Climate & Energy

China, coal, and the U.S. economy

More evidence that we’re exporting massive carbon emissions

Last month, President Bush signed into law an energy bill most remarkable for its timidity with regard to climate change. According to sometime Gristmill contributor Peter Montague of Rachel’s Democracy & Health News, the 2007 Energy Act will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by just 4.7 percent by 2030 — clearly not nearly enough to avoid risking dire climate change. (Montague leans on this study (PDF) for his calculation.) Given that we’re quietly moving our most carbon-intensive industries to China, even that mind-numbingly modest reduction will surely prove a fraud. Consider the chemicals industry. As The Wall Street Journal put it …

Survey says ...

Two thirds of likely caucus voters in Iowa think conservation more important than coal

Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, the Iowa Farmers Union, and Plains Justice have just completed a survey (PDF) in advance of tomorrow's caucuses. Short version: Iowans think that we've squandered chances to do something meaningful about energy, and that it's time we started to do so before building new coal plants. The executive summary is below the fold, but it's worth having a look at the whole presentation.

California, 15 other states, and five nonprofits sue EPA over waiver decision

California has made good on its promise to sue the U.S. EPA over the agency’s refusal to allow the state to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles, and 15 other states have made good on their promise to join in on the litigation. The swarm of states, along with five nonprofit groups, filed suit today in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The presumed shared feeling of the group, as stated by California Attorney General Jerry Brown: “The denial letter was shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator’s unprecedented action.”

Landowner hopes to mine mother lode of uranium in Virginia

A 200-acre plot of earth in Virginia is not the unassuming farmland it appears. It harbors what is thought to be the largest deposit of uranium in the U.S. — 110 million pounds of the stuff, worth almost $10 billion and able to supply every U.S. nuclear power plant for two years. Unfortunately for drooling nuclear boosters, Virginia banned uranium mining in 1982. Nonetheless, landowner Walter Coles recently got a state permit to drill 40 holes to examine the material, and is attempting to persuade the General Assembly to approve a $1 million independent study of whether the uranium can …

The 'Inhofe 400' skeptic of the day

Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner on climate change

Today's members of the "Inhofe 400," Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner, do appear to have expertise on climate change policy. Prins is the professor and director of the Mackinder Centre for the Study of Long Wave Events at the London School of Economics, while Rayner is professor and director of the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization at the University of Oxford. As such, they are different from those that I have previously highlighted (here and here), who were true skeptics of human-induced climate change, but didn't have the credentials or credibility in the climate change arena to be considered "experts." So Prins and Rayner have credibility in their area of expertise, but are they actually skeptics? The first sentence of the executive summary of their report, "The Wrong Trousers," (PDF) says: We face a problem of anthropogenic climate change, but the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 has failed to tackle it. I would say that Prins and Rayner do not doubt the reality of human-induced climate change.

Japan leads G8 in 2008, will focus on climate change

A new year means a new country takes over leadership of the Group of Eight rich nations, and in 2008 it’s Japan. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has promised to make climate change a top priority, proposing a goal for G8 countries to cut emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. And while that may seem ambitious for a nation that just last month stood with the United States in opposition to specific reduction goals for a post-Kyoto treaty, the safe bet is on continued U.S. interference with specific emissions reduction goals at the G8 (see: last year), so …

The rising tide

Sea levels may rise five feet by 2100

A recent Nature Geoscience study, "High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period," ($ubs. req'd) finds that sea levels could rise twice what the IPCC had project for 2100. This confirms what many scientists have recently warned (also see here), and it matches the conclusion of a study (PDF) earlier this year in Science. [As an aside, in one debate with a denier -- can't remember who, they all kind of merge together -- I was challenged: "Name one peer-reviewed study projecting sea-level rise this century beyond the IPCC." Well, now there are two from this year alone!] For the record, five feet (PDF) of sea level rise would submerge some 22,000 square miles of U.S. land just on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts (farewell, southern Louisiana and Florida) -- and displace more than 100 million people worldwide. And, of course, sea levels would just keep rising some six inches a decade -- or, more likely, even faster next century than this century.

Parting company with McKibben and, maybe, Hansen

What is the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2?

The nation's top climate scientist, NASA's James Hansen, apparently now believes "the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 ppm," according to an op-ed by the great environmental writer Bill McKibben. Yet while preindustrial levels were 280, we're now already at more than 380 and rising 2 ppm a year! Like many people, in the 1990s I believed 550 was the target needed to avoid climate catastrophe -- but now it's clear that: 550 ppm would lead to the greatest disaster ever experienced by human civilization -- returning us to temperatures last seen when sea levels were some 80 feet higher. This is especially true because ... long before we hit 550, major carbon cycle feedbacks -- the loss of carbon from the tundra and the Amazon, the saturation of the ocean sink (already beginning) would almost certainly kick into high gear, inevitably pushing us to much, much higher CO2 levels (see here, here, and my book). Exactly when those feedbacks seriously kick in is the rub. No one knows for sure, but based on my review of the literature and interviews of leading climate scientists, somewhere between 400 and 500 ppm seems most likely. It could be lower, but it probably couldn't be much higher. So I, like the Center for American Progress and the world's top climate scientists, now believe 450 ppm is the upper bound. That said, I have spent two decades managing, analyzing, researching, and writing about climate solutions and can state with some confidence that: Staying below 450 ppm is technologically doable, but would be the greatest achievement in the history of the human race, by far. It would require a global effort sustained for decades, comparable to what the U.S. did for just the few years of World War II (the biggest obstacle is not technological, but political -- conservatives currently would never let progressives and moderates pursue such a strategy). If 350 ppm is needed (and I'm not at all sure it is) then the deniers and delayers have won, since such a target is hopeless. In 2008, I will devote a fair amount of ink bits to laying out the solution (there really is only one), but to understand why 450 is so hard, and 350 all but inconceivable, let's look at the odd way McKibben describes the solution:

2007 was the year of warm temperatures and wacky weather

The year 2007 was typified by warm temperatures and wacky weather. This year in the U.S., 263 all-time high temperature records were tied or broken. New York City was hit by a tornado in August, the same month that more than 60 percent of the U.S. was abnormally dry or in drought. The Middle East saw a rare cyclone in June, Europe sizzled under killer heat waves all summer, and Australia suffered its worst drought in a century. South Africa got its first significant snowfall in 25 years, record rains fell in China, England, and Wales, and Reunion Island, 400 …