Archive for the ‘Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ Category

The World Meteorological Organization Would Like Just a Moment of Your Time

Stormy SkyYou don’t have to read the whole report which isn’t long, but is full of “facts” and “numbers” and “science” and things of that sort. Just look over the WMO’s press release about its latest greenhouse gas bulletin – the chill you feel may compensate for the heat we’re generating. The report has thorny sentences like this: “This conclusion is consistent with GAW measurements of the spatial distribution of CO2 at the Earth’s surface and its rate of increase, a decrease in the abundance of atmospheric oxygen (O2), and a decrease in carbon isotope ratio, 13C/12C, in atmospheric CO2.”

The Organization’s press release is blunter and more to the point: “The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide.” While the WMO has traditionally focused on atmospheric concentrations of CO2, this year’s report states that the current rate of ocean acidification appears unprecedented at least over the last 300 million years. We don’t live in the oceans so we tend to take them for granted but, as the press release points out, the oceans are the primary driver of the planet’s climate and attenuator of climate change. As Wendy Watson-Wright, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO says in the release, “If global warming is not a strong enough reason to cut CO2 emissions, ocean acidification should be, since its effects are already being felt and will increase for many decades to come – we ARE running out of time.”

While you contemplate the WMO report, consider as well that warming oceans are beginning to belch unprecedented amounts of methane, a global warming gas even more potent than CO2.

 

Block Here, Block There, Block Everywhere

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

Back in the beginning of June, the EPA released its long-anticipated guidelines for cutting carbon pollution from existing power plants. The guidelines, implemented after the administration grew exasperated with Congress’ inability to cobble together sensible regulations, are intended to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants – the single largest source of such pollution in the United States. Power plants account for one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Agency. The Agency hopes to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels which it says is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.

Nobody expected the coal industry to celebrate the new rules. And nobody expected the climate change deniers in Congress to roll over, either. And sure enough, the obstruction machinery is being fired up.

Bloomberg tells us that Republicans in Congress are determined to cut the funding necessary to enforce the new guidelines and prevent them from taking effect. They are preparing for a “pitched battle” over the carbon rules which they describe as “job killers.” John Podesta, the president’s top adviser on climate change, said last month that Republicans have a ‘‘zero percent chance” of stopping the rule. We’ll see. When it comes to blocking the administration’s environmental regulations, as with every other initiative from the White House, the congressional Republican caucus has shown itself to be as tenacious as a junkyard dog.

State Department Gets Coy on Keystone

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

The State Department announced on Friday afternoon that it had gazed upon the Keystone XL pipeline and found it passing fair. A model of diplomatic even-handedness, the report concedes that, yes, the pipeline will increase carbon emissions but heck, those emissions are going to increase anyway. The tar sands oil in Alberta is going to make it to market one way or the other, it concludes, and whether the pipeline is approved or not won’t make much difference in the end. “Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States,” the Department said.

Unlike an earlier draft, the final report addressed other environmental concerns beside carbon emissions. But its tone and conclusions are mild, allowing both opponents and backers of the pipeline to brandish the report in support of their respective positions.

The State Department was at pains to note that its analysis is only one factor in the administration’s final determination to approve the pipeline, which will also weigh national security, foreign policy and economic issues. Which is as much as to say that approval is all but assured. The environmental concerns were the alpha and omega of opposition to TransCanada’s plan to sluice the heavy oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

Consider some of the issues involved. Tar sands oil is some of the filthiest fuel on the market. Extracting it consumes extravagant amounts of water and leaves a wasteland of slurry behind. Large swaths of Alberta are even now heavily polluted as a result of the oil that’s already been sucked up. The pipeline will run through the Ogallala Aquifer, threatening the water supply for the world’s bread basket. Consider, too, that TransCanada has a hard time keeping oil and gas in the pipelines it’s already running around the U.S. Add all that up and throw in ham-fisted and sweeping seizures of private property under eminent domain to build the thing, and you have a volatile and messy way of moving a filthy product to market.

The report is blandly reassuring about the possibility of spills, noting that TransCanada is planning to change the line’s route through Nebraska, and will rely on satellite technology and an increased number of shutoff valves to minimize the risk of spills and leaks.

Eight other federal agencies have yet to weigh in on the project now that the Department has released its report. Meanwhile, the 30-day public comment period will open on February 5. You can let them know if their report troubles or soothes you.

Shut Up and Light the Charcoal

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

What if you went camping with a bunch of friends and they decided it would be really cool to barbecue burgers and brats inside the tent. You take one look at the bright red warning label on the charcoal bag and pitch a fit (you’re also the one who pitched the tent). The label announces in no uncertain terms that burning charcoal inside can kill you. “You can’t grill in here,” you say. “We’re all going to die!” But your friends pooh-pooh your sissy concerns and insist there’s nothing wrong with throwing meat on a hot grill indoors. Where’s your scientific proof that everybody is going to die? What harm is a little smoke going to do? Besides, it might rain and  who wants to get wet? Would you stay in the tent? Slip into your sleeping bag after dinner expecting to get up in the morning for bacon and eggs cooked on the same barbecue? I doubt it.

But that’s pretty much where we are with greenhouse gases and global warming today. The warnings are clear and unambiguous but still there’s a concerted campaign to ignore the blaring claxons and carry on grilling in the tent. Between November 2012 and December 2013 2,258 peer-reviewed articles were published in scientific journals by 9,136 authors detailing man’s contributions to global warming.  Only one article, by a single author in the Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rejected man-made global warming. A new draft United Nations report concludes that the nations of the world have dragged their feet so long in combating climate change that the situation has grown critical and the problem could become impossible to solve with current technologies within 15 years. According to the report, our feeble efforts at instituting alternate energy simply can’t compete with the subsidies offered to the fossil fuel industries. Even as more clean energy comes onto the market, emissions continue to outpace any reduction the clean energy might bring. Failure to reign in emissions, the report says, will saddle future generations with enormous disruption, enormous costs, and the challenge of solving the problems were are creating now with technologies which have yet to be invented.

Still, the climate change deniers soldier on, insisting that filling the tent with smoke is a capital idea and that anyone who says the contrary is a tree hugging alarmist. And the deniers aren’t just fringe characters. Some of them occupy positions of great power and influence, such as, say, the Chair of the House Science and Technology Committee. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), is a vociferous critic of any attempts to reduce carbon emissions, and has noisily denounced the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution rules for new power plants. Representative Smith has not turned his back on science entirely, though. Just one day after condemning the EPA, he held a hearing to explore the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Smith is hardly the lone denier on the committee. The Subcommittee on the Environment is now chaired by a representative who rejects the scientific fact of anthropogenic global warming.

If your camping buddies insisted on filling the tent with a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that could kill you within an hour, you could at least go sleep outside. There is no outside when it comes to climate change. We’re all trapped inside the tent.

Treasury Department Quietly Kicks Coal to the Curb

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

Back in June, the administration released details of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. One aspect of the plan is to tilt public financing towards clean energy and to end U.S. government support  for the public financing of new coal plants overseas.

The Department of the Treasury recently issued guidance on implementing that part of the president’s plan. The guidelines are intended to level the playing field for clean energy alternatives and to promote low-emission power generation. The plan accomplishes this goal by ending U.S. support for coal plant funding by multilateral development banks. From now on, the U.S. will not support such projects at all in wealthy countries unless they employ carbon capture and sequestration technologies. In the world’s poorest countries, the U.S. will support only the most efficient coal technology available and only where no other economically feasible alternative exists. The U.S. is the largest shareholder in development banks like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. While the U.S. is in no position to impose its policy on the banks by diktat, the new Treasury guidelines will likely exert considerable pressure to scrub coal plant funding from the banks’ agendas.

The U.S. isn’t going it alone in reining in funding for new coal plants. The World Bank itself has announced that it will limit financing for new plants to “rare circumstances” where countries have no alternative. The leaders of  Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden joined Obama in Stockholm in September in pledging not to fund any more coal projects.

The Treasury guidelines will have no effect on private financing, of course. And political pressure in favor of burning coal is intense, not just in the U.S., but in India and, of course, China – the world’s most voracious consumer of coal. Indeed, the Treasury action is a reflection of the intense political battle being waged in Washington, and arises out of Obama’s reliance on administrative measures to chip away at carbon emissions in the face of Republican obstruction in Congress. In this case, Obama and the Treasury appear to be taking a page from Teddy Roosevelt’s playbook: they’re walking softly and carrying a big stick.

Go Ahead, Take All the Time You Need

Photo by Dana Peštová. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Dana Peštová. Some rights reserved.

With the exception of 2012, aka the hottest year ever on record, the last fifteen years have been more or less stable when it comes to climate. Of course, average temperatures have settled into a groove well above what they were fifty years ago, but the point remains: we’re in the midst of what scientists are apparently calling a “global warming hiatus”, which is exactly what it sounds like. While climate change naysayers have used this fact repeatedly as evidence that global warming is a scam (or at the very least overemphasized as a concern), some scientists (specifically climatologist Francisco Estrada of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, who have authored a new report for Nature Geoscience) are now pointing back to 1987 in providing some cause-and-effect explanations for the temperature slump.

Why 1987, you ask? Well, aside from being the year that Prince released his seminal (and best) album Sign the Times (which I’m not denying may also have had something to do with the lull in destructive planetary forces), 1987 was also the year that the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was agreed upon. The Montreal Protocol was an international treaty signed by more than 40 countries that laid out plans to phase out any products or procedures that would harm the ozone layer – it was drawn up in 1987 and went into effect in 1989. The largest of its efforts was to ban CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons), often present in repellants and solvents. Since the CFCs have been phased out (and replaced by safer alternatives), the ozone layer has been on the mend and global temperatures have stabilized. However, researchers are quick to note that this change is not enough on its own to account of the 15 years of stabilized temperatures, and that the real explanation is likely much more complex and a result of multiple factors (such as economics – turns out there is a precedent set in other trying times like WWII and The Great Depression where temperatures stabilize because of a steep drop in U.S. production – less operational factories means less greenhouse gases).

Mother Jones has the full scoop.

New Study by University of Texas Gives Fracking Advocates New Ammo

Bad news for fracking naysayers: it seems they may have lost a significant card in their deck, as a new study published early this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the methane leaks from fracking sites, long cited as a major concern, may not be nearly as bad as anticipated by the EPA and others. The study, sponsored by both the Environmental Defense Fund (representing the belief that shale gas extracted from fracking may in fact be more environmentally sound and thus a better short term fuel solution than coal) and nine petroleum companies (whose participation is perhaps more dubious), concludes that the sum total of methane (a toxic greenhouse gas, as we all know by now) leaking from the 190 onshore natural gas sites and 500 wells surveyed in the study is decidedly lower than expected, while still certainly within the realm of “significant.”

What does this mean for the future of fracking? Well, the EPA has already imposed regulations requiring additional control over methane leaks, and many companies have already begun imposing stricter controls over escaped green house gases. However, as Peter’s post from yesterday points out, it would seem we still have a long way to go before reaching anywhere near “total control.”

 

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