July 2012 Newsletter
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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is scheduled to hold an “auction” for 721 million tons of taxpayer-owned coal in the Powder River Basin. This is for the North Porcupine tract, and is like the South Porcupine tract that BLM leased to Peabody last month — even though this coal is owned by you and me — the lease was drawn up by Peabody itself for its own profit. This is what’s known as a “lease by application,” and under BLM’s corrupt coal leasing program, Peabody will almost certainly be the only bidder and pay next to nothing.
Wild Earth’s Guardians’ 2009 report “UnderMining the Climate” found that over the last 20 years, only 3 of 21 leases by applications had more than one bidder. Since Peabody knows it will face no competitive pressure, it can simply offer the lowest possible price, secure in the knowledge that if it doesn’t meet BLM’s absurdly low minimum price, it can just try again later. In fact, that’s just what happened with the South Porcupine tract; Peabody’s initial offer of just $0.90 per ton was rejected as too low by the BLM – so they simply held another auction a few weeks later and accepted Peabody’s offer of $1.11 per ton. In both “auctions” Peabody was the only bidder.
The winning price in Thursday’s sale? $1.11 per ton. The price of a ton of Powder River Basin coal on U.S. spot markets? $9.15 per ton, as of May 11. The price of a ton of coal exported to China? It averaged $97.28 per ton in 2011. It’s now up to $123 per ton.
So, to summarize: You, the U.S. taxpayer, just leased another huge chunk of your land to Peabody Coal at $1.11 per ton of coal. Peabody will strip-mine that land and take the coal to China, where it will sell it for over $100 per ton. Peabody pockets enormous profits*, the U.S. taxpayer gets devastated land, and China accelerates global warming.
Incredibly, BLM’s coal leasing program deliberately encourages this uncompetitive process. Allowing lease by applications was a key change made possible once the BLM moved to decertify the Powder River Basin as a coal producing region – even though it’s the source of almost half the coal mined in the US. BLM is supposed to manage this coal “in the best interests of the Nation,” and it has a process meant to determine the fair market value of a lease.
It’s clear that the BLM’s coal leasing program is designed to benefit a few coal mining companies like Peabody and Arch at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. This has become even more outrageous now that coal mining companies are seeking to dramatically expand exports of this taxpayer-owned coal. And that’s why Congressman Ed Markey has called for a Government Accountability Office examination of the BLM’s coal leasing practices.
The amount of carbon pollution that will be emitted when this coal is burned is enormous.
The 721 million tons of coal contained in next week’s South Porcupine lease amounts to 1,196,456,240 metric Tons of CO2 – just over a billion metric tons, or a gigatonne of CO2. That’s over ten times the 101 million metric tons of CO2 that the federal government hopes to reduce its own emissions over a decade long period under President Obama’s Executive Order.
In June – 12 (representing over 40) Latino doctors, nurses, and other public health professionals from across the country met in Washington, D.C. to deliver a clear message to the White House: Climate change and carbon pollution is a serious public health issue that affects the Latino community – and we want the EPA to do something about it!
During the meeting, doctors and nurses shared personalized stories about the predominantly Latino communities where they live and work, and the effects of increased smog pollution, extreme heat and drought, fiercer wildfires, and other health-related concerns that are directly linked to global climate change. In particular, the group shared their concerns about asthma and other respiratory diseases that are worsened by carbon pollution. MORE on Health and climate…
Kaiser Permanente is the biggest non-profit health care company in the U.S., serving more than 9 million people with operating revenue of $44 billion. Kathy Gerwig, KP’s Environmental Stewardship Officer, explained why the health care giant is concerned about a warming planet. As Gerwig put it, “there’s credible evidence of significant climate change that will impact our ability to provide quality health care. What we know so far about the repercussions of climate change isn’t good,” Gerwig says, “such as water shortages and increased wars over resources, and all the health issues that go along with those.” In February of this year, Kaiser announced it would reduce greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2020 compared to 2008 levels. The company says that the health care industry accounts for 8 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. As Kaiser’s spokeswoman points out, these greenhouse gas targets aren’t just for public relations — they stem from a corporate recognition that extreme weather will threaten more people directly, while also exacerbating spread of diseases due to flooding, water shortages, and warming temperatures.
In 2009, the University College London Institute for Global Health issued a report concluding that climate change “will have devastating consequences for human health.” The report also warned that the potential global health impacts are “not being grasped by the healthcare community or policymakers.”
The state Senate in North Carolina voted overwhelmingly last week to pass a bill on sea level rise that has been widely reported in the national media. This bill prevents all state and local agencies from developing regulations or planning documents that consider the possibility of a significant increase in the rate of sea level rise in the future. In other words, when looking for guidance on how to protect the coastal economy and environment over the next century, the state’s planners may only look backward to historical data, not forward to expected changes in the Earth’s climate dynamics.
I serve on the science panel that advises the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC). Two years ago, the CRC solicited a report from the panel that would summarize the state of the science regarding sea-level rise and recommend the expected increase that planners should consider when looking down the road to 2100.
Our report included a detailed review of the published literature. It was externally peer-reviewed by out-of-state scientists. It contained no alarmist rhetoric or nightmare scenarios. The final recommendation was for the state to plan for 39 inches of sea level rise. This number corresponds well with expert reports produced in other states.
The reaction to our report was rapid and effective. NC-20, a group purporting to represent North Carolina’s coastal counties, attacked both the integrity of the science panel members and the body of sea level rise literature that was reviewed. The rebuttal consisted largely of oft-repeated arguments pulled from the climate skeptic blogosphere, along with an adamant assertion that predicting the future is impossible. To the great surprise of those of us on the state’s science panel, these tactics have worked. Following tremendous political pressure from NC-20, the Coastal Resources Commission decided to ignore our report and recommended doing nothing about sea level rise at this point. One would think that victory would have halted the debate, but it then prompted a state Senate committee to approve the legislation that passed the full Senate last week. The bill now moves on to the North Carolina House of Representatives.
All relevant, major scientific organizations in the United States — including the National Academy of Sciences, the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, and others — have issued statements indicating that the rate of sea level rise during the next 100 years is going to be considerably higher than that of the last 100 years, which was roughly 8 inches.
North Carolina became the first state to directly contradict that overwhelming, peer-reviewed scientific consensus and to tie the hands of localities that would like to plan pro-actively for these changes. Virginia followed suit last week, with lawmakers there voting to fund a study on the state’s coastline only if references to climate change and sea level rise were expunged. I have received many emails and phone calls from other scientists over the last two weeks pledging their assistance and volunteering to “come help educate the senators” in North Carolina. Sadly, I don’t think it will help. Quite frankly, those fighting the need to plan for accelerated sea level rise in coastal North Carolina do not want to be “educated.”
They assert that talk of sea level rise will ruin the coastal economy; impact insurance rates, and deter coastal development. This is absurd.
First of all, the insurance industry is well aware of the science behind global climate change and the prevailing projections of sea level rise. They have funded much research into the science, hazards, and risks associated with sea level rise, coastal erosion, and storms. Nothing in the science panel’s report comes as a surprise to the insurers.
Second, the real and immediate threat along the North Carolina coast remains property damage resulting from storms, which may increase in intensity this century as the world warms. Some areas of the U.S. have experienced multiple storm impacts, yet their coastal economies continue to thrive.
No one has proposed evacuating the coast. If you are building a single-family home, or a subdivision, you probably don’t need to do anything other than what’s required by federal flood insurance — account for major storms and elevate new construction on pilings. In many respects, the best way to prepare for sea level rise over the next two to three decades is simply to do a better job of preparing for major storm impacts.
Why should anyone else care about this issue? Because poor coastal planning costs us all. Coastal communities receive a variety of federal and state subsidies that offset the risks associated with building in areas vulnerable to storms and sea level rise. These subsidies include post-storm disaster assistance, subsidized insurance, funds for beach nourishment and coastal protection projects, and many others.
Even in the near term, rising sea level is going to make maintaining coastal infrastructure more expensive. Over the long-term, these costs will only increase. Significant portions of the risk are born by all taxpayers. We once took this fiscal responsibility seriously in North Carolina. Not any more.
Rob Young is professor of coastal geology at Western Carolina University and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. He is co-author, with Orrin Pilkey, of The Rising Sea. He also writes for the website CoastalCare.org.
(“It’s epic dryness,” says Beth Lund, leader of the incident management team assigned to the High Park Fire, – http://www.usatoday.com/weather/wildfires/story/2012-06-27/western-wildfires/55876196/1)
Western wildfires are dominating headlines in June – but the media coverage focuses only on effects while ignoring a major cause. We hear about an increase in the number and intensity of wildfires. And separately, we hear about ongoing global warming, like how May was the 2nd-hottest on record globally behind only May 2010. Why aren’t those dots being connected?
There’s compelling evidence that talking about western wildfires without mentioning climate change is like talking about lung cancer without mentioning cigarettes.
The Latest Major Fires
As the High Park fire in Colorado (60 square miles) joins the massive Whitewater-Baldy, New Mexico blaze (450 square miles) and the Ruidoso, New Mexico fire (40 square miles) as well as smaller fires in Wyoming and Utah, the Mid-West’s wildfire season has come early and hard in 2012.
In the meantime, New Mexico is in the midst of fighting the largest wildfire in its history. The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire has already burned nearly 300,000 acres, mostly in the Gila National Forest. This fire comes on the heels of the Las Conchas Fire last summer, which ranked as the largest New Mexico wildfire at the time. What’s worse, heavy rainstorms after the fire was extinguished led to major flooding and erosion. Sediment and ash were washed downstream into the Rio Grande, affecting drinking water for Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico. Climate change is literally fueling these and other major fires in western states. In fact, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas have all had fires since last year that ranked as one of the two largest in their histories (see table). The frequency and extent of fires in recent decades is unlikely to happen under natural conditions. With one catastrophic fire after another, it is clear that something quite different is happening to our forests.
Climate Trends and Forest Fires
Climate scientists have identified several ways that a warming planet will increase forest fire risk. Not surprisingly, all of these factors are fanning the fires we’ve been seeing recently in the western United States:
- Longer fire seasons: Western forests typically become combustible within a month of the snowpack melting, which is happening 1 to 4 weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago. This year, an unusually warm and dry winter resulted in one of the smallest snowpacks in Colorado history. As of June 1, the snowpack was only 2% of its normal extent.
- Drier conditions: Climate change is expected to bring more frequent and more intense droughts to the Southwest, perhaps shifting the area to a more arid climate. As of the end of May, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas all had areas in the grip of severe and extreme drought.
- More fuel for forest fires: Widespread beetle infestations have left broad swaths of dead and highly combustible trees in their wake. Higher temperatures enhance winter survival of mountain pine beetles and allow for a more rapid lifecycle. Ecologists in Colorado recently confirmed that beetle populations are able to complete two generations during longer, warmer summers, leading to a possible 60-fold increase in the number of beetles.
- Increased frequency of lightning is expected as thunderstorms become more severe. In the western United States lightning strikes could increase by 12 to 30 percent by mid-century. Both the High Park fire in Colorado and the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in New Mexico were ignited by lightning.
Communities, Firefighters, Taxpayers & Wildlife Bearing the Costs- Check the news for the latest in mass evacuations from towns.
Can Hydrogen (H2) save us? I was a little skeptical and intrigued when I read that Siemens was stating they can make H2 from their electrolyzers using night wind energy (which is wasted) and then burn in fuel cells and get 50% of the energy. And now this from Linde. Maybe H2 does have a future. What do you think?
Linde refuels fuel-cell cars at HANNOVER trade show with certified green hydrogen.. The Linde Group has reached another milestone in its journey to produce hydrogen from sustainable sources. The hydrogen generated from biodiesel by-products at the company’s pilot plant in Leuna, Germany, was certified by TÜV SÜD, one of the world’s leading test, inspection and certification organizations.
The pilot facility has shown that the pyroreforming process developed by Linde on the basis of raw glycerine has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 50 percent compared with conventional hydrogen production processes using natural gas. Advancing the pilot facility to a commercial-scale, fully mature production plant would increase potential greenhouse gas savings to up to 80 percent.
SunEdison Turns to Big New Markets (Developing Nations) for Solar Power
Last week SunEdison, one of the largest installers and financers of solar power, announced a new project that will deliver solar power to 30 villages in India. It’s already equipped one of these villages with solar panels, a small distribution grid carrying electricity to more than 70 houses, and battery backup system to provide electricity around the clock.
The first village is a pilot project that’s not expected to be profitable, says Pashupathy Gopalan, SunEdison’s managing director for South Asian and sub-Saharan operations. But he expects that economies of scale and refinements to the design and installation process will bring costs down, and the company could be making money within the next couple of years. “By 2014, we want to be able to scale up to thousands of villages,” he says.
The reason for SunEdison’s optimism is that plummeting prices for solar panels are making this type of electricity cheaper than power from diesel generators. “If the industry went after diesel displacement in a very big way, I think there is money to be had,” he says. “That’s where the money is if the industry wants to transition and not be dependent on subsidies.”
Diesel is a major source of power in south Asia and Africa, where many areas lack access to the grid and frequent blackouts prompt those who can afford it to install backup generators. These markets could help a solar industry that’s struggling with low profit margins due to an oversupply of panels. In turn, the lower prices for solar power could speed up deployment in poor countries by providing a more economical alternative to diesel-powered pumps and generators, and a much faster path to electrification than waiting for grid infrastructure.
EBay Goes All in with a Fuel Cell Powered Data Center
The company will install six megawatts worth of biogas-powered Bloom Energy fuel cell to run its main data center in Utah, with grid only there for backup. eBay said it will seek to run the 30 fuel cells on natural gas or biogas, which consists of methane and other gases generated by organic waste at landfills or farms.
♥ IKEA, a very large retailer of low-cost household furniture, has announced plans to install solar panels on two more of its United States locations, both of which are distribution centres in the eastern section of the country. IKEA wants to obtain all of its energy from renewable sources, especially solar and wind, and it is on a fast track to achieving that goal. It will have 38 MW from Solar in USA . (Why doesn’t McDonalds or Burger King also do this?)
1st: Global warming is like an out of control truck careening towards our children. We need to act before it is too late. 2nd: look at SMR small modular reactors (cheap; safe;easy to decommission). 3rd: where are we with Renewables? Let’s look at Germany’s energy consumption (arguably the MOST willing country to implement the changes needed).
Oil: 34%; Coal: 22.5%; Natural Gas: 21.7%; Total; 78%
Hydro and Wind: 1.5%; Solar: 10%; Total: 11.5% What about the USA?
Small modular reactor technology – SMR
The US Department of Energy has entered into public-private partnerships with three companies to develop plans for the deployment of small modular reactor technology at the Savannah River Site, near Aiken, South Carolina. The agreements will ‘break down the technical and economic barriers’ to SMR deployment, DOE said. NOTE- typical Nuclear is 1000 MW.
Hyperion is developing a 25 MW fast reactor, using uranium nitride fuel and lead-bismuth eutectic coolant.
SMR LLC (Holtec) is developing a 160 MW passive reactor, known as SMR-160.
NuScale is developing a 45 MWe self-contained pressurized water reactor and generator set, with investment support from Fluor Corporation.
Meanwhile in China
Construction projects already underway should see China bring online some 27 new reactors by the end of 2015 – in addition to the 15 units currently in operation, a total of 42 by 2015.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) legal authority to limit industrial carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act to protect Americans’ health. In addition, it dismissed challenges to EPA’s policy to focus carbon pollution reductions on the very largest industrial sources.
The Court affirmed the following EPA policies:
- The Climate Pollution Endangerment Finding, which determined that the latest science demonstrates that climate pollution endangers human health.
- The Clean Cars Standards that limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, primarily by modernizing fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars and light trucks. In addition to reducing carbon pollution from vehicles by 6 billion tons, these standards will help families save thousands of dollars on gasoline and decrease our dependence on oil.
- The Timing and Tailoring Rules for carbon pollution standards for new power plants and industrial sources allow EPA to phase-in requirements for cost-effective pollution reduction standards for large industrial emitters first, which covers 70 percent of U.S. carbon pollution. EPA would not establish reduction standards for bakeries, farms, doughnut shops, and other small pollution sources.
Energy Storage – We really need cheap technologies!
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CalCEF have joined forces to launch the first ever public-private consortium designed to leapfrog current energy storage technology and develop advanced battery systems.
The partnership, named CalCharge, will convene dozens of start-ups and established companies under one roof to share best practices and world-class scientific facilities and personnel, and develop a Bay Area “regional ecosystem” to jumpstart new technologies and boost American success in global markets.
Advanced batteries could hold the key to a clean energy future.
California may get an economic boost. 30 battery companies of all sizes are located in the Bay Area, and the state has seen 258 battery technology patent registrations from 2008-2010 – more than the next three states combined. (Why is that? Do their elected officials see the value of Green technologies and green jobs?? – Why can’t PA?).
Oil Companies are not Stupid
“[BP] has altered the design of oil-drilling platforms in the North Sea to accommodate projected sea level rise and it has improved coastal defenses at its Northstar field in Alaska, where receding sea ice has left shores more vulnerable to erosion from crashing waves. In its 2011 Sustainability Review, BP talks specifics on how it’s adapting to climate change impacts: “…we adapt drainage design practices based on the anticipated frequency and severity of storms.” So the product that causes climate change is also causing the seas to rise, ice to melt, and storms to strengthen. You’re not going to see that on their next TV commercial. (Maybe BP should talk to North Carolina?)
What about the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline? The permafrost on which most of it was built is thawing faster than anticipated, so the supports have to be upgraded. The repair work won’t come cheap.
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