Wednesday, March 27, 2013

HSBC: World is hurtling towards Peak Planet

Global investment bank HSBC says the world is hurtling towards a “Peak Planet” scenario where the global carbon budget from 2000 to 2050 is consumed well before 2030.

To address this, a peak in greenhouse emissions will need to be achieved as a matter or urgency, and by 2020 at the latest. “This is a tough task – but not impossible in our view,” it writes. “There is a growing recognition of the severity of the situation … and we believe that ambition is about to pick up again.”

In an analysis on climate change politics and the business case for action, HSBC economists say the focus is now on five key economies to break that nexus between economic growth and emissions – in fact to double the rate of decoupling.

This so-called Carbon 5 comprises China, Russia, India, the EU and the US, and HSBC says these countries need to cut the carbon emitted per unit of GDP by between 3 and 5 per cent per annum by 2020, beyond existing efforts.

It points to five reasons why this might be achievable, despite the apparent stalemate in international talks.

First, it notes that awareness of the severity of climate impacts is rising, and public opinion is shifting, particularly in the US. It says improving economic confidence and falling clean tech costs will assist the process, and it expects an increase in policy activism in the next three years after the recent plateau.

“Ultimately, climate change is like a chronic disease, where the problem accumulates over time. If we are to avoid unmanageable disruptions to the global economy, governments have agreed that we need to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2°C,” HSBC says.

“What they haven’t agreed, however, is the likelihood of hitting this target. This will be a core part of the negotiations that are now underway for an international climate agreement by the end of 2015.”

HSBC says there are different views of carbon budgets for the global economy, depending on differing views of risk, and where investors can generate returns.

The most commonly cited assessment is Malte Meinshausen’s 2009 evaluation that to have an 80 per cent chance staying below 2°C, the global carbon budget is around 886 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent from 2000-2050. A riskier 50:50 scenario increases the budget substantially to 1440Gt (see chart above). But by the end of 2011, 420Gt had already been consumed.

HSBC says that with annual emissions from energy alone running at over 31Gt, the budget for the 80% scenario would de depleted by 2026, and by 2039 for the 50/50 chance.

This means that without large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage, between two-thirds and four-fifths of current reserves cannot be commercialised in a 2°C world, and global emissions need to peak before 2020. The International Energy Agency, it notes, says global CO2 emissions from energy need to peak by 2017. “The contradiction between global carbon budgets and fossil fuel reserves is gaining increasing attention,” it says.

Is this target impossible? Nearly, but not quite, says HSBC. It says major European economies – France, Germany and the UK – peaked their emissions of greenhouse gases in the 1970s, and have each cut their emissions by more than 30 per cent as a result of oil price shocks and a structural shift away from coal for economic and environmental reasons. (see chart below) More


Scientists link frozen spring to dramatic Arctic sea ice loss

Climate scientists have linked the massive snowstorms and bitter spring weather now being experienced across Britain and large parts of Europe and North America to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice.

Both the extent and the volume of the sea ice that forms and melts each year in the Arctic Ocean fell to an historic low last autumn, and satellite records published on Monday by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, show the ice extent is close to the minimum recorded for this time of year.

"The sea ice is going rapidly. It's 80% less than it was just 30 years ago. There has been a dramatic loss. This is a symptom of global warming and it contributes to enhanced warming of the Arctic," said Jennifer Francis, research professor with the Rutgers Institute of Coastal and Marine Science.

According to Francis and a growing body of other researchers, the Arctic ice loss adds heat to the ocean and atmosphere which shifts the position of the jet stream – the high-altitude river of air that steers storm systems and governs most weather in northern hemisphere.

"This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes," she said. "It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger. It's now at a near record position, so whatever weather you have now is going to stick around," she said.

Francis linked the Arctic temperature rises to extreme weather in mid latitudes last year and warned in Septemberthat 2012's record sea ice melt could lead to a cold winter in the UK and northern Europe.

She was backed by Vladimir Petoukhov, professor of Earth system analysis at Potsdam Institute in Germany, whose research suggests the loss of ice this year could be changing the direction of the jet stream.

"The ice was at a record low last year and is now exceptionally low in some parts of the Arctic like the Labrador and Greenland seas. This could be one reason why anticyclones are developing," he said.

The heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures which have marked March 2013 across the northern hemisphere are in stark contrast to March 2012 when many countries experienced their warmest ever springs. The hypothesis that wind patterns are being changed because melting Arctic sea ice has exposed huge swaths of normally frozen ocean to the atmosphere would explain both the extremes of heat and cold, say the scientists.

A recent paper by the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also found that enhanced warming of the Arctic influenced weather across the northern hemisphere.

"With more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe," said the researchers.

The Met Office's chief scientist has previously said the melting Arctic ice is in part responsible for the UK's recent colder winters.

The possible links between Arctic sea ice loss and extreme weather were made as the UK's government's outgoing chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington warned that the world could expect more extremes of weather. More


Monday, March 25, 2013

Tibetan Plateau glaciers shrinking

About 90 per cent of glaciers in the Third Pole region are shrinking, accelerated by black carbon being transferred from South Asia to the Tibetan Plateau, a top scientist has warned.

Change between 1968 and 2007

The Third Pole region, which is centred on the Tibetan Plateau and concerns the interests of the surrounding countries and regions, covers more than 5 million square kilometers and has an average altitude of more than 4,000 meters.

The area has the largest number of glaciers outside the polar regions and exerts a direct influence on the social and economic development of some of the most densely populated regions on earth, including China and India.

The glaciers are at the headwaters of many prominent Asian rivers.

Influenced by global warming, its alpine glaciers have seen drastic changes in recent years, such as thinning and shrinkage, which pose potential geological hazards to people both on and around the plateau.

Like Antarctica and the Arctic, the Third Pole is drawing increased attention from the international academic community, but the results of former international studies in this area are inconsistent, said Yao Tandong, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.

The scientist, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, said some people believe the glaciers will retreat and finally disappear by 2030, while others argue they will remain unchanged.

There are even people who argue that the glaciers have even moved forward, he said.

Researchers at Yao's institute say they can now draw a more comprehensive picture of the region, by showing data on the glaciers' status over the past 30 years. An investigation using topographic maps and satellite images revealed the retreat of 82 glaciers, area reduction by 7,090 glaciers and the mass-balance change of 15 glaciers.

"Systematic differences in glacier status are apparent from region to region, with the most pronounced shrinkage in the Himalayas, the southeastern part of the region.

Some of the glaciers there are very likely to disappear by 2030," Yao said. More


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Climate Change Now Seen as Security Threat Worldwide

WASHINGTON, Mar 22 2013 (IPS) - Defence establishments around the world increasingly see climate change as posing potentially serious threats to national and international security, according to a review of high-level statements by the world’s governments released here Thursday.

The review, “The Global Security Defense Index on Climate Change: Preliminary Results,” found that nearly three out of four governments for which relevant information is available view the possible effects of climate change as a serious national security issue.

In many nations, the armed forces are the most respected arm of government, and their action on climate change can raise awareness throughout the country.

It found that the wealthy developed countries of North America, Europe and East Asia, including China, have made the most progress in integrating climate change into their national security strategies.

With the notable exception of India, leaders of South Asian countries have also made strong statements about the security threats posed by climate change, while smaller countries in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and Central America have expressed alarm at the possible catastrophic impacts of climate change on them, according to the review.

It was officially released at the this week’s Climate Security Conference in the Asia-Pacific Region in Seoul, South Korea by the American Security Project (ASP), a non-partisan group headed by former senior U.S. government and military officials.

The Index, which will go online later this spring and be constantly updated, will catalogue official documents and statements by national governments – and particularly their military establishments — about the relationship between climate change and security issues.

“In many nations, the armed forces are the most respected arm of government, and their action on climate change can raise awareness throughout the country,” according to ASP’s Andrew Holland, who co-authored the report with Xander Vagg.

The review’s release comes amidst growing frustration among both climate scientists and activists over the slow pace and weakness of multilateral and unilateral efforts to curb the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Governments’ failure to take stronger action has been attributed in part to the fact that climate change has been seen primarily as an environmental issue. As such, it has been accorded a lower priority than other challenges faced by countries, particularly economic growth.

In recent years, however, governments in a growing number of countries have recognised climate change as a national security issue – a recognition welcomed by activists who believe it should bolster their efforts to push the issue up the national and international agenda.

Here in the U.S., such an effort has been underway for some time. Just last month, a bipartisan group of 38 former senior and cabinet-level U.S. foreign policy officials, military officers, and lawmakers published an “open letter” to President Barack Obama and Congress calling for urgent action, especially in funding programmes designed to help poor countries both curb emissions and adapt to climate change.

Unless such action is forthcoming, “climate change impacts abroad could spur mass migrations, influence civil conflict and ultimately lead to a more unpredictable world,” the letter, sponsored by the Partnership for a Secure America, warned.

“…(P)rotecting U.S. interests under these conditions would progressively exhaust American military, diplomatic and development resources as we struggle to meet growing demands for emergency international engagement.”

A recent joint report by the Center for American Progress, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Climate and Security found that crop failures resulting from both severe droughts and flooding in various parts of the world contributed to food shortages that helped spark popular unrest in key Arab countries, paving the way for the upheavals known as the Arab Spring.

In his annual global threat assessment report issued last week, the director for national intelligence (DNI) warned that “(e)xtreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”

At the same time, head of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), Adm. Samuel Locklear, warned that the impact of climate change on his region was “probably the most likely thing that is going to happen …that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”

He told the Boston Globe that his command was already engaging the militaries of other regional countries, including China and India, about co-operation in addressing the challenge.

But the security implications of climate change are by no means confined to the U.S. and other wealthy countries with large military establishments, according to the ASP review.

It found that the governments and militaries of a least 110 of 155 countries for which relevant information was available have identified climate as a threat to their security. And many of those have integrated into their defence and national security planning documents.

“It was fascinating to learn how many different nations with such a variety of political systems, economic practices, and geographic locales share a common view on the dangers posed by climate change,” Vagg told IPS in an email.

“More to the point, these states all share the view that climate change — and its direct/indirect effects — should no longer be treated as a purely environmental threat, but rather a full-blown national security issue.”

Of the 32 countries identified by the study as resisting the view that climate change poses a security threat, India and Brazil were by far the most important.

Both countries opposed a move last month sponsored by Pakistan and Britain to put climate change on the U.N. Security Council’s agenda, according to Vagg.

Russia and China also opposed “securitising” the issue by placing it under the Security Council’s jurisdiction, although senior political and military leaders in both countries have defined climate change as a security threat, along with other non-traditional threats, such as global pandemics, terrorism, and transnational crime networks. More


Two reasons climate change is not like other environmental problems by David Roberts

Click for larger image

If you’ll forgive me for stating the obvious: Most people don’t understand climate change very well. This includes a large proportion of the nation’s politicians, journalists, and pundits — even the pundits who write about it. (I’m looking at you, Joe Nocera.)

One reason for the widespread misunderstanding is that climate change has been culturally coded as an “environmental problem.” This has been, in all sorts of ways, a disaster. Lots of pundits, especially brain-dead “centrist” pundits, have simply transferred their framing and conception of environmental problems to climate. They approach it as just another air pollution problem.

However, there are two features of climate change that make it importantly different from other environmental problems, not just in degree but in kind. And these differences have important public policy implications.

The first difference is thatcarbon dioxide is not like other pollutants.

To make this clear, let’s use the old bathtub analogy. The faucet is the source of the pollutant. The tub is the environment. And the drain represents the means by which the pollutant exits the environment. The key fact to remember: The damage to public health is determined by the total amount of pollutant in the tub.

Take a familiar air pollutant like particulate matter. We are spewing it into the air from tailpipes and smokestacks (the faucet). It leaves the air through simple gravity (the drain). Most of it falls to earth in days or weeks.

So when it comes to the particulate-matter bathtub, the drain is very large. We can reduce the total level of particulate matter in the tub any time we want; all we have to do is turn the faucet down, or off, and the tub will drain rapidly.

Carbon dioxide is not like that. Once it’s in the tub, it stays there for up to 100 years before it drains out. And the drain in the bathtub (so-called “sinks” that absorb carbon out of the air, like oceans and forests) is comparatively small relative to the enormous amounts coming out of the faucet. And by the way, we’re actively making the drain smaller by cutting down forests and carbon-loading the oceans.

This makes for a very different situation. Even if we cut our emissions by a third tomorrow, we would still be increasing the total amount in the bathtub:

The typical climate-policy targets that get thrown around — reducing emission rates by 80 percent by 2050, for example — are relatively meaningless. They focus on the rate of flow from the faucet. But that’s not what matters. What matters is the amount in the tub. If the tub fills up enough, global average temperature will rise more than 2 degrees C and we’ll be in trouble. Avoiding that — staying within our “carbon budget” — is the name of the game.

The public-policy implications are straightforward: Because CO2 is slow to drain, and the damages are cumulative, we need to reduce the amount of CO2 we’re spewing out of the faucet now, as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Yes, we’ll need new technologies and techniques to drive emissions down near to zero, and we should R&D the hell out of them. But we absolutely cannot afford to wait. There is no benign neglect possible here. Neglect is malign.

The second difference is that climate change is irreversible.

As Joe Romm notes in a recent post, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera slipped up in his latest column and referred to technology that would “help reverse climate change.” I don’t know whether that reflects Nocera’s ignorance or just a slip of the pen, but I do think it captures the way many people subconsciously think about climate change. If we heat the planet up too much, we’ll just fix it! We’ll turn the temperature back down. We’ll get around to it once the market has delivered economically ideal solutions. More


Friday, March 22, 2013

Southern Ocean May Be Losing Ability to Absorb Greenhouse Gas

No land intersects the 60° circle of latitude south of Earth’s equator. Instead, that parallel marks the northern limit of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. At this latitude, swift, prevailing westerly winds continually churn the waters as they circumnavigate the continent, earning the region the nickname “the screaming ’60s”.

But the Southern Ocean plays a more benign role in the global carbon budget: Its waters now take up about 50% of the atmospheric carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, thanks in large part to the so-called “biological pump.” Phytoplankton, tiny photosynthesizing organisms that bloom in the nutrient-rich waters of the Southern Ocean, suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the creatures die, they sink to the ocean floor, effectively sequestering that carbon for hundreds or even thousands of years. It also helps that carbon dioxide is more soluble in colder waters, and that the churning winds mix the waters at the surface, allowing the gases to penetrate the waters more easily.

There are signs, however, that the ocean’s capacity to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide has been decreasing over the past few decades, says climate scientist Samuel Jaccard of ETH Zurich in Switzerland. For one thing, the carbon doesn’t stay sunk. Even as phytoplankton blooms sequester new carbon, the upwelling of deep, subsurface water currents in the region bring old, once-sequestered carbon back to the surface waters, allowing for exchange with the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the ozone hole has strengthened winds in the region, which may be hindering the carbon storage.

For clues to the future, climate scientists look to past glacial-interglacial cycles. Researchers have a record of atmospheric carbon dioxide stretching back millions of years thanks to ice cores from Antarctica, which contain trapped gas bubbles, snapshots of ancient air. But for the other half of the picture—what happened in the oceans during that time—there is only a relatively short record extending back about 20,000 years to the last glacial cycle. Ocean sediment records, which contain evidence of carbon and nutrients, are one way to reconstruct that history.

Previous ocean sediment records suggest that, as the world slipped into the last glacial period, less carbon overall reached the sediments of the Southern Ocean, coinciding with declining atmospheric carbon dioxide. During cold periods, increased sea-ice cover can keep gases trapped in the ocean—and the drier, dustier conditions bring much-needed iron to phytoplankton in the sub-Antarctic portion of the Southern Ocean, feeding blooms that gobble down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What happens when the world moves into a warm, interglacial period isn’t certain, but in 2009, a paper published in Science by researchers found that upwelling in the Southern Ocean increased as the last ice age waned, correlated to a rapid rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Now, using two deep cores collected at two Ocean Drilling Program sites in the Southern Ocean, Jaccard and colleagues have reconstructed ocean records of productivity and vertical overturning reaching back a million years, through multiple glacial-interglacial cycles. This rapid increase in carbon dioxide as the world transitions from glacial to interglacial seems to be a pretty regular thing, they’ve found.

“There was relatively more carbon dioxide emitted from the deep ocean and released to the atmosphere as the climate warmed,” Jaccard says. “The Southern Ocean sink was less effective.More


Thursday, March 21, 2013

The 2013 Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo

About the Summit

The 2013 Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo will be held jointly with the 2013 Islands & Isolated Communities Congress at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, September 9 - 11.

The event is the preeminent meeting place for international leaders and energy experts at the forefront of the clean energy movement. Securing energy independence and developing a clean energy industry that promotes the vitality of our planet are two reasons why it is critical to reaffirm already established partnerships and build new ones throughout the Asia-Pacific region and the world. The Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo and the Islands & Isolated Communities Congress provide a forum for the high-level global networking necessary to advance this emerging clean energy culture. Read our 2012 attendee testimonials at right. More


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The least sustainable city: Phoenix as a harbinger for our hot future

Of course, it’s an easy city to pick on. The nation’s 13th largest metropolitan area (nudging out Detroit) crams 4.3 million people into a low bowl in a hot desert, where horrific heat waves and windstorms visit it regularly. It snuggles next to the nation’s largest nuclear plant and, having exhausted local sources, it depends on an improbable infrastructure to suck water from the distant (and dwindling) Colorado River.

In Phoenix, you don’t ask: What could go wrong? You ask: What couldn’t?

And that’s the point, really. Phoenix’s multiple vulnerabilities, which are plenty daunting taken one by one, have the capacity to magnify one another, like compounding illnesses. In this regard, it’s a quintessentially modern city, a pyramid of complexities requiring large energy inputs to keep the whole apparatus humming. The urban disasters of our time — New Orleans hit by Katrina, New York City swamped by Sandy — may arise from single storms, but the damage they do is the result of a chain reaction of failures — grids going down, levees failing, backup systems not backing up. As you might expect, academics have come up with a name for such breakdowns:infrastructure failure interdependencies. You wouldn’t want to use it in a poem, but it does catch an emerging theme of our time.

Phoenix’s pyramid of complexities looks shakier than most because it stands squarely in the crosshairs of climate change. The area, like much of the rest of the American Southwest, is already hot and dry; it’s getting ever hotter and drier, and is increasingly battered by powerful storms. Sandy and Katrina previewed how coastal cities can expect to fare as seas rise and storms strengthen. Phoenix pulls back the curtain on the future of inland empires. If you want a taste of the brutal new climate to come, the place to look is where that climate is already harsh, and growing more so — the aptly named Valley of the Sun.

In Phoenix, it’s the convergence of heat, drought, and violent winds, interacting and amplifying each other, that you worry about. Generally speaking, in contemporary society, nothing that matters happens for just one reason, and in Phoenix there are all too many “reasons” primed to collaborate and produce big problems, with climate change foremost among them, juicing up the heat, the drought, and the wind to ever greater extremes, like so many sluggers on steroids. Notably, each of these nemeses, in its own way, has the potential to undermine the sine qua non of modern urban life, the electrical grid, which in Phoenix merits special attention.

If, in summer, the grid there fails on a large scale and for a significant period of time, the fallout will make the consequences of Superstorm Sandy look mild. Sure, people will hunt madly for power outlets to charge their cellphones and struggle to keep their milk fresh, but communications and food refrigeration will not top their list of priorities. Phoenix is an air-conditioned city. If the power goes out, people fry.

In the summer of 2003, a heat wave swept Europe and killed 70,000 people. The temperature in London touched 100 degrees F for the first time since records had been kept, and in portions of France the mercury climbed as high as 104 degrees F. Those temperatures, however, are child’s play in Phoenix, where readings commonly exceed100 degrees F for more than 100 days a year. In 2011, the city set a new record for days over 110 degrees F: There were 33 of them, more than a month of spectacularly superheated days ushering in a new era.

In flight from the sun

It goes without saying that Phoenix’s desert setting is hot by nature, but we’ve made it hotter. The city is a masonry world, with asphalt and concrete everywhere. The hard, heavy materials of its buildings and roads absorb heat efficiently and give it back more slowly than the naked land. In a sense, the whole city is really a thermal battery, soaking up energy by day and releasing it at night. The result is an “urban heat island,” which, in turn, prevents the cool of the desert night from providing much relief.

Sixty years ago, when Phoenix was just embarking on its career of manic growth, nighttime lows never crept above 90 degrees F. Today such temperatures are commonplace, and the vigil has begun for the first night that doesn’t dip below 100 degrees F. Studies indicate that Phoenix’s urban-heat-island effect may boost nighttime temperatures [PDF] by as much as 10 degrees F. It’s as though the city has doubled down on climate change, finding a way to magnify its most unwanted effects even before it hits the rest of us full blast.

Predictably, the poor suffer most from the heat. They live in the hottest neighborhoods with the least greenery to mitigate the heat-island effect, and they possess the fewest resources for combating high temperatures. For most Phoenicians, however, none of this is more than an inconvenience as long as the AC keeps humming and the utility bill gets paid. When the heat intensifies, they learn to scurry from building to car and into the next building, essentially holding their breath. In those cars, the second thing they touch after the ignition is the fan control for the AC. The steering wheel comes later.

In the blazing brilliance of July and August, you venture out undefended to walk or run only in the half-light of dawn or dusk. The idea for residents of the Valley of the Sun is to learn to dodge the heat, not challenge it.

Heat, however, is a tricky adversary. It stresses everything, including electrical equipment. Transformers, when they get too hot, can fail. Likewise, thermoelectric generating stations, whether fired by coal, gas, or neutrons, become less efficient [PDF] as the mercury soars. And the great hydroelectric dams of the Colorado River, including Glen Canyon, which serves greater Phoenix, won’t be able to supply the “peaking power” they do now if the reservoirs behind them are fatally shrunken by drought, as multiple studies forecast they will be. Much of this can be mitigated with upgraded equipment, smart grid technologies, and redundant systems. But then along comes thehaboob.

A haboob is a dust/sand/windstorm, usually caused by the collapse of a thunderstorm cell. The plunging air hits the ground and roils outward, picking up debris across the open desert. As the Arabic name suggests, such storms are native to arid regions, but — although Phoenix is no stranger to storm-driven dust — the term haboob has only lately entered the local lexicon. It seems to have been imported to describe a new class of storms, spectacular in their vehemence, which bring visibility to zero and life to a standstill. They sandblast cars, close the airport, and occasionally cause the lights — and AC — to go out. Not to worry, say the two major utilities serving the Phoenix metroplex, Arizona Public Service and the Salt River Project. And the outages have indeed been brief. So far.

Before Katrina hit, the Army Corps of Engineers was similarly reassuring to the people of New Orleans. And until Superstorm Sandy landed, almost no one worried about storm surges filling the subway tunnels of New York.

Every system, like every city, has its vulnerabilities. Climate change, in almost every instance, will worsen them. The beefed-up, juiced-up, greenhouse-gassed, overheated weather of the future will give ushaboobs of a sort we can’t yet imagine, packed with ever greater amounts of energy. In all likelihood, the emergence of such storms as a feature of Phoenix life results from an overheating environment, abetted by the loose sand and dust of abandoned farmland (which dried up when water was diverted to the city’s growing subdivisions).

Water, water, everywhere (but not for long)

In dystopic portraits of Phoenix’s unsustainable future, water — or rather the lack of it — is usually painted as the agent of collapse. Indeed, the metropolitan area, a jumble of jurisdictions that includes Scottsdale, Glendale, Tempe, Mesa, Sun City, Chandler, and 15 other municipalities, long ago made full use of such local rivers as the Salt, Verde, and Gila. Next, people sank wells and mined enough groundwater to lower the water table by 400 feet.

Sometimes the land sank, too. Near some wells it subsided by 10 feet or more. All along, everyone knew that the furious extraction of groundwater couldn’t last, so they fixed their hopes on a new bonanza called the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a river-sized, open-air canal supported by an elaborate array of pumps, siphons, and tunnels that would bring Colorado River water across the breadth of Arizona to Phoenix and Tucson.

The CAP came on line in the early 1990s and today is the engine of Arizona’s growth. Unfortunately, in order to win authorization and funding to build it, state officials had to make a bargain with the devil, which in this case turned out to be California. Arizona’s delegation in the House of Representatives was tiny, California’s was huge, and its representatives jealously protected their longstanding stranglehold on the Colorado River. The concession California forced on Arizona was simple: It had to agree that its CAP water rights would take second place to California’s claims. More


Friday, March 15, 2013

Climate Change Must Factor In Smart Policy

America is blessed with abundant energy sources, from an array of traditional fuels and natural gas to solar, wind, and other renewable resources.

But as the pressure on these resources grows, the United States must have a plan to ensure a stronger and more sustainable future. In today’s world, any smart and effective energy strategy must take into account the risks of climate change.

Climate change impacts are already here. They do not have a political affiliation, nor are they constrained by state boundaries. Moreover, climate impacts are taking a serious toll on America’s infrastructure and economy.

Let’s look at some examples:

America’s coastal areas are particularly vulnerable, as rising sea levels and heavier precipitation are increasing the impacts of hurricanes and other storms. More than 58 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, some $8.3 trillion, is generated in coastal areas (including the Great Lakes). This accounts for some 66 million jobs. Florida, in particular, faces significant threats due to rising seas.

Inland areas are also at risk of severe weather and climatic conditions. The current drought, which is still spread across 50 percent of the country, may cost 1 percent of U.S. GDP, taking a toll on agriculture, crops, and cattle. For example, corn yields are down, which is driving up food prices. In turn, higher feed stocks and poor growing conditions are affecting the U.S. cattle supply, which last year was at its lowest level since 1952.

Drought has also disrupted transportation and supply chains along the Mississippi River. Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted emergency operations to deepen the channel in response to low water levels. While the Corps was able to keep the river open, one recent report estimated that a major supply chain disruption on the Mississippi could have affected 8,000 jobs and commodities worth $2.8 billion.

America’s energy infrastructure itself is also at risk. Rising seas, for example, will bring more salinization and increased energy consumption for drainage and fresh water supplies. Some power plants are particularly vulnerable, with more than 280U.S.-based electric plants and oil and gas refineries located in low-lying areas.

Consumers, too, are at risk from power outages. Following Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter that followed, more than 8 million people were without power. Last summer’s derecho storm knocked out power for 4.2 million customers across 11 states. And, hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, like Katrina, can cause price spikes as they disrupt oil and gas supplies.

The question remains: What can be done?

Clearly, the United States should be taking action to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of a changing world. Many local governments and groups are already acting, but the breadth of the impacts calls for action at all levels.

There are several steps that the Obama administration can take to shift the country to a lower emissions trajectory:

The United States should be investing in more renewable energy and greater energy efficiency measures. The renewable energy market is expected to reach $2 trillion in the coming years. Yet last year, China outpaced the United States in investment in renewables by $67.8 billion to $44.2 billion. The United States needs strong and predictable policies to expand its share of the renewable energy market.

Energy efficiency measures can also save money and cut emissions. A recent analysis found that there are at least 34 efficiency standards that could save consumers a combined $26 billion annually by 2025 and save approximately 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of 49 coal-fired power plants. More


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Large Fractures Spotted in Vulnerable Arctic Sea Ice

Following more than two decades of Arctic sea ice thinning and melting, an unusual event just weeks before the start of the spring melt season is providing visual proof of how vulnerable the ice pack really is.

During the end of February and continuing into early March, large fractures in the sea ice were observed off the north coast of Alaska and Canada, from near Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic to Barrow, Ala., the northernmost city in the U.S.

The rapid climate change in the Arctic and sharp decline of sea ice has been attributed to manmade global warming, along with natural climate variability, and projections show the region becoming seasonally sea ice free by midcentury.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo., this fracturing event appears to be related to a storm that passed over the North Pole on Feb. 8, 2013, creating strong off-shore ice motion. The event is unusual but not unheard of, as similar patterns were seen in early 2011 and 2008. However, the NSIDC said the fracturing this time is more extensive.

The NSIDC said the fracturing is likely a sign of the prevalence of young and thin sea ice, which can be disturbed more easily by weather patterns and ocean currents, and also melts more easily when exposed to warm air and ocean temperatures during the melt season. As Arctic sea ice extent has plummeted since 1979, down to a record low in September 2012, first-year ice has become much more common across the Arctic, as thick, multiyear ice has declined.

“The large area of fractured ice is located in predominantly first-year ice, which is thinner and easier to fracture than thick, multiyear ice,” the NSIDC said on its website. More



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sudden Greenland ice sheet melt baffles scientists - July 2012

Measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8 (right) about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days (July 12), an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed. The areas classified as “probable melt” (light pink) correspond to those sites where at least one satellite detected surface melting. The areas classified as “melt” (dark pink) correspond to sites where two or three satellites detected surface melting. Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory/AP

Greenland ice, it seems, can vanish in a flash, with new satellite images showing that over just a few days this month nearly all of the veneer of surface ice atop the island's massive ice sheet had thawed.

That's a record for the largest area of surface melt on Greenland in more than 30 years of satellite observations, according toNASA and university scientists.

The images, snapped by three satellites, showed that about 40 percent of the ice sheet had thawed at or near the surface on July 8; just days later, on July 12, images showed a dramatic increase in melting with thawing across 97 percent of the ice sheet surface.

"This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?" said Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., referring to the July 12 images taken by the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Oceansat-2 satellite.

Nghiem had reason to be baffled, as this record ice-melt is well above average: About half of Greenland's surface ice tends to melt every summer, with the meltwater at higher elevations quickly refreezing in place and the coastal meltwater either pooling on top of the ice or draining into the sea. [Giant Ice: Photos of Greenland's Glaciers]

Instruments on two other satellites proved out Nghiem's findings — the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites

Data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder on a U.S. Air Force meteorological satellite also confirmed the mind-blowing melt.

As for what caused the disappearing ice, University of Georgia, Athens climatologist Thomas Mote suggests it could be a ridge or dome of warm air hovering over Greenland that coincided with the extreme melt.

"Each successive ridge has been stronger than the previous one," Mote said in a NASA statement. The latest in a series of these heat domes, which have dominated Greenland weather since May, began to move over Greenland on July 8, before coming to a halt over the ice sheet some three days later. By July 16, the heat dome had started to dissipate.

Signs of ice melt were even found around Summit Station in central Greenland, which at 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) above sea level is near to the highest point of the ice sheet.

"Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average," said study researcher Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time," Koenig said in a statement.

The melting of such a huge ice sheet — spanning an area of 656,000 square miles (1.7 million square kilometers) — is important for various reasons, particularly its potential effect on sea levels. If melted completely, the Greenland ice sheetcould contribute 23 feet (7 meters) to global sea-level rise, according to a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body charged with assessing climate change. More



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Global Warming Has Already Caused Unprecedented Change By Rachel Kyte

This morning, I had the honor of speaking to the UN Security Council about an increasingly dangerous threat facing cities and countries around the world, a threat that, more and more, is influencing everything that they and we do: climate change.

World Bank President Jim Kim is in Russia right now talking with G20 finance ministers about the same thing – the need to combat climate change. Every day, we’re hearing growing concerns from leaders around the world about climate change and its impact.

If we needed any reminder of the immediacy and the urgency of the situation, Australia Foreign Minister Bob Carr and our good friend President Tong of Kiribati spoke by video of the security implication of climate effects on the Pacific region. Perhaps most moving of all, Minister Tony deBrum from the Marshall Islands recounted how, 35 years ago, he had come to New York as part of a Marshall Islands delegation requesting the Security Council’s support for their independence. Now, when not independence but survival is at stake, he is told that this is not the Security Council’s function. He pointed to their ambassador to the UN and noted that her island, part of the Marshall Islands, no longer exists. The room was silent.

It fell to us to point out the security implications of business as usual. If the world does nothing to stop climate change:

  • half the global population will be living in water-scarce countries by the end of the century, compared to 28% today;

  • 35% of sub-Saharan Africa's cropland will become unsuitable for cultivation, with grave consequences for food security;

  • the breadbaskets of North America and the Mediterranean will see repeats of this past summer's crop-crumbling heat waves more frequently, to potentially devastating effect.

So what do we do?

First, cities. Developing countries are urbanizing fast - some will be shifting from less than 20% urban today to more than 60% in the next 30 years. The decisions they make today – about transportation infrastructure, water supply, land use rules, building codes and more – will lock in development patterns for decades to come.

They can choose to grow green with careful, integrated urban planning and support – they will need direct finance and assistance. We will need to step up our work here in support of our clients. In China, cities are seizing on low-carbon development options. We're helping Lagos develop more sustainable transportation.

We will need to change the way we produce our food, as well. The world’s farmers will need to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a population expected to pass 9 billion people, and yet climate scientists tell us that for every 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperature around the world, crop yields will decrease by an average of 5%. We can and must farm in ways that increase productivity, build farmers’ ability to cope with erratic weather, and increase carbon storage on land. We are mobilizing global alliances on climate-smart agriculture, and we have no time to lose.

We are also helping countries transition to a cleaner energy mix. We have doubled our investments in renewable energy in the last five years, and the $7.6 billion Climate Investment Funds we administer will support low-carbon, climate-resilient projects in 48 countries. But that $7.6 billion is a drop in the ocean of what is needed to support the transition to green infrastructure and energy systems. The resilient and green infrastructure gap is, after all, calculated at around $1.3 trillion a year – excluding operation and maintenance. More