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November 13 2013

23:05

Record Greenhouse Gases – Is 2 Degrees Still Possible?

A new report from the WMO shows record greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, and rising. Can we get our act together in time to avoid the worst of climate change?The latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin released last week by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed that global atmospheric greenhouse gases hit a new record high, rising 2.2 parts-per-million (ppm) from 2011 levels to an average 393.1 ppm in 2012. The rate of change accelerated in 2012 as well, up from the 2.02 annual ten-year average to 2.2 ppm. The volume of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently at least 41 percent above pre-industrial levels, before the wholesale burning of fossil fuels began.

The WMO report also said that the current year-on-year upward and accelerating trend of greenhouse gas levels are on track to be 8 to 12 billion tonnes higher in 2020 than what is required to keep warming within the 2 degree Celsius limit scientists say is needed to avoid the worst of global warming in the coming decades.

“The more we wait for action, the more difficult it will be to stay under this limit and the more the impact will be for many countries, and therefore the more difficult it will be to adapt,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said at a press conference last week.

For years scientists, analysts and advocates have called for aggressive climate action, warning of the “closing window” on global warming. Writing earlier this year in WRI Insights, Kelly Levin, Senior Associate of the World Resource Institute’s Climate & Energy Program, said that the most recent data suggests the developed world must commit to halving emissions by 2020 over 1990 levels to contain warming within the 2 degree target this century. Levin says that current emission reduction targets from developed countries only add up to between a 12 to 18 percent reduction from 1990 levels, far short of what is needed.

“The findings from this most recent study suggest that the challenge we already knew was great is even more difficult,” writes Levin. But even with an increased level of reductions necessary, the study does show that a 2°C goal is still attainable – if we act ambitiously and immediately.”

So the window has not slammed shut just yet, but with each passing year the ambition and immediacy required grows, along with greenhouse gas emissions. Can we rise to the challenge of climate change? I could say “time will tell,” but there really is none left. What is clear, right now more than ever, is that what we decide to do today will determine the fate of many generations to come.

Soon the hour will pass when we can no longer say there is still time to offset at least some of the worst consequences of climate change, but only hunker down for what we’ve brought upon ourselves.

 

Image credit: Mikael Miettinen, courtesy flickr

The post Record Greenhouse Gases – Is 2 Degrees Still Possible? appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 19 2013

18:26

The Vital Role of Forests: Carbon, Rain and Food

Forests provide ecosystem services vital to all lifeWe are coming to a better understanding of the vital role that forests play in the general health of planetary ecosystems.  However, alongside our burgeoning awareness, we are also destroying forests in our quest for more land and lumber.

Deforestation is eliminating the Earth’s forests on a massive scale. Each day at least 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest disappear and another 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest are degraded. Overall, FAO estimates that 10.4 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005. About an acre of tropical rainforests are lost every second. If the current trend continues, the world’s rainforests could completely vanish in a hundred years

Forests are being destroyed largely for agricultural purposes and logging. Forests are also cut down as a result of growing urban sprawl. Deforestation results in habitat loss for millions of species that depend on them for their survival. Deforestation undermines the water cycle which can lead to desertification.

Deforestation also drives climate change as trees play a critical role in absorbing or sequestering the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. The clearing and burning of rainforests are responsible for approximately 15 percent of global carbon emissions. In the U.S., forests absorb 13 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions each year. Based on the most recent satellite data, emissions from deforestation account for 10 percent of global carbon emissions. However, a January 2013 study just out of Dartmouth College shows that deforestation impacts on soil and may release even more carbon than previously thought.

Forest management policy

Wealthy countries have promised to help poorer nations to protect their forests through programs like The Natural Capital Project, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and The Partnership for Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem services (WAVES). While the developed world has pledged more than 5 billion dollars for this purpose, the money promised has not lived up to these promises.

One recent example involves the country of Ecuador, which has started cutting down its forests for oil drilling operations after the international community failed to provide necessary funding. Conversely, Costa Rica is one of the best examples of successful forest management. The country has managed to double the size of its tropical forests in the last 20 years through national conservation policies. As reported in the journal Environmental Research Letters, Costa Rica’s ban on clearing of mature forests appears to be a key success factor in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands.

Success in managing forests requires a sound economic plan in support of conservation. There are a number of steps governments can take to help with reduce deforestation including tax breaks, direct payments, and subsidies.

Water and hydro-electric companies can also charge customers through fees embedded in utility bills in order to generate income to pay forest managers. Governments can also legislate financial mechanisms that value natural resources like trees. Under such a scheme, companies are forced to pay for the pollution they generate.

Setting a mandatory carbon price may be the best way to protect forests as market driven programs seem to offer the best approach. Another approach involves projects like the Forest Footprint Disclosure (FFD) which is working with companies on their impact on forests. Initiated in 2008, this is a not-for-profit project of the Global Canopy Foundation that is backed by investors.

A more workable solution is to carefully manage forest resources by eliminating clear-cutting to make sure that forest environments remain intact. The cutting that does occur should be balanced by the planting of enough young trees to replace the older ones felled in any given forest. The number of new tree plantations is growing each year, but their total still equals a tiny fraction of the Earth’s forested land.

REDD

International efforts to curb deforestation are centered on a United Nations-backed scheme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). REDD+, emerged from the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, was developed to provide financial incentives to countries and landowners to protect and better manage forests.

Forests are not a renewable source of electricity

One of the most troubling trends involves the use of forests as fodder for energy production. To meet this growing demand, U.S. companies have become the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets in 2012. What makes this even worse is that this is being sold as a renewable form of energy production.

As explored by the NRDC, burning our forests is bad for our climate, bad for local ecosystems, and bad for our communities.  In response to this troubling trend, the NRDC and Dogwood Alliance launched a program to protect Southern trees called Our Forests Aren’t Fuel. This campaign is designed to raise awareness about the alarming and rapidly-growing practice of logging forests and burning the trees as fuel to generate electricity.

Carbon forestry

Supporting reforestration to offset carbon emissions is increasingly popular. This is done through the purchase of carbon credits that are linked with the forestry sector with the idea that these new trees will sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

As reviewed in Ecologist, a report by the monitoring and analysis agency Ecosystem Marketplace indicates that over 30 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) was contracted across forest markets in 2010.

Carbon forests can offer a variety of benefits for the environment, however, there is considerable doubt as to whether these planted forests enhance biodiversity. There is also growing support for research that suggests that planted forests may not be as effective as natural forests in inducing rainfall.

Forests are essential to rain

While the relationship between forests and carbon has received a lot of attention, research suggests that forests may also be the driving force behind precipitation which is so vital to overall ecosystem health. As explored in an article in Mongabay, forests may be the key to rainfall and as a consequence, global ecological restoration.

On September 12, 2013, the U.S. Forest Service published a final rule that is expected to improve the agency’s ability to restore land. “This rule will help us improve the resiliency, health and diversity of our forests and grasslands,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We will now be able to move forward with our partners to focus more energy on action, and less on paperwork, to restore more acres in less time.”

The final rule includes reference to a paper titled “Where do winds come from?” This paper outlines a new meteorological hypothesis in which condensation, not temperature, drives winds. This paper highlights the importance of the world’s forests as the salient driver of precipitation from the coast into a continent’s interior. The theory, known as the biotic pump, was first developed in 2006 by two Russian scientists

This research explains why deforestation also brings a drop in precipitation. The condensation produced by forests creates zones of low pressure that suck in the air from the surrounding regions. Forests create persistent low pressure zones on land and this causes moist winds to blow from the ocean to land.

The theory put forth in this paper explains why there is so little rain in deserts and further posits that if we were to plant enough trees in these zones we could induce rainfall.

The paper’s authors, Victor orshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, explain that, “Preserving and recovering forest cover may prove to be the cheapest and most reliable means of ensuring regional environmental sustainability.” They also indicate that their research on biotic pumps suggests that industrial plantations do not move rain as effectively as natural forests.

One of the chief findings in this research involves the relationship between forests and agriculture. Put simply, the more forests we lose, the less rain will reach continental interiors.

Forests and agriculture

The relationship between forests and agriculture was also addressed in May at the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition. At this conference, scientists and leaders from around the world largely agreed that forests are essenatial to sustainable food supplies. They concluded that forests contribute to food security including the provision of ecosystem services like the regulation of water flow, and the protection of soils against erosion.

The relationship between forests and agriculture is a tragically ironic vicious cycle. We destroy forests to make more room for agriculture, while deforestation appears to undermine agricultural productivity.  We then need more land to produce crops to make up for the reduced productivity.

The issues associated with food supplies will become even more important as we strive to meet the challenge of feeding an ever expanding population. A growing body of research indicates that forests are essential to agricultural productivity.

Forests are far more than an important source of carbon sequestration, they are essential to the water and food on which all life depends.
——————-
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 Oracle, a leading sustainable business site 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: CIFOR, courtesy flickr

The post The Vital Role of Forests: Carbon, Rain and Food appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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July 04 2013

22:23

The New Front Lines of the Fight Against Fracking

The fight against fracking at a Manhattan protestThe front lines of the fight over hydraulic fracturing -or “fracking” – are being drawn at the lowest political levels. Fracking involves detonating explosions deep underground and then pumping large volumes of chemical laced water at high pressure into these wells. More than 1,000 chemicals have already been identified as those commonly used in the drilling process.

According to a Scientific American Report, as of June 2012, there were more than 680,000 fracking wells throughout the country. The International Energy Agency reports that by 2018, North America’s daily supply of oil will be 3.9 million barrels higher than it was in 2012.

Polarized Debate

Attitudes towards fracking for natural gas are highly polarized in the U.S. On the one side, there are scientists and the environmentally concerned and on the other, there are business groups and the oil industry. Those who support fracking point to the economic and employment benefits as well as the issue of energy independence.

Those who resist fracking say the limited benefits it offers are trumped by the civilization-ending threat posed by climate change. In addition to methane, fracking releases radioactivity and generates toxic fracturing fluids known as BTEX, which are found to have harmful effects on the nervous system as well as cause birth defects and cancer.

In essence, the debate boils down to job creation and economic growth versus pollution and environmental risk. A large and growing pool of research makes the point that fracking is not clean energy, it is in fact a major environmental problem, in addition to putting significant quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, it contaminates huge amounts of increasingly scarce ground water resources. Due in large part to fracking, the U.S. is emerging as a global fossil leader which has important deleterious implications.

Fracking is also known to cause earthquakes. A British company official admitted that fracking in the UK has caused “a number of minor seismic events,” The U.S. Geological Survey has also made the connection between fracking and seismic events in the U.S., Canada and Japan.

Economics

Natural gas is a large and growing part of American exports with many states reaping significant financial gains, this includes states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio. All across America, economic benefits are driving what can only be described as a fracking frenzy.

While some states have outlawed fracking (eg New York, Vermont), other states like Illinois have enacted legislation welcoming the industry into their state.

EPA and the Federal Government

Right now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no jurisdiction when it comes to fracking, thanks to a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act known as the Haiburton Loophole—named after the first company licensed to practice fracking. Although previously cleared, in 2010, the EPA reopened its investigation into fracking.

The EPA has pushed its timeline for release of its study assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing from 2014 to 2016. This study was initiated by Congress in 2010 and was meant to provide guidance for states. Now that this research is off the table for the next few years, states will have to draw their own conclusions about the safety of fracking.

This means that by the time EPA rules, there will be massive amounts of fracking chemicals in America’s groundwater and vast quantities of global warming causing methane emissions in our atmosphere.

President Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama sees fracking as a bridge fuel. While Obama does support fracking for natural gas, he has indicated that he wants to reduce the industry environmental impacts. While the Obama administration suggested that it would force oil companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the drilling process they are not required to reveal chemicals that are considered “trade secrets.” This is a glaring weakness that must be remedied with full disclosure.

The President’s Climate Action Plan clearly states that, “Curbing methane emissions is critical to our overall effort to address global climate change.” However, his support for fracking does not acknowledge that methane is the chief GHG released into the atmosphere by fracking.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” the President said in his 2013 State of the Union address. “That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.” The President said.

While we may some some minor regulatory oversight, leadership on fracking will not be forthcoming from the federal government in the next few years. Independent of the political wrangling at the federal level, the fight against fracking will continue.

State Governments

In the absence of the President’s leadership and ahead of the EPA’s study in 2016, State governments are charged with the responsibility of regulating the fracking industry.

The EPA has stepped back and allowed state government to assume oversight right across the country including Parker County, TX, and Dimock, PA.

Wyoming’s state government illustrates the problems associated with charging the states to regulate fracking.  Wyoming appears to be whitewashing its investigating of fracking impacts in a development near Pavillion, WY. The state’s Republican governor Matt Mead has been accused of collusion with Encana, the company doing the drilling in that area.

The California State Assembly rejected a bill that would have banned oil and natural gas fracking in the state

A growing number of people are getting involved and taking to the streets to protest against fracking. In New York, more than 3,000 people recently came together to send a message to Gov. Cuomo and state legislators demanding that they reject fracking and lead the nation in renewable energy.

However, as demonstrated by Wyoming, state governments may not be the best place to combat fracking.

Regional and Municipal Politics

In the absence of federal and state leadership, the fight over fracking is increasingly taking place at the regional and municipal levels.

Even at the municipal level, fracking is a highly divisive issue. Boulder County in Colorado has enacted a new moratorium on fracking for 18 months and Dryden, New York, also upheld a ban.

However, some municipalities are so hungry for jobs that they ignore environmental impacts. One such community is Youngstown, Ohio. which is a city that has been hit hard by the collapse of the steel industry. Even two earthquakes which measured 2.7 and 4.0 on the Richter scale did not deter voters from rejecting a proposal to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city. In Illinois Governor Quinn signed into law a statewide pro-fracking bill (SB1715).

Despite the early mixed results at the local level, it is positive that the discussion about fracking is expanding. Being engaged in the discussion at the local level inspires people to get involved and encourages them to be better informed about the issues.

One of the major roadblocks to local decision making on fracking is the fact that in many states, towns do not have the adequate legal authority to deny oil and gas companies. However, environmental lawyers, Helen and David Slottje, have figured out a way that towns might be able to use zoning rules to stop fracking. A May lawsuit in New York state upholds municipalities’ rights to decide zoning rules as they relate to fracking.

New Data

Every day we are seeing more data pointing to the destructive impacts of fracking. NOAA studies show that methane emissions from natural gas development are much higher than commonly assumed. A recent report by U.S. military advisors also questions the value of fossil fuels including natural gas.

A recent report from environmental consultant Jessica Ernst reviewed the contamination of North America’s groundwater sources resulting from  fracking. Food & Water Europe and NGSFacts.com have also provided information revealing the dangers associated with fracking.

While an ORC International survey, indicates that most Americans support domestic energy production, they are unwilling to sacrifice clean water, increased energy efficiency, and expanded power from renewable energy.

It may be that the President is deferring federal action on fracking due to the political climate. In fairness, the President`s new Climate Action Plan does emphasize significant reductions in GHGs and strong support for renewable energy and efficiency. The President must choose his battles if he want to see them succeed.

As the old cliche goes, “Rome was not built in a day” and this is particularly true if we are building for an enduring future and a truly sustainable economy.

Even with the blight of fracking, President Obama`s action plan is moving the U.S. in the right direction.

With the federal government abdicating its responsibilities, the fight against fracking is being waged at the municipal and state levels. To succeed in efforts to minimize fracking, we must not lose hope that the war will be won.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said,

”The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.”

We will bring an end to fracking one town at a time.

——————-
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 Oracle, a leading sustainable business site 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: Adrian Kinloch, courtesy flickr

 

The post The New Front Lines of the Fight Against Fracking appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 04 2012

19:18

August 29 2012

22:39

A Late Bet on Coal May Not Pay Off

A consortium of utilities decided to build a coal-fired power plant, probably one of the last that will be allowed under E.P.A. regulations, figuring it would be cheaper than buying electricity on the open market. The low cost of natural gas has foiled that calculation.
00:10

April 21 2012

15:04

For Earth Day, a Bit of Perspective

A PBS series offers a low-key but encompassing explanation of climate change and lays out common-sense strategies for addressing it.

April 13 2012

20:13

Don't Kill the Electric Car

Though it's true that an electric vehicle's battery may be spewing a considerable amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, driving such a car still provides environmental benefits.

April 12 2012

17:05

Forests and the Health of the Planet


Outbreaks of the mountain pine beetle due to climate change are devastating mountain forests. Globally forests are stressed due to unsustainable management and global warming.The health of our forests directly impacts the health of the planet. The importance of forests to the Earth’s ecosystems cannot be overstated. Research shows that forest die-offs are on the increase and this troubling trend is being linked to global warming. Heat and water stress associated with climate change are making forests vulnerable to insect attacks, fires and other problems.

As reported in an October 2011 New York Times article, millions of acres of forests in the northern and central Rockies are dying. In Colorado, at least 15 percent of that state’s aspen forests are suffering due to a lack of water. The U.S. is not the only country where forests are succumbing to the effects of a warming climate, trees are also being impacted by climate change all around the globe.

The evidence for global warming continues to mount with March 2012 being the warmest in recorded history in the U.S. and January to March 2012 being the warmest first quarter on record in the lower 48 states. This is but the most recent data corroborating an increasingly irrefutable body of evidence.

Greenhouse gases are fueling global warming and we continue to pour massive amounts of these emissions into the atmosphere. About 10 billion tons of carbon is being dumped into the atmosphere every year from the combustion of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests. The concentration of the gas in the atmosphere has jumped more than 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and this could double or even triple this century.

Despite the wealth of data supporting global warming and the crucial importance of forests to planetary health, world industry leaders in wood materials are gathering in Seattle on April 11-13 to discuss the role of woody biomass for production of biofuels. According to a UBC study, wood-based biofuels could be a competitive industry by 2020. While biofuels offer questionable benefits to the planet, wood based biofuels are even more suspect.

Deforestation

Trees are being cut down much faster than they are being planted. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) “World Culture Report: 1998,” during the period between 1990 - 1995, reforestation accounted for only 11% of the deforestation amount, meaning the world regenerated only a single tree for every ten burned down.

Total deforestation at the 1990 to 1995 rates eliminated approximately 45-50 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption per year. (This is based on the very general assumption that 2.9 tons of CO2 are absorbed per average hectare of “forest”). Reforestation at the 1990 to 1995 rates added back the capability to absorb just 5.5 million tons per year. From 1990 to 1995, close to one million square kilometers of forest were destroyed.

The destruction of forests continues unabated. Each day, at least 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest disappear from Earth. At least another 80,000 acres (32,300 ha) of forest are degraded. Overall, FAO estimates that 10.4 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005, an increase from 1990-2000, when around 10.16 million hectares of forest were lost. Among primary forests, annual deforestation rose to 6.26 million hectares from 5.41 million hectares in the same period.

Trees are under siege all around the world, including euphorbia trees of southern Africa, Atlas cedars of northern Algeria, Australia’s Eucalyptus trees, Siberian forests, and the Amazon rain forests. In Sumatra alone, tens of thousands of hectares of forest land have been drained and cleared and this is driving elephants, tigers and orangutans to local extinction.

Carbon Absorption

In addition to providing habitat for a wide range of animal species, forests play a pivotal role in absorbing CO2. The most recent science suggests that trees absorb more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.

“[W]e’re recognizing the potential great value of trees and forests in helping us deal with the excess carbon we’re generating, we’re starting to lose forests,” said Thomas W. Swetnam, an expert on forest history at the University of Arizona.

Trees that have the ability to lock carbon into long-term storage, and they do so by making wood or transferring carbon into the soil. The wood may stand for centuries inside a living tree, and it is slow to decay even when the tree dies. However, if a forest burns down, much of the carbon stored in it will re-enter the atmosphere.

According to a 2011 estimate published Aug. 19 in the journal Science, when emissions from the destruction of forests are subtracted from the carbon they absorb, they are, on balance, packing more than a billion tons of carbon into long-term storage every year.

Even the forests that are being replaced are far less biodiverse and they have a diminished capacity to absorb carbon. This is a dangerous cycle; the fewer trees there are, the faster CO2 will rise and the more the remaining trees will be impacted by an ever warmer climate.  The loss of forests increases the levels of atmospheric carbon.

Burning of forests to make way for more agriculture in places like Brazil and Indonesia is particularly destructive because it ends their ability to absorb carbon and emits carbon back into the atmosphere.

Fires, Insects, Water and Extreme Weather

Wildfires, insect infestations and extreme weather are combining to decimate many forests. In the summer of 2011, wildfires destroyed huge swaths of U.S. forests stretching from the mountainous Southwest deep into Texas. Extreme weather–a corollary of climate change—is also imperiling forests around the world.

“Forests take a century to grow to maturity,” Werner A. Kurz, a leading forest scientist said, “It takes only a single extreme climate event, a single attack by insects, to interrupt that hundred-year uptake of carbon.”

Global warming is increasing the number, size and severity of forest fires, in North America, it is also contributing to the proliferation of forest destroying bugs like pine beetles which are surviving warmer winters in greater numbers.

Warmer winters are also causing snow to melt earlier, which is reducing the availability of water in summer. This then combines with warmer summer temperatures, which increases the water needs of trees.

“A lot of ecologists like me are starting to think all these agents, like insects and fires, are just the proximate cause, and the real culprit is water stress caused by climate change,” said Robert L. Crabtree, head of a center studying the Yellowstone region. “It doesn’t really matter what kills the trees — they’re on their way out. The big question is, are they going to regrow? If they don’t, we could very well catastrophically lose our forests.”

Unsustainable Forest Management

There is a powerful rationale to manage our forests more responsibly. While unsustainable forest management practices are economically counterproductive, sustainable practices offer a wealth of socio-economic benefits. There is real value to healthy intact and sustainably managed forests. One researcher demonstrated how a forest can be worth more than a goldmine.

As reviewed in a Mongabay.com article, ecologically unsustainable practices are proving to be economically ruinous in places like Indonesia. The Rajawali Institute for Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School of government estimates that by eliminating its natural capital for negligible gains, deforestation caused losses of $150 billion to Indonesia between 1990 and 2007.

An investigation by a task force set up by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono found that unsustainable forestry practices have cost 76,000 jobs in the sector in the Jambai province alone.

According to the Rand Corporation, particularly intense forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia have increased deaths by 22 percent.  Bad air quality can also send people to the hospital and increase asthma attacks, lowering productivity. One of Southeast Asia’s challenges is attracting global companies to locate high-level executive headquarters in the region, in part because of the intense air pollution exacerbated by forest fires.

It has been demonstrated that forests can even protect against tsunamis. Studies have shown that coastal mangrove forests can reduce tsunami flow by as much as 90 percent. (During the 2004 tsunami, villages that had cut down their mangroves were often wiped out while those that maintained them fared much better).

Trees are suffering from the ravages of climate change and this has catastrophic implications for life on the planet. The losses of forests have far reaching impacts that include agriculture, economic competitiveness and ultimately, human well-being. Even more significantly, the loss of trees irreparably undermines the Earth’s ability to heal itself. Forests are fundamentally important to the health and survival of the planet and therefore a crucial component of efforts to combat climate change.

To preserve our forests, we need to reduce emissions generated by burning fossil-fuels and deforestation, we also need to understand the overarching value of trees.

—————–
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: Biocharsolutions.com

March 16 2012

03:15

Debunking GWPF Briefing Paper No3 - The Truth About Greenhouse Gases

This post is part 3 of a series examining the UK-registered educational charity the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and the work it allegedly does explaining global warming to the public.

In part 1 the GWPF and its principles (or lack of them) were examined. In part 2 the many serious and fundamental flaws in GWPF Briefing Paper No2 were laid bare. So it will be good if we can find something positive to say about the GWPF here in part 3.

The GWPF Briefing Paper No3 The Truth About Greenhouse Gases examined here is a longer document (all 5,500 words of it) written by "a working scientist" (a physicist to be exact) who tells us he has "a better background than most in the physics of climate." This sounds good as there is much physics involved in the subject of greenhouse gases, things like the EM spectrum and climate forcings. So on face value, this GWPF Briefing Paper No3 should be a worthwhile read.

read more

February 29 2012

19:39

The Green Economy is the Right Solution for our Troubled Times


A Green Economy can lead us out of the troubles we now face both socially, environmentally, and economically The green economy offers a powerful solution to both a warming planet and economic volatility. There are a host of political and economic crises in the world today. The Eurozone crisis is expected to be followed by a European recession. In China we are seeing strong evidence of a slowdown and many are calling for major economic reforms. Finally, the hope and promise of the “Arab Spring’ has given way to a winter of discontent, as the Arab world suffers due to a weak economy and high unemployment.

Amidst all this economic uncertainty, global warming continues unabated. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said all 11 years of the 21st century rank among the 13 warmest. NASA noted 9 of the top 10 warmest years in its record have occurred since 2000. The La Nina effect was the warmest on record in 2011, according to data from NOAA and NASA. The increasing probability of massive flooding caused by melting Greenland and Antarctic icecaps are creating real concerns about the future of the planet.

The string of warm years in the last decade is linked to rapidly increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases. In a press release, NASA wrote “Higher temperatures today are largely sustained by increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide.” As the world’s economies get stronger, energy demands will keep increasing and carbon emissions will keep rising.

As reported in a Green Energy Intelligence Report, it is predicted that by 2030, U.S. energy related CO2 emissions will amount to 6.9 billion metric tons (“MT”) under a “business-as-usual” scenario. Worldwide, energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to increase from 28.1 billion MT in 2005 to 42.3 billion MT in 2030. Together with non-energy related CO2 eq emissions (deforestation, industrial production processes, etc.), total CO2 eq emissions are projected to reach 62 giga (billion) tons (“Gt”) by 2030 (McKinsey June 2008).

The IEA’s chief economist has said that governments only have five years to avoid more than 2°C of global mean temperature rise. Extreme weather events add to the data and send an easy to read message that the time has arrived for a new economic framework. According to NOAA, there were 10 massive weather disasters in the U.S. last year, each exceeding a billion dollars. The unprecedented weather extremes include the following estimates of death and damage:

  • Hurricane Irene: 50 deaths and $7 billion
  • Upper Midwest flooding along the Missouri River: $2 billion
  • Mississippi River flooding in spring and summer: $4 billion
  • Drought and heat waves in Texas and Oklahoma: $5 billion
  • Tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast in May: 177 deaths and $7 billion
  • Tornadoes in the Ohio Valley and Southeast in April: 32 deaths and $9 billion
  • Tornadoes in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in April: $2 billion
  • Tornadoes in the Northeast and Midwest April 8-11: $2.2 billion
  • Tornadoes in central and southern states April 4-5: $2.3 billion
  • Blizzard in January from Chicago to the Northeast: 36 deaths and $2 billion

The costs of extreme weather are astronomical, and it is predicted they will get much worse if we do not address the anthropogenic greenhouse gases that cause climate change. We need a framework to address both the economic and environmental ills that the world is facing. We also need a means of increasing our energy supply without increasing our greenhouse gas emissions. The Green Economy offers the solutions we so desperately need.

According to a July, 2011 report from the Brookings Institution, 2.7 million Americans work at green jobs – more than work in the fossil fuel industry. The US Conference of Mayors estimates that number will almost triple by 2040.

The green jobs study by the Brookings Institute suggests the U.S. should put primary emphasis on new, technology-intensive, energy-related sectors. The study by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program is called “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment”  The chief conclusion they came to is that the driving force behind jobs and the growth of the U.S. clean economy over the last decade has been emerging energy technologies.  This is a conclusion echoed in Google’s energy innovation report.

Green jobs are also quality jobs with median wages 13 percent higher than the average. Investment in clean energy projects yields more than three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels. Although the green economy is producing results now, the growth potential is staggering.

The failure of the US Congress to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation has slowed the growth of the green economy, but it is not too late. A good example of what can be done even in the absence of federal government legislation comes from a Los Angeles cleantech business incubator (LACI). The LACI approach identifies local talent, nurtures it, and helps it get to market, resulting in more jobs and a bigger green economy in Los Angeles and beyond.

A UNEP study reveals that investing in the green economy will spur growth. Contrary to conservative belief, the greening of economies is not generally a drag on growth but rather a new engine of growth and a net generator of decent jobs. The Green Economy Report is compiled by UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative. The report, called Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, recommends spending $1.3 trillion a year on the green economy.

Pavan Sukhdev, head of UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative said, “Governments have a central role in changing laws and policies, and in investing public money in public wealth to make the transition possible. By doing so, they can also unleash the trillions of dollars of private capital in favour of a green economy,”

——————-

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: Everything’s Cool

January 23 2012

20:35

Enviro News Wrap: The Sheen Comes off Natural Gas; the True Cost of Oil; At-Risk Species, and more…


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

 

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 29 2011

16:08

November 22 2011

18:18

Climate Negotiators Stake Out Initial Positions in Run-Up to COP17 UN Treaty Talks in Durban, South Africa


The US team participating in UN climate change talks in Durban, South Africa is resisting calls from its European counterpart and others to begin discussing a legally binding climate change-greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty that would come into effect in 2020 and succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which has been in effect since February 16, 2005.

The US negotiating team, which is led by US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, said that participants need a “better sense what the content would be” before deciding what the legal form of an agreement might be. The US team also wants assurances in advance that China, India and other major developing countries would be bound by the same commitments as industrialized countries, according to a ClimateWire report.

Negotiating a legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is only one topic on the agenda at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17), which will take place between November 28 and December 9, but it’s the central issue and no doubt the highest profile one.

High Stakes and a High Bar

Making legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide, methane, hydro-fluorocarbons (HFC), nitrous and sulfur oxides – is seen as the critical first step and linchpin for global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Reaching an agreement on reducing man-made greenhouse gas emissions would set the broad, overarching objective and commitment for negotiations regarding financial mechanisms, international trade, technology and accelerated access to critical mitigation and adaptation technologies and intellectual property rights that are on the provisional agenda in Durban.

Analysts say the US team “is setting a high bar for even starting to talk about such a deal,” according to ClimateWire’s report. That’s dampening already low expectations that the terms of a legally binding agreement will be reached in Durban, especially given the differences and difficulties experienced at COP meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun last year.

The Kyoto Protocol’s survival “hangs by a thread,” the ClimateWire report notes. Japan, Russia and Canada have come out and publicly stated that they will not submit new carbon reduction targets when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends next year unless the US and major emerging economies sign on.

The EU is proposing a compromise that entails its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol’s second phase as long “as countries build a clear road map for a legally binding treaty that covers all major emitters.” Some see that being a “legal mandate signed in Durban to negotiate a deal by 2015 that could take effect by or before 2020.” Others say that a less formal agreement on a “road map” would suffice.

COP 17 will open with reports on greenhouse gas emissions in the 37 industrialized countries and the European Union that agreed to binding target emission reductions an average 5% against 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 as laid out in the Kyoto Protocol. Participants will review these results, as well as those to do with carrying out commitments on financial mechanisms, those of the Global Environment Facility, development and transfer of technologies, capacity building and other provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.

Results so far regarding greenhouse gas emissions are discouraging. The warming effect of greenhouse gases on climate, known as radiative forcing, increased 29% from 1990 to 2010, according to the UN World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) latest report. Last week, a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report written by more than 100 of the world’s top scientists stated that we can expect more frequent floods, droughts, heat waves, snow storms and extreme weather.

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November 04 2011

11:51

November 02 2011

14:03

September 14 2011

15:24
04:00

August 31 2011

18:35

Hurricane Irene and the Staggering Costs of Climate Change


Hurricane Irene exemplifies the trend toward more extreme weather, and along with it the extreme cost of climate changeExtreme weather events like Hurricane Irene illustrate the costs of man’s impact on the earth. The planet has been getting warmer since the dawn of the industrial age and for every one degree rise in temperature, moisture rises by 7 percent. Scientists predict that warmer temperatures will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Or to put it another way, global warming amplifies the risk factors for extreme weather events.

Guided by its research, the insurance industry expects that extreme weather events will become routine. But not everyone is guided by rational enquiry; there are many other Americans who are still confused about the scientific veracity of climate change. Although scientists are reluctant to make definitive statements, in 2011, most will agree that there is a strong and growing body of evidence supporting the existence of anthropogenic global warming.

In Scientific American, John Carey explains it this way, ”Until recently scientists had only been able to say that more extreme weather is ‘consistent’ with climate change caused by greenhouse gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere. Now, however, they can begin to say that the odds of having extreme weather have increased because of human-caused atmospheric changes—and that many individual events would not have happened in the same way without global warming.”

Hurricane Irene illustrates that extreme weather can be very costly. Raging rivers continue to cause record flooding all across the north-eastern United States and electricity companies are struggling to restore power to millions homes and businesses. In addition to the economic costs, at least 38 people died in the US before Irene crossed into eastern Canada.

What makes Irene noteworthy is not its severity, but its location. Landlocked Vermont is not a place normally associated with a tropical storm, yet floodwaters surged through that state and many others in the East.For Vermont, these were the worst floods in 83 years. In addition to washing out roads and destroying buildings, Irene forced the temporary closure of several power plants. Airlines said they were forced to cancel 12,000 flights, a record for the industry and Manhattan took the unprecedented step of halting all public transportation.

Floods are a potential environmental health hazard even after the waters recedes. Floodwaters carry toxic waste, animal remains, and sewage, creating an aggressive breeding ground for mold and bacteria.

The exact cost of Irene is not yet known, but so far the financial toll of Irene is up to $7 billion nationally, with insured losses of between $3 and $4 billion. The costs begin to accrue in a significant way when extreme weather events become climate disasters. This year (2011) is already the most expensive year ever for extreme weather in the U.S. and the hurricane season is not yet half over. Hurricane Irene will help push the 2011 climate disaster costs past the previous record of 35 billion set in 2008.

This year, there have been ten separate disasters that caused an economic loss of $1 billion or more in the U.S, beating the record set in 2008. “The “new reality” is that both the frequency and the cost of extreme weather are rising, making the nation more economically vulnerable and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk” the NOAA’s Hayes said. John L. “Jack” Hayes is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Weather Services and the National Weather Service (NWS) Director.

According to property and casualty reinsurer Munich Reinsurance America, the number of U.S. natural disasters has tripled in the last 20 years and 2010 broke records with about 250. Average thunderstorm losses have increased five-fold since 1980. For the first half of 2011 there have been $20 billion in thunderstorm losses, double the previous three-year average of $10 billion, NOAA said.

“I don’t think it takes a wizard to predict 2011 is likely to go down as one of the more extreme years for weather in history,” Hayes said. There is more bad weather to come according to NOAA, which has predicted there will be as many as 19 tropical storms this year. So far there have been eight.

There is widespread agreement that the cost of the financial crisis of 2007/8 was monumental, but far too few are concerned about the costs associated with anthropogenic environmental damage. According to a study released by the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and UNEP Finance Initiative, global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 represented a monetary value of $ 6.6 trillion, equivalent to 11% of global GDP. Those global costs are 20% larger than the $ 5.4 trillion decline in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007/8.

As noted in the UNEP Finance Initiative report titled Putting a Price on Global Environmental Damage,” “environmental harm could affect significantly the value of capital markets and global economic growth.”

The report also estimates that global environmental damage will cost $28 trillion by 2050. The report further indicates that number could be reduced by 23 percent if clean and resource-efficient technologies are introduced.

Paul Clements-Hunt, Executive Director, UNEP Finance Initiative, said:

“This report sends a powerful message that the environment is also the business of business. Polluters must pay. Safeguarding the environment and using our natural assets efficiently entail collective action. Cohesive policy and regulation is required to fully account for externalities and speed up the integration of material environmental issues into investment decisions. The bottom line is that if we are to achieve a sustainable global economy, then we must stop drawing down our natural capital.”

The study recommends investors should exercise their ownership rights, collaborate to encourage companies and policy-makers to reduce these environmental externalities, and request regular monitoring and reporting from investment managers on how they are addressing exposure to environmental risk.

James Gifford, Executive Director, UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment, said:

“An increasing number of large investors are recognising that environmental externalities generated by one company are likely to come back and hit their portfolios in another place or time. This report provides an important rationale why investors need to exercise leadership and responsible ownership by acting together to reduce corporate externalities.”

The financial implications of extreme weather are too great to be ignored, particularly when we factor in loss of productivity and ancillary costs like increased insurance premiums.

Storms, floods, tornadoes and heat waves are the corollaries of global warming and as recent events illustrate, some of these extreme weather events incur staggering costs. We need fiscal responsibility, but surely that includes investments which reduce the crippling costs of climate disasters.

——————–

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: NASA, courtesy Flickr
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