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Generation Gap: Wind Opens Big Lead over Nuclear in China

By J. Matthew Roney In China, wind power is leaving nuclear behind. Electricity output from China’s wind farms exceeded that from its nuclear plants for the first time in 2012, by a narrow margin. Then in 2013, wind pulled away—outdoing nuclear by 22 percent. The 135 terawatt-hours of Chinese wind-generated electricity in 2013 would be nearly enough to power New York State. Once China’s Renewable Energy Law established the development framework for renewables in 2005, the stage was set for wind’s exponential growth. Wind generating capacity more than doubled each year from 2006 to 2009 and has since increased by …

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As Sea Ice Shrinks, Arctic Shipping Options Expand

By Janet Larsen and Emily E. Adams On October 7, 2013, the Nordic Orion bulk carrier ship completed its journey from Vancouver, Canada, to Pori, Finland, having traveled northward around Alaska and through the Northwest Passage. It was the first large commercial freighter ever to make the voyage through these typically ice-covered Arctic waters. Avoiding the longer journey, through the Panama Canal, reportedly saved $80,000 in fuel costs and five days in travel time. Taking a deeper route than the Panama Canal also allowed the ship to carry a heavier load of its cargo: coal. A second Arctic shipping option, …

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Less Than 3 Percent of Oceans in Marine Parks Despite Recent Growth

By J. Matthew Roney In May 1975, rising concerns about overfishing and deteriorating ocean health prompted scientists and officials from 33 countries to meet in Tokyo for the first global conference on marine parks and reserves. Noting the need for swift action to safeguard more of the sea, the delegates were unanimous in calling for the creation of a global system of marine protected areas (MPAs)—zones explicitly managed for the conservation of aquatic ecosystems. Today, with oceanic resources more threatened than ever, the world is far from that envisioned MPA network. Although coverage has doubled since 2010, just 2.8 percent …

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Climate Change Driving Weather off the Charts

By Janet Larsen Meteorologists are calling the typhoon that slammed into the Philippines with 195-mile-an-hour winds on November 8, 2013, the most powerful tropical storm to make landfall on record. Super Typhoon Haiyan had gusts reaching 235 miles per hour and a storm surge swelling as high as 20 feet, so the destruction it left behind matched that of a tornado combined with a tsunami. Three days later, at the opening of the United Nations climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, the lead delegate from the Philippines, Yeb Saño, spoke of the “hellstorm” that left “a vast wasteland of mud and …

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2013 to be Record Year for Offshore Wind

By J. Matthew Roney Offshore wind power installations are on track to hit a seventh consecutive annual record in 2013. Developers added 1,080 megawatts of generating capacity in the first half of the year, expanding the world total by 20 percent in just six months. Fifteen countries host some 6,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity. Before the year is out, the world total should exceed 7,100 megawatts. Although still small compared with the roughly 300,000 megawatts of land-based wind power, offshore capacity is growing at close to 40 percent a year. In 1991, Denmark installed the world’s first offshore wind …

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Rising Temperature, Rising Food Prices

By Lester R. Brown Agriculture as it exists today developed over 11,000 years of rather remarkable climate stability. It has evolved to maximize production within that climate system. Now, suddenly, the climate is changing. With each passing year, the agricultural system is becoming more out of sync with the climate system. In generations past, when there was an extreme weather event, such as a monsoon failure in India, a severe drought in Russia, or an intense heat wave in the U.S. Corn Belt, we knew that things would shortly return to normal. But today there is no “normal” to return …

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Full Planet, Empty Plates: Chapter 5. Eroding Soils Darkening Our Future

By Lester R. Brown In 1938 Walter Lowdermilk, a senior official in the Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, traveled abroad to look at lands that had been cultivated for thousands of years, seeking to learn how these older civilizations had coped with soil erosion. He found that some had managed their land well, maintaining its fertility over long stretches of history, and were thriving. Others had failed to do so and left only remnants of their illustrious pasts. In a section of his report entitled “The Hundred Dead Cities,” he describes a site in northern Syria, …

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Iowa and South Dakota Approach 25 Percent Electricity from Wind in 2012: Unprecedented Contribution of Wind Power in U.S. Midwest

By J. Matthew Roney Defying conventional wisdom about the limits of wind power, in 2012 both Iowa and South Dakota generated close to one quarter of their electricity from wind farms. Wind power accounted for at least 10 percent of electricity generation in seven other states. Across the United States, wind power continues to strengthen its case as a serious energy source. The United States now has 60,000 megawatts of wind online, enough to meet the electricity needs of more than 14 million homes. A record 13,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity was added to the country’s energy portfolio in …

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Where Has All the Ice Gone?

By Emily E. Adams As the earth warms, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and seas are rising. Over the last century, the global average sea level rose by 17 centimeters (7 inches). This century, as waters warm and ice continues to melt, seas are projected to rise nearly 2 meters (6 feet), inundating coastal cities worldwide, such as New York, London, and Cairo. Melting sea ice, ice sheets, and mountain glaciers are a clear sign of our changing climate. (See larger image of map.) In September 2012, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean shrank to a record low extent …

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The Energy Game is Rigged: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Topped $620 Billion in 2011

By Emily E. Adams The energy game is rigged in favor of fossil fuels because we omit the environmental and health costs of burning coal, oil, and natural gas from their prices. Subsidies manipulate the game even further. According to conservative estimates from the Global Subsidies Initiative and the International Energy Agency (IEA), governments around the world spent more than $620 billion to subsidize fossil fuel energy in 2011: some $100 billion for production and $523 billion for consumption. This was 20 percent higher than in 2010, largely because of higher world oil prices. Of the $523 billion that supported …

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