Climate & Energy

On thin ice

Arctic ice alarmingly scarce, say NOAA, NASA, NSIDC

Yes, I know you've all heard that we've had "record" refreezing of Arctic ice. Big shock there. We had record melting followed by a temporary cooling La Niña event. What those denier/delayer-1000 talking points don't tell you is that the refrozen ice is very thin and still at record low levels following the staggering ice loss this summer. To set the record straight, on Wednesday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center and NASA had a teleconference to show the surprising and alarming new data from NASA's ICESat satellite, which revealed over the past year "the steepest yearly decline in perennial [i.e., old, thick] ice on record" (click to enlarge):

Deep thought of the day

One can be anti-nuclear subsidy without being “anti-nuclear.”

<em>Time</em> on geo-engineering: What are they thinking? Part 1

Messing with nature more won’t fix the messes we’ve already made

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. ----- [JR: Geo-engineering is to mitigation as chemotherapy is to diet & exercise. You can find some more specific reasons geo-engineering is unlikely to make sense at these posts: "Geo-engineering remains a bad idea" and "Geo-engineering is not the answer." I will be blogging again on this shortly. In the absence of strong mitigation efforts, geo-engineering will not stop catastrophic outcomes, like the end of most ocean life.] Time magazine has declared geo-engineering one of "10 ideas that are changing the world." "Messing with nature caused global warming," Time wrote. "Messing with it more might fix it." What are they thinking?

Early-springing spring is a climatic consequence

You may have gone to bed last night in one season and woken up in another, as spring officially began at 1:48 a.m. EDT Thursday. (Yes, apparently “they” know the exact time.) We kind of feel like its about damn time the sun came out, but in fact trees are blossoming and birds are singing earlier than ever, say biologists — and that’s not ideal. Among the consequences of a climate-change-caused early spring: a longer allergy season, longer wildfire season, and disoriented flora and fauna.

World's dumbest project: Tata Ultra Mega

How a twisted definition is setting up a monumental folly in India

Here is how the World Bank proposes to solve climate change: lend money to build a 4,000-megawatt coal plant in India that will emit 25.7 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. By way of comparison, that's half a million tons more than the worst carbon emitter in North America, the Scherer plant near Macon, Georgia. In a weird distortion of logic, Tata Ultra Mega is considered a Clean Development Mechanism by the organization that administers the Kyoto Protocol. This allows industrialized nations to invest in the plant as an alternative to domestic emissions reductions. The thinking is that since Tata Ultra Mega uses supercritical coal technology, it will increase the average efficiency of coal use in India. Turns out World Bank policy is to invest in "abatement of climate change impacts" through "investment focus on ... supercritical coal technology, ultra supercritical or subcritical coal technology with energy efficiency higher than [the] existing national average of the sector." Do not be deceived by fancy-sounding terms like "supercritical." We're still talking about burning coal, just at higher temperatures and pressures that notch the efficiency of the process upward from about 36 percent to maybe 43 percent. The idea that building more coal plants is a step toward "abatement of climate change impacts" could not be sillier, especially since there are baseload technologies available now for solar-rich locations that create zero emissions. In an informative critique of Tata Ultra Mega, Dr. David Wheeler, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, points out that Gujarat, the location of Tata Ultra Mega, is ideal for concentrated solar power (CSP): "India does have a scalable, economically feasible alternative to coal ... [because] the region near Mundra has a huge solar potential and is one of the most sparsely-settled areas in India. Baseload solar power with thermal storage for 24-hour operation is now technically feasible ... "

Hurtling down a bridge to nowhere

Another study says cellulosic ethanol ain’t happening

As the case against corn-based ethanol firms up, we’re hearing a drumbeat of claims that corn is only a bridge to a bright cellulosic future. In this vision, ethanol won’t be distilled from corn grown on prime land but rather from stuff no one wants: plant “wastes,” wood pulp, prairie grass, pocket lint. The latest such claim comes from Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at Cal-Berkeley. Flush with a $500 million grant from British Petroleum to develop biofuels from “alternative” sources, Chu recently declared that “We should look at corn as a transitional [ethanol] …

Industry launches campaign against Lieberman-Warner climate bill

Energy industry and business trade groups have launched a concerted campaign against the Lieberman-Warner climate bill. The bill, which would establish a cap-and-trade system to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, is much less stringent than some other climate bills in Congress, but Lieberman-Warner is so far the only one to pass out of committee; it’s scheduled for a Senate vote in June. Industry and business groups are sponsoring a 17-state anti-climate-bill tour to head off the legislation. The centerpiece of the roadshow is an industry-funded study stressing huge job losses and energy price hikes due to the bill. Also this week, …

The Hansen (et al.) ultimatum

Get back to 350 ppm or risk an ice-free planet

Here is the draft [PDF] of the long-awaited defense of why we need an ultimate target of 350 ppm for atmospheric carbon dioxide, by NASA's James Hansen et al., titled "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" (Yes, they know we're already at 385 ppm and rising 2 ppm a year.) The paper does suffer from one analytical weakness that makes it a tad less dire than it appears -- and some people believe the core element of this analysis is wrong (see very end of post), although I don't. This paper is really just a continuation of Hansen's earlier analysis arguing that the real-world or long-term climate sensitivity of the planet to doubled CO2 [550 ppm] is 6 degrees C -- twice the short-term or fast-feedback-only climate sensitivity used by the IPCC. (You might want to read this post first, as it is a bit clearer on the difference between the two sensitivities.) The key paleoclimate finding of the article: We infer from the Cenozoic data that CO2 was the dominant Cenozoic forcing, that CO2 was only ~450 ppm when Antarctica glaciated, and that glaciation is reversible. That is, if we stabilize at 450 ppm or higher, we risk returning the planet to conditions when it was largely ice-free, when sea levels were higher by more than 200 feet!

Army Corps climate efforts in New Orleans may not be enough

No one wants to see this again — but can post-Katrina protection efforts keep the Big Easy safe? Photo: NOAA Here’s the good news: The Army Corps of Engineers is “racing” to complete a comprehensive levee system for metropolitan New Orleans by 2011 that actually takes into account global warming, at least in terms of sea-level rise. Here’s the bad news: the levee system under development is wildly insufficient to the growing climate problem, according to many informed critics. That’s because the vast and flat Louisiana coastal area — sometimes called the “Bangladesh of America” because it could disappear due …