Blog Archive

Sunday, October 12, 2014

rjs: climate and environmental news for October 12, 2014

by rjs, bless him, October 12, 2014

New Experimental GE Wheat Contamination in Montana Puts Wheat Farmers at Risk --The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that experimental genetically engineered (GE) wheat was discovered in July, 2014 at a  Montana research facility that has not legally grown the variety since 2003. “Once again, USDA and the biotech industry have put farmers and the food supply at risk,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “Coexistence between GE and non-GE crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work. Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country.” In the same announcement, USDA closed its investigation into a May, 2013 GE wheat contamination episode in Oregon without any explanation for the incident. That contamination episode led to closures of vital export markets and a class action lawsuit against Monsanto by wheat farmers. “Just as USDA closes one fruitless investigation, it tries to bury the story of yet another contamination. USDA cannot keep treating these as isolated incidents; contamination is the inevitable outcome of GE crop technology,” said Kimbrell. “It’s time for Congress to take definitive action.” Monsanto is currently in the process of settling a class action lawsuit brought by wheat farmers impacted by the Oregon contamination episode, which forced exports to several Asian and European markets to be suspended and cost farmers millions of dollars. USDA records reveal that Monsanto has conducted 279 field tests of herbicide-resistant wheat on over 4,000 acres in 17 states since 1994. Monsanto has received at least 35 notices of noncompliance from 2010 through 2013, more than any other company.

A hard look at corn economics — and world hunger | The corn harvest is coming in, and great weather has produced a record crop. This is terrible news for farmers: Oversupply means cratering prices. If that sounds like a paradox, consider this: Corn, the biggest crop in our agricultural powerhouse of a nation, is not a foodstuff. It’s a highly refined industrial material—more like aluminum than apples. And a hard look at corn economics puts world hunger in a different light. Let's start at an ethanol plant: Lincolnway Energy, in Nevada, Iowa. CEO and President Erik Hakmiller is our guide. The plant includes several big buildings, lots of loud noises... and some unexpected smells. One is hard to place at first. "What you smell is residual carbon dioxide, and a cooking— very much like a bakery smell," says Hakmiller. Then Hakmiller opens the door to a giant building with a corrugated metal roof. It’s a barn. Inside are these golden mountains—piled-up flakes of grain. For every bushel of corn that comes to Lincolnway Energy, only a third comes out as ethanol. Another third comes out as carbon dioxide, which goes into soda pop. The rest—the fat, fiber and protein—ends up on one of these piles. "Each pile being about a thousand tons."

FAO: Global Food Price Index is Down Again - Big Picture Agriculture: -- A very reassuring new Food Outlook Report has just been released by the FAO. If we were to go back over the past five years and review all of the sensationalist headlines proclaiming that food production in the world is headed downwards and far-more-than-that drama predicting assured gloom and doom, we would see that many fear-mongers got it very wrong. The world on average has surpluses of food right now. Weather was quite good all around for the globe’s wheat crop so that 2014 will set a new high record. Strong prices pushed a rebound in corn production to make up for the recent large policy-induced demand for corn coming from the U.S. The Midwestern United States didn’t experience a multi-year drought as many predicted in 2012. And climate change is not as of yet affecting our global food supply in a significantly negative way. The graphs below show us the remarkably positive state of the world for food and agricultural production.

Here's Why We Haven't Quite Figured Out How to Feed Billions More People -- When famine loomed in Mexico and southern Asia in the mid-20th century, agricultural crop researchers saved the day. Scientists at Mexico's International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Philippines's International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) came up with new, high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice that raised harvests and kept starvation at bay.  That major advancement in crop production—financed with money from governments and the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations—increased yields of cereal grains by using improved crop seeds, irrigation systems, synthetic fertilizer, and pesticides. Led by American agronomist Norman Borlaug, this movement became known as the Green Revolution.  Most increases in agricultural production during the past half century have come from that type of innovation: boosting crop and livestock yields on land that already was being used for agriculture. Studies indicate that this growth in productivity has stemmed largely from investments in agricultural research. But yield improvements have slowed during the past 20 years, and public spending on agricultural research in developed nations such as the United States and those in Europe has flattened. That's a daunting combination at a time when the world's population is soaring toward 11 billion by 2100 and when several parts of the world—from California's Central Valley to Brazil's southern region around São Paolo—are suffering through history-making droughts that have emptied reservoirs and damaged crops. More than 400,000 acres of food-growing lands have been left fallow in California.

Trying to Talk Sense About Demography | naked capitalism - Yves here. This post on demography is consistent with the view of a large segment of the Naked Capitalism commentariat, namely, that pro-growth policies fail to acknowledge pressures on resources, like potable water and oil, and therefore policymakers and economists need to focus much more attention on the question of how to organize a low-growth society. Note that I am not completely convinced of this view. Most of the ways we organize human enterprise are terribly wasteful, from the failure to maintain municipal water systems well (which results in leakage estimated at a typical 20% to 30% loss level), to a lack of willingness to provide incentives to move away from car-dependent suburban living, to too many people eating too much food high up on the food chain. But even allowing for the fact that it would be conceivable, say over a generation or two, to move towards much less resource-intensive lifestyles, we face a more basic conundrum: there are just too many people on the planet, and those who live in developing economies want to live a much more environmentally costly first world lifestyle. To put it more tersely: if you acknowledge the economic and resource implications of demography, you need to favor no or few child policies. But that remains a third rail in politics and economics.  This article, in a somewhat gingerly manner, broaches the notion that no or negative demographic growth would be a good thing. The issue that he does not address is that aside from instinctive and social/cultural pressures to have children is that children also remain the best, if imperfect, social safety net for elderly people. The restructuring of society, with weaker community ties and the need to be willing to relocate to find work, fewer and fewer children are in a position to do much for their aging parents if they aren’t in the same community, and moving back is often too risky to undertake (if you are in your 50s and have what looks like a viable job, tossing that to help your parents is a choice many could not make even if they wanted to).

Should we upgrade photosynthesis and grow supercrops? -- PLANTS are badly out of date. They gained their photosynthetic machinery in one fell swoop a billion years ago, by enslaving bacteria that had the ability to convert sunlight into chemical energy. Plants went on to conquer the land and green the earth, but they also became victims of their own early success. Their enslaved cyanobacteria have had little scope to evolve, meaning plants can struggle to cope as the atmosphere changes. The free-living relatives of those bacteria, however, have been able to evolve unfettered. Their photosynthetic machinery is faster and more efficient, allowing them to capture more of the sun's energy. Scientists have long dreamed of upgrading crop plants with the better photosynthetic machinery of free-living cyanobacteria. Until recently all attempts had failed, but now they've taken a huge step forward. A joint team from Cornell University in New York and Rothamsted Research in the UK has successfully replaced a key enzyme in tobacco plants with a faster version from a cyanobacterium (Nature, Vol. 513, p. 547).  Their success promises huge gains in agricultural productivity – but is likely to become controversial as people wake up to the implications. The enzyme in question is called RuBisCo, which catalyses the reaction that "fixes" carbon dioxide from the air to make into sugars. It is the most important enzyme in the world – almost all living things rely on it for food. But it is incredibly slow, catalysing only about three reactions per second. A typical enzyme gets through tens of thousands. It is also wasteful. RuBisCo evolved at a time when the atmosphere was rich in CO2 but devoid of oxygen. Now there's lots of oxygen and relatively little CO2, and and RuBisCo has a habit of mistaking oxygen for CO2, which wastes large amounts of energy.

Michael Perelman: Globalization, “Free Trade,” and Food as a Strategic Weapon - naked capitalism Yves here. Michael Perelman gave a wide-ranging talk in Ankara called the Anarchy of Globalization which focused on the local impact of globalization. The presentation was wide-ranging and included a discussion of the evolution of usage and theoretical concerns. We've extracted a section below, on the role of "free trade" agreements and one of their not-widely-recognized side effects, that of weakening food security. The case study is Mexico.

California’s Drought Is So Bad, Even Its Hydropower Is Drying Up --California’s ability to produce renewable energy from hydroelectric dams has been significantly hampered over the last few years because of an increasingly severe and widespread drought, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Monday.  The drought, which began in 2011 and is now covering 100% of the state, is drying up the reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams. The reservoirs create power when the force of the water in them is released onto turbines. When there is less water, there is also less pressure to spin those turbines, thereby decreasing the amount of renewable electricity that can be produced.  Hydroelectric power used to account for 20% of California’s in-state electricity generation for the first 6 months of each year from 2004 until 2013, the EIA said. But during the first 6 months of 2014, hydropower generation was halved, making up only 10% of California’s in-state electricity generation.  To make up for the shortage of hydropower, California also increased its use of natural gas by 3% over the first 6 months of 2014, according to the EIA. Partially because of the length of the drought, California’s natural gas use has increased by 16% overall in the last 10 years, the EIA said.

California Drought Cuts Hydroelectric Generation in Half » The prolonged drought in California, now entering its fourth year, has altered the state’s mix of energy generation sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). That’s mixed news for those pushing for more reliance on renewables and less on fossil fuels. The EIA issued a report yesterday that showed that, with the state’s reservoirs currently at 42% of their normal levels for this time of year, the ability of hydroelectric dams to produce power has been cut in half. The dams, which normally produce about 20% of the state’s power, are now producing only 10 percent. With hydro power production at a 10-year low, reliance on natural gas hit a 10-year high. That’s not good news, since fracking for natural gas requires copious amounts of water and has stirred up opposition in the state. (While most fracking in California is for oil, it also sits on large natural gas reserves.) According to the EIA, “In California, natural gas-fired capacity is often used to help offset lower levels of generation from hydropower facilities. The chart below shows how this inverse relationship can work: when monthly hydropower generation dips under 10-year average levels, monthly natural gas generation often rises above its 10-year average in response. From January through June of 2014, natural gas generation in California was percent higher compared to the same period in 2013 and 16% higher compared to the January-June average from the previous 10 years.”

"Nobody Has Any Idea How Disastrous It's Going To Be" Warns California Water Expert -- Newly released images created from NASA satellite data illustrate the staggering effect the California drought has had on groundwater supply in the state. As Mashable's Patrick Kulp explains, the images show the amount of water lost over the past 12 years, with different colors indicating severity over time. “Nobody has any idea how disastrous it’s going to be,” Mike Wade of California Farm Water Coalition told the Associated Press, as RT reports a growing number of communities in central and northern California could end up without water in 60 days due to the Golden state’s prolonged drought. While California is bearing the brunt, experts note "We're seeing it happening all over the world, in most of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world."

California drought and climate warming: Studies find no clear link - Global warming contributed to extreme heat waves in many parts of the world last year, but cannot be definitively linked to the California drought, according to a report released Monday. The third annual analysis of extreme weather events underscored the continuing difficulty of teasing out the influence of human-caused climate change on precipitation patterns. One of three studies examining the California drought in 2013 found that the kind of high-pressure systems that blocked winter storms last year have increased with global warming. But another study concluded that a long-term rise in sea surface temperatures in the western Pacific did not contribute substantially to the drought. And researchers noted that California precipitation since 1895 has "exhibited no appreciable downward trend." Overall, the report editors concluded that the papers didn't demonstrate that global warming clearly influenced the drought, which is one of the worst in the state record.

Scientists say greenhouse gases most likely worsen California drought: (Reuters) - California's catastrophic drought has most likely been made worse by man-made climate change, according to a report released Monday by Stanford University, but scientists are still hesitant to fully blame the lack of rain on climate change. The research, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society as part of a collection of reports on extreme weather events in 2013, is one of the most comprehensive studies linking climate change and California's ongoing drought, which has caused billions of dollars in economic damage. The report found that high-pressure ridges like the one that stubbornly parked itself over the Pacific Ocean for the past two winters, blocking storms from hitting California, are much more likely to form in the presence of man-made greenhouse gases. The ridge, dubbed the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge by researchers, or "Triple R," parched the state during the past two rainy seasons. "You can visualize it as a fairly large boulder in a small stream," said Daniel Swain, a lead author on the report, which said the phenomenon has caused storms to bypass not only California but also Oregon and Washington, pushing rain as far north as the Arctic Circle. Using climate model simulations, the researchers found that "Triple-R" events are three times more likely to occur today than in preindustrial climates.

South-North Water Scarcity Engineering Projects in China | Big Picture Agriculture: One of the regions of the world which has a worrisome level of water scarcity is northern China, including its capital city of Beijing, a city with a population of over 21 million people. The World Bank’s definition of a water scarce region is 35,300 cubic feet of fresh water per person, per year. Each Beijing resident has about 15% of that amount and 11 of China’s 31 provinces are dryer than this. Northern China has only a fifth of the country’s fresh water but two-thirds of its farmland. Seventy percent of northern China’s water is used for agriculture to produce crops such as corn and wheat. Groundwater levels are plummeting because of un-tariffed extraction by farmers and urbanites and groundwater is also becoming contaminated. Thousands of rivers have disappeared in the region due to overuse for grain production, and for highly inefficient use in industry. Much of the river water that is left is too polluted even for industrial use. A 2009 report revealed that half of the water in 7 main Chinese rivers was unfit for human consumption. Northern China is arid and southern China is water-rich, so the Chinese government’s “fix” attempt has been throwing tens of billions of dollars towards water engineering projects to get water moved from south to north across the country. The first of three phases, the Eastern Route, was completed last year. In that project, China’s 1,400-year-old Grand Canal was expanded with concrete to move water from the Yangzi river basin towards the port city of Tianjin.

The world is warming faster than we thought - It's worse than we thought. Scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate. Comparisons of direct measurements with satellite data and climate models suggest that the oceans of the southern hemisphere have been sucking up more than twice as much of the heat trapped by our excess greenhouse gases than previously calculated. This means we may have underestimated the extent to which our world has been warming. Paul Durack from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in the US and colleagues have compared direct and inferred sea temperature measurements with the results of climate models. While these three types of measurements together suggest that our estimates of northern hemisphere ocean warming are about right, a different story emerged for down south. The team estimate that the extent of warming in the southern hemisphere oceans since 1970 could be more than twice what has been inferred from the limited direct measurements we have for this region. This means that together, all the world's oceans are absorbing between 24 and 58% more energy than has previously been estimated by direct, in situ measurements.

Scientists speed up analysis of human link to wild weather: - Climate scientists hope to be able to tell the world almost in real-time whether global warming has a hand in extreme weather thanks to an initiative they plan to launch by the end of 2015. In recent years, scientists have become more adept at working out whether climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is exacerbating wild weather and its impacts around the world, but the task usually takes months. "In the media, we are seeing this notion that you cannot attribute any individual events to climate change, but in fact the science has really evolved over the past decade," said Heidi Cullen, chief scientist with Climate Central. The U.S.-based non-profit science journalism organisation is leading the initiative to speed up that analysis alongside the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, scientists at Oxford University, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and others.  A review of 16 major weather events in 2013, released on Monday, found that human-caused climate change clearly increased the severity and likelihood of five heatwaves studied - including in Australia, Japan and China. For other events like droughts, heavy rain and storms, pinning down the influence of human activity was more challenging, the researchers said. 

The Ocean’s Surface Layer Has Been Warming Much Faster Than Previously Thought - Surface layers of the ocean have been warming significantly faster than previous estimates had projected, according to a new study. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that the upper 700 meters (about 2,296 feet) of the ocean have been warming 24 to 55 percent faster since 1970 than previously thought. This difference in estimations is likely due to “poor sampling” of ocean temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere, the study notes. If estimations for temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere are readjusted to fit better with climate models, they increase, the scientists found. “It’s likely that due to the poor observational coverage, we just haven’t been able to say definitively what the long-term rate of Southern Hemisphere ocean warming has been,” lead author of the study Paul Durack told the BBC. “It’s a really pressing problem — we’re trying as hard as we can, as scientists, to provide the best information from the limited observations we have.”  

Meanwhile, temperatures in the deep ocean didn’t increase significantly between 2005 and 2013, according to another study in Nature Climate Change. Both studies noted gaps in data, however, which made uncertainties in temperature estimates more likely. As Science Magazine points out, most ocean temperature readings are collected by buoys that only account for the ocean’s upper 2,000 meters (6,561 feet). With the average depth of the ocean at 4,300 meters (14,107 feet), those buoys are likely missing significant data collection on ocean warming.

Oceans Getting Hotter Than Anybody Realized --Under an international program begun in 2000, and that started producing useful global data in 2005, the world’s warming and acidifying seas have been invisibly filled with thousands of these bobbing instruments. They are gathering and transmitting data that’s providing scientists with the clearest-ever pictures of the hitherto-unfathomed extent of ocean warming. About 90 percent of global warming is ending up not on land, but in the oceans. Research published Sunday concluded that the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought. Gathering reliable ocean data in the Southern Hemisphere has historically been a challenge, given its remoteness and its relative paucity of commercial shipping, which helps gather ocean data. Argo floats and satellites are now helping to plug Austral ocean data gaps, and improving the accuracy of Northern Hemisphere measurements and estimates. “The Argo data is really critical,” said Paul Durack, a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researcher who led the new study, which was published in Nature Climate Change. “The estimates that we had up until now have been pretty systematically underestimating the likely changes.” Durack and Lawrence Livermore colleagues worked with a Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist to compare ocean observations with ocean models. They concluded that the upper levels of the planet’s oceans — those of the northern and southern hemispheres combined — had been warming during several decades prior to 2005 at rates that were 24 to 58% faster than had previously been realized.

A Gulf in Ocean Knowledge - Scientists probably have significantly underestimated how much the world’s oceans have warmed since the 1970s, according to a new study. The finding may force researchers to revise their gauges of some climate change effects, including the rate of sea-level rise.The study, by Paul J. Durack of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and others, found that the underestimation was the result of decades of spotty sampling of water temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere, home to three-fifths of the world’s oceans. Until 2004, when a worldwide system of autonomous floats, called Argo, became operational, there were relatively few temperature measurements south of the Equator. While atmospheric warming because of the trapping of heat by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has most of the public’s attention, the oceans store far more of this heat. The study showed that the amount of heat absorbed by the top 2,200 feet of the oceans from 1970 to the mid-2000s may be as much as 58% higher than previously estimated. “We potentially may have missed a fair amount of heat that the ocean has been taking up,” Dr. Durack said. The researchers looked at global climate models, partitioned between north and south, and found a strong correlation between these simulations and data on sea-surface height as measured by satellites. But the models were not a good match for temperature, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. This suggested that the problem was not with the models so much as with the lack of temperature data before 2004. The study was published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Coastal Cities Are Drowning, Thanks To New Reality Of Sea Level Rise -- Coastal American cities are sinking into saturated new realities, new analysis has confirmed. Sea level rise has given a boost to high tides, which are regularly overtopping streets, floorboards and other low-lying areas that had long existed in relatively dehydrated harmony with nearby waterfronts. The trend is projected to worsen sharply in the coming years.  A new report, released by the Union of Concerned Scientists late on Tuesday, forecasts that by 2030, at least 180 floods will strike during high tides every year in Annapolis, Md. In some cases, such flooding will occur twice in a single day, since tides come in and out about two times daily. By 2045, that’s also expected be the case in Washington, D.C., Atlantic City, N.J., and 14 other East Coast and Gulf Coast locations out of 52 analyzed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  “The shock for us was that tidal flooding could become the new normal in the next 15 years; we didn’t think it would be so soon,” said Melanie Fitzpatrick, one of three researchers at the nonprofit who analyzed tide gauge data and sea level projections, producing soused prognoses for scores of coastal Americans. “If you live on a coast and haven’t seen coastal flooding yet, just give it a few years. You will.”  The group originally set out to study increased risks of storm surges and hurricanes as seas rose, but quickly changed tack. “We realized before we even got through the statistics of the last 40 years that tidal flooding is a much bigger story,” Fitzpatrick said. “But nobody’s really telling that story.”

Major U.S. Cities Will See 10 Times More Coastal Flooding By 2045 - Flooding during high tide could occur so frequently in some U.S. cities in the future that parts could become “unusable,” according to a new report. The report, published by the Union for Concerned Scientists, looked at 52 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tide gauges in coastal cities in Florida, Maryland, Georgia, Virginia and other states. UCS analyzed the states’ flooding risk under mid-range sea level rise predictions taken from the White House’s National Climate Assessment — an estimate of 5 inches of sea level rise by 2030, and 11 inches by 2045. It found that tidal flooding could triple in some cities in 15 years and occur 10 times as often in most cities in the next 30 years.  The Mid-Atlantic states are particularly vulnerable, the report found. A tripling of tidal flooding events in these states would mean that, in some cities, flooding could occur multiple times per week. The report also found that by 2045, one-third of the cities and towns looked at could start experiencing tidal flooding more than 180 days each year, and nine cities would see flooding 240 times each year.  These floods aren’t the type that cause death or major destruction, the authors of the report noted on a press conference Wednesday. They’re “nuisance” floods, the kind that force residents to wade through water on their way to work and move their cars before the tide comes to avoid saltwater damage. But as sea levels rise, there’s likely only so much of this flooding that communities will be willing to take, report co-author Erika Spanger-Siegfried said. If the flooding becomes chronic, some areas may be forced to decide whether to relocate businesses and homes.

A Danish company is building a $335 million seawall around New York -- In the aftermath of Sandy, Ovink brought his knowledge Stateside and joined the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initiative to rebuild and reinforce the New Jersey and New York coastline. At HUD, he conceived and led Rebuild by Design, a contest in which architects, designers, scientists, engineers, and recovery specialists submitted proposals for a smarter and more resilient infrastructure along the region’s waterfront.One of the winning proposals was Bjarke Ingels Group’s Big U. It’s not simply a big wall — at nearly 10 miles long, the system would wrap around the southern half of Manhattan and mix different kinds of spaces, from parks to community areas, with infrastructure designed to fight flooding. Developed in conversation with residents, developers, businesses, and city officials, the Big U is a continuous protective structure that blends and adapts to each neighborhood it passes through. In the Lower East Side neighborhood, a raised stretch of land known as the Bridging Berm acts as a natural dam, but also provides recreational green space for residents in the neighborhood. Panels installed on the underside of FDR Drive will be lit and decorated by local artists, creating a space for a seasonal market. But in times of emergency, those same panels can be flipped down to create a floodwall. Ovink calls the features "a chain of pearls." But, he insists, all the components are "tied with one strong strategy of protecting Manhattan." Big U was awarded $335 million dollars to start on implementation. Other winning proposals address other flooding threats in the region, from Long Island and the Bronx, to Staten Island and New Jersey. Each project requires further funding and coordinated effort between local governments and communities. But the radical solutions that emerged from Rebuild By Design have already inspired similar design initiatives. "President Obama announced the National Disaster Resiliency Competition based on the success of Rebuild by Design," Ovink says. "Another billion dollars of disaster recovery money is now attached to it."
Ocean Health Gets "D" Grade in New Global Index: Scientists assigned a grade for global ocean health on Tuesday, giving the world's waters a "D" on an annual oceans report card, citing overfishing, pollution, climate change, and lack of protections as key problems. But the score for nations' territorial waters—generally those that are within 200 miles (322 kilometers) of shore—has improved since 2012, and scientists say the overall outlook for the ocean is better than many expected. The latest report card is part of the third annual update to the the Ocean Health Index, which evaluates the state of the seas and the benefits they provide to people. "This new assessment is the first fully global look at ocean health," said Kevin Connor, a spokesperson for Conservation International, an environmental group that prepared the index with help from researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of British Columbia; the New England Aquarium; and others. For the first time, this year's index measures scores for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean plus the 15 other ocean regions beyond national jurisdiction, often called the high seas. The overall global score was 67 out of 100.

‘The Other CO2 Problem’: How Acidic Oceans Will Cost Our Economy Billions --The growing acidity of the world’s oceans could cost the global economy $1 trillion by 2100 if humans don’t stop putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to an extensive report compiled by 30 experts worldwide and released Wednesday by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity. Oceans have absorbed so much carbon dioxide emitted from power plants, deforestation, manufacturing, and driving, that their acid levels have increased by a staggering 26 percent over the last 200 years, the report said. The disruption of the ocean’s natural pH levels are directly impacting the health of marine life and ecosystems and scientists emphasize that if these trends continue unchecked, it could be both horribly detrimental for the world economy and largely irreversible for thousands of years. “The oceans are facing major threats due to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Braulio Terreira de Souza Dias, the Convention’s executive director, in a statement accompanying the report. “In addition to driving global climate change, increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide affect ocean chemistry, impacting marine ecosystems and compromises the health of the oceans and their ability to provide important services to the global community.”

Acid damage to coral reefs could cost $1 trillion -- Ocean acidification is set to cost us $1 trillion by 2100 as it eats away at our tropical coral reefs. That's the warning from a report released today by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which assesses the economic impacts the problem could have. The ocean's pH is now 8.0, down from 8.1 in the mid-18th century. Because the pH scale is logarithmic, this change means that, over the past 250 years, the world's oceans have seen a 26% increase in acidity – a result of the oceans absorbing about a quarter of our carbon dioxide emissions. With ocean pH projected to dip to 7.9 by the end of the century, the oceans may soon be 170% more acidic than they were before the industrial revolution – a change that is likely to affect not just our ecosystems, but our economies too. Ocean acidification is a trend that went largely unnoticed until a decade ago, but the rapid pace of scientific investigation since means huge progress has been made in understanding its effects. We know that acidification will be bad for marine organisms because past increases in acidity led to mass extinctions – particularly of those with hard calcium carbonate shells. Coral reefs are particularly at risk. Acidification reduces the concentration of carbonate ions in the upper layers of the ocean, and when carbonate levels get too low, the calcium carbonate skeletons of the corals themselves will start to dissolve.

The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever - In Louisiana, the most common way to visualize the state’s existential crisis is through the metaphor of football fields.  Each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. Each day, the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every football stadium in the N.F.L. Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. The land loss is swiftly reversing the process by which the state was built. As the Mississippi shifted its course over the millenniums, spraying like a loose garden hose, it deposited sand and silt in a wide arc. This sediment first settled into marsh and later thickened into solid land. But what took 7,000 years to create has been nearly destroyed in the last 85. Dams built on the tributaries of the Mississippi, as far north as Montana, have reduced the sediment load by half. Levees penned the river in place, preventing the floods that are necessary to disperse sediment across the delta. The dredging of two major shipping routes, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, invited saltwater into the wetlands’ atrophied heart. The oil and gas industry has extracted about $470 billion in natural resources from the state in the last two decades, with the tacit blessing of the federal and state governments and without significant opposition from environmental groups. Oil and gas is, after all, Louisiana’s leading industry, responsible for around a billion dollars in annual tax revenue. Last year, industry executives had reason to be surprised, then, when they were asked to pay damages. The request came in the form of the most ambitious, wide-ranging environmental lawsuit in the history of the United States.

New and Improved Ice Loss Estimates for Polar Ice Sheets: In a previous post, several years ago, I discussed the various ways that we measure changes in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.. Today, scientists still use these main methods for identifying ice changes but recent technological and data processing advances have improved the accuracy of these estimates. An example of this is the CryoSAT-2 satellite system which was launched 4 years ago by the European Space Agency and is now giving early results on the state of the two polar ice sheets. Before discussing the results of this study, it is worthwhile to understand what CryoSAT-2 measures. CryoSAT-2 is a radar altimeter which sends a radar signal towards the ground, this signal is then reflected back to the satellite and using information about the time, phase and geographic position of the satellite we can estimate the elevation of the surface. Repeatedly measuring the surface elevation of an ice sheet over time therefore allows us to assess whether ice is being lost (elevation decreasing) or gained (elevation increasing). The results of early radar altimetry analyses using the ERS-1 and ERS-2 platforms were often misconstrued by contrarians and not provided with the appropriate context necessary to interpret the data. The important caveats being that these early radar altimetry studies underestimated ice sheet losses due to biases in coastal areas associated with steep slopes and low sensor resolution.  CryoSAT-2 by contrast has a higher resolution and a lower susceptibility to errors on high slopes making it far more suitable for measuring ice changes in the coastal areas of Antarctica and Greenland. These coastal areas, as noted in this post, are the regions most likely to encounter substantial ice losses.

NOAA: Record Antarctic Sea Ice Growth Linked To Its Staggering Loss Of Land Ice  -- NOAA said in a news release Tuesday that “as counterintuitive as expanding winter Antarctic sea ice may appear on a warming planet, it may actually be a manifestation of recent warming.”  The most important thing to know about Antarctica and ice is that a large part of the South Pole’s great sheet of land ice is close to or at a point of no return for irreversible collapse. The rate of loss of that ice has reached record levels, tripling in the last five years alone. Only immediate action to sharply reverse carbon pollution could stop or significantly slow that. And that really matters since 90 percent of Earth’s ice is in the Antarctic ice sheet, and even its partial collapse could raise sea levels by tens of feet (over a period of centuries) and force coastal cities to be abandoned. In September, the extent of seasonal Antarctic sea ice reached a new record.The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) explained this week that the best explanation from NSIDC scientists is that it “might be caused by changing wind patterns or recent ice sheet melt from warmer, deep ocean water reaching the coastline … The melt water freshens and cools the deep ocean layer, and it contributes to a cold surface layer surrounding Antarctica, creating conditions that favor ice growth.”

Gravity Shift Reveals West Antarctic Ice Loss - The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is headed toward “unstoppable” collapse according to recent studies. A new visual released by the European Space Agency show what the start of that collapse looks like both for the mass of the ice sheet and its signature on the planet’s gravitational field.We think of gravity as a constant, holding us in place on the planet. But the reality is there are small changes in gravity all over the globe. Not enough that you’ll feel lighter on your feet in one place compared to another, but enough that scientists can use satellites to measure the differences. Those measurements can, in turn, help us better understand the world around us, from how earthquakes shift land to how fast ice sheets are receding and what that means for sea level rise. The measurements released by the European Space Agency  on Friday fall into the latter category. They show gravity in the region is decreasing as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has melted faster and faster over a 3-year period from 2009-12, sending more water into the sea. This region of the ice sheet has been intensely studied by scientists and recent research indicate melt could be “unstoppable.” The melt of that section of the ice sheet would raise sea levels 10-13 feet, though the timetable for that happening is centuries, not single years or decades.

Have Humans Really Created a New Geologic Age? -- While humans arrived only recently on geologic time scales, our species already seems to be driving some major plot developments. Agriculture occupies about one-third of Earth's land. The atmosphere and oceans are filling up with chemical signatures of our industrial activity. Whole ecosystems have been reshaped as species are domesticated, transplanted or wiped out. These changes have become so noticeable on a global scale that many scientists believe we have started a new chapter in Earth’s story: the Anthropocene. Atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen popularized the term in the early 2000s, and it has become engrained in the scientific vernacular. But don’t ask what the Anthropocene technically means unless you’re in the mood for some drama.  “It’s not research, it is diplomacy. It’s not necessary for geologists,” says Lucy Edwards, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey. Others think there is a case to be made for at least trying to codify the Anthropocene, because it is forcing the global community to think about the true extent of human influence. "It focuses us on trying to work out how we measure the relative control of humans as opposed to nature,"  "For example, is human activity altering the rate of uplift of mountains? If you had asked that question 20 years ago, geologists would have looked at you as if you were mad," says Brown. "But we know some faults are lubricated by precipitation, so if we are altering global precipitation patterns, there is a slight chance of a link. If that is the case, that is quite a profound potential interaction between humans and their environment."

Neglected disaster plan deepens Pakistan's climate vulnerability  - Pakistan has yet to implement a national plan to deal with natural disasters, experts say, leaving the country struggling to cope with its fourth major floods in five years. Hammered out at a meeting of the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) in 2012, the ambitious 10-year blueprint for tackling disasters has yet to be approved because the commission has not met since. The commission, chaired by the prime minister and made up of key government officials, was established to come up with a National Disaster Management Plan. The plan the group produced spells out measures to improve the country's ability to weather natural disasters, including floods. But the plan "has not been ratified because an NDMC meeting has not been called by the prime minister due to his being over-engaged with political affairs, the deepening energy crisis and the terror wave which continues to afflict the country," said Ahmed Kamal, a spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority. That does not mean approval of the disaster management plan is not on the prime minister's priority list, he added, though he declined to give a time frame.

India sends mixed signals on climate change - Climate change activists in India have expressed criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision not to attend the UN Climate Summit in New York earlier this week. The summit, organised by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to raise the political and public profile of the climate change crisis, was attended by more than 120 world leaders, including US President Barack Obama. Experts in India said that Modi's presence at the summit would have helped change India's image as an obstructionist in climate change negotiations. "The prime minister should have prioritised the largest environmental gathering," said Sanjay Vashist, director of the Climate Action Network South Asia. "It was an opportunity for India to sound proactive as well as call on the developed countries to be more ambitious in reducing carbon emissions. "Observers are hoping that the next UN climate conference - which will be held in Peruvian capital Lima in December - will produce a negotiating text for a global agreement to be signed in Paris in 2015.Experts in India pointed out that New Delhi's concerns - the low level of carbon emission reductions by developed countries, the delay in providing climate finance, and the pressure on emerging economies to reduce carbon emissions, which dilutes the principle of equity - are justified. But these experts said that India has failed to communicate its concerns to the world without sounding like it was blocking the talks."India is seen in a negative light. India's engagement and communication is poor." "It is important for India to be constructive because the stakes are very high."

Big Business Climate Change Movement Grows in Size and Heft -- Climate Week presented a two-front push for nations to take action on climate change. The moral case was emphatically made by a record-setting, 400,000-person march through Manhattan. What followed was a similarly unprecedented barrage from investor groups and corporations to convince world leaders that there's also a compelling economic case for taking steps against global warming.  The business presence last week was particularly striking because of its breadth and heft, and because of its extension well beyond the so-called "green bubble" that surrounds companies, investors and advocacy groups who embraced the cause long ago.Signatories representing $26 trillion in investment funds called on world leaders to enact strong policies, cut fossil fuel subsidies and make polluters pay for the effects of their emissions. There were commitments and pledges from the likes of General Motors, food makers Mars Inc. and Nestle, and consumer products giant Unilever. And a string of corporate CEOs joined early-adopters like Ikea Group in supporting renewable energy and citing proof that companies and countries can tackle climate change and prosper at the same time.

'This Changes Everything' Tackles Global Warming -  Cutting the vast amounts of man-made pollution that feed global warming is an enormous challenge for societies that gobble up coal, oil and gas. But in "This Changes Everything," Naomi Klein argues that those fuels aren't the root problem — capitalism is. That message is likely to motivate fans of Klein's earlier books, such as "No Logo" and "The Shock Doctrine," but it also leads to a tough question. Is blaming capitalism for climate change just rhetorical hot air — or a brutal and uncomfortable truth? Whatever side you take, Klein deserves credit for not sugarcoating the problem. She writes that limiting global warming won't be quick, easy or without disruptions, yet holds out hope that the end result will be better for people, the environment and even the economy. But make no mistake: "This Changes Everything" argues that we don't just have to cut carbon pollution. We have to change society, and our own lifestyles. Klein writes: "Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war." And while Klein is predictably hard on big business and conservatives who deny climate change, she doesn't spare environmental groups or liberals. Klein pointedly shows how easy it is to ignore global warming, noting that until recently she "continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong" with the "elite" frequent flier card in her wallet.

IEA Reverses Its Stance On Rebound Effects: A reversal in the International Energy Agency’s views on energy efficiency suggests that as much as 2,176 million tons of oil equivalent worth of extra clean energy consumption will be required by 2035 to meet the organization’s aggressive climate targets. That’s the equivalent of 19 Australias’ energy consumption. This finding is the result of a Breakthrough analysis of a new IEA report, which showcased a new position for the agency on what energy experts call “rebound effects” – a hotly contested phenomenon in energy consumption growth. Rebound effects emerge when increased energy efficiency improves the performance or lowers the cost of energy services, leading to consumer “re-spending,” investment effects, and macroeconomic rebounds in energy consumption in response to lower energy prices. As the IEA writes, “correct accounting for the rebound effect may reduce the potential contribution of energy efficiency to climate change mitigation, possibly altering the relative priority of different CO2 abatement policies.”  The new report marks a major institutional leap forward for the IEA, which until last month had downplayed rebound effects both quantitatively and discursively. IEA publications – including their regular and widely read World Energy Outlook and Energy Technologies Perspective – have long emphasized the leading role that energy efficiency can play in reducing global carbon emissions, contributing “about 40% of the CO2 abatement needed by 2050” according to the new report. But such claims were made with the support of modeling that assumed rebound effects totaling only 9 percent on average (WEO 2012, page 316), far below levels identified by the academic consensus – a consensus that now includes the IEA itself.

The Vast Benefits Of Energy Efficiency: New York Times Op-Ed Confuses The Facts - The New York Times has published a uniquely misleading op-ed, “The Problem With Energy Efficiency.” How misleading is it? Consider the cornerstone claim by the authors: The growing evidence that low-cost efficiency often leads to faster energy growth was recently considered by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency. They concluded that energy savings associated with new, more energy efficient technologies were likely to result in significant “rebounds,” or increases, in energy consumption. This means that very significant percentages of energy savings will be lost to increased energy consumption. The I.E.A. and I.P.C.C. estimate that the rebound could be over 50 percent globally. Let’s set aside for now that first misleading statement. There is no “growing evidence that low-cost efficiency often leads to faster energy growth.” To the extent that there is any evidence that broad efficiency measures actually lead to faster energy growth than would have occurred without those measures, both the IEA and IPCC clearly reject it, as we’ll see. Based on the New York Times piece, however, you’d think that the IPCC and the IEA were quite devastated by their analysis of the rebound effect and had become sour on energy efficiency as a climate-mitigation tool for policymakers. In fact, the reverse is true. Based on their review of the literature, both the IEA and IPCC strongly endorse energy efficiency measures!

Energy Expert Interview Series: Peak Oil | Big Picture Agriculture: This posting is the first in what will be a series of Monday posts which are portions of an interview that I was privileged to do with Bill Reinert this past summer. Reinert has about the most wide-ranging knowledge and understanding of energy issues of anyone that I’ve ever come across. I also happen to think that he’s one of the most logical voices you’ll ever see on energy, transportation, fuels, and other important environmental issues. His views are firmly grounded in reality since his life’s work was spent trying to solve energy problems in the industrial world. Because of this, they can be rather unpopular with wishful-thinkers or Elon Musk worshiper-types. The first part of the interview which covered car technology and fuels (including corn ethanol and more ideal octane boosters) was published over at Yale Environment 360 last week. I encourage you to read it. Today’s question (below) is about the subject of “peak oil,” a critical issue for an energy engineer who was responsible for future car technology at Toyota.

No comments: