Blog Archive

Sunday, August 16, 2015

energy, climate, environmental news from rjsigmund for the week of August 9, 2015

from the inimitable rjs:

The Teflon Toxin: DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception - Called a “surfactant” because it reduces the surface tension of water, the slippery, stable compound was eventually used in hundreds of products, including Gore-Tex and other waterproof clothing; coatings for eye glasses and tennis rackets; stain-proof coatings for carpets and furniture; fire-fighting foam; fast food wrappers; microwave popcorn bags; bicycle lubricants; satellite components; ski wax; communications cables; and pizza boxes. Concerns about the safety of Teflon, C8, and other long-chain perfluorinated chemicals first came to wide public attention more than a decade ago, but the story of DuPont’s long involvement with C8 has never been fully told. Over the past 15 years, as lawyers have been waging an epic legal battle — culminating as the first of approximately 3,500 personal injury claims comes to trial in September — a long trail of documents has emerged that casts new light on C8, DuPont, and the fitful attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with a threat to public health. This story is based on many of those documents, which until they were entered into evidence for these trials had been hidden away in DuPont’s files. Among them are write-ups of experiments on rats, dogs, and rabbits showing that C8 was associated with a wide range of health problems that sometimes killed the lab animals. Many thousands of pages of expert testimony and depositions have been prepared by attorneys for the plaintiffs. And through the process of legal discovery they have uncovered hundreds of internal communications revealing that DuPont employees for many years suspected that C8 was harmful and yet continued to use it, putting the company’s workers and the people who lived near its plants at risk.

Infectious Diseases Like It Hot: How Climate Change Helps Cholera and Salmonella Outbreaks - Every year, about one million Americans and tens of millions of people worldwide suffer the debilitating effects of salmonella poisoning, episodes sometimes serious enough for hospitalization. Cholera, while rare in the United States, has been increasing steadily in other countries for the last decade, with up to 5 million cases annually, and poses a real threat after natural disasters. For the two bacteria that cause these gastrointestinal diseases, and possibly for other infectious agents like malaria, global warming presents a real opportunity. They like it hot.In recent years, atmospheric climate change has prompted a growing number of extreme weather events, including heat waves, prolonged drought, heavy precipitation, and superstorms, which, in turn, have encouraged shifts in the delicate balance of the planet’s ecosystems. These weather events, which already kill tens of thousands of people annually, also indirectly encourage the spread of infections when food and water become contaminated, a scenario that almost certainly will increase the prevalence of such infections as salmonella and cholera. Moreover, human migration and the loss of health infrastructure, as well as malnutrition caused by food insecurity, could make humans more susceptible to infections. All of these could exacerbate the spread of infectious diseases if global warming continues unabated.

IOC rules out viral testing of Rio's Olympic waters: (AP) — The International Olympic Committee ruled out conducting viral tests of Rio de Janeiro's sewage-laden waterways ahead of the 2016 games, a top official said Wednesday, despite an Associated Press study showing dangerously high levels of disease-causing viruses at all aquatic venues, with experts saying athletes are almost certain to be exposed to pathogens. Speaking at a news conference dominated by questions about Rio's sewage pollution problem, Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said the IOC will be sticking to World Health Organization guidelines recommending only bacterial testing. The AP's independent analysis of water quality showed high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage in all of Rio's Olympic and Paralympic water venues, including the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where rowing will take place, the Guanabara Bay, where the sailing competition are to be held, and at Copacabana Beach where distance swimming events will take place. In two separate emailed statements following the AP's July 30 publication about its study, the World Health Organization said it was advising the International Olympic Committee "to widen the scientific base of indicators to include viruses." However, in an emailed statement Monday, the organization backpedaled and said that "WHO has not and will not issue an 'official recommendation' on viral testing."

Toxic blue-green algae pose increasing threat to nation's drinking, recreational water - A report concludes that blooms of toxic cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are a poorly monitored and underappreciated risk to recreational and drinking water quality in the United States, and may increasingly pose a global health threat. Several factors are contributing to the concern. Temperatures and carbon dioxide levels have risen, many rivers have been dammed worldwide, and wastewater nutrients or agricultural fertilizers in various situations can cause problems in rivers, lakes and reservoirs. No testing for cyanobacteria is mandated by state or federal drinking water regulators, according to scientists from Oregon State University, nor is reporting required of disease outbreaks associated with algal blooms. But changes in climate and land use, and even increasing toxicity of the bacteria themselves, may force greater attention to this issue in the future, the researchers said. An analysis outlining the broad scope of the problem has been published in Current Environmental Health Reports, by scientists from OSU and the University of North Carolina. The work was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Science Foundation. The researchers also noted that problems with these toxins reach their peak during the heat of summer - as they are doing right now.

New Tick Disease on the Rise: There’s a new tick disease that seems to be spreading throughout the northeastern states, and if it follows the path of Lyme disease, it may become prominent everywhere before long. Borrelia miyamotoi wasn’t even known before 2013, but the number of devastating infections borne by ticks seems to have no end. Researchers call the infection BMD for short, and it is critical to be aware of because almost all cases in a recent study were contracted in July and August, when Lyme disease isn’t as prevalent. That’s because BMD is carried by larval-stage ticks that have been infected by their mothers. Lyme is contracted by ticks at a later stage in life, often from contact with rodents and deer. Larval-stage ticks were not previously thought to carry diseases. BMD is also important to know about now because if you visit a physician after a tick bite and have severe headache and/or flu-like symptoms, a Lyme test won’t reveal the presence of the disease, which can be even more devastating left untreated than Lyme. Testing for BMD may not reveal its presence until it has been in your body for at least five days.A case series report was published online in June in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Patients were often very ill, with an acute headache, flu-like symptoms, rash, fever and chills. About a fourth of them ended up in hospitals. They often mimicked having a tick-borne disease called anaplasmosis. There is no specific test for BMD, but it can be detected using polymerase chain reaction techniques looking for the specific DNA of the disease.

Beekeepers try to keep bees — and livelihoods — from going extinct - Over the past decade, billions of bees have been lost to colony collapse disorder, an umbrella term for factors thought to be killing honeybees in droves and threatening the nation’s food supply. Amid the die-off, beekeepers have been going to extraordinary lengths to save both their bees and their livelihoods. That effort may finally be paying off. New data from the Agriculture Department show the number of managed honeybee colonies is on the rise, climbing to 2.7 million nationally in 2014, the highest in 20 years. Bees are still dying at unacceptable rates, especially in Florida, Oklahoma and several states bordering the Great Lakes, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, a research collaborative supported by the USDA. Last month, Ohio State University’s Honey Bee Update noted that losses among the state’s beekeepers over the past winter were as high as 80 percent. Oregon has taken less of a hit. Researchers say innovative beekeepers will be critical to helping bees bounce back. “People ask me, ‘The bees are going to be extinct soon?’ ” said Ramesh Sagili, principal investigator at the Oregon State University Honey Bee Lab. “I’m not worried about bees being extinct here. I’m worried about beekeepers being extinct.”

Scotland Bans the Growing of Genetically Modified Crops --In an effort to protect its “clean, green status,” Scotland will prohibit the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops. Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead (the country’s minister for the environment, food and rural affairs) said in a statement on Sunday that Scotland is taking advantage of new European Union rules that allow its member countries to opt out of growing EU-authorized GM crops, including GM-maize (corn) and six other GM crops that are awaiting authorization. “Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment—and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status,” Lochhead said. “There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector.”  GM crops (also known as GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially altered in labs, making it resistant against pests, herbicides, pesticides and even browning in apples. Despite claims from manufacturers and many in the scientific community that these products are safe and would help feed the world’s growing population, the topic is fraught with contention due to environmental and health concerns.

How the Midwest’s Corn Farms Are Cooking the Planet -- I've been thinking a lot recently about how fertilizer from the Midwest's big corn farms seeps into streams and causes trouble—fouling water supplies in ColumbusToledoDes Moinesand 60 other towns in Iowa, and generating a Connecticut-sized dead zone at the heart of the continental United States' most productive fishery, the Gulf of Mexico.  But there's another way the Corn Belt's fertilizer habit damages a common resource: by releasing nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas with nearly 300 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. Scientists had been undercounting nitrous oxide emission in the Corn Belt by about 25 gigagrams annually—the equivalent of about 1.6 million cars on the road. It turns out that the region's farms are likely generating much more nitrous oxide than scientists previously thought, according to a new peer-reviewed study by a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota, Yale, and the US Department of Agriculture. Scientists had assumed that most nitrous oxide emissions from farming occurred at the soil level—some of the nitrogen fertilizer applied onto farmland vaporizes into nitrous oxide. But as citizens of Des Moines, Columbus, and the Gulf coast know well, nitrogen fertilizer doesn't stay in soil; a portion of it leaches into streams. And some of that escaped nitrogen, too, transforms into nitrous oxide.To measure how much, the team, led by University of Minnesota researcher Pete Turner measured N2O emissions at 19 streams over a two-year period in ag-intensive southeastern Minnesota. They found that standard greenhouse gas emission measures, such as those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have been undercounting these "riverine" emission sources by a factor of nine; and overall N2O emissions from the area are underestimated by about 40 percent.

A Once-Flourishing Pima Cotton Industry Withers in an Arid California - Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, vast fields that once grew cotton lie fallow, remnants of a boom and bust fueled by a worldwide demand for premium T-shirts and linens.Farmers here have fallowed acres of Pima cotton by the thousands, threatening the region’s unlikely reign as the world’s biggest producer of the specialty cotton, also called Supima. Environmentalists say that farmers should never have bet so heavily on a thirsty cash crop in this dry swath of central California — particularly a crop used for luxury clothing, as opposed to food.  As recently as 2011, American farmers planted a near-record 306,000 acres of Pima cotton, almost all of that in the San Joaquin Valley, consuming an estimated 249 billion gallons of water. That’s enough to meet the average yearly water needs of about 1.9 million households. But now, with reservoirs nearly dry, farmers in California’s hardest-hit districts have no surface water to irrigate their crops. At the same time, cotton prices have slumped, hurt by a global glut. Farmers may harvest as little as 100,000 acres of Pima cotton in California this year, according to the latest forecasts.

In California, Millions of ‘Shade Balls’ Combat a Nagging Drought - Facing a long-term water crisis, officials concerned with preserving a reservoir in Los Angeles hatched a plan: They would combat four years of drought with 96 million plastic balls.On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the dark balls would help block sunlight and UV rays that promote algae growth, which would help keep the city’s drinking water safe. Officials also said the balls would help slow the rate of evaporation, which drains the water supply of about 300 million gallons a year. The balls cost $0.36 each and are part of a $34.5 million initiative to protect the water supply. In a video posted on Monday to Facebook,, an official is heard saying, “2, 1 … Shade balls away!” A moment later, the remaining balls skitter down a slope, heading for the reservoir.The Los Angeles Reservoir, which holds 3.3 billion gallons, or enough water to supply the city for up to three weeks, joins three other reservoirs already covered in the shade balls, officials said. They are also being used in nearby areas. In the video below, officials from the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District released a batch of the balls into a reservoir in June.

Who’s Behind the 96 Million ‘Shade Balls’ That Just Rolled Into L.A.’s Reservoirs? --  The shade balls of Los Angeles are 4 inches in diameter, hollow, polyethylene orbs made by XavierC, of Glendora, Calif.; Artisan Screen Process, of Azuza, Calif.; and Orange Products, of Allentown, Penn. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has now dumped 96 million balls into local reservoirs to reduce evaporation and block sunlight from encouraging algae growth and toxic chemical reactions. The balls are coated with a chemical that blocks ultraviolet light and helps the spheres last as long as 25 years. Las Virgenes, north of L.A., now uses shade balls, too.These are not your average Chuck E. Cheese’s ball-pit numbers. They’re hermetically sealed, with water inside them as ballast, lest when the wind picks up “they’ll blow out, and you’ll be chasing them down the road,” says Sydney Chase, president of XavierC. You could drink the ballast—don’t want nonpotable water leaking into the reservoirs. Chase is a 30-year veteran of manufacturing who left a $300,000 job to start XavierC. She sold her house to raise the capital to seed the company. “Either I’m going to end up under an overpass, or this is going to take off,” she recalls thinking.  Chase calls her product “conservation balls,” because they can help keep reservoirs intact and clean. They’re also seeing use on the tailing ponds where miners store contaminated water, to keep birds away from toxic agents, and in wastewater treatment facilities, to keep odors at bay. They cost about 36¢ each to make. Chase declined to talk about XavierC’s financial performance.

California Farmers Fight Drought By Using More Water -- Perhaps you think the human condition could not be more absurd. If you think it could not be worse, I offer you the NPR story The Twisty Logic Of The Drought: Grow Thirsty Crops To Dig Deeper Wells. We've all heard reports about how California is running out of water, but there is water in California, tons of it deep underground in the Central Valley aquifer, the big underground pool that everyone shares. And there's a race on to get what's left. Mark Watte is a farmer in Tulare, Calif. We're driving across his 3,000 acres of beautiful cotton and black-eyed peas and corn. Watte is a very organized guy. There is a lot to do these days. Watte relies on the Central Valley aquifer to water his crops. And the water level in the aquifer is dropping 10 feet a week in some places. This is a pump that's - it should be producing water. It's not. Let's see if there's any water in it. Watte picks up a rock and tosses it down the pipe. Oh, was that - was there water? That was water, yeah. So there's water down there, but the pump that was here wouldn't reach that water anymore. We have to deepen it. Watte is putting in eight new wells - total cost - almost $2 million. He is locked in an expensive race in the Central Valley to see who can afford to drill deep enough to get to the precious water in the aquifer.  A lot of people have already lost this race, like Karen Hendrickson.  It's been a year.  Hendrickson lives in Porterville, Calif., 30 minutes west of Mark Watte's farms. People on the east side of town have no water. They rely on relief stations like this one in the parking lot of a church. It has portable showers and sinks and hands out bottles of drinking water.

How California Is Winning the Drought - For California, there hasn’t ever been a summer quite like the summer of 2015. The state and its 39 million residents are about to enter the fifth year of a drought. It has been the driest four-year period in California history — and the hottest, too.Yet by almost every measure except precipitation, California is doing fine. Not just fine: California is doing fabulously.In 2014, the state’s economy grew 27 percent faster than the country’s economy as a whole — the state has grown faster than the nation every year of the drought.California has won back every job lost in the Great Recession and set new employment records. In the past year, California created 462,000 jobs — nearly 9,000 a week. No other state came close.The drought has inspired no Dust Bowl-style exodus. California’s population has grown faster even as the drought has deepened.More than half the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States come from California farms, and last year, the third growing season of the drought, both farm employment and farm revenue increased slightly.Amid all the nervous news, the most important California drought story is the one we aren’t noticing. California is weathering the drought with remarkable resilience, because the state has been getting ready for this drought for the past 20 years.

California wildfire grows as crews work to protect communities - Reuters: A wildfire running rampant through drought-parched vegetation in northern California grew by several thousand acres overnight into Wednesday, as firefighters worked to stop the flames from spreading toward communities. The so-called Jerusalem Fire, which was sparked on Sunday, has grown to cover 16,500 acres (6,677 hectares) of dry and rural ranch land north of Napa Valley wine country and is only 6 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The fire has displaced about 150 people and threatens at least 50 more houses and ranches, department spokesman Steve Swindle said. He said that while the burn area is sparsely populated, firefighters were working to keep flames from spreading south and threatening the communities around Lake Berryessa. Overnight, firefighters merged part of the fire's northeastern edge with a southwestern stretch of a behemoth 69,636-acre (28,180 hectare) blaze nearby known as the Rocky Fire, as a way of burning through combustible vegetation, Swindle said. "There is a lot of unburned fuel between those two fires," he said. Letting the vegetation burn through between the two fires will create a safe zone, Swindle said.

As California’s Wildfires Continue To Grow, Inmates Take On Much Of The Work - Northern California is burning: the Rocky Fire has charred nearly 70,000 acres west of Clearlake, while the Jerusalem Fire has grown to more than 14,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of 150 homes near Napa. The two fires are emblematic of a season that has been marked by a seemingly endless succession of fires,stoked by an unprecedented drought that has turned the California countryside into a tinder box of dry and dying vegetation. But the fires are also emblematic of something else: the state’s dependence on inmates to help battle wildfires wherever they occur. Since the 1940s, California has depended on the cheap labor of volunteer inmates to help control wildfires — it boasts the largest inmate firefighting program in the country, with around 4,000 inmate firefighters. But just as climate change is threatening longer, more extreme fire seasons, the state is looking at ways to cut back its unconstitutionally overcrowded prison populations. That leaves state officials in a peculiar position — will prison reforms drain the state of its cheap fire fighting labor, just when climate change means it’ll need it most? Fire protection in California is hugely dependent on the inmate firefighter program, run jointly by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). In total, the state has about 10,000 firefighters on the ground combating wildfire — which means that almost half of the firefighters in California are inmate firefighters. Unlike civilian volunteer firefighters with Cal Fire, who make minimum wage for their work ($9 an hour in California), inmates are paid $1 an hour when they are on the lines fighting fires. When they’re not actually battling fires, but are working in camp or training, the prisoners make anywhere from $1.45 to $3.90 a day. That’s paltry pay by civilian standards, but Cessa told ThinkProgress that “it’s good money for prison standards.”

Drought Draws Natural Disaster Declaration From Feds --  Drought across the region prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate counties in Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, and even parts of Montana, as natural disaster areas. In a release, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he and President Obama want to ensure that “agriculture remains a bright spot in the nation’s economy” despite the drought. The natural disaster declaration gives farmers and ranchers access to low interest emergency loans. The payments will help cover agricultural losses associated with the drought. Farmers and rancher have eight months to apply for the program. In February, similar drought declarations were made in four of Oregon’s southernmost counties along with most of California.

In Puerto Rico, Water Has Been Cut Off - When it comes to droughts in the U.S., California makes all the news. But the territory right now where the drought is worse—and where the people are suffering most—is Puerto Rico. I know, because I’m on a 4-day working vacation in the capital city of San Juan, and have witnessed the subsequent water shortages and cutoffs. The island’s rain deficits have occurred since 2013, but got really bad starting in March, when El Nino’s currents produced a mild hurricane season.  This has continued throughout the summer, with San Juan receiving only 4 centimeters of rain during July, normally a wet month, and the Carraizo reservoir receiving 20 inches less than is normal for this time of year. As a result, over half of Puerto Rico is suffering severe drought, and the drought for over a quarter of this territory is extreme. The government, with its $73 billion debt and recent bond default, has made the problem of drying rivers, lakes, and reservoirs worse through neglect. The inadequate water capacity results from not dredging existing reservoirs or building new dams, and from aging infrastructure that leaks water. As a result, Boricuas are suffering, with over 400,000 people going several months without regular water. Residents have been told not to make frivolous use of water—such as for car washing, personal pools, or sidewalk cleaning—and oftentimes they can’t use it for basic necessities like showers and flushing toilets. This overwhelmingly includes those in the San Juan metropolitan area, where the drought has been the worst.

El Niño May Bring Record Heat, and Rain for California - This year’s El Niño weather pattern could be the most powerful on record, federal forecasters said, while warning that the effects of the weather system are never certain. “We’re predicting this El Niño could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record,” said Mike Halpert, the deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a teleconference with reporters. This year’s El Niño is already the second strongest for this time of year in more than 60 years of record-keeping, he said. El Niño, which begins with warmer-than-usual water temperatures in the Eastern Pacific, can affect weather around the world — in the United States, it can bring heavy winter precipitation in California and across the South. El Niño events have also been linked to droughts in Australia and India, more numerous hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean (but fewer in the Atlantic), and a warmer planet over all.  The current El Niño, along with unusual warming in the Northern Pacific, will produce what is “very likely to be the warmest year on record,” Daniel Swain, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford who runs the respected California Weather Blog, said in an interview. The federal forecasters announced a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño would continue all winter for the Northern Hemisphere. The likelihood that the effects will last into early spring is 85 percent, up from last month’s prediction of 80 percent.

How This El Niño Is And Isn’t Like 1997 -- It was the winter of 1997-1998 when the granddaddy of El Niños — the one by which all other El Niños are judged — vaulted the climate term to household name status. Basically, it was the “polar vortex” of the late ‘90s. So it’s no wonder that it is the touchstone event that people think of when they hear that name. And naturally, as the current El Niño event has gained steam, the comparisons to 1997 have been increasingly bandied about. The most recent came this week in the form of an image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that compares satellite shots of warm Pacific Ocean waters — a hallmark of El Niño — from this June to November 1997, when that El Niño hit its peak. On the one hand, the two are comparable given that 1997 was the strongest El Niño on record and, at the moment, the best science indicates that the current event could match or rival that one — at least in terms of ocean temperatures. But on the other hand, each El Niño event is its own beast, the product of conditions in the ocean and atmosphere, of climate and weather that are unique in that particular place and time. In the, albeit very short, modern record of El Niños, “we cannot find a single El Niño event that tracked like another El Niño event,” Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said. Forecasters like L’Heureux cringe at comparisons because there’s no guarantee the impacts of one El Niño will be just like that of a previous one, even if they look broadly similar. And it’s those impacts — like potential rains in drought-stricken California — that most really care about. El Niño isa shift in the background state of the climate brought about by the sloshing of warm ocean water from its normal home in the western tropical Pacific over to the east. That redistribution affects how and where ocean heat is emitted into the atmosphere, which can alter the normal patterns of winds and stormy weather in the region.

A Powerful El Niño in 2015 Threatens a Massive Coral Reef Die-off - Key Points:
  • A powerful El Niño event continues to strengthen in the Pacific Ocean. During El Niño the poleward transport of warm surface water out of the tropics slows down dramatically and generally results in anomalous short-term heating of the tropical ocean - home to the world's coral reefs).
  • Because of the long-term warming of the oceans by industrial emission of greenhouse gases, the temporary surge in tropical sea surface temperatures associated with El Niño now threatens large-scale coral bleaching episodes - times when the maximum summer water temperatures become so warm that coral die in large numbers.
  • The powerful El Niño now forming, combined with the ongoing ocean warming, suggests that we are likely to see a mass coral bleaching episode that approaches, or exceeds, the worldwide bleaching that came with the Super El Niño years of 1982/1983 and 1997/1998. The 1997/1998 Super El Niño saw 16% of the world's coral bleach, the largest die-off ever observed, and some of this coral has never recovered.
Panama Canal to limit ship draft due to drought - BBC News: The Panama Canal Authority says it will temporarily cut the draft of ships allowed through because of drought caused by El Nino. From 8 September, the maximum draft - or depth in the water - will be cut to 39 ft. (11.89 m), which may affect up to 20% of traffic. A similar restriction was imposed for the same reason in 1998. The authorities say a further cut could be imposed on 16 September if the situation does not improve. The authority has taken the action because water levels in the Gatun and Alhajuela lakes has reduced as a result of the El Nino weather phenomenon. The current draft limit is 39.5 ft., which will be cut to 39 ft. on 8 September and then potentially to 38.5 ft. on 16 September. Shipping companies had been warned the cuts could be coming.

Australians Survived a 13-Year Drought by Going Low-Tech - If you think California’s four-year drought is apocalyptic, try 13 years. That’s how long southeastern Australia suffered through bone-dry times. But it survived. When the so-called Millennium Drought ended in 2009, residents of Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, were using half the amount of water they had when it began. A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, set out to investigate how Melbourne, a city of 4.3 million people, dramatically cut water consumption, and whether the city’s experience might hold lessons for California and other drought-stricken regions. The short answer? Salvation came from a $2,000 rainwater tank rather than a $6 billion desalinization plant. As the Millennium Drought dragged on, authorities approved the construction of costly infrastructure projects similar to those now being considered in California, including that expensive desalinization plant. But the researchers found that conservation and recycling were the keys that got Melbourne through year after rainless year.

Texas power demand breaks record again in heat wave | Reuters: The Texas power grid operator said electric demand hit another record high on Monday as consumers cranked up their air conditioners to escape a brutal heat wave. Demand reached a record 69,783 megawatts on Monday, topping the previous records of 68,912 MW set on Aug. 6 and 68,459 MW on Aug. 5, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said in a statement. ERCOT is the grid operator for most of the state. Before the latest heat wave, the grid's previous peak demand was 68,305 MW set on Aug. 3, 2011. One MW is enough to power about 200 homes during periods of peak demand. "Demand is expected to remain high until temperatures begin to break at the end of the week," said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT director of System Operations. Temperatures in Houston, the biggest city in Texas, have topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) since Sunday and were expected to remain at or around triple digits Fahrenheit through Saturday, Aug. 15, according to weather forecaster AccuWeather.com. "Our focus continues to be on ensuring we maintain overall reliability and protect the grid, while having sufficient generation in place to meet demand," he said.

Central and eastern Europe simmering in historic heat wave --Central and eastern Europe are in the grips of a record-breaking heat wave, that may persist for at least another week to ten days. A number of locations in Germany set all-time highs last Friday and more records are likely to fall over the coming days, particularly in eastern Europe. The heat wave commenced late last week. On Friday, Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson reported Berlin was among more than 100 towns and cities in Germany that tied or broke all-time record highs. Berlin hit 102 degrees (38.9 Celsius) breaking its previous hottest temperature of 101.5 degrees (38.6 Celsius). On Saturday the core of the heat shifted east into Poland, where Warsaw registered its hottest August temperature ever recorded of 97.9 degrees, passing the previous record of 97.5 degrees (36.4 Celsius), AccuWeather reported. Through today, Warsaw has reached at least 90 degrees (32 Celsius) on seven straight days, AccuWeather said. A massive heat dome or upper level ridge of high pressure – which is more or less stationary over central and eastern Europe – is responsible for the spell of scorching heat. Its intensity may wane some during the middle of the week before reloading next weekend. (see graphics)

Deadly Heat Waves Sweep the Globe  --This summer is undoubtedly one for the record books. Brutal heat has literally melted roads, ignited forest fires and affected millions around the planet. Extreme weather has scorched the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the U.S, as weather experts predict that this year will surpass last year as the hottest in recorded history. Death tolls are currently climbing in Egypt as temperatures soar to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Associated Press reported that more than 60 people—mostly elderly—have died from the heat and high humidity. An additional 581 people have been hospitalized for heat exhaustion.  Earlier this week, Iran hit a sweltering 164 degrees—just a few degrees shy of the highest ever record heat index. Pakistan’s devastating heat wave in June killed 1,233 and hospitalized more than 1,900 due to dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. In neighboring India, 2,500 people succumbed to heat a month earlier. Japan is experiencing heat-related deaths in 29 out of its 47 prefectures, with Tokyo currently experiencing an “unprecedented” streak of temperatures over 95 degrees, according to Weather.com. Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese weather authorities have issued heat wave alerts as some parts of the country experienced temperatures in the triple digits. “This July 2015 was the warmest July on record for Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria,” Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground’s director of meteorology, told the website.Eastern Europe is also seeing temperatures up to the mid-90s, when highs around 75 are more common this time of year, AccuWeather wrote. And Poland is also experiencing the mass extinction of one very unsuspecting victim: IKEA meatballs. Although summer is coming to an end, many parts of the U.S. will still be baking in the sun’s rays. Some Los Angelenos, for instance, will feel temperatures in the 100s this week, the Los Angeles Times reported, about 10 degrees above average for this time of year.

Hottest July On Record Keeps 2015 On Track To Crush 2014 For Hottest Year --NASA reports this was the hottest July on record. So we are now in “bet the mortgage” territory that 2015 will be the hottest year in NASA’s 125-year temperature record.  In fact, 2015 is likely to crush the previous record — 2014 — probably by a wide margin, especially since one of the strongest El Niños in 50 years is adding to the strong underlying global warming trend.  Climate expert Dr. John Abraham updated this NASA chart to show how the first seven months of 2015 compares to the annual temperatures of previous years:  The gap between 2015 and all other years in that chart will grow since NOAA and many others project the current El Niño will keep growing stronger for many months. The soaring ocean temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, which are characteristic of an El Niño, just keep climbing. As the journal Nature reports, this El Niño “could be [the] strongest on record.” It is projected to peak in the winter and last into the spring of 2016.  If the 2015-2016 El Niño does rival the 1997-1998 super El Niño, then just as 1998 crushed 1997 temperatures, we may see 2016 beat all the records set in 2015.

2015 global temperatures are right in line with climate model predictions - In an earlier post, I wrote about some research that compared ocean temperature measurements to climate model predictions. It turns out, the models have done a great job estimating the increase in ocean heat although they have slightly under-predicted the change. What about other components of the Earth’s climate? For instance, how have the models done at predicting the changes in air temperatures? With recent data now available, we can make an assessment. I communicated with NASA GISS director Dr. Gavin Schmidt, who provided the following data. The graph shows the latest computer model simulations (from the CMIP project), which were used as input to the IPCC, along with five different temperature datasets. The comparison to be made is of the heavy dashed line (annotated in the graph just below the solid black line) and the colored lines. The heavy dashed line is the average predicted temperature including updated influences from a decrease in solar energy, human emitted heat-reflecting particles, and volcanic effects. The dashed line is slightly above the colored markers in recent years, but the results are quite close. Furthermore, this year’s temperature to date is running hotter than 2014. To date, 2015 is almost exactly at the predicted mean value from the models. Importantly, the measured temperatures are well within the spread of the model predictions.

Extreme Heat Leads To Deaths, Protests In The Middle East  -- At least 21 people have died and 66 more have been hospitalized as a major heat wave engulfs Egypt and much of the rest of the Middle East.  High humidity levels and temperatures as high as 116.6°F made conditions deadly for Egyptians in Cairo, Marsa Matruh province, and Qena province. All of those who died were over 60,according to Al Jazeera — an age group that’s among the most vulnerable to heat waves.  “There is a big rise in temperature compared with previous years. But the problem is the humidity which is affecting people more,” health ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar told Al Jazeera. “Long exposure under the sun is a killer.” Egypt isn’t the only country suffering from extreme heat in recent weeks. Last month, higher than average temperatures also hit Turkey, and 100 people who tried to escape the heat by swimming in pools and lakes ended up drowning.  In Basra, Iraq, temperatures this week are supposed to stay steady around 123°F, the Guardian reports. Temperatures in the country are so high that on Thursday, the Iraqi government implemented a four-day holiday so that residents wouldn’t have to go to work in the heat. Last week, Iraqi citizens protested power outages that have made dealing with the extreme heat more difficult — in some regions, the BBC reports, it’s common to only have power for a few hours each day.  “All of the people we spoke to here say they want to see an end to rampant corruption, they want the return of basic services, they want electricity, they want to have air conditioning at a time when Iraq is experiencing a blazingly hot record heatwave and they want to have clean water,”

Why More Conflict Is Inevitable In The Middle East - We all know how sectarian, religious and political differences have thrown many Middle Eastern countries into chaos and armed conflict. But there is a deeper factor at play which deserves greater recognition: severe water scarcity. This scarcity will not be addressed overnight, no matter who ends up prevailing in those conflicts. As such, the region will very likely continue to suffer from significant turmoil for many years to come. Using satellite data, scientists from the University of California (Irvine), NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that large parts of the arid Middle East region saw a dramatic loss of freshwater reserves over a seven-year period starting in 2003. This is shown in the following map:  Parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost some 144 cubic kilometers of total stored freshwater – almost the total amount of water in the Dead Sea. The scientists attributed the majority of this loss to pumping from underground reservoirs. Indeed, Syria and Iraq are facing severe water availability issues, compounded by the fact that the majority of their renewable water resources comes from other countries. As such, the Euphrates River – which has sustained Mesopotamian civilization from its very start – is critically important for them. However, rampant demand, wasteful government policies, intensive agriculture, pesticides and industrial use have all substantially reduced both the quality and the quantity of water available. According to a Chatham House study, this over-exploitation has curtailed the flow of the Euphrates from Turkey to downstream countries by at least 40% since 1972.

Study Links Polluted Air in China to 1.6 Million Deaths a Year - Outdoor air pollution contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people in China every year, or about 4,400 people a day, according to a newly released scientific paper.The paper maps the geographic sources of China’s toxic air and concludes that much of the smog that routinely shrouds Beijing comes from emissions in a distant industrial zone, a finding that may complicate the government’s efforts to clean up the capital city’s air in time for the 2022 Winter Olympics.The authors are members of Berkeley Earth, a research organization based in Berkeley, Calif., that uses statistical techniques to analyze environmental issues. The paper has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One, according to the organization. According to the data presented in the paper, about three-eighths of the Chinese population breathe air that would be rated “unhealthy” by United States standards. The most dangerous of the pollutants studied were fine airborne particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can find their way deep into human lungs, be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause a host of health problems, including asthma, strokes, lung cancer and heart attacks.The organization is well known for a study that reviewed the concerns of people who reject established climate science and found that the rise in global average temperatures has been caused “almost entirely” by human activity.

Yes, Mr. President, We Remade Our Atlas to Reflect Shrinking Ice - Unveiling his most aggressive plan yet to 
combat climate change, President Obama on Monday referenced recent dramatic changes that National Geographic made to its atlas because of melting sea ice."Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart," Obama said during a speech at the White House. (Watch a video of his speech.) He's right. The shrinking of the Arctic ice sheet in the 10th edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World is one of the most striking changes in the publication's history. After the publication of the atlas in September 2014, the ice has melted even further, notes National Geographic Geographer Juan José Valdés. "The end of Arctic summer is still several weeks away, and it's still too early to say if another record will be broken. But one need only look at the maps derived from satellite imagery to see the impact of global warming," he says.

By 2100, Earth Will Have an Entirely Different Ocean - The ocean is in the midst of a radical, manmade change. It can seem kind of crazy that one of the most immense properties on Earth—the ocean washes over 71 percent of the planet—could be completely transformed by a swarm of comparatively tiny, fleshy mammals. But humans are indeed remaking the ocean, in almost every conceivable way. The ocean we know today—that billions swim, fish, float, and surf in—that vast planetary body of water will be of an entirely different character by the end of the century. While it’s changing in different ways and to different degrees in different places, it’s a single, huge, interconnected system. Trash dumped in Oregon can end up in the great Pacific Garbage Patch. Pollution from China drifts overseas into North America. All of our carbon emissions end up partially absorbed by oceans everywhere—your actions in Sheboygan, USA have affected, in some minute way, the future of the seas in Bangladesh. That’s the thing about climate change.  It’s not just that the ocean absorbing more heat than at any point over the last 10,000 years, and that its levels rising. It’s also becoming more acidic. Its very chemical composition is changing. Ecosystems will be reordered, currents altered. To the billions who live closest to it, it will be more hostile. Coastal flooding will threaten cities, Arctic passageways will open new trade routes, and fishermen who depend on the seas will scramble keep up with the shifting aquatic biomes, “the oceans will look something out of a post-apocalyptic Hollywood flick. We are talking about the depletion of fish populations by overfishing, the massive die-off of much other sea life due to water pollution and ocean acidification, the destruction of coral reefs by the twin impacts of ocean acidification and bleaching by increasingly warm ocean waters.”

How to make sense of ‘alarming’ sea level forecasts -- You may have read recent reports about huge changes in sea level, inspired by new research from James Hansen, NASA’s former Chief Climate Scientist, at Columbia University. Sea level rise represents one of the most worrying aspects of global warming, potentially displacing millions of people along coasts, low river valleys, deltas and islands. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s scientific climate body, forecasts rises of approximately 40 to 60 cm by 2100. But other studies have found much greater rises are likely.  Hansen and 16 co-authors found that with warming of 2C sea levels could rise by several metres. Hansen’s study was published in the open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion, and has not as yet been peer-reviewed. It received much media coverage for its “alarmist” findings. So how should we make sense of these dire forecasts? According the to the IPCC sea level rise has accelerated from 0.05 cm each year during 1700-1900 to 0.32 cm each year during 1993-2010. Over the next century the IPCC expects an average rise of 0.2 to 0.8 cm each year. The collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet would add several tens of centimetres to the total.  The IPCC report adds that “it is very likely that there will be a significant increase in the occurrence of future sea level extremes” and “it is virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100, with the amount of rise dependent on future emissions”. The IPCC estimates stand in sharp contrast to projections made by some climate scientists, in particular James Hansen who pointed out in 2007 and in his and his colleagues' latest study of the effects of ocean warming on the ice sheets. The IPCC reports did not take into account rates of dynamic ice sheet breakdown, despite satellite gravity measurements reported in the peer-reviewed literature by other scientistsIn Greenland, ice loss reached around 280 gigatonnes of ice each year during 2003-2013, whereas in Antarctica the loss reached around 180 gigatonnes of ice each year during the same period. Both ice sheets appear to be undrgoing accelerated rates of ice melt, as shown in the diagrams.

The reality of global warming: We’re all frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water: In 2009, global leaders agreed to try not to let the world warm more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. This is sometimes seen as a rule of thumb for keeping on the right side of climate change, within “safe” territory. But that’s not at all how scientists meant it, Professor Camille Parmesan, an expert in biodiversity at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom said. Climate risks don’t begin at 2C, she said; it’s more like where they go from high to intolerably high. The planet has already warmed by about 0.8C (1.7 Fahrenheit) since the late-19th century. Some of the world’s most iconic places are also the most vulnerable, and they are already feeling the effects. “We’re already seeing contraction of species in the most sensitive ecosystems, such as those dependent on sea ice or those living on mountain tops,” she said. “We’re also seeing declines in some tropical systems, such as coral reefs, and the valuable services they provide for fish nurseries, tourism and protection from coastal flooding.” And that’s just the beginning. “At more than 2C, we wouldn’t just face losing the most sensitive species but some common ones, too,” Parmesan said. “So it wouldn’t just be the polar bear and the Mountain Pika, but other species living in lowland and temperate habitats that aren’t necessarily at risk right now. ”But against this backdrop, the world’s carbon emissions have continued to rise and the task of staying below 2C looms ever larger. Global leaders will meet again in Paris in December to agree on a plan for how to get ourselves on a pathway to achieving 2C in the long term. But suppose that doesn’t happen. Climate models tell us that if carbon emissions stay very high, global temperatures could reach 4C above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century, perhaps even rising to 5C. And unless emissions cease altogether after that, temperatures will continue to rise long past the end of the century. And that would mean a world unlike anything we as humans have ever known.

Fifteen states push to block new EPA carbon emission rules: Fifteen state attorneys general petitioned a federal court in Washington on Thursday to block new U.S. rules to curb carbon emissions from power plants, in the first of several expected legal challenges to the Obama administration measure. States that oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan filed for the stay in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The states asked for a ruling by Sept. 8, one year before they need to submit compliance plans to the EPA.“This rule is the most far-reaching energy regulation in the nation’s history, and the EPA simply does not have the legal authority to carry it out,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said. The Obama administration unveiled the final version of the Clean Power Plan on Aug. 3. It aims to lower emissions from the country’s power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. President Barack Obama called the rule the biggest action the United States had taken to date to address climate change. Under the proposal, each state needs to submit a plan to the EPA detailing how it intends to meet the target the agency set for it. States, particularly those that have relied on coal for electricity, have argued the EPA has overstepped its regulatory authority.

What Is The Real Price Of Obama's CO2 Plans? - On August 3rd President Obama made a speech* detailing his plans to decarbonize the US electrical power generation sector. While the legality of this move has been challenged in certain quarters, in this post I want to focus on the technical details and competence of the President and his advisors at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Let me begin by focusing on what the main target is:to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030…So what does a 32% reduction in CO2 emissions mean in practical terms for US power generation and CO2 emissions? A good starting point is to look at the electricity generation mix and how it has changed since 2005 (Figure 1).  The key observations are as follows:
1) Electricity generation (i.e. electricity consumption) has been flat since 2005.
2) Fossil fuel based generation, coal + natural gas, has been flat to falling slowly) Coal fired generation has declined to be replaced by natural gas4) Hydro and nuclear combined make up 26% and have been flat since 20055) Other renewables (wind, solar, biomass etc) have increased from 2 to 7% since 2005
Figures 2 and 3 show how the generation mix has evolved from 2005 to 2014: Put simply, the key trend is substitution of coal by natural gas and other renewables. The CO2 intensity of coal is 2.13 pounds of CO2 per KWh and natural gas 1.21 pounds of CO2 per KWh (data from DOE-EIA). Hence the substitution of coal by natural gas reduces CO2 emissions quite significantly. DOE-EIA has already documented this achievement, which is founded on the fracking revolution and the ‘drill baby drill’ mantra (Figure 4). The DOE-EIA report (Figure 4) reiterates my key observations above but puts some hard numbers on them:
2005 electric power emissions = 2417 million tons (Mt)
2005-2013 lower demand = 402 Mt reduction (16.6% reduction)2005-2013 substitution of coal with gas = 212 Mt reduction (8.8% reduction)2005-2013 addition of low carbon sources i.e. other renewables = 150 Mt reduction (6.2% reduction)
Thus the reductions already achieved = 31.6%. Job already done?!

Two degree climate target not possible without 'negative emissions', scientists warn -- All of our options for keeping warming below 2C above pre-industrial temperatures now involve capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground - a technology that doesn't yet exist on a large scale, according to new research.The study , published today in Nature Communications, argues that 'negative emissions' alone, in the absence of conventional mitigation, are unlikely to achieve the 2C goal. And in all but the most optimistic cases, staying below 2C requires capturing and storing carbon in amounts that exceed the capabilities of current technology, say the researchers. For any given temperature target, there is a finite amount of carbon that can be burned before the chances of staying below that target become minimal. This is known as a carbon budget. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2C, total emissions from all human activity must not exceed 1,000bn tonnes of carbon (or gigatonnes of carbon, GtC).The world is currently not on course to meet this target and there are two options for how to get ourselves back on track, says today's paper.The first is to produce fewer emissions, which means burning fewer fossil fuels. This is what's commonly referred to as conventional mitigation.The other is to capture fossil fuel emissions before they enter the atmosphere, or to suck them directly out of the air - a technique known as carbon dioxide removal. A third possibility sometimes proposed is to artificially engineering parts of the climate system, such as the oceans, to take up more carbon. Collectively, the new paper calls these "negative emissions" technologies.

Stop burning fossil fuels now: there is no CO2 'technofix', scientists warn  -- German researchers have demonstrated once again that the best way to limit climate change is to stop burning fossil fuels now. In a “thought experiment” they tried another option: the future dramatic removal of huge volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This would, they concluded, return the atmosphere to the greenhouse gas concentrations that existed for most of human history – but it wouldn’t save the oceans. That is, the oceans would stay warmer, and more acidic, for thousands of years, and the consequences for marine life could be catastrophic. The research, published in Nature Climate Change today delivers yet another demonstration that there is so far no feasible “technofix” that would allow humans to go on mining and drilling for coal, oil and gas (known as the “business as usual” scenario), and then geoengineer a solution when climate change becomes calamitous. Sabine Mathesius and colleagues decided to model what could be done with an as-yet-unproven technology called carbon dioxide removal. One example would be to grow huge numbers of trees, burn them, trap the carbon dioxide, compress it and bury it somewhere. They calculated that it might plausibly be possible to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the rate of 90bn tons a year. This is twice what is spilled into the air from factory chimneys and motor exhausts right now. The scientists hypothesised a world that went on burning fossil fuels at an accelerating rate – and then adopted an as-yet-unproven high technology carbon dioxide removal technique. “Interestingly, it turns out that after ‘business as usual’ until 2150, even taking such enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere wouldn’t help the deep ocean that much - after the acidified water has been transported by large-scale ocean circulation to great depths, it is out of reach for many centuries, no matter how much CO2 is removed from the atmosphere,”

21 Youths File Landmark Climate Lawsuit Against Federal Government  -- On International Youth Day yesterday, 21 young people from across the U.S. filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Also acting as a plaintiff is world-renowned climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, serving as guardian for future generations, Hansen’s granddaughter and Earth Guardians, representing young citizen beneficiaries of the public trust. The complaint asserts that, in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. The complaint alleges the federal government is violating the youth’s constitutional rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels. The federal government has known for decades that fossil fuels are destroying the climate system. No less important than in the civil rights cases, plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100.  In describing the case, one of the teenage plaintiffs and Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, stated: “The federal government has known for decades that CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change. It also knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize our climate system, significantly harming my generation and generations to come. Despite knowing these dangers, defendants did nothing to prevent this harm. In fact, my government increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to levels it knew were unsafe.”

Muslim Leaders Insist They Have A Religious Duty To Act On Climate Change -- Prominent Muslim leaders are putting the final touches on a new statement on climate change, hoping to issue a sweeping call to protect the planet and insist that followers of Islam have a religious duty to help the environment. The declaration is set to be unveiled at the end of a two-day climate change-themed symposium being held next week in Istanbul, Turkey. Participants include Islamic scholars, policy makers, academics, and Muslim activists as well as representatives from the United Nations — all organized by Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Islamic Forum for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, and GreenFaith. “Islam teaches us: ‘Man is simply a steward holding whatever is on Earth in trust,’” said Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Uganda’s grand mufti, according to email about the conference from the Climate Action Network (CAN). “Therefore man should ensure that we do everything possible to protect for this and future generations in order to leave this world a better place than we found it.” The final document, scheduled for release next Tuesday, will ask leaders at madrasas and mosques to articulate the Islamic impetus for helping curb the effects of global warming. It will also challenge wealthy countries to “drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as well as to support vulnerable communities, both in addressing the impacts of climate change and in harnessing renewable energy,” according to an email from CAN.

World population likely to surpass 11 billion by end of century --Today at the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings in Seattle, John R. Wilmoth, director of the United Nations Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, had a startling report to present to a session on demographic forecasting: The world's population will increase from the 7.3 billion people of today to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Population growth will persist unless there are unprecedented fertility declines in the areas of sub-Saharan Africa that are still undergoing rapid population growth. Though population projections can never be exact, the report estimates with 95 percent confidence that the total will be somewhere between 9.5 billion and 13.3 billion by 2100. The UN put the probability that world population growth will end within this century at 23 percent. These staggering numbers have important policy implications for national governments. Resource scarcity and pollution; maternal and child mortality; unemployment, low wages and poverty; lagging investments in health, education and infrastructure; political unrest and crime, noted Wilmoth, will all need to be considered. The primary driver of global population growth is a projected increase in the population of Africa. The continent's current population of 1.2 billion people is expected to rise to between 3.4 billion and 5.6 billion people by the end of the century. The continent's population growth is due to persistent high levels of fertility and the recent slowdown in the rate of fertility decline, notes a statement on the report.

The end of the Malthusian nightmare - FT.com: For the past 200 years the global population has risen explosively. There were 1bn humans in 1850. There are 7.3bn today. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has lived in quiet dread that somewhere there is a limit, and the Malthusian horsemen of plague, starvation and war will one day punish our effrontery. Demographic change is easy to miss, because it happens slowly, but we stand on the cusp of a profound change in the human condition. New projections from the UN suggest that, within just a few decades, we could secure a future of stable global population.  To be clear, the forecasts do not show an imminent end to population growth — far from it. The global population is growing steadily and it has the momentum of an elephant on an ice rink. The UN’s medium-variant projection shows a rise to 9.7bn people in 2050 and 11.2bn by 2100. But what both recent data and short-term forecasts also show is a dramatic slide in fertility rates. People everywhere are having fewer babies. If the trend continues — and such trends are always in doubt — then, decades further down the line, the global population will flatten out. The UN says there is a 23 per cent chance of that happening by 2100. The extent of the plunge in childbearing is startling. Eighty-three countries containing 46 per cent of the world’s population — including every single country in Europe — now have fertility below replacement rate of about 2.1 births per woman. Another 46 per cent live in countries where the birth rate has fallen sharply. In 48 countries the population will decline between now and 2050. That leaves just 9 per cent of the world’s population, almost all in Africa, living in nations with pre-industrial fertility rates of five or six children per woman. But even in Africa fertility is starting to dip. In a decade, the UN reckons, there will be just three countries with a fertility rate higher than five: Mali, Niger and Somalia. In three decades, it projects only Niger will be higher than four.

Pentagon prepares for century of climate emergencies and oil wars --  The US Army is preparing for a new era of war for oil. While energy has always played a role in military conflicts, US military experts believe the geopolitics of energy, land and water is increasingly central to who rules, or ruins, the world. Two research documents published in recent months by the US Army reveal the military establishment’s latest thinking in startlingly frank terms. The research not only lends credence to environmental warnings about how climate change will fuel political instability, but also vindicates concerns about how looming resource shortages could destabilise the global economy. In June the US Army published its report to the Department of Defence (DoD), outlining a new energy security strategy. Future US Army operations, it says, will be shaped by “increased urbanisation, rising populations, young adult unemployment, and a growing middle class that drive resource competition”. The report also flags up “climate change, rapid technology proliferation and shifts in centres of economic activity” as major forces of change: “Global resource constraints will also undermine the integrity of the Army’s supply chain… We can no longer assume unimpeded access to the energy, water, land, and other resources required to train, sustain, and deploy a globally responsive Army.”

Study finds price of wind energy in US at an all-time low, averaging under 2.5 cent/kWh: Wind energy pricing is at an all-time low, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The prices offered by wind projects to utility purchasers averaged under 2.5¢/kWh for projects negotiating contracts in 2014, spurring demand for wind energy.  Key findings from the U.S. Department of Energy's latest "Wind Technologies Market Report" include:
  • Wind is a credible source of new electricity generation in the United States. Wind power capacity additions in the United States rebounded in 2014, with $8.3 billion invested in 4.9 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity additions. Wind power has comprised 33% of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007. Wind power currently meets almost 5% of the nation's electricity demand, and represents more than 12% of total electricity generation in nine states, and more than 20% in three states.
  • Turbine scaling is enhancing wind project performance. Since 1998-99, the average nameplate capacity of wind turbines installed in the United States has increased by 172% (to 1.9 MW in 2014), the average turbine hub height has increased by 48% (to 83 meters), and the average rotor diameter has increased by 108% (to 99 meters).
  • Low wind turbine pricing continues to push down installed project costs. Wind turbine prices have fallen 20% to 40% from their highs back in 2008, and these declines are pushing project-level costs down. Wind projects built in 2014 had an average installed cost of $1,710/kW, down almost $600/kW from the peak in 2009 and 2010.
  • Wind energy prices have reached all-time lows, improving the economic competitiveness of wind. Lower wind turbine prices and installed project costs, along with improvements in expected capacity factors, are enabling aggressive wind power pricing. After topping out at nearly 7¢/kWh in 2009, the average levelized long-term price from wind power sales agreements signed in 2014 fell to just 2.35¢/kWh—the lowest-ever average price in the U.S. market, though admittedly focused on a sample of projects that largely hail from the lowest-priced central region of the country.
Carbon Emissions Falling Fast as Wind and Solar Replace Fossil Fuels  -- European Union (EU) data shows that once countries adopt measures to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs), they often exceed their targets—and this finding is backed up by figures released this week in a statement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Convention’s statistics show that the 37 industrialized countries (plus the EU) that signed up in 1997 to the Kyoto Protocol—the original international treaty on combating global warming—have frequently exceeded their promised GHG cuts by a large margin.  The UNFCCC statement says, “This is a powerful demonstration that climate change agreements not only work, but can drive even higher ambition over time.” “The successful completion of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period can serve as a beacon for governments as they work towards a new, universal climate change agreement in Paris, in December this year.” In the EU, the leading countries for making savings are Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain, which account for two-thirds of the total savings on the continent. But most of the 28 countries in the bloc are also making progress towards the EU’s own target of producing 20 percent of all its energy needs from renewables by 2020. It has already reached 15 percent. Part of the EU plan to prevent any of the 28 member states backsliding on agreed targets to reduce GHGs is to measure every two years the effect of various policies to achieve the reductions.

Solar Energy Storage is Worse Than Nuclear Spillage  Storing solar energy in a battery in Spain is more criminal than spilling radioactive waste. That’s the implied message written between the lines of a recently drafted law poised for fast-track approval by the government of Spain. Proposed fines for residential and SME use of solar energy self-consumption will be as high as €60 million ($67.7 million).  Speaking recently to PV Tech, Union Espanola Fotovoltaico (UNEF), the PV Association of Spain, stated that “this would be the only self-consumption law in the world created only to prohibit the development of self-consumption.” UNEF added that Spain’s new law is “retroactive” because if projects do not fit within the new parameters they will become illegal, even if already legally approved. Specifically, the new law requires that the owner and consumer must be the same person, and installations may no longer exceed 100 kW. Infringements will be treated very seriously, resulting in the maximum fines of up to €60 million ($67.7 million). This amount is twice as high as the penalty for causing a leak of radioactive waste in Spain, currently set at €30 million ($33.85 million). The new levy on solar energy self-consumption from a grid-connected owner’s storage unit will have a seriously negative impact on the solar installation payback period. SMEs using self-consumption are expected to have a lengthening of payback time from four to seven years. PV Tech also notes that taxation on “residential self-consumption of solar energy in Spain could increase payback time from around 16 years to 31 years.”

U.S. Revises Tariffs and Duties on Chinese Solar Imports.  The U.S. revised some taxes on solar products from certain companies in China to help thwart dumping amid a renewable-energy spat between the two nations.  Some units of Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., the second-largest solar manufacturer, received the lowest so-called anti-dumping rate, 0.79 percent. The rate for another group of companies including Canadian Solar Inc., JinkoSolar Holding Co. and some other Yingli units was set at 9.67 percent. Other companies will pay 239 percent. “Economically counterproductive tariffs have artificially made solar panel prices in the U.S. the most expensive in the world,” Shah said. CASE was formed to represent most of the U.S. solar industry against the petition. The Commerce Department also set anti-subsidy rates for most companies at 20.94 percent. In a preliminary review released in January, the agency recommended reducing the combined anti-dumping/anti-subsidy duties on most Chinese solar manufacturers to about 18 percent from 31 percent. Import duties may slow the growth of the U.S. solar industry, Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, said in an e-mailed statement.  “Economically counterproductive tariffs have artificially made solar panel prices in the U.S. the most expensive in the world,”

Wind Could Replace Coal as Nation’s Primary Generation Source - The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently released data showing that the Capacity Factor (CF) for wind power can reach 65% which is comparable to that of fossil fuel based generation. While the headlines aren’t as sexy as Tesla's 'Ludicrous mode', the transformative implications for climate change dwarf Elon Musk's latest accomplishment.  Increasing a generator's CF can increase its value in a variety of ways including: reduced cost of energy, improved transmission line utilization, and often, reducing stress on the grid by providing more power at times of peak demand.  It will also likely reduce the amount of storage and natural gas needed to manage the grid under scenarios of high renewables penetration.  Implicitly, NREL's new report positions wind to become a dominant and possibly the primary source of electricity in the US.  CF is the ratio of a generator's average power output over a year period to its nameplate rating.  A CF of 100% would indicate that it was always on and operating at its full rated power.  Simply stated, higher capacity factor means a given size generator will produce more energy over the year.  CF sets a lower bound on the amount of time a generator operates.  If a generator is not operating at its full nameplate rating all of the time then it will produce power for a percentage of time that exceeds its CF. *

Coal is choking India’s cities, economy and the world’s climate: India’s unquenchable thirst for coal is bad news for the nation’s health, balance sheet and the world’s climate. That’s the key message from the latest piece of research published by the New Climate Economy team, who say the country needs to aggressively diversify its energy mix. Coal accounts for 44% of India’s total energy consumption, with biomass and oil taking a 22% share each. With a fast growing population and more than 300 million still without electricity, politicians have long championed coal as a cheap and practical solution to their energy needs. But the rise in coal’s share from 33% in 1990 to 44% in 2012 comes at a price – economically and in the lungs of city dwellers. The statistics tell a bleak story. The world’s top four polluted cities are in India. 15 of the world’s top 30 cities with high levels of ambient air pollution are in India.  In 2010, an estimated 630,000 premature deaths were associated with air pollution linked to the burning of fossil fuels. “One recent estimate suggests that the price of coal in India needs to at least double if it is to fully reflect the health and other damages associated with coal use,” says the study. The costs of importing the coal, oil and gas the country needs are also wreaking havoc on the economy, write the study’s authors.

Wastewater spill from Colorado gold mine triples in volume: EPA | Reuters: Some 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater, triple previous estimates, have poured from a defunct Colorado gold mine into local streams since a team of Environmental Protection Agency workers accidentally triggered the spill last week, EPA officials said on Sunday. The discharge, containing high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead, was continuing to flow at the rate of 500 gallons per minute on Sunday, four days after the spill began at the Gold King Mine, the EPA said. An unspecified number of residents living downstream of the spill who draw their drinking supplies from their private wells have reported water discoloration, but there has been no immediate evidence of harm to human health, livestock or wildlife, EPA officials told reporters in a telephone conference call. Still, residents were advised to avoid drinking or bathing in water drawn from wells in the vicinity, and the government was arranging to supply water to homes and businesses in need.EPA previously estimated 1 million gallons of wastewater had been released since Wednesday, but on Sunday the agency revised that up to 3 million gallons, based on measurements taken at a U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge.

Abandoned Mine Has Leaked 3 Million Gallons Of Toxic Water Into A Colorado River - Three million gallons of bright orange wastewater has spilled from an abandoned mine in Colorado, after Environmental Protection Agency efforts to contain the mine’s toxic water went awry last week.  According to the EPA’s onsite coordinator, a team was working to “investigate and address contamination” at a nearby mine when they unexpectedly triggered the spill from the Gold King Mine, which is still pumping 500 gallons of contaminated water per minute into the Animas River, near Silverton, Colorado. The EPA has been trying for years to get some areas around Silverton declared a Superfund site — a designation which would direct federal funds toward cleanup — but the agency has been met with local resistance. The mountains of Colorado are riddled with more than 23,000 abandoned mines, according to the Colorado Geological Survey, and prior to 1977, mining companies could just walk away from the sites, leaving behind dangerous situations.  “It was known that there was a pool of water back in the [Gold King] mine, and EPA had a plan to remove that water and treat it, you know, slowly. But things didn’t go quite the way they planned and there was a lot more water in there then they thought, and it just kind of burst out of the mine,” Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group told local NPR affiliate KUNC.  According to the the EPA, the previous contamination meant that water in the river was already “likely toxic to all trout species, with the exception of brook trout. Brook trout living in this reach… are likely stressed much of the year.” The EPA’s initial response underestimated — by two million gallons — how much water was going to be released, and critics said the agency was trying to suggest that the additional toxins weren’t a big deal.  Environmental groups called foul on this response, saying that just because animal populations are already affected does not mean that increased toxins aren’t a serious problem.

EPA says 3 million gallons of contaminated water released into Animas River - — Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday that the Gold King Mine discharged an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated water, three times the previous estimate. The mine continues to discharge 500 gallons per minute, EPA Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath said in a teleconference call Sunday afternoon, but the polluted water is being contained and treated in four ponds at the site of the spill near Silverton, Colo. According to preliminary testing data the EPA released Sunday, arsenic levels measured in the Animas River in the Durango area peaked at 300 times the normal level, and lead peaked at 3,500 times the normal level. Officials said those levels dropped significantly after the plume of contamination moved downstream. Both metals pose a significant danger to humans in high concentrations. “Yes, those numbers are high and they seem scary,” . “But it’s not just a matter of toxicity of the chemicals, it’s a matter of exposure.” She said the period of time those concentrations remain in one area is short. However, McGrath said the EPA is looking at the possibility of long-term damage related to toxic metals falling out of suspension as the plume slowly moved along the river. “Sediment does settle,” McGrath said. “It settles down to the bottom of the river bed.” McGrath said future runoff from storms will kick that toxic sediment back into the water, which means there will need to be long-term monitoring.

Navajos to sue EPA over cleanup - The president of the Navajo Nation said Sunday that he intends to sue for 
“every dollar it spends cleaning up this mess” after Environmental Protection Agency employees accidentally released at least 3 million gallons of wastewater, including potentially harmful metals, into a river that breached the sovereign nation’s borders this weekend. The orange plume of wastewater, which slowly crawled down the San Juan River after gushing out of a Colorado mine on Friday, has already forced many reservation residents in New Mexico and Utah to cease watering their crops and livestock, shut down at least two drinking water wells and required them to avoid the river entirely, said Rick Abasta, communications director for Navajo tribal leadership. The nation on Sunday also took steps to formally declare a state of emergency for the reservation, warning of potential environmental and other damage. The declaration was waiting for the president’s signature as of Sunday evening. “The EPA was right in the middle of the disaster and we intend to make sure the Navajo Nation recovers every dollar it spends cleaning up this mess and every dollar it loses as a result of injuries to our precious Navajo natural resources,” president Russell Begaye said in a news release. “I have instructed Navajo Nation Department of Justice to take immediate action against the EPA to the fullest extent of the law to protect Navajo families and resources,” he added.

Colorado Governor Drinks Water From Animas River After Historic Mine Waste Spill --Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was at the Animas River in Durango, Colorado, yesterday, dealing with the ongoing chaos of the acid-mine pollution caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mistake at the Gold Strike Mine that turned the river a ghoulish orange-yellow color. Gov. Hickenlooper—always a media showboat—decided he was going to drink water out of the Animas River to prove a point that it was safe and as reported by the Durango Herald newspaper he did just that. The Durango Herald also reported that Gov. Hickenlooper used an iodine tablet in the river water to kill bacteria. However, as a river advocate in Colorado, I would like to assert that Colorado’s rivers and streams are a dangerous concoction of pollution including waste from livestock, wildlife, human sewage treatment plants as well as acid-mine drainage and other nasty toxins and so the Governor’s behavior—while very media worthy—should not be repeated by the public. As the story reports, the EPA so far refuses to “open” the river to public recreation and rightly so. Acid mine drainage can be invisible as can many pollutants in our nation’s lakes, rivers and streams. Gov. Hickenlooper became famous in 2011 for telling a U.S. Senate Subcommittee that he drank Halliburton’s“green” fracking fluid, a behavior that got him the nickname, “Frackenlooper.”

Sludge From Colorado Mine Spill Heads Down River to New Mexico - — A plume of orange-ish muck from million-gallon mine waste spill in Colorado was headed down river to New Mexico, prompting communities along the water route to take precautions until the sludge passes. Officials emphasized that there was no threat to drinking water from the spill. But downstream water agencies were warned to avoid Animas River water until the plume passes, said David Ostrander, director of the EPA's emergency response program in Denver. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that a cleanup team was working with heavy equipment Wednesday to secure an entrance to the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado. Workers instead released an estimated 1 million gallons of mine waste into Cement Creek."The project was intended to pump and treat the water and reduce metals pollution flowing out of the mine," agency spokesman Rich Mylott said in a statement. The creek runs into the Animas, which then flows into the San Juan River in New Mexico and joins the Colorado River in Utah. Officials weren't sure how long it would take the plume to dissipate, Ostrander said. The acidic sludge is made of heavy metal and soil, which could irritate the skin, he said. The EPA was testing the plume to see which metals were released. Previous contamination from the mine sent iron, aluminum, cadmium, zinc and copper into the water, said Peter Butler, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

Massive Mine Waste Spill Reaches New Mexico  --Just days after workers with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally spilled a million gallons of toxic mine waste into a Coloradowaterway, the free-flowing sludge that turned portions of the state’s Animas River orange reached New Mexico, where health and wildlife officials say they were not alerted to any impending contamination. As the cities of Aztec and Bloomfield scrambled to cut off the river’s access to water treatment plants, they criticized the EPA for what they said was a lackluster effort in providing warnings or answers about the spill. The contaminants seeping into the river—at a rate of 548 gallons per minute—include arsenic, copper, zinc, lead, aluminum and cadmium.  The Animas flows into the San Juan River in New Mexico, which in turn joins the Colorado River in Utah’s Lake Powell. Workers unleashed the waste while using heavy machinery to investigate toxic materials at Colorado’s non-functioning Gold King Mine. But the accident, while “unexpected” by EPA’s admission, is a reminder that defunct mines still heavy with contaminates exist throughout the West. The Associated Press writes: Experts estimate there are 55,000 such abandoned mines from Colorado to Idaho to California and federal and state authorities have struggled to clean them for decades. The federal government says 40 percent of the headwaters of Western waterways have been contaminated from mine runoff.

The Latest: Emergency declared over Colorado mine spill - Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has issued a disaster declaration after millions of gallons of contaminated water spilled from a mine into the Animas River and was making its way to Lake Powell in Utah. The declaration on Monday releases $500,000 to assist businesses and towns affected by the 3-million-gallon spill that contains heavy metals including lead and arsenic. It also helps pay for water quality sampling by the state, assessing impacts on fish and wildlife, and any possible cleanup. Hickenlooper directed state agencies to seek federal funds or low-interest loans to help entities affected by the spill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to say if the metals pose a threat to human health, frustrating residents in Colorado and downstream in New Mexico and Utah. On Wednesday, an EPA-supervised cleanup crew accidentally breached a debris dam that had formed inside Colorado’s Gold King Mine, which has been inactive since 1923.

Navajo Nation Vows To Hold EPA Accountable As Colorado River Poisoner Identified -- Having admitted responsibility for the poisoning of Colorado's Animus River, Mining.com reports The EPA has now been forced to admit that there was 3 milion gallons of toxic wastewater - triple their previous estimates. While EPA leadership held a press conference yesterday taking responsibility, it appears they are pointing the blame finger at the contractor, who they have now chosen to identify as Missouri-based Environmental Restoration which is one of the largest EPA emergency cleanup contractors. It is the main provider for the EPA’s emergency cleanup and rapid response needs in the region that covers Colorado, as well as in several other parts of the country - awarded $381 million in federal contracts since 2007. As the river slowly returns to normal (on the surface), TheNavajo Nation, with many residents along the river, declared a state of emergency this week, vowing to hold the EPA fully responsible for its spill, and have demanded that the EPA provide the affected tribes with water until the river is once again usable. The agency has been diverting the ongoing release into two newly built settling ponds where the waste was being treated with chemicals to lower its acidity and to filter out dissolved solids before being discharged to Cement Creek. The federal unit has also set up a website to provide constant updates on the situation.  And now The EPA appears to be trying to distance itself from the actual event. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the previously unnamed contractor involved in the spil has now been identified (by the EPA) as Missouri-based Environmental Restoration LLC... The EPA, which was overseeing the servicing of the mine, had previously said an unnamed outside contractor was using heavy equipment when it accidentally triggered a breach in the abandoned Gold King Mine, letting out wastewater that had built up inside it. “Environmental Restoration LLC was working at the direction at EPA in consultation with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety,” an EPA official said on Wednesday.

Ranchers, farmers look for alternative water sources after Gold King Mine spill - — With the Animas and San Juan rivers still off limits, local ranchers and farmers are looking for alternative ways to get water for their livestock and crops. Restrictions on the rivers were put into effect after toxic metals flowed from a mine north of Silverton, Colo., into the Animas River and then into the San Juan River. In response to the situation, officials with the Shiprock Chapter started hauling water to residents who need it for their livestock. Melvin Jones, an equipment operator at the chapter house, delivered water Monday and Tuesday to residents in Shiprock. “There are quite a few people on the list right now, so we’ll probably be hauling water all week and into next week,” he said. On Tuesday, he delivered water in a 1,000-gallon tank to Sarah Frank’s residence in southeast Shiprock. As Jones filled her large storage tank with water, Frank removed lids from three steel drums and an assortment of plastic containers to hold the remainder of the water. Frank’s residence is less than 10 miles south of the river, which was the main source of water for her 30 sheep and 13 lambs. “They really drink water when the grass is dry,” she said.

The Outdated Law That Helped Lead To The Massive Mine Spill In Colorado --  This week, a river running through Colorado turned orange after Environmental Protection Agency workers accidentally broke through a dam at an abandoned mine site, spilling 3 million gallons of lead and arsenic-laden mine waste into the Animas River. The spill was a major disaster — it caused lead levels in the river to spike to nearly 12,000 times higher than the EPA-accepted safe mark, and arsenic levels to rise to 26 times higher than the EPA recommends. The spill prompted New Mexico’s governor to issue a state of emergency, and the Navajo Nation, which depends heavily on the river, is considering suing the EPA.  The EPA has taken full responsibility for the spill, but some groups are hoping the spill brings attention to an over-a-century-old law that has helped contribute to the large number of abandoned mines that still need cleaning up today. As Al Jazeera reports, there are about 2,700 abandoned hard rock mines in the United States that still need cleaning up.  New laws have mandated that new mines get cleaned up, but these old mines are regulated under the General Mining Law of 1872, which allows mining companies to avoid paying royalties for the minerals they mine and doesn’t contain provisions for environmental protections. These abandoned mines have polluted water before — both through drainage of contaminants and through major spills like the one that affected the Animas River.

Be Afraid: Japan Is About To Do Something That's Never Been Done Before -- When the words "mothballed", "nuclear", and "never been done before" are seen together with Japan in a sentence, the world should be paying attention... As TEPCO officials face criminal charges over the lack of preparedness with regard Fukushima, and The IAEA Report assigns considerable blame to the Japanese culture of "over-confidence & complacency," Bloomberg reports, Japan is about to do something that’s never been done before: Restart a fleet of mothballed nuclear reactors. The first reactor to meet new safety standards could come online as early as next week. Japan is reviving its nuclear industry four years after all its plants were shut for safety checks following the earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station north of Tokyo, causing radiation leaks that forced the evacuation of 160,000 people. Mothballed reactors have been turned back on in other parts of the world, though not on this scale -- 25 of Japan’s 43 reactors have applied for restart permits. One lesson learned elsewhere is that the process rarely goes smoothly. Of 14 reactors that resumed operations after four years offline, all had emergency shutdowns and technical failures, according to data from the World Nuclear Association, an industry group.

Japan raises warning level on volcano 50 km from just-restarted nuclear plant - The Japan Times: The Meteorological Agency said Saturday that Mount Sakurajima in Kagoshima Prefecture, 50 km from a just-restarted nuclear plant, is showing signs of increased volcanic activity and that nearby residents should prepare to evacuate. In line with the move, the Kagoshima municipal government issued an evacuation advisory to the residents of three districts on the island where the volcano is located. Sakurajima is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and erupts almost constantly. But a larger than usual eruption could be in the offing, an official at the weather agency said. “There is the danger that stones could rain down on areas near the mountain’s base, so we are warning residents of those areas to be ready to evacuate if needed,” the official added. The agency also said it had raised the warning level on the peak, 990 km southwest of Tokyo, to an unprecedented 4, for prepare to evacuate, from 3. Japan on Tuesday restarted a reactor at the Sendai nuclear plant, some 50 km from Sakurajima. It is the first reactor to be restarted under new safety standards put in place after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Unapproved coal ash dump will cost "green" company $230,000 in state fine - — Sonoco, a global packaging corporation that emphasizes environmental stewardship, has been hit with a $230,000 fine for operating an unapproved coal ash dump near its headquarters in eastern South Carolina. The state fine is one of the heaviest issued by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control during the past decade, records show. And it is being levied as concerns rise about the environmental impacts of coal ash disposal areas across the country. Coal ash contains an array of toxins, including arsenic and metals that can make water unsafe to drink if the materials leak out of disposal areas. Utilities across South Carolina are scrambling to clean up the messes left by decades of burning coal. In this case, Sonoco for years used coal to supply electricity at its business in Hartsville, about an hour’s drive east of Columbia in Darlington County. But DHEC says Sonoco violated the state’s solid waste policy law by piling up waste coal ash on the ground near the plant. The ash pile is about 35 feet high and is on a 14-acre site. The company has since 2013 replaced coal with biomass, considered a less polluting source of energy.

How This Giant Coal Company Games The System To Undercut Its Competitors And Shortchange Taxpayers -- The Obama Administration and a group of lawmakers recently took the first steps in more than thirty years toward reforming the federal government’s coal program. Standing in their way, however, is a giant new coal company with a business model that depends on bending the rules, dodging royalty payments, and spending big to win powerful political allies. Most Americans have never heard of Cloud Peak Energy, the third largest coal company in the United States. A 2009 spinoff of the British-Australian mining company Rio Tinto, Cloud Peak only owns three mines, but these mines are among the biggest in the United States. All three are on taxpayer-owned public lands in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, where strip-mining costs are low, production is high, and federal policies are favorable. In recent months, Cloud Peak has emerged as the most vocal critic of the Obama Administration’s efforts to modernize the federal coal program. The company argued that a proposal to prevent selling coal to its own subsidiaries is “completely unjustified and is a thinly veiled effort to inhibit the mining of federal coal,” and attempting to orchestrate an elaborate campaign to block it. Cloud Peak’s assertions about the proposal’s financial impacts have been so extreme that even Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, downplayed Cloud Peak’s claims to analysts and investors. Cloud Peak has also distinguished itself in recent months by claiming to stand on stronger financial footing than its biggest rivals, with CEO Colin Marshall predicting an almost 700 percent increase in coal exports and an increased share of the domestic power generation market for Powder River Basin.

Protesters Press Secluded G7 Leaders on Harmful Policies, from Crippling Austerity to Dirty Coal | Democracy Now! - video & transcript - As leaders of the seven wealthy democracies known as the Group of Seven hold talks in a secluded castle in Germany, thousands of protesters have been met with 20,000 police in the largest security operation in the history of Bavaria. Issues on the G7 agenda include climate change, a $10.4 billion bailout package for Greece, and more austerity measures. We are joined by three guests: Gawain Kripke of Oxfam America, which just published the new report, "Let Them Eat Coal"; Eric LeCompte of the Jubilee USA Network; and former banker Nomi Prins, author of "All the Presidents’ Bankers."

Humanity exceeds nature's budget for 2015: In less than eight months, humanity has used up nature's budget for the entire year, according to data from Global Footprint Network. Earth Overshoot Day - this year falling on August 13 - marks the date when humanity's annual demands on nature exceed what Earth can regenerate in that year, and has moved up from early October in 2000. "We are ever deepening our understanding of how crucial nature's services are to our own well-being, prosperity and happiness, and to our very survival," said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International. "We must continue to shift from being irresponsible exploiters to being careful stewards of nature's values and good managers of her essential, finite resources," said Lambertini. The costs of ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day, in the form of deforestation, drought, freshwater scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration makes up more than half of the demand on nature.

What Is Nature Worth to You? -  Assigning a monetary value to environmental harm is notoriously tricky. There is, after all, no market for intact ecosystems or endangered species. We don’t reveal how much we value these things in a consumer context, as goods or services for which we will or won’t pay a certain amount. Instead, we value them for their mere existence. And it is not obvious how to put a price tag on that.In an attempt to do so, economists and policy makers often rely on a technique called “contingent valuation,” which amounts to asking individuals survey questions about their willingness to pay to protect natural resources. The values generated by contingent valuation studies are frequently used to inform public policy and litigation. (If the government had gone to trial with BP, it most likely would have relied on such studies to argue for a large judgment against the company.)Contingent valuation has always aroused skepticism. Oil companies, unsurprisingly, have criticized the technique. But many economists have also been skeptical, worrying that hypothetical questions posed to ordinary citizens may not really capture their genuine sense of environmental value. Even the Obama administration seems to discount contingent valuation, choosing to exclude data from this technique in 2014 when issuing a new rule to reduce the number of fish killed by power plants.Do we respond to contingent valuation studies the way we respond to all other known classes of economic decisions? Or do we behave differently when environmental value is involved?To find out, we conducted a study, just published in the journal PLOS One, that compared, at a neurological level, how people responded in both situations.

‘Net Energy’ Deficit Preventing Economic Growth  -- Our economy is a networked system. I have illustrated it as being similar to a child’s building toy. Ever-larger structures can be built by adding more businesses and consumers, and by using resources of various kinds to produce an increasing quantity of goods and services. There is no overall direction to the system, so the system is said to be “self-organizing.” The economy operates within a finite world, so at some point, a problem of diminishing returns develops. In other words, it takes more and more effort (human labor and use of resources) to produce a given quantity of oil or food, or fresh water, or other desirable products. The problem of slowing economic growth is very closely related to the question: How can the limits we are reaching be expected to play out in a finite world? Many people imagine that we will “run out” of some necessary resource, such as oil, but I see the situation differently. Let me explain a few issues that may not be obvious. Our economy is like a pump that works increasingly slowly over time, as diminishing returns and other adverse influences affect its operation. Eventually, it is likely to stop. As nearly as I can tell, the way economic growth occurs (and stops taking place) is as summarized in Figure 3.  Let me explain some of the pieces of the problem that give rise to the slowing economic growth pump, and the difficulties it encounters as it slows down.  “Promises,” such as government pension programs for the elderly, and promises to repair existing roads, tend to get bigger and bigger over time.  At least partly because of growing “promises,” it is very difficult for an economy to shrink in size without collapsing.  The over-arching problem as we reach diminishing returns is that workers become less and less efficient at producing desired end products. If workers get paid for their work, the logical result of diminishing returns is that after a point, workers should get paid less, because what they are producing as an end product is diminishing in quantity. Workers may be making more intermediate products (such as desalination plants or fracking sand), but these are not the end products people want (such as fresh water, electricity, or oil). When civilizations collapsed in the past, a major cause was diminishing returns leading to declining wages for non-elite workers.