the UK’s National Physical Laboratory yesterday officially launched the Centre for Carbon Measurement (CCM), a multidisciplinary climate change research institution with a focus on climate modeling, global carbon markets and green technology.

CCM “will provide reliable climate data on which to base policies; support international regulations and voluntary schemes for carbon trading and monitoring; and help to develop and measure the performance of low-carbon technologies,” a press release explains.

“The science of measurement is essential in underpinning the transition to a low carbon economy. As the UK is a world leader in both measurement science and the centre of the global carbon market it is only right that we develop the right infrastructure to support this transition,” commented David Willetts, UK Minister for Universities and Science.

The Centre for Carbon Measurement at NPL is designed to do this, to provide reliable measurements with a sound scientific and technical basis that will improve the understanding of the global climate, support policies for mitigating climate change, and accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies.”

The Centre elaborated on its three focal points and its objectives as follows:

  • Climate Data: CCM will improve the accuracy and consistency of climate data through improved ground-based and satellite measurement technology and better data analysis. This will feed into climate models to give a better understanding of the long-term impact of climate change and enable governments to develop more focused policies for mitigation and adaptation.
  • Carbon Markets: the Centre will develop the underpinning measurement science and technology to support carbon markets and accounting. This will enable comparisons across projects, companies and borders, ensure a fair and stable carbon market and support businesses in reporting, managing and offsetting emissions. London is currently the centre of the carbon market with over 80% of carbon traded there in 2009. Developing fit-for-purpose measurement capabilities will be important to the long-term success of emissions trading and offsetting schemes and assuring the UK’s place as the global centre of carbon markets.
  • Green Technology: the Centre will provide access to the best measurement techniques for developers of low carbon technologies, allowing scientific validation of their performance and thereby giving confidence to investors and buyers. Such support is key to commercializing advances in areas such as energy efficient technology, fuel cells, photovoltaics and offshore renewables, according to CCM’s press release.

Strengthening UK Climate Research, Carbon Markets & Green Technology

“There must be a robust scientific foundation of carbon measurement if we are to address the risks of climate change. The power industry is a key stakeholder here, not only in managing emissions from power generation, but also in technologies that underpin energy conservation and efficiency, such as carbon capture and storage, monitoring energy loss from buildings, and smart metering,” added Dr Richard Busby, environment manager for multinational power company E.ON. “All of these rely on accurate and reliable measurement and E.ON will offer continuing support for this endeavour.”

CCM’s got a head-start toward achieving its goals, having identified and placed research projects to do with each of these three topical areas in its development pipeline. These include: reducing uncertainties in climate data; providing technical input to guidance for companies reporting climate impact; detecting and quantifying leaks from Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) demonstration projects; and providing a scientifically robust framework for estimating carbon savings from smart grids and large-scale building energy efficiency projects.

CCM is also taking on a role in fostering UK economic development and growth related to its research focus. Small and large businesses, government and academia will have access to the knowledge, advice and technology at NPL and wider UK carbon measurement capabilities, it explains. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) “which will bring value to the UK economy and environment will have opportunities to apply for match-funded support, including an initial half-million pound fund for low carbon innovators.”

NPL is already active in the climate and carbon-free science, policy and economic development. It’s involved in more than 6 million pounds ($9.58 million) of low carbon projects a year which have yielded a 1:20 return to the UK economy.

CCM intends to triple this volume over three years. It also intends to ‘up-skill’ the UK workforce in carbon measurement and attracting business to the UK. The Centre will report on the environmental and economic impacts of its activities later this year.

*Image credit: The Guardian

February 28 2012


Climate Change, US Debt and Deficits: House Reps Urge Congressional Colleagues to Put a Price on Carbon

Fiscal 2013′s budget battle is now officially under way in Washington D.C., as President Obama submitted the administration’s proposed budget for the coming year. Budgetary debates and controversy were heated enough this past year, all but shutting down the federal government, and they’re sure to get even hotter given this year’s elections.

Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle in both houses can agree on an urgent need for prudent fiscal discipline at a time when significant financial system and economic risks persist. They differ wildly on the need for counter cyclical economic and fiscal policy, however, as well as how best to guide the US economy forward into the 21st century.

Perhaps nowhere is this political divide as wide or as apparent as it is regarding climate change, environmental and energy policy. Despite the weight of scientific and empirical evidence, Republicans have not only effectively squashed any serious attempt to enact proactive federal climate change and clean energy policies, they continue to push hard to maintain and expand US reliance on fossil fuels.

That’s not to say that proponents have given up on such efforts, however. In fact, climate change and clean energy are likely to be defining and distinguishing issues for Democrats and Republicans as 2012 progresses.

House Reps. Push For Carbon Price

As reported by The Hill, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), former Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) wrote an op-ed article published in the Washington Post asserting that the nation’s most pressing fiscal and environmental problems could be addressed by enacting a straightforward piece of legislation: the imposition of a price on carbon.

“The United States could raise $200 billion or more over 10 years and trillions of dollars by 2050 while cutting carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050,” they wrote.

Speaking subsequently to Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein, Waxman acknowledged that getting Republican opponents to sign-off on such a policy isn’t any more likely than it has been to date. He pointed the alternatives are even more problematic, however, arguing that passing an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax was the best practical alternative, one that would result in significant deficit and debt reduction, while at the same time providing economic stimulus at a time when it is still very much needed.

“Will it be easier to slash Medicare benefits? Make deep cuts to defense? Raise income taxes? A climate policy is the easiest way to face these challenges,” Waxman told Klein, perhaps somewhat rhetorically.

“There’s an interesting similarity in the problems of the two issues. Cumulative debt and cumulative carbon emissions are both rising,” Waxman continued. “If you look at the debt problems they’re going up and up and up and the cumulative emissions of carbon are going up as well. One can have terrible consequences for the economy and the other for our planet. I don’t think people have realized the similarities of these two issues.”

Increasing Costs of Political Procrastination

Putting a price on carbon would establish a pathway for addressing these critical issues, both of which require consistent, long-term policy frameworks and action. Inaction will only raise the cost of addressing them, Waxman emphasized.

“If we could put in place a price on carbon and then use the sales of carbon allowances to raise revenues we could raise money and cut emissions at the same time, and we can have a transition that will be as orderly as possible. If we leave both to become much more severe then the answers will be more radical and painful,” he stated.

Political opponents who acknowledge the urgency of addressing climate change still assert that establishing a price on carbon would be foolhardy given the persistent fragility of the banking system and economic recovery. Waxman and supporters refute this, citing numerous studies that indicate that a well-crafted price on carbon could both cut pollution and stimulate the economy.

“Policies can be adopted to protect our energy intensive, trade exposed policies. Policies can be adopted to avoid spikes in electricity prices,” Waxman told Klein. “But I think this is exactly the time to act because we can have a number of benefits from these policies, none more important than the jobs that could be produced by giving clean-energy entrepreneurs certainty that they can begin to invest.”

Reports and studies spanning the scientific and economic communities have shown that extreme weather events are on the rise, and that often subtle, long-term climate change effects are increasingly being seen. Whether US government representatives are will to acknowledge and show leadership on a defining issue of the times remains to be seen.

February 21 2012


Post-Industrial Age Black Carbon Deposits Help Accelerate Loss of Glacial Ice, Marine Ecosystem Changes

Black carbon is accelerating the shrinking of glaciers around the world Burning fossil fuels and biomass are the primary sources of “black carbon” in the earth’s atmosphere, and deposits of black carbon are building up on glaciers, accelerating ice loss, according to a research team that includes Robert Spencer of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Black carbon deposits in these remote, “pristine” locations provide direct evidence of the impact human activity is having on the environment.

“We are finding this human derived signature in a corner of the U.S. that is traditionally viewed as being exceptionally pristine,” Spencer was quotes in a Eurekalert news release. “The burning of biomass and fossil fuels has an impact we can witness in these glacier systems although they are distant from industrial centers, and it highlights that the surface bio-geochemical cycles of today are universally post-industrial in a way we do not fully appreciate.”

Glaciers, Black Carbon & Dissolved Organic Matter

Glacier ice loss is accelerating globally, and deposition of black carbon is contributing to it. Black carbon deposits darken the surface of glaciers and increases their absorption of light and heat. Spencer and his fellow researchers have been studying this phenomenon at the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska.

Glaciers pick up a lot of carbon as part of dissolved organic matter (DOM) as they grind their way over land, including “natural” DOM from ancient plants, trees and animal life forms. This is transported to downstream ecosystems in meltwater and taken up at the base of aquatic food webs by microorganisms.

Adding to the DOM taken up and distributed by glacial cycles are black carbon deposits from rain and snow, which include carbon from burning fossil fuels and biomass. Distinguishing the original source of the carbon in DOM has been an obstacle to gaining better understanding of the carbon cycle in glacial regions. New evidence from radiocarbon dating and ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry has led Spencer and his colleagues to believe that the carbon comes mainly from the burning of fossil fuels and modern-day biomass, however.

The same process of DOM uptake and distribution occurs in environments around the world, where rivers and other waterways carry DOM to the sea. Whereas carbon-rich DOM in tropical and temperate environments is quickly taken up in the food web, DOM in glacial environments persists longer, which makes glacier ecosystems such as the Mendenhall Glacier unique, “sentinel” locations to study the carbon cycle and the extent to which anthropogenic – man-made – carbon from burning fossil fuels and biomass contributes to the cycle.

“In frigid glacier environments any input stands out, making glaciers ideal sentinel ecosystems for the detection and study of anthropogenic perturbation,” Spencer explained. “However, the deposition of this organic material happens everywhere and in vibrant ecosystems such as those found in temperate or tropical regions, once this organic material makes landfall it is quickly consumed in the general milieu of life.”

Post-Industrial Age Phenomenon

Glacier ecosystems cover 10% of the earth’s surface. Together with ice sheets they are the second largest reservoirs of freshwater on earth. Nonetheless, the carbon cycle in glacial areas is poorly understood.

“Improving our understanding of glacier bio-geochemistry is of great urgency, as glacier environments are among the most sensitive to climate change and the effects of industrial pollution,” Spencer stated.

Furthermore, post-industrial deposits of black carbon have changed the bio-geochemistry of the oceans. Marine and aquatic microbes that make up the base of the food web are very sensitive to the quantity and quality of carbon dissolved in water.

The researchers found that the organic matter in glacial meltwaters in large part originate as a result of human activities, which means that the supply of glacier carbon in Gulf of Alaska coastal waters is a modern, post-industrial phenomenon, they say.

“When we look at the marine food webs today, we may be seeing a picture that is significantly different from what existed before the late-18th century,” said Aron Stubbins a research team member from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. “It is unknown how this man-made carbon has influenced the coastal food webs of Alaska and the fisheries they support.”


Image credit: Alaska in Pictures

November 29 2011


Escalating Costs of Global Warming All Too Evident as UN Climate Treaty Talks Open

Evidence is all too clear of the mounting cost of climate changeAll eyes are on Durban, South Africa this week as representatives from 194 nations meet to try to negotiate a global climate change treaty and supporting plans to mitigate and adapt to a warming, more volatile climate.

As if weighing in on the debate, Nature sent an unusual, torrential storm Durban’s way on the eve of the conference opening. Eight people had been reported killed as some 15,000 UNFCCC delegates crowded into the COP 17 conference center to hear South African President Jacob Zuma’s opening address.

“Although the unseasonable storm cannot be directly linked to climate change, it is the kind of extreme weather that scientists say is happening more often,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, according to a Zee News report.

The effects of global warming are increasingly apparent, as are its costs – drought and famine in the Horn of Africa; historic droughts and agricultural losses in the American southwest; the flooding of Bangkok, large parts of Pakistan and other major Asian population centers; rising tides and seawater creeping higher along Florida’s Atlantic coast; the lowest levels of Arctic sea ice in the past 1,450 years- the indicators are too numerous to list in a blog post, and it keeps on growing.

More Troubling Signs, and Escalating Costs

Yet we humans continue to spew ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions “have increased beyond the worst predictions of the UN’s climate experts – exceeding the worst of seven emissions predictions laid down by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisations,” Rob Waugh writes in a Daily Mail report.

“The World Meteorological Organisation said heat-trapping carbon dioxide concentrations in the air have increased by 39 per cent to 389 parts per million – the highest concentrations since the start of the industrial era in 1750.” That humans are primarily responsible for this increase should be unquestionable, and should be cause for concerted global action on the part of world leaders.

Oddly enough, global temperature has been rising as well: 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, making it a three-way tie for the warmest year ever recorded. And guess what? The other two years – 1998 and 2005 – both just happened to have occurred in the last 12, according to the WMO.

Global warming’s effects on agriculture are particularly disturbing given a 7-billion and rising world population. Adequately feeding all of us – a projected 9 billion by 2050 – will require a 70% increase in global food production, according to the latest research from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) released Monday in Rome. The challenge is nothing if not daunting.

“Russia lost 13.3 million acres of crops, or about 17 percent of its production, due to a months-long heat wave. Drought in the Horn of Africa has killed 60 percent of Ethiopia’s cattle and 40 percent of its sheep. Floods in September have raised the price of rice by 25 percent in Thailand and 30 percent in Vietnam,” according to the FAO as cited in Zee News’ report.

High Time to Move Past Denial

Climate change skeptics and deniers would have us believe that this is merely coincidence. The data and/or models are faulty, they would have people believe. They claim that climate change and global warming are hoaxes. That a conspiracy is afoot between liberal politicians, environmentalists, the large and growing number of chief executives of the world’s largest corporations, financial institutions and investment groups, the majority of the world’s best scientists who are actually actively researching climate change, and whoever else of significance happens to agree that concerted global action to mitigate and adapt to global warming and climate change is needed, and needed now.

We will never scientifically prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a causal link between global warming, climate change and anthropogenic CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions exists. But what has been amassed and proven in terms of scientific theory over 100 years of climate science is more than enough cause for concerted global action now.

If that’s just all too scientific and theoretical, the ever-growing body of empirical evidence should be more than sufficient to drive home the point that the climate is warming. The costs are already substantial, and the probability that they will escalate further in decades to come is increasing.

While expectations that UNFCCC negotiators will reach an accord are low, some optimism remains.
Emphasizing the importance of developed and developing world countries compromising and reaching an agreement on hard, equitable and enforceable targets to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, the UN’s Figueres stated that “future commitments by industrial countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions is ‘the defining issue of this conference,’” according to Zee News.

While acknowledging the enormity of the task, she then quoted anti-apartheid legend and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said, “It always seems impossible until it is done,” Zee News reported.


Image credit: Sailing Yacht WingsSail

October 04 2011


The Spiraling Costs of Climate Change Denial

Climate change deniers continue to try to hammer home the idea that enacting proactive climate change policies would cost too much, would hurt consumers, and hamper economic growth. These assertions have consistently been challenged and refuted, but in recent weeks there’s been a string of events and new research reports that highlight the spiraling costs of climate change denial and inaction in greater-than-ever detail.

The following list is a summary sample of them:

* Marking World Habitat Day, Oct. 4, UN officials warned that climate change could create as many as 200 million refugees around the world. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon noted that 60 million people live within one meter of sea level. As thousands fled densely populated Luzon - home to Manila and the Philippines’ main island – due to heavy rainfall and two successively close typhoons,  the increasing frequency of severe storms and rise in mean global sea level put coastal cities at greater and greater risk, the Secretary-General said.

* Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhay Ly called on local and international organizations public and private to assist the country as it tries to cope with the latest series of floods. Climate change is already taking a particularly heavy toll on countries that don’t have the resources to develop and enact long-term, large-scale climate change action plans. Yim pointed out the Cambodia has suffered heavily from Mekong River and flash floods over the last decade. “It cost human lives, destroyed agricultural crops, infrastructure, homes and so on,” he said. “It has slowed down Cambodia’s efforts to develop the nation.”

* Climate change could cost Caribbean countries as much as 5% of their collective annual GDP between 2011 and 2050 if climate change mitigation and adaptation actions aren’t taken, according to a report from the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Caribbean countries are among the first to be substantially affected by climate change, given their geographies and economies, Hirohito Toda, Office-in-Charge of ECLAC sub-regional headquarters stated. “Since more than half of the population lives near the coast, increase in temperature, change in precipitation and rise in sea level due to human activities will not only lead to loss of land but to lowered prospects for economic growth as well as quality of life for its people,” he said.

* The cocoa industries of Ivory Coast and Ghana – the mainstays of their economies - are threatened by climate change, according to research conducted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. An anticipated rise in global mean temperature by as much as 2 degrees Celsius would make many cocoa-producing areas in West Africa unsuitable for cocoa agriculture and chocolate production by 2050, according to the report. Rising mean temperatures have already adversely affected cocoa crops in some marginal areas, noted Dr. Peter Laderach, the report’s lead author.

* Climate change is affecting land, plants, water resources and wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. Temperatures in the Yellowstone area have risen faster in the past ten years than the global average 20th century rise, according to a study by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. The changing climate could increase the frequency and severity of wildfires, eliminate moisture-dependent trees such as aspen — whose numbers are already falling precipitously in Colorado — lower water volume and flows of mountain streams with world-class trout fisheries and further degrade habitat for threatened and endangered species including grizzly bears.

* The Canadian government’s advisory panel on business and environmental issues submitted a report warning that increasing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the Canadian economy as much as $43 billion a year by 2050 if a strong action plan to combat global warming isn’t put into effect. The consequences could include major flooding in coastal cities, effects on human health and dramatic changes in the forestry industry, agriculture and other economic sectors, according to the panel’s report, “Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada.”

It’s long been said that “an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.” That’s becoming abundantly clear with respect to climate change and the effects a world population equipped with 21st-century technology is having on our environment and climate.

As the authors of Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy stated, “Ignoring climate change costs now and will cost us more later.”

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September 27 2011


Global CO2 Emissions Reach All-Time High, Rising More Than 5% in 2010 to Close Out Past 20 Years

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reached an all-time high in 2010, rising 45% in the past 20 years. Rising rapidly between 1990 and 2010, global atmospheric CO2 levels totaled 33 billion metric tons last year, according to a report published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

Global CO2 emissions fell 1% in 2009, during the “Great Recession,” but rose at an “unprecedented” 5% rate in 2010. That was similar to the drop and greater emissions growth in 1975 and 1976, when the global economy suffered through the first oil crisis, a subsequent stock market crash and began a recovery in 1976, the report authors note.

Emissions Growth Greatest in Rapidly Industrializing Countries

Total CO2 emissions in industrialized nations that ratified the Kyoto Protocol and the US, which didn’t, were some 7.5% less in 2010 than they were in 1990, leaving them on-track to meet the 5.2% reduction targets required by the climate treaty.

Industrialized nations’ share of global CO2 emissions has been dropping. Rapid industrialization in large emerging market economies, such as China, India and Brazil, led to industrialized countries overall contribution to global CO2 emissions dropping to less than half the total amount from two-thirds over the two decade period.

Since 1990, CO2 emissions per capita have increased in China from 2.2 to 6.8 metric tons per capita and decreased in the EU-27 from 9.2 to 8.1 metric tons per capita (in EU-15 from 9.1 to 7.9) and from 19.7 to 16.9 metric tons per capita in the USA, according to the report.

CO2 emissions rose in most of the world’s major economies despite the slow and sputtering economic recovery of the past two-plus years. Emissions increases were greatest in China (10%) and India (9%). They increased four percent in the US and 3% in the 27-member European Union (EU).

Man-Made Emissions

Measuring “non-biogenic,” or man-made CO2 emissions, the agency researchers estimated that man-made emissions totaled 22.7 billion metric tons in 1990 and 31.6 billion metric tons in 2008. A first estimate puts the 2010 total at 33 billion metric tons, an increase of 45% in the past 20 years. That’s the same as were emitted in the prior 20-year period, according to the researchers. The non-biogenic total excludes emissions from biomass burning, such as forest fires, for which attribution of cause is uncertain.

The preliminary estimates of non-biogenic emissions were based on energy consumption data for 2008 to 2010 recently published by BP, estimates based on production of cement, lime, ammonia and steel, and emissions per country from 1970-2008 from version 4.2 of the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), a joint PBL-JRC project.

Image credit: PBL Netherlands

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July 26 2011


1993 US Northwest Forest Plan Turns Public Forests into Carbon Sink

US Forest Management Plan has not only saved old growth forest, at has turned the forest into a carbon sink

Enacted in 1993, before climate change was so prominent in the public media eye, the US Northwest Forest Plan’s primary goal was the conservation of old growth forests on public land, and thereby also protecting threatened and endangered species, such as the northern spotted owl. Forest harvests in those public forests dropped precipitously, by 82%, the next year. Nearly two decades later, it turns out that the Plan has yielded unintended, though no less favorable results in terms of mitigating the effect of increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Northwest forests on public lands are now taking up more carbon dioxide via respiration than they put back into the atmosphere, and have become a significant net carbon sink for the first time in decades as a result, according to researchers at Oregon State University and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

“The original goals of the Northwest Forest Plan had nothing to do with the issue of carbon emissions, but now carbon sequestration is seen as an important ecosystem service,” OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society professor David Turner was quoted as saying in this Science Daily news report.

The researchers used a new system that included satellite remote sensing that enabled them to help better account for tree growth, decomposition, emissions from fires, wood harvest and variations in climate and, as a result, to more accurately simulate ecological processes over large areas.

Logging of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest in the decades prior to the Plan’s passage led forestry researchers to believe that the remaining forest had lost a significant amount of potential to store carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions from forest fires turned out to modest as compared to the loss of carbon storage capacity as a result of timber harvesting.

The study has been published online in Forest Ecology and Management.

Photo courtesy of Chandra LeGue for Oregon Wild.

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May 31 2011


Carbon Emissions Spike to Historic High

Carbon Emissions Spike to Record Levels in 2010The International Energy Agency (IEA) released estimates on Monday showing that CO2 emissions have soared to record highs after a lull in 2009 due to the global recession. 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide where emitted into the atmosphere in 2010, mostly from burning fossil fuels, a rise of 1.6 gigatons over 2009 according to estimates from the IEA, and up 5 percent over 2008 emissions.

Though the drop in 2009 emissions is generally attributed to the economic downturn, but at the drop in emissions was greater than the decline of GDP, at least in the United States, suggesting that gains in efficiency might be “decoupling” energy consumption from economic growth – an essential element for future economic and environmental sustainability.

But that hope appears to be dashed with the IEA most recent emissions estimates.

Climate scientists warn that avoiding “potentially dangerous climate change” requires limiting global temperatures to within a 2 degree Celsius rise this century, something that IEA chief economist Fatih Birol says is now likely just a “nice Utopia.”

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol said. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

In the IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook (pdf) set a pathway to a 2 degree Celsius rise with its  450 Scenario by limiting carbon emissions to 450 parts per million through century’s end. The scenario is based on emissions targets to which nations pledge to reach only by 2020. Given the current rate of emissions, those targets could be met within as little as two years. For the targets outlined in the 450 Scenario to be met, emissions will have to rise less in the next decade than they did between 2009 and 201o. Without a change to the current trajectory, there is little choice but to shift the burden of signinifcant emissions reduction onto future generations, when it will be even more difficult to achieve under worsening climactic conditions.

“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,”  saidBirol. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for maneuver in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun.”

The situation is make even more difficult because much of the energy sector has already “locked in” 80 percent of its 2020 emissions from plants already in operation or currently under construction. Most of these plants will burn fossil fuels, virtually guaranteeing that 2020 targets will never be met.

Economist Nicholas Stern from the London School of Economics, author of the 2006 Stern Report on climate change, warns that the latest numbers from the IEA combined with projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show a 50 percent chance that global temperature could rise by as much as 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 – double what is generally considered “safe.”

“Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict,” Stern said. “That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

Birol still hangs to some hope that a climate disaster can be avoided, but the door is fast closing.

“If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding,” he said.

That’s exactly what I heard nearly two years ago in Copenhagen.

Sources and further reading:
ARS Technica


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April 25 2011


Enviro News Wrap: Dirty Apple; Sustainable Sushi; Laser Spark Plugs, and more…

The latest environmental news headlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

September 26 2010


UK’s Shipping Emissions Six Times Higher Than Expected, Says New Report

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100924095817.htm ScienceDaily (Sep. 26, 2010) — Carbon dioxide emissions produced by UK shipping could be up to six times higher than currently calculated, according to new research from The University of Manchester. As the shipping industry’s emissions are predicted to continue to grow in the future, the UK will fail to meet its commitment to [...]

April 02 2010


Ocean Acidification: ‘Evil Twin’ Threatens World’s Oceans, Scientists Warn

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100330092821.htm ScienceDaily (Apr. 1, 2010) — The rise in human emissions of carbon dioxide is driving fundamental and dangerous changes in the chemistry and ecosystems of the world’s oceans, international marine scientists have warned. “Ocean conditions are already more extreme than those experienced by marine organisms and ecosystems for millions of years,” the researchers say in the [...]

March 23 2010


From CO2 to Cement: Recycling Carbon – the Commoditization of Carbon Emissions

Yesterday we posted on the just-released Clean Edge trends report for 2010 that outlines some of the prominent trends in clean tech and renewable energy. One emerging trend mentioned in the report is the commoditization of carbon, where captured emissions are bought and sold as feedstock for other industrial processes.

The idea isn't new, companies like Mantra Energy have been hard at work for years refining a process known as Electroreduction of Carbon Dioxide or ERC, and CO2 emissions are used for well-head injection to help keep aging oil wells in production. But the concept of using CO2 emissions as a marketable product instead of simply a waste gas is growing as innovators find new methods for utilizing carbon emissions. As we learned last year when I had the opportunity to visit Schwarze Pumpe, the pilot carbon capture and sequestration project in Germany, capturing CO2 is one thing, what to do with the carbon after it is captured is another – and perhaps the greatest challenge in the equation.

From coal plant emission to cement

Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company, has announced it will invest $15 million for an equity interest in Calera Corporation. Calera has developed a process called Mineralization vis Aqueous Precipitation (or, thankfully, MAP, for short), that takes in carbon emissions and other waste gasses, and outputs "building materials and water that meet or exceed industry performance standards."

Calera's emerging technology represents an innovative solution to advance our energy, environmental and economic goals by recycling carbon dioxide into beneficial building products," said Peabody Senior Vice President Fred Palmer in a statement.

The process lends itself to the idea of biomimicry, looking at processes in nature and finding ways to mimic that process for industrial and design purposes. MAP began when Calera founder Dr. Brent Constantz studied Aquatic Biology and Geologic Science in the '70's and '80's, leading to post-doctoral work in "biomineralization" at the U.S. Geologic Survey and Weizmann Institute of Science. The initial focus for his work was in medical applications. In 2007, Constantz contacted an old colleague Vinod Khosla, who was an advocate of clean technologies, with an idea for a new "green cement" to replace portland cement, a material responsible for one-third of all anthropogenic CO2. Khosla liked the idea and immediately funded Calera after only a couple of meetings and without even so much as a powerpoint presentation or business plan.

By percolating fume gasses through seawater, the process seeks to mimic the way in which marine corals create calcium carbonate, thus converting greenhouse gasses into synthetic limestone. According to Calera, the MAP process conserves energy and reduces emissions normally required to manufacture cement. It also sequesters carbon from waste fumes and can purify water by removing minerals and other impurities, Calera claims.

We believe that the CO2 used in our process for producing materials could exceed the current generation rate of CO2 from all global industrial and utility sources," said Constantz. "The potential is enormous."

Calera is not without its skeptics and detractors, principal among them is noted climate scientist Ken Caldeira, who says the process just won't work because the process itself generates carbon. Others complain that Calera isn't as forthcoming as it should be with specific details on exactly how the MAP process works. Alex Kinnier, a venture partner with Khosla Ventures, purportedly once quipped that the secret ingredient to MAP was "pixie dust." Nonetheless Khosla Ventures has invested about $50 million in Calera, so there's been some hard cash to back up that pixie dust.

Calera has recently completed a demonstration project at Moss Landing, California, with one other pilot project in Australia. The company has also been actively involved in the Department of Energy's FutureGen project as well as GreenGen in China.

Additional source:
Energy & Environment News (subscription required)

February 26 2010


Research Shows Increasing Rate of Ocean Acidification

Often lost in the debate over climate change and CO2 emissions is the link between rising carbon dioxide levels and ocean chemistry. Since the early 19th century, scientists have understood carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Late in the 19th century researchers began to suspect that CO2 emissions could alter climate. For at least the past three decades the link between rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change has become established. But it has only been in the past few years those emissions could adversely affect the chemistry of the oceans, making ocean waters more acidic, with potentially catastrophic consequences for marine life

Scientists are now trying to quickly get up to speed with their understanding of the health and changes occurring in the world's oceans. That is the general consensus (oh, that word!) from researchers attending the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last weekend.

To start, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plans to release its first ocean acidification research plan.

It's going to be delivered to headquarters next month," said Richard Feely, an oceanographer for the NOAA. "Our plan includes coastal observations, technology development, remote sensing using satellites, an observational network with moorings to measure CO2, [and] physiological research on how various organisms respond to changes."

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is set to release a comprehensive congressionally-mandated research study by the end of March that will address scientific issues concerning the impact of ocean acidification on marine life as well as policy issues and recommendations for a national ocean acidification research program.

The Scripps Institute of Oceanography is also involved in studying acidification. Victoria Fabry, a member of the NAS panel and a visiting researcher at Scripps, says scientists are able to detect and measure changes in ocean chemistry from increasing levels of CO2.

A case in point is a 2007 research expedition led by Feely from the NOAA. Feely found corrosive waters off the Pacific coast of North America at levels not expected until 2050. It is apparent from observation that acidification is happening. The question then becomes to what extent it will continue, and that depends on the trajectory of CO2 emissions.

Today, the atmospheric CO2 concentration is about 388 parts per million," said Fabry. "This is the highest that it's ever been in the past 800,000 years — as far back as the record goes right now. And there are concerns about where we're headed."

Oceans absorbing CO2 at an increasing rate

Oceans have absorbed about one third of humanity's CO2 emissions since the start of the industrial revolution, leaving them 30 percent more acidic than before the fossil fuel revolution. Given a business-as-usual scenario, that will increase to 150 percent by the end of the century, imperiling sea life that grow their hard shells from calcium carbonate, including oysters, corals and plankton. As the ocean becomes more acidic, it dissolves those hard shells. Eventually at a rate faster than the creatures are able to rebuild them. It's a phenomenon that scientists fear could move up through the food chain.

Questions over the ability of some coral's ability to resist and adapt to changing conditions underscore the need for continued and ongoing research. To that end, developments in tools to monitor ocean acidification are progressing apace.

The new tools and prospects for a coordinated federal ocean acidification research program are welcome news and hopeful signs for scientists and researchers working to monitor the health of the world's oceans and better understand the consequent changes of increased CO2 levels.

ClimateWire (subscription required)

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