The Climate Post: Coal, Climate Skepticism and Apple Pie

Author: Travis Leipzig

What is my favorite thing about Thursday's? Is it: A) It's my last day of the workweek. B) The Climate Post comes out. or C) Two Fillet-o-Fish sandwiches for two bucks at McDonald's down the street from my house. Read on for the answer.

Answer: B! While my weekend does start tomorrow, there is no better way to end the work week than to read and repost Eric Roston's The Climate Post.

Just to remind everyone, The Climate Post is a weekly blog post by Eric Roston summarizing climate related news, trends and events, which Mr. Roston has so kindly allowed River Network to repost each week. Eric Roston is a Senior Associate for The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. He is the author of The Carbon Age and is one of the most highly regarded science writers in Washington.

Here it is, enjoy:

First things first: Pakistan

Ghassem Asrar, director of the World Climate Research Programme and World Meteorlogical Organization, is the most prominent climate scientist to declare the seemingly unmitigated disaster in Pakistan – one-fifth of the country is now under water – a consequence of climate change. After explaining the proximate causes (weather) that precipitated the event, he concluded:

“The connecting factor is that clearly the warming is a driver for all these events.”

Other climate scientists spoke in terms of warming increasing the odds of Pakistan’s floods, rather than direct attribution, but everyone seems to agree that it foreshadows more, and worse,weather-related disasters to come. (The Times also tied all the past week’s extreme weather up in a climate change-shaped package.)

As the full impacts of the flood begin to play out – including displacement and disease – Time speculated that it would further weaken not only the Pakistani economy but also ability of President Asif Ali Zardari to respond effectively.

Coal, Climate Skepticism and Apple Pie

A number of GOP candidates are testing a new (old) message – that even if climate change is happening, it’s not due to human activity. Pat Michaels, climatologist at George Mason University and the CATO institute, chatted with an all-star cast of pundits about the the political viability of the scale of proposed emissions targets.

Grist did a roundup of the biggest non-CO2 threats to coal from the EPA, implying a bleak future for coal, while the AP did some enterprise reporting indicating that “Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.” Similar expansions of coal-fired power are set to go forward in the UK.

Perhaps that’s why clean coal remains a priority for the Obama administration, even as it continues to focus on jobs and ‘clean’ energy rather than climate. At present, Cleantech is still only 0.6% of the U.S. workforce.

The Illinois town that was to be the home of the country’s first clean coal plant backed out of the deal.

In the wake of Federal inaction, states are looking to the EPA for guidance in constructing individual carbon caps. A Federal task force declared a price on carbon “necessary” in order to realize Carbon Capture and Storage, a.k.a. Clean Coal, which was followed shortly by a be-careful-what-you-wish-for essay by the CEO of one of the few recycled energy companies in the U.S., which argued that the regulatory monopolies that we call electricity markets could prevent a carbon price from working.

Activists gearing up for the battle over California’s emissions cap-killing Proposition 23 are casting it as California clean tech vs. Texas big oil, amidst calls for environmentalists to try being more like the NRA or at least less like eggheads.

Back on the Hill, green groups launched a website showing how much oil money all our politicians get and a consortium of environmentalists and unions declared war on GOP “obstructionism.” Al Gore urged readers of his blog to take to the streets.

Death and Energy Transitions

The leading science journal in the U.S. devoted a significant part of an issue to a package on the spectacular challenges of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, including a paper on the possibility of nuclear power plants with all-new designs. Bill Gates, who recently said that when it comes to this energy transition, “We’ve all been spoiled and deeply confused by the IT model,” happens to be an investor in TerraPower, one of the companies pursuing these new nuclear technologies.

The Obama administration is being sued over secrecy surrounding its subsidies of the nuclear power industry, and Forbes explores the reasons that Iran is now more likely to build a new nuclear plant than the U.S. The Guardian argues that talk of a renaissance or no, nuclear power is being phased out world-wide, new plants planned for the UK and Egypt notwithstanding.

States’ Renewable Energy Standards deserve credit for nearly tripling the amount of installed renewable power in the U.S. between 2000 and 2008. Worldwide, emissions of greenhouse gasses were down 1.3 percent in 2009 thanks to reduced economic activity.

Consumers Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

Most Americans are clueless about energy efficiency, yet 750,000 of them already live off the grid, and a new plug-and-play solar panel system purports to make producing your own solar power a contractor and electrician-free affair.

Europe’s Desertec consortium proposes to produce a significant portion of the EU’s energy from solar arrays in the deserts of North Africa, something Algeria is already working on. The world’s largest solar power plant, which was to be built by a U.S. company in China, probably won’t happen and may be an object lesson for other firms trying to crack that market.

Hybrid retrofits are coming to fleet vehicles (trucks, etc.). California wants to pay large customers who can switch off their power consumption at a moment’s notice as if they were actual power producers.

Lessons for the Present from 450 Million Years Ago

Scientists announced that the Ordovican, a period spanning 460 to 445 million years ago, had CO2 levels comparable to those we see today, considering that era’s dimmer sun. It’s a finding with significant implications given that the end of the Ordovican (and Permian) saw the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet.

Greenland is now losing 350 cubic kilometers of ice per year, “more than twice the ice in all the glaciers in the Alps.”

On the other pole, increased snowfall is projected to offset the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, but the process will reverse near the end of the 21st century as precipitation over the Southern Ocean turns to rain.

Some good news: the loss of phytoplankton in the world’s oceans could reduce hurricane activity. The bad news is that the same phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain andproduce half the planet’s oxygen.

This week’s quote comes to us from the former editor in chief of Harper’s:

“Most of the journalism debate is really a narrow arc. I don’t find much difference between the opinions on the left and the opinions on the right. They’re both kind of worrying to death some fairly obvious fault in mankind.

Bonus, from Scientific American’s environment editor:

“Can we drink enough scotch to make biofuel from its byproducts viable? I don’t know, but i’m willing to try. Who’s in?”

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