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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

CROWDFUNDING THIN ICE: THE FINAL PUSH

by GARETH on NOVEMBER 19, 2014

7.4-Being a scientist - personal thoughts from Thin Ice Climate on Vimeo.

The Kickstarter campaign to get climate documentary Thin Ice shown on public TV in the USA is closing in on its target. At the time of writing, the total pledged stands at NZ$21,199 — just over 75% of the way to the $27,500 needed with 4 days to go. The film’s producer, professor Peter Barrett, is pleased with the progress:
We are enormously grateful to our 156 supporters thus far. It’s proving to be a challenging journey, but it will be worth it if we can get Thin Ice tailored for American Public TV for the most influential people in the world on this issue.
For an idea of just how good Thin Ice is, have a look at the video above — scientists talking about why they do science. Dave Harwood defines science, Nancy Bertler and Ros Rickaby talk about what turned them on to it, Wally Broecker says what’s important for him, Liz Sikes explains why she enjoys it, and Ray Pierrehumbert gives some reasons for trusting the scientific process.
If have any spare cash for a good cause, get over to Kickstarter and make a pledge. And spread the word: there’s not far to go, but there are only 4 days left to hit the target. Let’s make it happen!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

rjs: climate science and enviro news, Nov. 15, 2014

from rjs, November 15, 2014

Cancer Alley Louisiana: The 'Mother of All Sinkholes': Cancer Alley, a stretch of about 100 miles between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, is home to some 150 petrochemical plants, making these swamplands perhaps the most industrialized (and polluted) region in the United States. The latest plague ravaging Cancer Alley is that enormous sinkhole in Assumption Parish, a burgeoning cavity that is a pestilence both real and symbolic, relentlessly swallowing land while reminding residents of the despoliation the past 60 years have inflicted on their sinuous bayous and fulsome cypress groves. As Bayou Corne’s citizens abandon their homes, fleeing the specters of methane and vandals and depressed home values, they stand to become yet another Louisiana community sacrificed to the twin gods of oil and gas. Film Produced by Storyhunter: http://storyhunter.tv/

Cod fishery in crisis - The federal government this week enacted what amounts essentially to a 6-month pause in commercial cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine, according to a report by David Abel in the Boston Globe yesterday. This is a sad day for New England's most famous fishery.  Cod fishing is a classic example of a situation where free markets would be devastating for everybody, including fishermen and their families. Because overfishing in the past has pushed stocks far below maximum sustainable levels, each fishing boat harms the economic interests of the next. Economists believe that liberated markets serve environmental goals wonderfully in many situations, where property rights to natural resources are well defined, but free markets are a disaster when each producer is chasing a common resource.  Nobody thinks the New England cod fishery should be unregulated. Yet, cod fishermen complain about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regulators who took action this week. Many fishermen believe the scientific estimates are overly pessimistic, leading regulators to be overly cautious. Here you can inspect the evidence for yourself, in NOAA's report this past August. Using two different models of cod mortality (on the left and right), the figure reproduced here shows the downward trend over time in estimated spawning stocks biomass (top row) and the upward trend in estimated recent fish mortality (bottom row).

Gov. Brown signs bill banning commercial production of genetically modified salmon -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed a North Coast lawmaker’s bill banning the commercial production of genetically altered salmon. AB 504, authored by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, extends the prohibition of spawning or cultivating so-called “transgenic salmonids” in the Pacific Ocean to all waters of the state. The hatchery production and stocking of such fish also is prohibited. The legislation protects the state’s native steelhead trout and salmon populations, Chesbro said. He noted that federal food and drug regulators are reviewing an application by a company, AquaBounty Technologies, that seeks to raise genetically altered salmon in the United States. “If these ‘frankenfish’ were to escape into our waters, they could destroy our native salmonid populations through interbreeding, competition for food and the introduction of parasites and disease,” Chesbro stated in a news release. “The only way to ensure this never happens is to ban commercial hatchery production, cultivation or stocking of transgenic salmonids in California.” The legislation prohibits research or experimentation for the commercial production of genetically-altered salmonids. The bill was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

The first genetically modified potato - In the modern sense that is, of course potatoes have been genetically modified for a long time: The Agriculture Department on Friday approved the first genetically modified potato for commercial planting in the United States, a move likely to draw the ire of groups opposed to artificial manipulation of foods.The Innate potato, developed by the J.R. Simplot Co., is engineered to contain less of a suspected human carcinogen that occurs when a conventional potato is fried, and is also less prone to bruising during transport. Boise, Idaho-based Simplot is a major supplier of frozen french fries to fast-food giant McDonald’s. The story is here, and you will note that on Tuesday the mandatory GMO-labeling initiatives failed in Oregon and Colorado, the second failure in Oregon and that means failures in four states overall.  Less positively, voters in Maui County, Hawaii, chose to restrict GMO cultivation altogether.  And now McDonald’s is under pressure not to use these new potatoes for its french fries.  But of course you can understand the marketing dilemma of McDonald’s here — they can’t just come out and say “these french fries won’t give you cancer.”

Why GMO labeling in the U.S. needs to win only once - There were no doubt celebrations last week in the boardrooms of corporations that own patents to the world's genetically engineered crops. Proposals to label foods containing these crops--commonly called GMOs for genetically modified organisms--were defeated soundly in Colorado and barely in Oregon. That makes for a perfect record in the United States for the GMO purveyors who have beaten back every attempt to mandate labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients. But, I think the celebrations may be premature. For the advocates of labeling have vowed to fight on. They came within a hair's breadth of reaching their goal in Oregon. Who is to say that another round of voter education might not put them over the top?  And, that is the danger for the GMO patent holders. If just one state requires labeling, the food companies will have to make a choice: Special handling and labels for one state or one label for the entire country that also meets that state's standards.* If the first state to implement a GMO labeling requirement is populous, say, California or New York, the decision will be made for the food companies. It won't be sensible to segregate supplies for that state. And, even a less populous state might tip the balance. Some states have passed GMO labeling laws that require enough other states to pass such laws to reach a minimum population threshold of in one case 20 million before the law goes into effect. What complicates matters further is that an increasing number of food processors are opting to exclude GMO ingredients from their products. Many processors proudly display this choice by using the emblem of the Non-GMO Project on their foods (meaning that their GMO-free formulation has actually been verified). Many others will find ways to eliminate GMO ingredients, especially if they represent a small proportion of the total for any product, just to avoid mandatory labeling. All this means that as the momentum for labeling continues to build, the opponents of labeling will have fewer and fewer allies. And, if just one state adopts labeling, those allies will shrink appreciably as more and more food processors abandon the GMO bandwagon just to avoid the labeling requirement.

Best way to get pesticides banned is to claim they’re legal highs: ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners are claiming to get a massive buzz off harmful pesticides in order to get them banned. More than 40 pesticides have been labelled as plant food, given suggestive new names like Gaboon Viper, Wow-Wow Party and Sherbet Revolver, and immediately reclassified as controlled substances. Green activist Susan Traherne said: “Lidilcarb is one of the most dangerous pesticides around, killing swathes of woodland animals and causing calves to be born with five legs, and nobody gives a shit. But when I claimed me and my mate Skins had done two lines of it on Saturday night and were so spannered we buried ourselves up to the knees, it was illegal before I’d finished talking.” Police are already planning raids on large farming cartels around the country, causing the farmers to flush their stashes and kill every living thing downstream for 100 miles.

Monsanto Reaches $2.4M Settlement With U.S. Wheat Farmers  Monsanto agreed Wednesday to pay almost $2.4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by U.S. wheat farmers, after a genetically modified strain of the grain was found in an Oregon field and spooked importers of American wheat.No genetically engineered wheat has been approved in the U.S., but in 2013 wheat matching a strain of an experimental type developed and tested by Monsanto a decade earlier was found growing in a field in Oregon, the Associated Press reports. The modified wheat was not approved by federal regulators, and the seed juggernaut had said it had destroyed the crop. A government report judged the incident to be an isolated case, but it did not conclude how the errant wheat had come to be in the field. Nations wary of genetically modified crops were alarmed: Japan and South Korea briefly stopped importing American wheat, and American farmers cried foul over the damage done to their revenues and reputations.The St. Louis–based company’s settlement includes giving $2.1 million to farmers in the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho who sold soft white wheat between May 30 and Nov. 30 of 2013, as well as paying $250,000 to multiple wheat growers’ associations.

Soybean Demand in China Set to Exceed Supply   Investors by now are well aware of China’s hunger for all sorts of commodities, including food. Nonetheless, recent research from the agribusiness consultancy LMC International revealed some shocking information. LMC’s senior economist Julian McGill, as reported by Agrimoney, said that the growing pace of China’s demand for soybeans will result in the country “trying to import more soybeans than the major producing countries are exporting.” The research forecast’s Chinese import demand to reach 180 million tons of soybeans by 2024. That’s more than the soy production of the biggest producers – United States, Brazil, and Argentina – combined! It doesn’t take an investing genius to realize this supply-demand situation will open up new opportunities for investors.  The reason for increased demand is the rising consumption of soybean meal used to feed livestock. China’s huge population is steadily increasing its wealth and socioeconomic standing and thus wants to eat better. That means there’s more demand for meat, poultry, and fish on the average Chinese dinner plate. China’s pork production has increased by 38% since 2000, and the country now houses over half of the world’s pig population. In fact, the pig population there is twice the population of the United States! And in 2013, China produced 55 million metric tons (mt) of pork, five times the amount produced in the United States. Hogs consumer 30% of China’s overall livestock feed. On top of pork, poultry constitutes about 40% of China’s animal feed and production reached 18 million mt last year. Farmed fish accounts for 30% of the feed and produced 45 million mt in 2013.

The TPP: What Might it Mean for Agriculture?  Big Picture Agriculture  The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade and investment agreement under negotiation by 12 countries in the Pacific Rim, including the United States. The twelve countries are Australia, Brunei Darussaiam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam. With a combined population of about 800 million and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of about $28 trillion, these 12 countries encompassed 11% of global population and almost 40% of global GDP in 2012. The total size of their market for agricultural imports averaged $279 billion over 2010-12, 51% of which was sourced from TPP partners. The TPP accounts for 42% of the global agricultural exports of the United States and 47% of its agricultural imports. [...] Cutting tariffs is only one of the many goals of the TPP negotiations, but it is an important one for agricultural trade. The value of intraregional agricultural trade in 2025 under a tariff-free, TRQ-free scenario is estimated to be 6%, or about $8.5 billion higher (in 2007 U.S. dollars) compared with baseline values. U.S. agricultural exports to the region will be 5%, or about $3 billion higher, and U.S. agricultural imports from the region in 2025 will be 2%, or $1 billion higher in value compared with the baseline.

Britain had one of warmest and wettest years on record  The UK is on course to experience the warmest and one of the wettest years since records began more than a century ago, feeding fears that future droughts and flash floods could cost lives. Figures from the Met Office show January to October has been the warmest since records began in 1910, and also the second-wettest. Unless November and December are extremely cold, 2014 will be the hottest year on record. Experts say this the result of climate change, which they warn could place a burden on the NHS as Britons struggling to cope with future heatwaves end up in hospital. Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said the elderly and those with health problems are particularly at risk and could end up dying in the heat. He warned that as Britain warms it will also grow wetter – raising the spectre of flash floods that could cost lives and cause billions of pounds of damage to households and businesses. Ward said: “A large part of the population is unaware that this risk is increasing, and that is a problem because people are not then able to take the necessary precautions.

El Niño prediction 2014: Why weather forecasters were wrong about a super El Nino. I was wrong. Despite my predictions earlier this year, I’ve already admitted there will be no super El Niño this winter. In fact, according to new information released Thursday, the odds are increasing that there may not even be an official El Niño at all. Given the ridonculous model forecasts back in April, a lot of forecasters (count them: 1234 …) took the bait. (Some, to their credit, were more restrained.) First, a quick explanation: For a major El Niño event, the atmosphere and ocean have to join forces. The Pacific trade winds can actually reverse direction during strong El Niños, pulling reinforcing shots of warm water to the surface and initiating a global chain reaction of abnormal weather. In the end, a big El Niño just never happened. And now it looks like even a small one is iffy. What gives?  On the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s official El Niño blog, Emily Becker writes that weaker events, like the one shaping up this year, are harder to predict. Even though seasonal climate forecasting has been quite good for decades, the majority of missed events have occurred more recently, since 2000, when weaker events have been the rule. Seasonal climate forecasts have a tendency to focus on the telltale central Pacific warming signal that defines El Niño. But this year, the Pacific was warm pretty much everywhere, perhaps throwing the crucial atmosphere-ocean linkage necessary for a mature El Niño out of kilter.  In essence, a gradually warming Pacific Ocean is at once reducing our ability to predict Earth’s single most important seasonal climate phenomenon, and tampering with it as well. For forecasters, that means this year’s El Niño tease has been “rather frustrating.” It mirrors another flash-in-the-pan-and-fizzle just two years ago.

The Planet Just Had Its Hottest October On Record --The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) reports that last month was the hottest October in more than 120 years of record-keeping — by far. This follows the hottest SeptemberAugustJune, and March-May in JMA’s records! Projections by NOAA make clear 2014 is increasingly likely to be hottest year on record. And these records occurred despite the fact we’re still waiting for the start of El Niño. It is usually the combination of the underlying long-term warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records. The JMA is a World Meteorological Organization Regional Climate Center of excellence. NASA reported Friday very similar observations. In the NASA dataset, last month was tied for hottest October on record with 2005.  In this country, temperatures were quite hot in the West, and the fourth-warmest on record for the lower 48. Here is the NASA chart for global temperatures last month:

Climate Model Predicts Very Cold Winter in Northern Hemisphere  About 14.1 million square kilometers of snow blanketed Siberia at the end of October, the second most in records going back to 1967, according to Rutgers University’s Global Snow Lab. The record was in 1976, which broke a streak of mild winters in the eastern U.S. In addition, the speed at which snow has covered the region is the fastest since at least 1998. Taken together they signal greater chances for frigid air to spill out of the Arctic into more temperate regions of North America, Europe and Asia, said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, who developed the theory linking Siberian snow with winter weather. “A rapid advance of Eurasian snow cover during the month of October favors that the upcoming winter will be cold across the Northern Hemisphere,” Cohen said in an interview yesterday. “This past October the signal was quite robust.” Cold air builds over the expanse of snow, strengthening the pressure system known as a Siberian high. The high weakens the winds that circle the North Pole, allowing the cold air to leak into the lower latitudes. The term Polar Vortex actually refers to those winds, not the frigid weather. Last year, 12.85 million square kilometers covered Eurasia at the end of October. By January, waves of frigid air were pummeling the U.S. Prices for natural gas, a heating fuel used by half of American households, rose to a five-year high in February.

New study questions the accuracy of satellite atmospheric temperature estimates -- Over the past decades, scientists have made many measurements across the globe to characterize how fast the Earth is warming. It may seem trivial, but taking the Earth’s temperature is not very straightforward. You could use temperature thermometers at weather stations that are spread across the globe. Measurements can be taken daily and information sent to central repositories where some average is determined.  A downside of thermometers is that they do not cover the entire planet – large polar regions, oceans, and areas in the developing world have no or very few measurements. Another problem is that they may change over time. Perhaps the thermometers are replaced or moved, or perhaps the landscape around the thermometers changes which could impact the reading. And of course, measurements of the ocean regions are a whole other story.  An alternative technique is to use satellites to extract temperatures from radiative emission at microwave frequencies from oxygen in the atmosphere. Satellites can cover the entire globe and thereby avoid the problem with discrete sensors. However, satellites also change over time, their orbit can change, or their detection devices can also change. Another issue with satellites is that the measurements are made throughout the atmosphere that can contain contaminants to corrupt the measurement. For instance, it is possible that water droplets (either in clouds or precipitation) can influence the temperature readings. So, it is clear that there are strengths and weaknesses to any temperature measurement method. You would hope that either method would tell a similar story, and they do to some extent, but there are key differences. Basically, the lower atmosphere (troposphere) is heating slower than the Earth surface.

Amazon rainforest losing ability to regulate climate, scientist warns -- The Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists. In a new report, Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Centre, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events. The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call. “I realised the problem is much more serious than we realised, even in academia and the reason is that science has become so fragmented. Atmospheric scientists don’t look at forests as much as they should and vice versa,” said Nobre, who wrote the report for a lay audience. “It’s not written in academic language. I don’t need to preach to the converted. Our community is already very alarmed at what is going on.” A draft seen by the Guardian warns that the “vegetation-climate equilibrium is teetering on the brink of the abyss.” If it tips, the Amazon will start to become a much drier savanna, which calamitous consequences.

Millions of Asians exposed to big climate disasters - Oxfam  - Millions of people in Asia, the world's most disaster-prone region, face the threat of major climate-linked disasters and food crises because government policies fail to protect them, Oxfam warned on Thursday. A year after Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines, the aid and development charity warned that governments needed to do more to prevent people losing their lives and homes to extreme weather. Asia, with 4.3 billion people or 60 percent of the global population, has borne almost half the estimated economic cost of all disasters over the past 20 years, amounting to around $53 billion annually, Oxfam said. "Without greater investment in climate and disaster-resilient development and more effective assistance for those at risk, super-typhoon Haiyan-scale disasters could fast become the norm, not the exception," Oxfam said in a report. Scientists say climate change is causing more frequent and intense weather events, and warn current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will push global temperature up by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), an internationally agreed limit. "This will be a global disaster, to be borne disproportionately by Asia's growing population," Oxfam said.

Climate Change: Afghanistan on Front Line (and You Thought the Taliban were Bad) - In northern Afghanistan, the residents don’t often use the phrase – most don’t even know it. But as they describe how increasingly extreme weather patterns are making their lives harder every year, they map out many of the symptoms of climate change. As a new UN report warns that “irreversible” climate change is affecting more people than ever, these Afghans are on the front line. Naim Korbon says he is 90 years old, though he admits he does not really know. Either way he is too old to be carrying cement. Earlier this year his life’s work was destroyed as vicious floods cascaded through the area. It was, local experts say, the worst to hit the region in 42 years. Nearly half of the village was swept away, including Korbon’s home. All down his street buildings – many of them over 50 years old – are slumped; roofs sliding off, surrounded by piles of debris.   Floods are not the only weather making the residents’ lives harder. In the nearby village of Baghacha, Khan Mula local representative Abdul Jalote Mufakar pointed at the barren earth with a sense of resignation. “In recent years, there are no crops. Only almonds grow any more,” he said.This pattern of long droughts, poor harvests and flash floods has been a growing trend for the people of northern Afghanistan, with experts largely in agreement that the climate is becoming more extreme. A new report identified Afghanistan as one of 11 countries globally at extreme risk of both climate change and food insecurity.

Groundbreaking Maps Detail Acidity of the Earth's Oceans - A team of scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the University of Colorado at Boulder have published a groundbreaking set of maps that offer a comprehensive picture of the acidity of the Earth’s oceans as they absorb climate change-causing carbon emissions, causing changes to marine ecosystems. “We have established a global standard for future changes to be measured,”said Lamont-Doherty geophysicist Taro Takahashi, one of the team that developed the maps, which were published in Marine Chemistry. The maps take a month-by-month look at the increases and declines in ocean acidity in different seasons and locations, as well as  saturation levels of calcium carbonate minerals used by shell-building organisms. They utilize four decades of measurements by Lamont-Doherty researchers and others.  Among other things, the maps show that the northern Indian Ocean is 10 percent more acidic than the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and that ocean water as far north as Iceland and as far south as Antarctica are acidifying by about 5 percent per decade, corresponding to the increase in carbon emissions.

Study: Global warming worsening watery dead zones - Global warming is likely playing a bigger role than previously thought in dead zones in oceans, lakes and rivers around the world and it’s only going to get worse, according to a new study. Dead zones occur when fertilizer runoff clogs waterways with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. That leads to an explosion of microbes that consumes oxygen and leaves the water depleted of oxygen, harming marine life. Scientists have long known that warmer water increases this problem, but a new study Monday in the journal Global Change Biology by Smithsonian Institution researchers found about two dozen different ways — biologically, chemically and physically — that climate change worsens the oxygen depletion. “We’ve underestimated the effect of climate change on dead zones,” The researchers looked at 476 dead zones worldwide— 264 in the United States. They found that standard computer climate models predict that, on average, the surface temperature around those dead zones will increase by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit (slightly more than 2 degrees Celsius) from the 1980s and 1990s to the end of this century. The largest predicted warming is nearly 7 degrees (almost 4 degrees Celsius) where the St. Lawrence River dumps into the ocean in Canada. The most prominent U.S. dead zones, the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, are projected to warm 4 degrees (2.3 degrees Celsius) and nearly 5 degrees (2.7 degrees Celsius) respectively. Warmer water holds less oxygen, adding to the problem from runoff, said co-author Keryn Gedan, who is at both the Smithsonian and the University of Maryland. But warmer water also affects dead zones by keeping the water more separate, so that oxygen-poor deep water mixes less.

Warmest oceans ever recorded: "This summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started. Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year," says Axel Timmermann, climate scientist and professor, studying variability of the global climate system at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa. From 2000-2013 the global ocean surface temperature rise paused, in spite of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. This period, referred to as the Global Warming Hiatus, raised a lot of public and scientific interest. However, as of April 2014 ocean warming has picked up speed again, according to Timmermann's analysis of ocean temperature datasets. "The 2014 global ocean warming is mostly due to the North Pacific, which has warmed far beyond any recorded value (Figure 1a) and has shifted hurricane tracks, weakened trade winds, and produced coral bleaching in the Hawaiian Islands," explains Timmermann. He describes the events leading up to this upswing as follows: Sea-surface temperatures started to rise unusually quickly in the extratropical North Pacific already in January 2014. A few months later, in April and May, westerly winds pushed a huge amount of very warm water usually stored in the western Pacific along the equator to the eastern Pacific. This warm water has spread along the North American Pacific coast, releasing into the atmosphere enormous amounts of heat--heat that had been locked up in the Western tropical Pacific for nearly a decade.

Salt-Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048 - CBS News: The apocalypse has a new date: 2048. That's when the world's oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. The study by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, -- with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama -- was an effort to understand what this loss of ocean species might mean to the world. The researchers analyzed several different kinds of data. Even to these ecology-minded scientists, the results were an unpleasant surprise. "I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are -- beyond anything we suspected," Worm says in a news release. "This isn't predicted to happen. This is happening now," study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release. "If biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life. Indeed, it may not be able to sustain our lives at all," Beaumont adds. Already, 29% of edible fish and seafood species have declined by 90% -- a drop that means the collapse of these fisheries. But the issue isn't just having seafood on our plates. Ocean species filter toxins from the water. They protect shorelines. And they reduce the risks of algae blooms such as the red tide.

World losing battle against global warming: In the battle to combat global warming, the world isn't moving fast enough to stay in the fight. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — which releases a new report every few years — again gave grim news last week as emissions rose 2.3% to a record in 2013, marking the largest year-to-year change in three decades. "We're about at a 3" on a scale of 0 to 10 in reducing emissions that cause global warming, said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University geoscientist and contributing author of an international report out earlier this week that warned of "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage if nations fail to corral greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, Earth is also on target for its hottest year ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as reaching the highest level of atmospheric carbon dioxide in at least 800,000 years. And in the U.S., emissions rose 2.9% in the past year — after several years of declines. "The pace and scale (of efforts to fight warming) needs to increase dramatically," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organization in Washington, D.C. "It is clear that despite all current efforts, much more action is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change." Perhaps most stunning in this year's IPCC report was scientists' certainty that humans are behind the warming: 95%. Previous reports by the group didn't provide such harsh language to describe future consequences or such high confidence about humanity's role.

Naomi Klein’s “Hard-Money” Ideas Undermine Her Laudable Climate Action Goals - This is the first of at least two book reviews that I am planning to write about Naomi Klein’s important and occasionally frustrating, quite-large book (466 page) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (which I will abbreviate as TCE). The reasons for more than one book review are several. TCE contains a number of important ideas and insights that are not tightly tied together in one argument. Naomi Klein happens to be one of the more politically-savvy and widely-read public intellectuals currently writing about social, political, and economic issues and TCE dives into a central complex of issues surrounding the gravest and most massive challenge we face as a species, the fight against human-caused climate change. Her previous work in Shock Doctrine and related articles, is “must-read” if you want to understand the predatory nature of neoliberal elites, a feature of our current age which she at least popularized, if not discovered. Naomi Klein is also a leading activist on this and other issues, including her work with 350.org and help in co-planning the People’s Climate March in September of this year. The book is varied in content and focus, therefore the plan to write more than one review of the book, rather than write one very long one. As implied in the last sentence above, TCE is not tightly structured around her central argument, which shifts in its focus as well as in whom she is attempting to address. However what follows here is one, perhaps biased, overview of TCE’s main arguments.

Why two crucial pages were left out of the latest U.N. climate report - Last Sunday, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's leading authority on the science of global warming, released its latest "Synthesis Report." And it painted a pretty dire picture. Significant global warming, the report said, is already "irreversible" -- and if policymakers don't act, a dangerous 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warming threshold will be breached. That's a strong message -- but it might have been even stronger. You see, one of the report's more powerful sections wound up being left out during last minute negotiations over the text in Copenhagen. And it was a section that, among other matters, tried to specify other measures that would indicate whether we are entering a danger zone of profound climate impact, and just how dramatic emissions cuts will have to be in order to avoid crossing that threshold. This outcome -- and the divergent national views underlying it -- is a prelude to the political tensions we can expect at next month's mega climate change meeting in Lima, Peru, and then especially in Paris at the end of 2015, when governments will gather to try to negotiate a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The dropped section in question appeared in an August 25, 2014 draft of the synthesis report, but not in the final version. It was a box entitled "Information Relevant to Article 2 of the UNFCCC" or United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a global treaty signed in 1992-93 by over 160 nations of the world, including the United States. The box would have comprised two pages in the final report, and was worked on by a team of scientists for nearly three years, according to Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a Belgian climate researcher who is vice-chair of the IPCC.

There Should Be No More International Reports on Climate Science - The more things change, the more they stay the same. Scientists are in the news, warning about the dangers of escalating fossil fuel emissions:
  • “Emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing.”
  • “These increases will enhance the greenhouse effect, resulting on average in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface.”
  • “Continued emissions of these gases at present rates would commit us to increased concentrations for centuries ahead.”
  • “The longer emissions continue to increase at present day rates, the greater reductions would have to be for concentrations to stabilise at a given level.”
  • “The long-lived gases [like carbon dioxide] would require immediate reductions in emissions from human activities of over 60% to stabilise their concentrations at today’s levels.”
Only thing is, the above statements were written in 1990. Well, we all know what happened next: Greenhouse gases have continued to skyrocket (up 34 percent since 1990—above even the previous worst-case scenario), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections of rising temperatures have been exceptionally accurate, “irreversible” change is underway, and still the world has responded with a collective “meh.” On Sunday, the world’s best climate scientists were back at it, gathering in Copenhagen to deliver another report, the culmination of the most comprehensive study ever assembled on global warming. There’s no indication that this week’s report substantially changes the basics we knew back in 1990—though there have been huge advances over the past quarter-century in eliminating the remaining shreds of uncertainty in just how fast we’re screwing ourselves over.

Michael Mann Interview: Very Little “Burnable Carbon” In Our “Budget”; Emissions Ramp-down Must Start Now - One of my hats is as a climate interpreter to the interested lay person. I have something of a science background and can read the papers “in the original.” Another hat is as an occasional interviewer for Virtually Speaking. This month the two hats merged on the same head, and I got to interview the “Hockey Stick graph” climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann.  For this interview I focused on the basics:
  •  Can humans burn more carbon, create more emissions, and still stay below the IPCC’s “safe” +2°C warming target?
  •  Is the IPCC’s +2°C warming target truly “safe” at all?
  •  We’re already experiencing warming of about +1°C above the pre-industrial level. Even if we stop now, how much more is “in the pipeline,” guaranteed and unavoidable?
  •  How do we defeat the Big Money ogre that stands in our way?
And my personal favorite:
  •  Will the answer to global warming come from the “free market”?
The always-defended, sacred “free market” — as close to a religion as you’ll find in modern thought. I’ll have more about the nonexistent “free market” (you read that right) shortly. For now I want to present what Dr. Mann has to say. He was surprisingly plain-spoken, understands the urgency, and says so. I found the interview fascinating, and I hope you do as well.

NYT: U.S. and China Reach Deal on Climate Change in Secret Talks — China and the United States made common cause on Wednesday against the threat of climate change, staking out an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as a way to spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse gases. The landmark agreement, jointly announced here by President Obama and President Xi Jinping, includes new targets for carbon emissions reductions by the United States and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030. Administration officials said the agreement, which was worked out secretly between the United States and China over nine months and included a letter from Mr. Obama to Mr. Xi proposing a joint approach, could galvanize efforts to negotiate a new global climate agreement by 2015. It was the signature achievement of an unexpectedly productive two days of meetings between the leaders. Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi also agreed to a military accord designed to avert clashes between Chinese and American planes and warships in the tense waters off the Chinese coast, as well as an understanding to cut tariffs for technology products. A climate deal between China and the United States, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, is viewed as essential to concluding a new global accord. Unless Beijing and Washington can resolve their differences, climate experts say, few other countries will agree to mandatory cuts in emissions, and any meaningful worldwide pact will be likely to founder.

US and China strike deal on carbon cuts in push for global climate change pact --  The United States and China have unveiled a secretly negotiated deal to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025. The pledges in an agreement struck between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jingping, provide an important boost to international efforts to reach a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 at a United Nations meeting in Paris next year. China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its output by 2030 or earlier if possible. Previously China had only ever pledged to reduce the rapid rate of growth in its emissions. Now it has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-emission sources to 20% by 2030. The United States has pledged to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The European Union has already endorsed a binding 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030.

We Have A Deal: The U.S. And China Agree To Historic Emission Reduction Targets -- The United States and China, the world’s two biggest contributors to climate change, have struck a new, more ambitious deal to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping jointly announced the deal Wednesday morning, the New York Times reported. The agreement marked the culmination of nine months of quiet dialogue between the two countries, capped off in recent days by Obama’s visit to China.The pledge commits the U.S. to cut its emissions 26 28% below their 2005 levels by 2025. This builds on the current target of a 17% reduction below that baseline by 2020, and could actually double the pace of emission cuts set by that initial goal — from 1.2% a year to as high as 2.8% per year. The White House has actually been looking into the possibility of expanding beyond the 2020 target since 2013, and has been involved in occasional interagency meetings to that effect. For its part, China is committing to get 20% of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030, and to peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. China’s construction of renewable energy capacity is already proceeding at a furious pace, and this deal will require the country to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon energy by 2030. For comparison, 800-1,000 gigawatts is close to the amount of electricity the U.S. current generates from all sources combined.

Is the U.S.-China Climate Announcement as Big a Deal as It Seems? -- I am just now seeing the announcements from Beijing. The United States and China have apparently agreed to do what anyone who has thought seriously about climate has been hoping for, for years. As the No. 1 (now China) and No. 2 carbon emitters in the world, and as the No. 1 (still the U.S.) and No. 2 economies, they've agreed to new carbon-reduction targets that are more ambitious than most people would have expected.  We'll wait to see the details—including how an American president can make good on commitments for 2025, when that is two and possibly three presidencies into the future, and when in the here-and-now he faces congressional majorities that seem dead-set against recognizing this issue. It's quaint to think back on an America that could set ambitious long-term goals—creating Land-Grant universities, developing the Interstate Highway System, going to the moon—even though the president who proposed them realized that they could not be completed on his watch. But let's not waste time on nostalgia. Before we have all the details, here is the simple guide to why this could be very important.

US – Chinese Announcement on Climate Change -President Obama Announces Ambitious 2025 Target to Cut U.S. Climate Pollution by 26-28 Percent from 2005 Levels. Building on strong progress during the first six years of the Administration, today President Obama announced a new target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.  At the same time, President Xi Jinping of China announced targets to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030. Together, the U.S. and China account for over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Today’s joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change.  The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time.  These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.The new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025.  This ambitious target is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on the right trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050.  The Administration’s steady efforts to reduce emissions will deliver ever-larger carbon pollution reductions, public health improvements and consumer savings over time and provide a firm foundation to meet the new U.S. target.

The climate breakthrough in Beijing gives the world a fighting chance: Today’s US-China joint announcement on climate change and energy is the most important advance on the climate change agenda in many years. ... What they’ve said gives the world a fighting chance – and no doubt the last one – for climate safety. ...  An announcement is just an announcement, of course. .. The US and China have yet to put their cards on the table on how they intend to achieve deep decarbonization. ...  Not surprisingly, the incoming Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell piped up immediately that he and his colleagues would oppose the deal. No doubt they will try. Yet my guess is that Mr McConnell and his buddies are soon going to learn a lesson in real democracy.  While the fossil fuel lobby may have helped finance the Republican victories last week, the US public cares about its own survival and the world that their children will soon inherit. ... The Koch brothers may have bought some 44,000 paid ads this fall to help put favoured coal and oil candidates over the top, but they did not buy the souls of the American people, who by a large majority will be gratified today by the announcements from Beijing. ...

U.S.-China climate deal isn’t enough to avert effects of global warming, experts say -- Climate experts on Wednesday said the historic agreement between the United States and China to curb greenhouse gas emissions, though a major breakthrough, still will likely not move the world back into a climate safe zone that would avert the worst effects of global warming. According to the deal, the United States will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by up 28 percent below their 2005 level. It would do so by 2025. China, meanwhile, pledges to limit its fast-rising carbon dioxide emissions to the level reached in 2030 and no higher. It will also try to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuels sources by then, if not earlier. The agreement comes after another similar announcement recently by the European Union. EU members committed to reduce their collective emissions by 40 percent below their 1990 level. They are promising to do that by 2030. With Europe, China and the United States all pledging to take action, the world's three largest sources of emissions are for the first time working to significantly prevent the warming of the planet. "If China, the U.S., and the E.U .… got in a room, that's about 60 percent of global emissions right there,"... Despite the burst of activity, however, climate experts warn that even these ambitious efforts are unlikely -- without concerted further action -- to solve the world's climate challenges. On Wednesday, for example, a grim report released by the International Energy Agency suggested that the world is on track to pump so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2040 that it will cause irreparable harm to the planet's ecosystems.

China’s Climate Change Plan Raises Questions --  When the presidents of China and the United States pledged on Wednesday to reduce or limit carbon dioxide emissions, analysts and policy advisers said, the two leaders sent an important signal: that the world’s largest economies were willing to work together on climate change. “This is a very serious international commitment between the two heavy hitters,” said Li Shuo, who researches climate and coal policy for Greenpeace East Asia.  Still, many questions surround China’s plans, which President Xi Jinping announced in Beijing alongside President Obama after months of negotiations. In essence, experts asked, do the pledges go far enough, and how will China achieve them? Mr. Xi said China would brake the rapid rise in its carbon dioxide emissions, so that they peak “around 2030” and then remain steady or begin to decline. And by then, he promised, 20 percent of China’s energy will be renewable. Analysts said that achieving those goals would require sustained efforts by Beijing to curb the country’s addiction to coal and greatly increase its commitment to energy sources that do not depend on fossil fuels. Many scientists have said that 2030 may be too long to wait for China’s greenhouse gas emissions to stop growing, if the world is to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the preindustrial average. That goal was adopted by governments from around the world at talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Almost no country has done enough yet to reach that goal, but because of its size and industrial development, China is crucial to any effort to even come close. (So is the United States, which promised on Wednesday to emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon dioxide in 2025 than it did in 2005.)

Historic Hype Over Global Warming Agreement With China; CO2 vs. Death-by-Pollution --On Tuesday, China and US Struck Deal on Carbon Cuts in Push for Global Climate Pact.   In a New York Times Op-Ed, Secretary of State John Kerry reflected on Our Historic Agreement With China on Climate Change.  Agreement Summation:
  1. President Obama pledged to cut US carbon emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025
  2. China agreed to cap its emissions by 2030 (earlier if possible, but no guarantees)
  3. China will expand zero-emission sources to 20% by 2030.
Here is a little perspective on the agreement. Carbon Emissions by Country Under the agreement, the US needs to act now. China can delay for 5-10 years or more.  What will China's emissions be in 2030 by the time China's cap kicks in? Is this deal worth the accompanied hype? Some of the comments on the Guardian Live Blog are ridiculous. For example: "Today’s deal puts intense pressure on Australia to announce a target for post-2020 greenhouse gas reductions," Please look at the above map. Would it matter one iota if Australia cut emissions 20% by overnight? Heck, would it matter if Australia cut emissions to zero? From a carbon perspective the answer is no. Actually, I am all in favor of China reducing pollution. The sooner the better, but without so much hype over "global warming". China is literally killing hundreds-of-thousands of people each year with air and water pollution. Smog is so bad in China that discounting cultural issues and love of homeland, no one in their right mind would choose to live there if they had other options.

Why The U.S.-China CO2 Deal Is An Energy, Climate, And Political Gamechanger -- The historic new U.S.-China climate deal changes the trajectory of global carbon pollution emissions, greatly boosting the chances for a global deal in Paris in 2015. The deal would keep, cumulatively, some 640 billion tons of CO2 emissions out of the air this century, according to brand new analysis by Climate Interactive and MIT, using their C-ROADS model.  The U.S.-China deal is truly a gamechanger. In fact, you could make a strong case that prior to this deal, neither the U.S. or China were seriously in the game of trying to stave off climate catastrophe. Now both countries are. When you add the recent European Union (EU) pledge to cut total emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, we now have countries representing more than half of all global emissions making serious commitments — and that in turn puts pressure on every other country. If the developing countries were to all follow China’s lead, and the non-EU developed countries follow ours, a 2015 global deal would slash carbon pollution this century by a whopping 2500 billion tons of CO2 (see figure below).   The Chinese commitment to more than double carbon-free electricity generation is also a gamechanger. It guarantees that the recent explosive growth — and amazing price drops — experienced by renewables like solar and wind will continue for decades to come. And that means the long-predicted ascendance of carbon-free energy has now begun in earnest.  Finally, the political implications of this deal can’t be overstated. Conservatives have been attacking EPA climate standards as government over-reach that supposedly harms the U.S. economy, while assuring us over and over and over again that the world’s biggest polluter (China) won’t act. That attack has not merely been rendered impotent. Now efforts to stop EPA can clearly be seen for what they really are — an effort to kill any deal with China and stop the nations of the world from coming together to prevent catastrophic climate change.

When will China reverse its carbon emissions? -- No one knows for sure, you will find a brief survey of some estimates here.  Let’s start with a few simpler points, however. First, China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them.  This is only partially a matter of lying, in part the government literally does not have the ability to keep its word.  They have a great deal of coal capacity coming on-line and they can’t just turn that switch off.  They’re also driving more cars, too. Second, China falsifies estimates of the current level of air pollution, so as to make it look like the problem is improving when it is not.  Worse yet, during the APEC summit the Chinese government blocked the more or less correct estimates coming from U.S. Embassy data, which are usually transmitted through an app.   Third, a lot of the relevant Chinese regulatory apparatus is at the local not federal level (in fact it should be more centrally done, even if not fully federalized in every case).  There are plenty of current local laws against air pollution which are simply not enforced, often because of corruption, and often that pollution is emanating from locally well-connected, job-creating state-owned enterprises.   Fourth, if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues.  For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.  When will China cap carbon emissions?  “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate.  Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent.  How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions?  Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

How the Chinese view their own climate agreement -- Both sides put out their joint statement, the U.S. issuing it via the White House and China releasing it through the official Xinhua News Agency. But whereas one side gave it a high gloss, the other seemed to be trying to bury it under the rug. The top story on the website affiliated with the Communist Party flagship paper The People’s Daily was about Xi and Obama meeting the press  – but the article made no reference to the climate agreement. Other stories on the homepage touched on the climate statement but tended to relegate it to the latter half of the article, and omitted the American-style superlatives. The popular Beijing News, a state-run paper known for gently testing the editorial boundaries, also didn’t mention the climate deal in its Nov. 12 cover story on the APEC meeting that brought Obama to China. It focused instead on the meeting’s anti-corruption accord and progress on plans for a pan-Asian free trade zone spearheaded by China.  Here is one reason why:  Beijing is under fire domestically for its unsuccessful efforts to curb local air pollution, noting that people were furious that authorities managed to clear the air for the visiting APEC dignitaries but can’t do it on a daily basis for their own citizens. ” There may be worries that focusing on climate change rather than air pollution doesn’t meet the public’s main concerns,” Seligsohn said via email.  That is all from a good piece by Alexa Olesen at Foreign Policy.

Top GOP Lawmakers Denounce U.S.-China Climate Deal -- Top Republicans in Congress railed against the U.S.-China climate deal reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Beijing.   GOP leaders in both the House and Senate accused President Barack Obama of ignoring the will of the voters, circumventing Congress and cutting a deal with an unreliable foreign partner that will raise the cost of energy for millions of Americans. “The American people spoke against the president’s climate policies in this last election. They want affordable energy and more economic opportunity, both which are being diminished by overbearing EPA mandates,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) said in a statement, calling the deal “a non-binding charade.”Mr. Inhofe, the likely chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a longtime skeptic of the science on global warming, vowed to use his perch in Congress to restrain the administration on energy and climate policy. In the midst of a weeklong swing across Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Obama announced the climate deal in a joint appearance on Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  The deal includes major commitments from both countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) accused Mr. Obama of taking unilateral action that would significantly impact energy prices and affect jobs and the economy.  “This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” said Mr. McConnell, who accused the president of waging a “war on coal” that will increase energy prices for middle-class Americans.

Senate Republicans Vow To Dismantle Carbon Emissions Rules - Just days after the midterm elections, Republicans are picking the big targets at which to aim their new majorities, and the federal effort to cut carbon emissions is one of them. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled regulations cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new and existing power plants, respectively. President Obama has laid out a plan to honor the United States’ international commitment to reduce its GHG emissions 17 percent below their 2005 levels by 2020, and those two regulations form the core of that effort.  They also appear to be near the top of the list of things the Republicans’ wish to dismantle, once they come into Congress in January with a newly-solidified grip on the House of Representatives and a new majority in the Senate.  On Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who will likely become Senate Majority Leader when the new Congress enters in January — said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop the power plant regulations, and that his top priority will be “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.” Then on Sunday morning, newly-minted Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace that she will be “extremely aggressive” in her attempts to roll back the EPA rules. “The president’s policies are disenfranchising my part of the country,” Capito continued. “We’ve been picked as a loser, and I’m not going to stand for it. Rolling back the EPA regulations is the way to do it.”

China Deals - Paul Krugman --I wish that I believed that logic and reason played any role in the politics of climate change. Because if I did, the news of the US-China deal on carbon emissions would be a moment for sudden new optimism. After all, one of the main arguments the usual suspects make against action — after arguing that it’s all a gigantic hoax, any limits on emissions will destroy the economy, and liberals are ugly — is that nothing the US does can matter, because China will just keep on emitting. Some of us have long argued that this is way too pessimistic — that the advanced countries, if they are willing to limit their own emissions, can have a lot of leverage via the threat of carbon tariffs. But now China is showing itself willing to deal even without that. So you could say that a major prop of the anti-climate-action campaign has just been knocked away. But as I said, it probably won’t matter; they’ll just come up with another excuse.

U.S.-China Climate Deal Another Blow To Big Coal  -- The agreement between the U.S. and China to significantly cut their carbon emissions likely represents another blow to Big Coal and its hopes of overcoming a decline in its share of the U.S. energy market with a surge in exports to Asia.  China is the 800-pound gorilla in the international market for thermal coal, and its pledge to get 20 percent of its electrical power from renewable sources by 2030 and to hit its peak greenhouse gas emissions the same year will have big implications for coal producers in Australia and the United States.   “This announcement raises the financial risks for coal exporters,” said Clark Williams-Derry, deputy director of the Sightline Institute, a Seattle nonprofit research center, in an email. “It will make it even harder for them to raise the capital that would be required to build massive coal terminals in the Pacific Northwest.”  Noting that the coal industry has frequently asserted that developing economies will be a growth area for coal, Ross Macfarlane, who directs the business partnership program at Climate Solutions, said “that story is no longer reflecting reality.”  The carbon emissions announcement comes on the heels of a recent decision by China to once again impose an import tax on foreign coal. At the same time, China has been modernizing its own coal industry, and importing less this year, with imports down nearly 8% through the first 10 months of 2014.

China, Coal, Climate, by Paul Krugman -It’s easy to be cynical about summit meetings. Often they’re just photo ops, and the photos from the latest Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, which had world leaders looking remarkably like the cast of “Star Trek,” were especially cringe-worthy. At best — almost always — they’re just occasions to formally announce agreements already worked out by lower-level officials. Once in a while, however, something really important emerges. And this is one of those times: The agreement between China and the United States on carbon emissions is, in fact, a big deal. To understand why, you first have to understand the defense in depth that fossil-fuel interests and their loyal servants — nowadays including the entire Republican Party — have erected against any action to save the planet.The first line of defense is denial: there is no climate change; it’s a hoax concocted by a cabal including thousands of scientists around the world. ... Indeed, some elected officials have done all they can to pursue witch hunts against climate scientists. The second line of defense involves economic scare tactics: any attempt to limit emissions will destroy jobs and end growth. ... Like claims of a vast conspiracy of scientists, however, the economic disaster argument has limited traction beyond the right-wing base. ... Which brings us to the last line of defense, claims that America can’t do anything about global warming, because other countries, China in particular, will just keep on spewing out greenhouse gases. ... But ... China has declared its intention to limit carbon emissions. ...But the principle that has just been established is a very important one. Until now, those of us who argued that China could be induced to join an international climate agreement were speculating. Now we have the Chinese saying that they are, indeed, willing to deal — and the opponents of action have to claim that they don’t mean what they say.

Post climate pact, IEA warns fossil fuel trends dire -- The odds that any climate change agreement among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters will succeed became a little greater on Tuesday as China and the U.S. committed to slash carbon pollution in the coming decades.It was a critical move because the world’s thirst for fossil fuels continues unabated even as wind, solar and other low-carbon energy sources are coming into their prime.That message was hammered home a day after the pact was struck in the form of a dire warning from the International Energy Agency in its annual World Energy Outlook, which was released on Wednesday. The IEA said the U.S., China and the rest of the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitters are going to have to do a lot to put the brakes on climate change because the globe is still hooked on fossil fuels, and there’s little indication that will change much over the next 25 years.Conservation efforts and more use of wind and solar power probably won’t slash emissions quickly enough to keep catastrophic consequences of climate change from happening even if renewables overtake coal as the leading source of electricity by 2040, which the IEA sees as one possible scenario.The IEA did not account for any greenhouse gas emissions cuts that could come from the deal struck between the U.S. and China on Tuesday.The agency sees global energy demand growing by 37 percent and carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels increasing by one-fifth between now and 2040 mostly because of crude oil and coal burning in Asian countries and Africa. That increase in CO2 emissions will make it extraordinarily difficult to avoid the dangerous consequences from global warming outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest assessment, the IEA warns.

Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion Subsidies Hurt Renewables -- Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said. Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in incentives for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook. The findings highlight the policy shift needed to limit global warming, which the IEA said is on track to increase the world’s temperature by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That level would increase the risks of damaging storms, droughts and rising sea levels. “The huge subsidies fossil fuels enjoy worldwide gives incentives to their consumption, which means that I’m paying you to pollute the world and use energy inefficiently,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, said at a news conference in London today. Renewable use in electricity generation is on the rise and will account for almost half the global increase in generation by 2040, according to the report. It said about 7,200 gigawatts of generating capacity needs to be built in that period to keep pace with rising demand and replace aging power stations.

Exclusive: Controversial U.S. energy loan program has wiped out losses (Reuters) - The controversial government program that funded failed solar company Solyndra, and became a lighting rod in the 2012 presidential election, is officially in the black. According to a report by the Department of Energy, interest payments to the government from projects funded by the Loan Programs Office were $810 million as of September - higher than the $780 million in losses from loans it sustained from startups including Fisker Automotive, Abound Solar and Solyndra, which went bankrupt after receiving large government loans intended to help them bring their advanced green technologies to market. The report's findings are more of a political victory than a financial one. It took the program three years to break even after Solyndra's failure, while during that same time the Standard & Poor's 500 index increased 67 percent. Still, the federal loans program is a success for taxpayers, judging by the numbers in the new report, the DOE said. After Solyndra's 2011 collapse, the program was sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers as a waste of public money and a fountain of cronyism. The outcries mounted as others in the program failed, and the DOE issued no new loans between late 2011 and this year. "Taxpayers are not only benefiting from some of the world's most innovative energy projects... but these projects are making good on their loan repayments,"

Denmark Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy - Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well.Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal?Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous.Their policy is similar to that of neighboring Germany, which has spent tens of billions pursuing wind and solar power, and is likely to hit 30 percent renewable power on the electric grid this year. But Denmark, at the bleeding edge of global climate policy, is in certain ways the more interesting case. The 5.6 million Danes have pushed harder than the Germans, they have gotten further — and they are reaching the point where the problems with the energy transition can no longer be papered over. The trouble, if it can be called that, is that renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed. That is potentially a huge benefit in the long run. But as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day. That can render conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

Japan's nuclear cleanup stymied by water woes - More than three years into the massive cleanup of Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant, only a tiny fraction of the workers are focused on key tasks such as preparing for the dismantling of the broken reactors and removing radioactive fuel rods. Instead, nearly all the workers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant are devoted to an enormously distracting problem: a still-growing amount of contaminated water used to keep the damaged reactors from overheating. The amount has been swelled further by groundwater entering the reactor buildings. Hundreds of huge blue and gray tanks to store the radioactive water, and buildings holding water treatment equipment are rapidly taking over the plant, where the cores of three reactors melted following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Workers were building more tanks during a visit to the complex Wednesday by foreign media, including The Associated Press. "The contaminated water is a most pressing issue that we must tackle. There is no doubt about that," said Akira Ono, head of the plant. "Our effort to mitigate the problem is at its peak now. Though I cannot say exactly when, I hope things start getting better when the measures start taking effect."  The work threatens to exhaust the supply of workers for other tasks, since employees must stop working when they reach annual radiation exposure limits. Experts say it is crucial to reduce the amount and radioactivity of the contaminated water to decrease the risk of exposure to workers and the environmental impact before the decommissioning work gets closer to the highly contaminated core areas.

Sunken Soviet Submarines Threaten Nuclear Catastrophe in Russia's Arctic - Moscow Times: While Russia's nuclear bombers have recently set the West abuzz by probing NATO's air defenses, a far more certain danger currently lurks beneath the frigid Arctic waters off Russia's northern coast — a toxic boneyard for Soviet nuclear ships and reactors whose containment systems are gradually wearing out. Left to decay at the bottom of the ocean, the world is facing a worst case scenario described as "an Arctic underwater Chernobyl, played out in slow motion," according to Thomas Nilsen, an editor at the Barents Observer newspaper and a member of a Norwegian watchdog group that monitors the situation. According to a joint Russian-Norwegian report issued in 2012, there are 17,000 containers of nuclear waste, 19 rusting Soviet nuclear ships and 14 nuclear reactors cut out of atomic vessels at the bottom of the Kara Sea. When the Soviets first began dumping the spent nuclear fuel, the disposal method was standard practice across the globe.  "Most nuclear states had similar practices before the early 1970s," including the U.S. navy,   But while other nations abandoned the practice of dumping radioactive waste at sea, the Soviet Union continued to do so until its collapse in 1991, and  did so in larger volumes than other nuclear powers.

GOP Has Big Plans For Energy, But Are The Numbers Right? -- It’s no secret that Republicans will look to strike quickly on the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. Phases one through three are complete and the pipeline already stretches from Hardisty, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas. The controversial fourth and final phase will nearly double the initial capacity and will connect the oil sands in Alberta with North Dakota’s own rich reserves en route to Steele City, Nebraska. Political will has largely misshapen the debate, however. Producers have long given up waiting and oil is finding its – more carbon intensive – way to American refiners via barge and train. Oil sands production in Canada appears ready to grow with or without President Obama’s approval, but simple math debunks claims that the pipeline is the path toward North American energy independence. Current combined oil production in Canada and the United States is 15.6 million barrels per day (mmbpd). Combined consumption is 20.8 mmbpd, leaving a deficit of roughly 5 mmbpd that must be sourced externally. Despite its prominence on the Republican agenda, the Keystone XL is little more than a stepping-stone to larger issues for the newly empowered GOP. Energy exports, coal, and EPA regulations will highlight the docket. The case for energy exports will gain momentum as Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski assumes leadership of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski brings to her new role vocal support for oil and gas exports in addition to onshore and offshore drilling in Alaska. Murkowski and the GOP argue that lifting the ban on oil exports will contributeto an increase in oil production, economic growth, and lower gasoline prices. Similar arguments are made for liquefied natural gas exports (LNG), which provide the added geopolitical bonus of easing European dependence on Russian piped gas. The net numbers do not change however, and our production to consumption deficit ensures that any exports must be compensated by corresponding imports. Regarding LNG, the math again doesn’t add up.

Here We Go Again: The Polluters and Poisoners Gear Up for the Next Congress --  Twenty years ago, the radical wing of the Republican Party announced its “Contract With America,” a set of policies and actions Rep. Newt Gingrich and his caucus pledged to accomplish if they were elected to a majority in Congress. Gingrich’s early battles ultimately ended in victory for the public and for the environmental and consumer protections he wanted to undo. Gingrich’s bills were made worse as they moved through committee and were amended in the House and Senate, finally resulting in what one senior Republican Senate staffer called “a revolution”—a system that would allow any corporation to escape enforcement through legal or procedural loopholes. Every regulation would be effectively voluntary, and the polluters and producers of unsafe products would have nothing to fear from the EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, OSHA, or any other regulatory agency. The vehicle for this revolution was one of the first bills considered and passed in the House in 1995, “The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act.” Its goal was to subject federal regulations—regardless of statutory mandates to the contrary—to new risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis requirements and to create multiple opportunities for businesses to block federal rules and interfere with their enforcement. Big chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers didn’t want clean water laws interfering with their profits, the meat industry wanted to prevent new rules about bacteria and contamination, and construction companies didn’t want to have to comply with new workplace safety standards. The legislation would have stopped new rules in their tracks.

Trading Oil For Coal -  The environment could again be on the agenda. As with on tax reform and trade agreements, Republicans feel there’s a chance for agreement with President Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline: John Boehner and Mitch McConnell specifically called for its construction in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday. The northern leg of the pipeline, which would carry more than 800,000 barrels a day of carbon-heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands to Nebraska (before it heads for the Gulf Coast), has been held up for years by political and environmental concerns. Because it would cross the border from Canada, the pipeline requires a permit from the State Department. The energy company TransCanada first applied for a permit in 2008; in 2012, before the elections and after Congress set a tight deadline, Obama rejected the $8 billion project. But TransCanada reworked the application and the State Department completed its environmental review. Technically, Secretary of State John Kerry will make the call as to whether the pipeline is in the “national interest,” and Obama says it’s an “independent process” that he’s going to allow to play out, but it’s hard to imagine President Obama not having the final say on an issue of such political and policy significance. Some legislators want to wrest that decision away. The House has previously voted to approve the pipeline over the president’s head. In May, Harry Reid actually offered Republicans a vote on a stand-alone Keystone bill if they passed a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill. Republicans demanded amendments on increasing liquefied natural-gas exports, Reid shut them down, and Republicans blocked the bill in another example of the procedural battles that have plagued the Senate for most of Obama’s presidency.

Depression-Level Collapse In Demand: In Historic First, Glencore Shuts Coal Mines For 3 Weeks -- In a historic move showing just how profound the collapse in global commodity demand and trade is, earlier today the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australia's biggest coal exporter Glencore, which last year concluded its merger with miner Xstrata creating the world's fourth largest mining company and world's biggest commodity trader, will suspend its Australian coal business for three weeks "in a move never before seen in the Australian market, to avoid pumping tonnes into a heavily oversupplied market at depressed prices." Putting this shocking move in context, it is something that was avoided even during the depths of the global depression in the aftermath of Lehman's collapse, and takes place at a time when the punditry will have you believe that the US will decouple from the rest of the world and grow at 3% in the current quarter and in 2015.

BREAKING: West Virginia Coal Boss Indicted --  Don Blankenship, the former chief executive of Massey Energy, was indicted on Thursday afternoon for charges relating to the April 2010 Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners. The worst mining disaster in decades, the methane-fueled blast killed miners over a mile away. Blankenship, who retired from the company less than a year after the disaster, has previously denied wrongdoing. The indictment charges that he violated federal mine safety laws and alleges that he caused routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Upper Big Branch during a period from Jan. 1, 2008, to April 9, 2010, according to a notice sent to the families as reported by the Charleston Gazette. The indictment further alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was “part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties” by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed. Earlier this year U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II told ABC News that his office has been methodically going “up the line, and consistently so” in assessing whether conduct by mine operators may have led to the explosion. “What we have seen is a conspiracy to violate mine safety and health laws,” Goodwin said. “And that conspiracy was very pervasive.”

Longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship indicted: Don Blankenship, the longtime chief executive officer of Massey Energy, was indicted Thursday on charges that he orchestrated the routine violation of key federal mine safety rules at the company’s Upper Big Branch Mine prior to an April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. A federal grand jury in Charleston charged Blankenship with conspiring to cause willful violations of ventilation requirements and coal-dust control rules — meant to prevent deadly mine blasts —during a 15-month period prior to the worst coal-mining disaster in a generation. The four-count indictment, filed in U.S. District Court, also alleges that Blankenship led a conspiracy to cover up mine safety violations and hinder federal enforcement efforts by providing advance warning of government inspections. “Blankenship knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing,” the indictment states. “Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.” The indictment also alleges that, after the explosion, Blankenship made false statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the investing public about Massey’s safety practices before the explosion. The three felonies and one misdemeanor carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years imprisonment, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a prepared statement. He would not comment beyond the prepared statement.