Monday, August 25, 2014

Al Gore’s “Turning Point”

Eight years after Al Gore wrote a book and made a movie to impress upon us the "planetary emergency of global warming" (his subtitle for An Inconvenient Truth), he wrote an article with a more optimistic feel- ing in the 18 June 2014 issue of Rolling Stone. He begins "The Turning Point: New Hope for Climate" as follows:

Al Gore - Climate Reality Leadership Corp

In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place. The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail. The only question is how quickly we can accelerate and com- plete the transition to a low-carbon civilization.

The "surprising – even shocking – good news" is "our ability to convert sunshine into usable energy . . . much cheaper far more rapidly than anyone had predicted," Gore writes: the cost of photovoltaic electricity is competitive with that from other sources in at least 79 countries, and the 43% decrease in cost of wind- generated electricity since 2009 has made it cheaper than coal-generated electricity. By 2020 more than 80% of world population will live where photovoltaic electricity is competi- tive with other sources.

As evidence of this "largely unnoticed shift," he notes that Germany now generates 37% of its electricity from wind and solar, a percentage expected to reach 50% by 2020, and that nine of ten European coal and gas plants are losing money. Worldwide, capacity for 17 gi- gawatts of solar electricity was installed in 2010, for 39 in 2003, with expectations of 55 in 2014. China claims it will have a capacity of 70 solar gigawatts by 2017. (A gigawatt is the power generating capacity of a standard electric power plant.)

Gore states that in the U.S. 166 coal-fired plants have closed or announced closings in the last 4.5 years, and 183 proposed coal-fired plants have been canceled since 2005. He acknowledges that some of this shift from coal is to natural gas obtained by hydrofracturing ("fracking") but focuses on the emergence of "on-site and grid battery storage and microgrids," noting that the Edison Electric Institute (the U.S. utility trade group) has labeled this trend as the "largest near-term threat" to the present elec- tric utility system. He likens this threat to that posed by cell phones to the landline telephone system. He cites Citigroup’s recognition of the decreased cost of solar and wind electricity and battery storage (long seen as a barrier to intermittent energy from renewable). In addition, he notes a reduction of 49% in energy intensity (energy in- put per dollar output in gross domestic product) since 1980.

Gore observes that the Koch brothers have led the fight against rooftop solar electricity and for keeping the present fossil-fueled electric plants, one of their arguments being that net metering allows producers of solar electricity to benefit from the grid without paying for it. Al- though Gore neglects to mention that in net metering the utility pays the generator only the wholesale price for the surplus generation, he does note that solar electricity gen- eration has the advantage of peaking with electricity de- mand, thereby saving utilities from having to install new peak generation capacity (a point also made by keynoter Perez at the kickoff to develop the solar lessons for School Power Naturally, reported in our Winter 2003 issue).

Gore likens global warming to a fever for planet Earth and notes that the presently-gathering El NiƱo is expected to result in a pronounced global temperature increase. (Coverage in our Winter 2010 issue of a talk to the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers on 15 February 2010 by Judith Lean of the Naval Research Laboratory attributes this to the phase of the 22-year solar cycle.) He correlates the de- struction from Supertyphoon Haiyan and Superstorm Sandy with greater surface water temperature (5.4oF for the former, 9oF for the latter). He notes that higher water temperatures also mean higher sea level and disruption of water supplies that depend on snowmelt. And he adds that even more severe catastrophes are in the offing, like the irreversible collapse of a portion of the West Antarc- tic ice sheet. In addition to heightened sea level, warmer climate also means an atmosphere capable of holding more water vapor and delivering more severe storms, as have been seen in Pensacola (FL), and Nashville (TN). At the same time, global warming will exacerbate the dryness of the drier parts of the Earth through greater evaporation of what little water there is in the ground. Gore also observes that climate change brings concern to the military for both the safety of its bases and the new types of world conflict it will have to deal with.

Gore concedes that these many "knock-on consequences of the climate crisis" are enough to cause anyone to despair. But, as he writes in his opening paragraph, "we will have to take care to guard against despair," lest we become deterred from the action we must pursue. Though there be light at the end of the tunnel, he points out that we are in the tunnel. Among the things he says we need are "a price on carbon in our markets" and "green banks" to finance "green" projects.

"Damage has been done, and the period of consequences will continue for some time to come, but there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future."

Though U.S. greenhouse gas emissions had decreased from 2008 to 2012, due to recovery from the recession, they increased 2.4% in 2013. Gore calls for the U.S. to match the European Union’s commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 40% by 2030.

Gore’s concluding reasons for optimism are that "Rapid technological advancements in renewable energy are stranding carbon investments; grassroots movements are building opposition to the holding of such assets; and new legal restrictions on collateral flows of pollution . . . are further reducing the value of coal, tar sands, and oil and gas assets." "Damage has been done," he adds, "and the period of consequences will continue for some time to come, but there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future."

 

 

 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Leonardo DiCaprio Narrates Climate Change Films Urging Shift From Fossil Fuels to Renewables

Production company Tree Media, whose mission is to inspire positive social action, has just released the first of four films in the Green World Rising series focusing on solutions to the climate crisis.

The eight-minute film, CARBON, narrated by actor and dedicated environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, was created with support from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and in collaboration with Thom Hartmann. The film’s goal is to draw attention to how some governments are already putting a price on carbon through carbon taxes and carbon trading to encourage polluters to shift from dirty energy sources to renewables prior to the UN Climate Summit in New York on Sep. 23. All four films will be released in the next month leading up to the summit.

“97% of climate scientists agree: climate change is happening now—and humans are responsible,” said DiCaprio. “We cannot sit idly by and watch the fossil fuel industry make billions at our collective expense. We must put a price on carbon—now.”

“We need serious action to address the most pressing issue of our time,” said Hartmann. “Communities across the world have taken action in the most direct and effective way possible by taxing and trading carbon. For us to beat this crisis, many more need to join.”

The film explains what a carbon tax and carbon trading are, how they can help us stop “using the atmosphere as a sewer,” as Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress says in the film, and what ordinary people can do to push elected officials to act. More

Carbon


Published on Aug 20, 201 4 • CARBON is the first film in the Green World Rising Series, http:// www.greenworldrising.org "Carbon" is narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, presented by Thorn Hartmann and directed by Leila Conners. Executive Producers are George DiCaprio, Earl Katz and Roee Sharon Peled. Carbon is produced by

Mathew Schmid and was written by Thorn Hartmann, Sam Sacks, Leila Conners and Mathew Schmid. Music is composed and performed by Jean-Pascal Beintus and intro drone by Francesco Lupica. Carbon is produced by Tree Media with the support of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

2028: The End of the World As We Know It?

“There is nothing radical in what we’re discussing,” journalist and climate change activist Bill McKibben said before a crowd of nearly 1,000 at the University of California Los Angeles last night. “The radicals work for the oil companies.”

Bill McKibben

Taken on its own, a statement like that would likely sound hyperbolic to most Americans—fodder for a sound bite on Fox News. Anyone who saw McKibben’s lecture in full, however, would know he was not exaggerating.

McKibben was in Los Angeles as part of his nationwide “Do the Math” tour. Based on a recent article of his in Rolling Stone, (“The one with Justin Bieber on the cover,” McKibben joked) the event is essentially a lecture circuit based on a single premise: climate change is simple math—and the numbers do not look good. If immediate action isn’t taken by global leaders: “It’s game-over for the planet.”

The math, McKibben explained, works like this. Global leaders recently came to an international agreement based on the scientific understanding that a global temperature raise of 2°C would have “catastrophic” consequences for the future of humanity. In order to raise global temperatures to this catastrophic threshold, the world would have to release 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Here’s the problem: Fossil fuel companies currently have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their fuel reserves—and their business model depends on that fuel being sold and burned. At current rates of consumption, the world will have blown through its 565-gigaton threshold in 16 years.

To prevent the end of the world as we know it, it will require no less than the death of the most profitable industry in the history of humankind.

“As of tonight,” McKibben said, “we’re going after the fossil fuel industry.”

Obviously no easy task. The oil industry commands annual profits of $137 billion and the political power to match. As McKibben noted, “Oil companies follow the laws because they get to write them.”

However, there are some numbers on McKibben’s side. Recent polling data shows 74 percent of Americans now believe in climate change, and 68 percent view it as dangerous. The problem environmental activists are facing is in converting those favorable polling numbers into grassroots action.

Enter “Do the Math.”

Using McKibben’s popularity as an author, organizers are turning what would otherwise be a lecture circuit into a political machine. Before rolling into town, Do the Math smartly organizes with local environmental groups. Prior to McKibben’s lecture, these groups are allowed to take the stage and talk about local initiatives that need fighting. Contact information is gathered to keep the audience updated on those efforts. Instead of simply listening to McKibben, as they perhaps intended, the audience has suddenly become part of their local environmental movement.

It’s a smart strategy, and an essential one—because the problem of climate change is almost exclusively a political in nature. Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming. Though its application is lagging in the United States, it is being employed on a mass scale in other countries. In socially-stratified China, with its billion-plus population and tremendous wealth inequalities, 25 percent of the country still manages to use solar arrays to heat its water. Germany—Europe’s economic powerhouse—in less than a decade, has managed to get upwards of half of its energy from sustainable sources.

The same can happen here in America—provided we have the will to make it happen. McKibben says the key to realizing that goal is to battle the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry—its bottom line.

To start, he’s calling for an immediate global divestment from fossil fuel companies. “We’re asking that people who believe in the problem of climate change to stop profiting from it. Just like with divestment movement in South Africa over apartheid, we need to eliminate the oil companies veneer of respectability.”

In conjunction with the divestment regimen, continued protests against unsustainable energy projects will also be crucial. McKibben will be in Washington, D.C. on November 18 to lead a mass rally against climate change and the Keystone Pipeline. “We can no longer just assume that President Obama is going to do everything he promised during his campaign. We need to push him.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to win. But I do know we’re going to fight.” More

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Time to ask why

Young people have the most to gain from solving the climate crisis -- and the sooner the better.

They didn't cause the issue, but they'll have to live with it for decades. And for far too long, they and their interests have been ignored by leaders who refuse to protect the planet.

On September 23, this is going to change when exceptional young people get a chance to put their questions to the world's decision-makers -- to speak for their generation at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City.

Today, we begin searching for the people who will ask their leaders the tough questions about global warming. We're collecting videos of young people ages 13-21 posing tough Why? or Why not? questions about the climate crisis. We'll choose the best to attend the Summit and demand serious answers from the world's leaders.

If you're between the ages of 13 and 21, submit a video. If not, encourage someone you know to submit a video of their own.


Why do we continue burning fossil fuels that cause climate change? Why not switch to clean, renewable energy?

The answers are out there, but we won't get them unless we stand together and demand them -- and refuse to be ignored.

Thanks for your continued support,

Al Gore
Founder and Chairman

SUBMIT A VIDEO

 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Climate War Room

Climate War Room - Sunday 3rd. August 2014


I have today changed the name of the Cayman Institute's climate change blog to the Climate War Room.


Having collaborated with Sir Richard Branson's Carbon War Room on their Ten Island Challenge, which is a major initiative to mitigate climate change through cutting down the global carbon output, I have realized that a similar initiative is needed to to raise awareness of the necessity for a global war on climate change rather than just carbon output.

Jim Hansen

For more input on the reality of the situation a good place to start would be Makiko Sato & James Hansen's website where they ask 'What Path is the Real World Following'? Jim Hansen was the former director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies who resigned because the United States Government would not let him speak out on climate change. 'Assessing Dangerous Climate Change' makes worrying reading.


The world needs to take climate change, or as James Lovelock prefers to call it 'global heating' very seriously. Dr. Lovelock is the founder of the Gaia theory and on of the great thinkers of this century, his Cirriculum Vitae is very interesting and worth reading. Mary Midgley wrote on James Lovelock, published in the New Statesman on 14 July 2003."Lovelock is an independent scientist. Though fanatically accurate over details, he never isolates those details from a wider, more demanding vision of their background. He thinks big. Preferring, as Darwin did, to work outside the tramlines of an institution, he has supported himself since 1963 through inventions and consultancies."

 

We need to take the issue very seriously as a rapidly warming climate will change life as we know it. As Jim Hansen has tried to make us aware our children and grandchildren will effectively living on a different and not very nice planet.

James Lovelock

I implore you to research and read up on this subject. Speak out to your friends and neighbors and contact your political representatives and make your views known to them.


Nicholas Robson - Grand Cayman - Cayman Islands

 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Climate Criminality': Australia OKs Biggest Coal Mine

In a decision criticized as "climate criminality," Australia's federal government announced Monday that it has given the OK to the country's biggest coal mine.

The announcement comes less than three months after the state of Queensland gave its approval to the project.

"With this decision," wrote Ben Pearson, head of programs for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, "the political system failed to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the global climate and our national interest."

"Off the back of repealing effective action on climate change," stated Australian Greens environment spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters, referring to the scrapping of the carbon tax, "the Abbott Government has ticked off on a proposal for Australia’s biggest coal mine to cook the planet and turn our Reef into a super highway for coal ships."

Adani Mining expects its Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project in Queensland's Galilee Basin to produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal a year, most of which will be sent to India. A rail line will be created from the mine to a new coal port terminal, an expansion which means up to 3 million meters of dredging waste will be dumped in the area of the World Heritage-listed Reef.

UNESCO "noted with concern" (pdf) in April the prospect of additional dredging that would negatively impact the Reef and warned that the site could be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The approval for the Carmichael project came from Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt with "36 strict conditions"—conditions that did nothing to allay the environmental fears raised by critics.

Felicity Wishart, Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, stated that the conditions would be "laughable, if they weren’t so serious."

Wishart also accused the Queensland and federal government of "watering down environmental protections and fast-tracking approvals for new ports and LNG plants on the Great Barrier Reef."

"The Federal government has fast-tracked industrialization along the Reef because it is too close to the mining industry," she stated.

Pearson also admonished the close ties, saying in a statement, "The Federal Environment Minister has laid out the red carpet for a coal company with a shocking track record to dig up the outback, dump on the Great Barrier Reef and fuel climate change."

Amongst Greenpeace's list of why the project shouldn't go ahead is that

[t]he mine would steal precious water. The mine requires 12 gigaliters (12 billion liters) of water each year from local rivers and underground aquifers. That’s enough drinking water for every Queenslander for three years. Even ten kilometers away, water tables are expected to drop by over one meter.

In addition to the dangers of dredging up the sea-bed, the list adds:

The burning of coal from Carmichael mine would produce four times the fossil fuel emissions of New Zealand. It is a catastrophe for the climate.

"History will look back on the Abbott Government’s decision today as an act of climate criminality," Waters stated. More

 

Greenpeace Australia Pacific created this infographic to highlight what the group sees as risks the Carmichael mine poses:

 

 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Giant Global “Chimney” Could Alter Climate Change

Hundreds of years after humans mastered the art of chimney venting so they could heat their houses, scientists have undertaken a major research project to better understand how Earth’s atmosphere uses it’s very own version of a chimney.

More than 40 researchers recently visited a sparsely populated part of the western tropical Pacific Ocean—near the island of Guam—known as the "global chimney." The area boasts the world’s warmest ocean temperatures and vents massive volumes of warm gases from the surface high into the atmosphere, which may shape global climate and air chemistry enough to impact billions of people worldwide. Until the project’s recent start, scientists were only vaguely aware of the scale and impact of the global chimney. The warm waters in this area feed thunderstorms with heat and moisture, which loft all sorts of gases above the lowest layer of atmosphere, known as the troposphere, into the stratosphere.

At that altitude gases move horizontally, rather than vertically, as they do in the troposphere, and can therefore spread much further around the globe. Better understanding the chemical composition and transport within the chimney, however, could greatly advance our knowledge of the atmosphere and how it may respond to a changing climate. The researchers hope an added bonus could be understanding how pollutants are transported and transformed as air is pushed along the tropics, which could have a direct effect on people living downwind of major air pollution sources. "There are a lot of consequences from this type of air motion," says Elliot Atlas, professor of marine and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Miami and a principal investigator for the project. "There is a link between the chemistry that goes on in this type of air motion and the subsequent effects on the trace gases and aerosols in the atmosphere that ultimately impact climate."

The scientists investigated the waters near Guam last winter using three different high-tech aircraft to collect air samples and examine the abundance, distribution and transformation of various gases in the tropical atmosphere. Some of those gases in the chimney system such as chlorofluorocarbons (found in refrigerants and aerosols) and bromine compounds (found in products such as fire extinguishers) are man-made and can become trapped in the stratosphere, lingering there for years. Those compounds alone can destroy ozone, which helps block the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. (Those rays can contribute to the destruction of crops as well as human skin cancer.) Other compounds, especially the more reactive bromine compounds, can be made naturally, however. Over the last decade scientists have more closely looked at the amount of bromine in the stratosphere and realized it must have sources beyond the long-lived, man-made compounds. The consensus was that natural bromine compounds were being produced by marine organisms and released into the atmosphere. These compounds are relatively short-lived, however, so the scientists suggest that they react in the tropical atmosphere to form inorganic bromine containing compounds, such as bromine monoxide, which can eventualy lead to ozone depletion. Phytoplankton and other plants in the surface ocean can emit gases containing bromine and also chlorine and iodine into the water, which then escape into the atmosphere. Although the distribution of these emissions is still uncertain, measurements have indicated that the tropical oceans could be major sources, lofting them into the atmosphere where they can ultimately contribute to reactions that control tropospheric and stratospheric ozone.

So, the scientists are actively trying to understand how ocean biology might respond to changes in water circulation, nutrient supply, temperature and other factors, all of which could influence the reactive gas emissions and, in turn, feed into the chemical cycles that further influence climate through changes in greenhouse gases. The planet’s climate ultimately becomes altered when these gases start to affect the amount of energy from the sun that is allowed to reach Earth’s surface or is stored in the atmosphere.

Besides increasing or decreasing the levels of ozone in the upper atmosphere, some of the chemicals also contribute directly to the greenhouse effect. For example, added water vapor pumped into the upper atmosphere from the chimney increases the amount of energy trapped there, in turn heating the planet further. Another principal investigator for the project, Laura Pan, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., believes storm clusters over this area of the Pacific are likely to influence climate in new ways, especially as the warm ocean temperatures (which feed the storms and chimney) continue to heat up and atmospheric patterns continue to evolve. "Understanding the impact of these storms will help us gain ground truth for improving the chemistry–climate models we use to project future climate," she says. Defining those linkages, however, is an obviously complex task, according to Ross Salawitch, a University of Maryland, College Park, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and another principal investigator. "The various processes and feedbacks between the physical forcing factors in the climate system are under active investigation by a whole community of climate scientists," he says. "The addition of biological interactions adds another layer of complexity (and uncertainty) to the eventual outcomes of changing temperatures, circulations and so on. Rising temperatures, for example, could either increase or decrease biological productivity," Salawitch says, as well as the emission of certain less-prevalent gases that are exchanged between the air and ocean. "Perhaps increased ocean acidification could be another controlling factor," he adds.

Only one other major circulation has been considered a "global chimney." The other (much smaller) major pathway for transporting air from the lower atmosphere to the stratosphere is the Asian monsoon circulation, which prevails in the summer. Efforts are underway to conduct similar aircraft observations in the region of the Asian monsoon. The researchers have also identified smaller circulations that could significantly affect atmospheric chemistry such as the North American monsoon and convections over Africa. The idea for this type of project dates back to 1999, according to Salawitch. He says the project didn’t swing into action until recently, however, because work involving multiple complex aircraft and research teams takes a long time to plan (especially for high-altitudes). And although the collection process is now over, the scientists have a lot of data to sift through before they can say for sure what exactly is happening in this chimney and what its future impact on the world’s climate could be. "The data collected during these missions will stand as benchmarks for testing how well the tropics are represented in computer simulations and in forecasts of future climate," Salawitch says. The complete analysis, he notes, could last two years or more. More