Blog Archive

Sunday, December 20, 2015

rjs's news on the environment -- week of December 13, 2015

What your father ate before you were born could influence your health - There is increasing evidence that parents' lifestyle and the environment they inhabit even long before they have children may influence the health of their offspring. A current study, led by researchers from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, sheds light on how. Researchers in Associate Professor Romain Barrès' laboratory compared sperm cells from 13 lean men and 10 obese men and discovered that the sperm cells in lean and obese men, respectively, possess different epigenetic marks that could alter the next generation's appetite, as reported in the medical journal Cell Metabolism. A second major discovery was made as researchers followed six men before and one year after gastric-bypass surgery (an effective intervention to lose weight) to find out how the surgery affected the epigenetic information contained in their sperm cells. The researchers observed an average of 4,000 structural changes to sperm cell DNA from the time before the surgery, directly after, and one year later.  "Epidemiological observations revealed that acute nutritional stress, e.g. famine, in one generation can increase the risk of developing diabetes in the following generations," Romain Barrès states. He also referenced a study that showed that the availability of food in a small Swedish village during a time of famine correlated with the risk of their grandchildren developing cardiometabolic diseases. The grandchildren's health was likely influenced by their ancestors' gametes (sperm or egg), which carried specific epigenetic marks - e.g. chemical additions to the protein that encloses the DNA, methyl groups that change the structure of the DNA once it is attached, or molecules also known as small RNAs. Epigenetic marks can control the expression of genes, which has also been shown to affect the health of offspring in insects and rodents.

State Of Emergency Declared In Michigan City After Lead Found In Children's Blood -- “The City of Flint has experienced a Manmade disaster,” said the city’s mayor Monday evening, as she declared a state of emergency over evidently staggering levels of lead in the city’s tap water. In September, news broke that lead contamination was on the rise in Flint. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of the Hurley Medical Center concluded that since the water supply switched from the Detroit system to Flint River in April 2014, the number of infants and children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had doubled, from 2.1% to 4%. The World Health Organization says “lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. . The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.”The high levels of lead have been attributed to old pipes and plumbing, which researchers say rubs off more into Flint River water than it does other sources. Because the water itself is more corrosive than other supplies, it erodes the pipes it flows through, picking up lead along the way.  Flint River is one of the filthiest rivers in Michigan. Over the years, it has housed raw sewagetires, old refrigerators — which residents have attempted to sift out — and lead. In spite of this, officials declared it safe to drink in April 2014, when they switched the supply to the tainted river.  Shortly after the April switch, residents complained the water emitted a foul odor and was cloudy in appearance, but local and state officials insisted the water was safe. In spite of these assurances, in January 2015, MLive reported the State Department of Environmental Quality had “issued a notice of violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act for maximum contaminant levels for trihalomethanes — or TTHM — a group of four chemicals that are formed as a byproduct of disinfecting water.” These chemical byproducts are linked to cancer and other diseases, and presented a separate issue from the lead.  The water was so dirty that in October 2014, General Motors announced it would no longer use treated Flint River water at its engine plant out of fears it would cause corrosion.

Nobody Worries About Water Crises Until They Happen on American Soil - Water in the cities in Michigan has been a major issue for several years now. Detroit has been a particular mess. In 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department turned off the water to 100,000 Detroit residents who were delinquent in paying their bills. The situation was an instant nightmare;  neighbors who could not afford to settle their debts instead chose to pay a local handyman $30 to have their water turned back on illegally. Detroiters in neighborhoods across the city who cannot face their accumulated water debts—even with the department's offer to only collect 30 percent initially—are opting for the same solution.   So now, in what was supposed to be a temporary measure, Flint was disconnected from the Detroit water supply in April of 2014. The Flint water supply now came from the Flint River, and it was pretty much a chemistry set before people began noticing the lead levels. And it's not as though nobody could have seen this coming.  Safety tests conducted in 2014 and early 2015 showed high levels of TTHM or THM in the drinking water, violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. TTHM, or total trihalomethane, is a byproduct of chlorine disinfection. According to the EPA, prolonged exposure to or consumption of such chemicals can pose significant health risks. The Flint River has a history of poor water quality due to industrial pollution and agricultural runoff,according to an assessment by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But efforts to remove pollutants and clean up the river have been successful in the past 40 years. And now, the lead hammer has dropped on all of them. Concerned residents have filed a class-action lawsuit.  These parents and other Flint residents filed a class-action federal lawsuit against Snyder, the state, the city and 13 other public officials in November for the damages they have suffered as a result of the lead-tainted water. The suit, which claims to represent "tens of thousands of residents," alleges that the city and state officials "deliberately deprived" them of their 14th Amendment rights by replacing formerly safe drinking water with a cheaper alternative that was known to be highly toxic.

Water rates to spike to help LA's aging pipe system - The board that oversees the Department of Water and Power Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to raise customer water rates over the next five years to help pay for upgrades to the city's aging pipe system. For the typical household, bills would go up about $3 per month under the rate hike plan. The changes would make an average monthly bill of about $58 to increase to about $73 at the end of the five years, according to an example in a staff report. The average or low water user is likely to see bills grow 4 percent each year, while heavy water users could see bills go up by 7 percent per year, with the biggest increase in the first of the five-year plan, the report said. The proposal will go to the Los Angeles City Council for consideration. Fred Pickel, the independent watchdog of the LADWP, signed off on the plan as being "reasonable," and said the proposal includes provisions for monitoring the progress of the projects and allows for necessary changes to be made to the rate structure.

Largest Desalination Plant in Western Hemisphere Opens: Will It Fix the Drought? -The largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, which we featured on EcoWatch earlier this year, officially opened Monday. If the Carlsbad, California, plant performs as expected, desalination could play a much larger role in addressing the four-year drought plaguing the state. About 15 other desalination plants are being proposed in California. “We’ve now established a model, not just for San Diego County but for other plants up and down the coastline, so that we can make sure California’s future is bright and that we have the water we need,” Poseidon Water, the builders of the $1 billion plant, said it can produce up to 50 million gallons of fresh water a day, which amounts to about 10 percent of the county’s total water use. The company has plans for another plant about 60 miles north of Carlsbad in Huntington Beach. Desalination is a contentious issue, though. Researchers at MIT have developed a small-scale solar-powered desalination machine that has been hailed as a potential solution for drought-stricken communities. But critics, citing marine impacts and its high cost, say desalination isn’t a good solution and can’t fix the drought. Various environmental groups, including the Surfrider Foundation, opposed the plant in Carlsbad.

Historic Supreme Court Ruling Bans GMO Crop Trials in Philippines: The Supreme Court of the Philippines has ordered a permanent ban on field trials of GMO eggplant and a temporary halt on approving applications for the “contained use, import, commercialization and propagation” of GMO crops, including the import of GMO products. The court ruled in favor of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, as well as several Filipino activists, academics and politicians, in a major victory for Filipino farmers and activists around the world.“This decision builds on awave of countries in Europe rejecting GE crops and is a major setback for the GE industry,” said Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Ecological Agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines. “The Philippines has been used as a model for GE regulatory policy around the world, but now we are finally making progress to give people a right to choose the food they want to eat and the type of agriculture they want to encourage.” The temporary ban is in place until a new “administrative order” takes effect and includes the highly controversial GMO golden rice, an experimental project by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that is currently back at the R&D stage due to the crop’s poor performance.

'Kill switches' could make genetically modified food more palatable -- In the US you can buy and eat genetically modified apples that don’t go brown, potatoes that are less likely to cause cancer, and – as of recently – salmon that grow faster.  Genetic modification allows us to breed organisms with specific characteristics by precisely inserting sections of DNA into their genetic code. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) offer a number of advantages to farmers and crop growers. But there are also public concerns about GMOs, ranging from their potential effects on human health to their dominance by large corporations. When I debated the use of genetically modified bacteria this summer, I found the audience’s main concern was the potential for GMOs to escape and contaminate the environment. So what if science could fix this? Recent progress in GM technology has seen scientists engineer “kill switches” that are designed to act as an emergency stop mechanism for GMOs. These are pieces of inserted genetic code that create characteristics intended to prevent a GMO from surviving and reproducing if they “escape” from a contained site, such as a field of GM crops, into the wild.  One type of kill switch involves making GMOs dependent on nutrients not found in nature. Two independent pieces of research published in early 2015 essentially redesigned Escherichia coli bacteria to require synthetic versions of nutrients essential for survival and growth. If these genetically recoded organisms (GROs) were to escape into the “non-contained” environment, they would be unable to get the nutrients they needed, effectively activating the kill switch causing them to die.

Are You Eating Frankenfish? -  NY Times - THIS month, Congress may decide whether consumers are smart enough to be trusted with their own food choices. Some lawmakers are trying to insert language into must-pass spending legislation that would block states from giving consumers the right to know whether their food contains genetically modified ingredients  They must be stopped. Nine out of 10 Americans want G.M.O. disclosure on food packages, according to a 2013 New York Times poll, just like consumers in 64 other nations. But powerful members of the agriculture and appropriations committees, along with their allies in agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, want to keep consumers in the dark. That’s why opponents of this effort have called it the DARK Act — or the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act. As a chef, I’m proud of the food I serve. The idea that I would try to hide what’s in my food from my customers offends everything I believe in. It’s also really bad for business. Why, then, have companies like Kellogg and groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association spent millions in recent years to lobby against transparency? They say, in effect: “Trust us, folks. We looked into it. G.M.O. ingredients are safe.” But what they’re missing is that consumers want to make their own judgments. Consumers are saying: “Trust me. Let me do my own homework and make my own choices.”

Congress insists on labels for GM salmon - Financial Times - It is unlikely to say “Frankenfish,” but genetically modified salmon is about to gain a label. The US Congress on Friday overturned a November ruling by the Food and Drug Administration that authorised the sale of GM salmon without any special labelling in what could be a significant victory for advocates of broader GM labelling rules in the US. Included in a 2009-page spending bill that passed through Congress on Friday is a provision that requires the FDA not to allow the sale of any food containing genetically engineered salmon until it publishes labelling guidelines. The ban was pushed by Democratic senator Maria Cantwell from salmon-producing Washington state, who for years has campaigned against the approval of the genetically modified fish. “Consumers have a right to know whether they are buying Washington’s world-class wild salmon or Frankenfish engineered in a lab,” she said. Critics charge the move is a case of Washington pork barrel — or fish barrel — politics and a move by a member of Congress to protect a local industry from a disruptive new competitor. “It is like Ford inserting amendments in an appropriations bill to block Chevy from introducing a new automobile” is how Ron Stotish, president and CEO of AquaBounty, the Massachusetts company behind the GM salmon, put it. But the move is also emblematic of what is now both a growing movement at the state level to require labelling for GM products in the US and a growing paradox in the US position regarding GM organisms in trade negotiations with the EU and others.

AP: Global supermarkets selling shrimp peeled by slaves: Every morning at 2 a.m., they heard a kick on the door and a threat: Get up or get beaten. For the next 16 hours, No. 31 and his wife stood in the factory that owned them with their aching hands in ice water. They ripped the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States. After being sold to the Gig Peeling Factory, they were at the mercy of their Thai bosses, trapped with nearly 100 other Burmese migrants. Children worked alongside them, including a girl so tiny she had to stand on a stool to reach the peeling table. Some had been there for months, even years, getting little or no pay. Always, someone was watching. No names were ever used, only numbers given by their boss — Tin Nyo Win was No. 31. Pervasive human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world's biggest shrimp providers. Despite repeated promises by businesses and government to clean up the country's $7 billion seafood export industry, an Associated Press investigation has found shrimp peeled by modern-day slaves is reaching the U.S., Europe and Asia. The problem is fueled by corruption and complicity among police and authorities. Arrests and prosecutions are rare. Raids can end up sending migrants without proper paperwork to jail, while owners go unpunished.

One of the big arguments for a vegetarian diet might be wrong -- A paper from Carnegie Mellon University researchers published this week finds that the diets recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which include more fruits and vegetables and less meat, exacts a greater environmental toll than the typical American diet. Shifting to the diets recommended by Dietary Guidelines for American  would increase energy use by 38 percent, water use by ten percent and greenhouse gas emissions by six percent, according to the paper.  While the research builds on previous work that likewise undermines the conventional wisdom, the debate over the environmental virtues of vegetarianism are unlikely to subside any time soon. For one thing, the vegetarians have a point: scientists on both sides have concurred that eating beef - though not other meats - has daunting environmental impacts.  Because of the amount of grain and land used to produce a pound of beef, as well as the volume of methane the animals produce, the nation’s intake of beef has significant environmental ramifications, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, the environmental impacts from beef production dwarf those of other animal foods such as dairy products, pork and poultry.

No, Lettuce Is Not Worse For The Environment Than Bacon - Sorry to break it to you, meat enthusiasts, but bacon isn’t necessarily better for the environment than lettuce.  It’s not as if people cutting 400 calories worth of bacon out of their diet are going to supplement that with 400 calories worth of lettuce (or approximately four heads of Romaine)  The issue is that the original Carnegie Mellon study on which the claim was based looked at energy, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions on a per calorie basis. Comparing lettuce to bacon is taking a high-calorie meat and comparing it with a low-calorie vegetable — it’s an unfair comparison. In order to equal the calories in two and a half strips of bacon, you would have to eat an entire head of lettuce. Since you have to eat more lettuce to equal the calories of bacon, you have to first grow more lettuce — and that lettuce is going to use more resources like water and energy.
And Just Like That, "Free Trade" Pact Trounces US Law --Claims that trade pacts like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will not trump public health and environmental policies were revealed to be fiction on Tuesday after Congress, bending to the will of the World Trade Organization, killed the popular country-of-origin label (COOL) law. The provision, tucked inside the omnibus budget agreement, repeals a law that required labels for certain packaged meats, which food safety and consumer groups have said is essential for consumer choice and animal welfare, as well as environmental and public health. Congress successful revoked the mandate just over one week after the WTO ruled that the U.S. could be forced to pay $1 billion annually to its NAFTA partners, which argued that the law "accorded unfavorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock." Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, said that consumers relied on the standard to "make informed choices about their food," and that Congress' elimination of the rule "makes clear that trade agreements can—and do—threaten even the most favored U.S. consumer protections."The move flies in the face of statements made by President Barack Obama, who—arguing in favor of the 12-nation TPP, pledged that "no trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws."

Fish Stocks Are Declining Worldwide, And Climate Change Is On The Hook --  For anyone paying attention, it's no secret there's a lot of weird stuff going on in the oceans right now. We've got a monster El Nino looming in the Pacific. Ocean acidification is prompting hand wringing among oyster lovers. Migrating fish populations have caused tensions between countries over fishing rights. And fishermen say they're seeing unusual patterns in fish stocks they haven't seen before.Researchers now have more grim news to add to the mix. An analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that the ability of fish populations to reproduce and replenish themselves is declining across the globe."This, as far as we know, is the first global-scale study that documents the actual productivity of fish stocks is in decline," says lead author Gregory L. Britten, a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine.Britten and some fellow researchers looked at data from a global database of 262 commercial fish stocks in dozens of large marine ecosystems across the globe. They say they've identified a pattern of decline in juvenile fish (young fish that have not yet reached reproductive age) that is closely tied to a decline in the amount of phytoplankton, or microalgae, in the water."We think it is a lack of food availability for these small fish," says Britten. "When fish are young, their primary food is phytoplankton and microscopic animals. If they don't find food in a matter of days, they can die."

Why are Chinese fishermen destroying coral reefs in the South China Sea? -- What I came across on a reef far out in the middle of the South China Sea has left me shocked and confused. I'd been told that Chinese fishermen were deliberately destroying reefs near a group of Philippine-controlled atolls in the Spratly Islands but I was not convinced. "It goes on day and night, month after month," a Filipino mayor told me on the island of Palawan. "I think it is deliberate. It is like they are punishing us by destroying our reefs." I didn't take it seriously. I thought it might be anti-Chinese bile from a politician keen to blame everything on his disliked neighbour - a neighbour that claims most of the South China Sea as its own. But then, as our little aircraft descended towards the tiny Philippine-controlled island of Pagasa, I looked out of my window and saw it. At least a dozen boats were anchored on a nearby reef. Long plumes of sand and gravel were trailing out behind them.  "Look," I said to my cameraman, Jiro. "That's what the mayor was talking about, that's the reef mining!" Even so, I was unprepared for what we found when we got out on the water. A Filipino boatman guided his tiny fishing boat right into the midst of the Chinese poachers. They had chained their boats to the reef and were revving their engines hard. Clouds of black diesel smoke poured into the air. "What are they doing?" I asked the boatman. "They are using their propellers to break the reef," he said. Again I was sceptical. The only way to see for sure was to get in the water. It was murky and filled with dust and sand. I could just make out a steel propeller spinning in the distance on the end of long shaft, but it was impossible to tell exactly how the destruction was being carried out. The result was clear, though. Complete devastation.  This place had once been a rich coral ecosystem. Now the sea floor was covered in a thick layer of debris, millions of smashed fragments of coral, white and dead like bits of bone.

Oregon Is The Latest Target Of Right-Wing Effort To Get Rid Of National Forests --A draft bill recently released by U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) proposes to dispose of hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest land in Oregon’s Klamath River Basin so that it can be clear-cut or auctioned off to the highest bidder. The proposal, which is the latest in a series of attempts by right-wing politicians to seize or sell-off national public lands, is so controversial that observers say it could spark a renewed water war in Rep. Walden’s home state of Oregon. The Klamath Basin, a 15,000-plus square mile river basin spanning regions of both Oregon and California, has long been the site of fierce disputes over the allocation of scarce water supplies and the collapse of fisheries and wildlife habitat.  Over the past several years, however, a wide range of stakeholders — including farmers, tribes, landowners, conservationists, and national, state, and local governments — engaged in a collaborative process aimed at resolving the decades-long Klamath water crisis and restoring economic stability and environmental integrity to the basin. These negotiations resulted in three bipartisan agreements which seek to remove four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River, promote water quality and wildlife restoration, and provide local farmers, businesses and communities with economic stability and certainty.  Congressman Walden’s draft bill, which he circulated just four weeks before the settlement is set to expire, would undermine these locally-driven agreements by eliminating the requirements that the dams be removed and giving away massive stretches of the Winema-Fremont National Forest and the Klamath National Forest— so that they could be clear-cut by logging companies or sold to the highest bidder.

Scarred Riverbeds and Dead Pistachio Trees in a Parched Iran - Iran is in the grip of a seven-year drought that shows no sign of breaking and that, many experts believe, may be the new normal. Even a return to past rainfall levels might not be enough to head off a nationwide water crisis, since the country has already consumed 70 percent of its groundwater supplies over the past 50 years. Always arid, Iran is facing desertification as lakes and rivers dry up and once-fertile plains become barren. According to the United Nations, Iran is home to four of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, with dust and desertification among the leading causes.In Zanjan, in central Iran, the historic Mir Baha-eddin Bridge crosses a riverbed of sand, stones and weeds. In Gomishan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the fishermen who once built houses on poles surrounded by freshwater now have to drive for miles to reach the receding shoreline. In Urmia, close to the Turkish border, residents have held protests to demand that the government return water to a once-huge lake that is now the source only of dust storms. More than 15 percent of the approximately 150,000 acres of pistachio trees in the main producing area in Kerman Province have died in the last decade or so. A nationwide network of dams, often heralded by state television as a sign of progress and water management, is adding to water shortages in many places while helping deplete groundwater.

November 2015: Earth's Warmest November and 2nd Warmest Month of Any Kind on Record --November 2015 was Earth’s warmest November on record by a huge margin, according to data released by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Thursday. November 2015 also had the second largest positive departure of temperature from average of any month among all 1631 months in the historical record that began in January 1880; only last month (October 2015) was more extreme. As shown in the table below, October and November 2015's 0.97°C and 0.99°C departures from the 20th Century average beat the next eight runners-up by an unusually large margin, underscoring how unusual and extreme the current surge in global temperatures is. NASA also rated November 2015 as the warmest November in the historical record. November 2015's warmth makes the year-to-date period (January - November) the warmest such period on record, according to both NOAA and NASA. November 2015 was the seventh consecutive month a monthly high temperature record has been set in NOAA's database, and the ninth month of the eleven months so far in 2015.
November Burns Through Temperature Records: This November was the warmest on record, according to a monthly climate update issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information. November was also the seventh month in a row to average global temperatures that were not only warmer than average, but also broke records set during previous years. NOAA scientists based their report on global temperature data going back to 1880, when climate record-keeping began. To determine global temperatures, scientists average surface temperatures on land and in the oceans. November's data showed that across the globe, average land-surface temperature was higher than the 20th century average by 2.36 degrees Fahrenheit (1.31 degrees Celsius). This year's average sea-surface temperature was higher than the 20th century average by 1.51 degrees F (0.84 degrees C), also a record-breaking number.Over land and sea surface combined, the November average temperature was 1.75 degrees F (0.97 degrees C) higher than the 20th century average. From September through November in the contiguous United States this year, temperatures in every single state were warmer than average, with record warmth recorded in Florida. The entire year of 2015 will likely prove to be one of the five warmest ever recorded in the United States, with record and near-record warmth in Florida, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. When weather and climate agencies like NOAA incorporate monthly reports like these into the larger record of climate data, they can compare average temperatures over time to detect patterns of how Earth's climate is changing, and how quickly.

A White-Hot Christmas Wraps Up Earth’s Hottest Year on Record - This has been by far the hottest year on record, and it’s ending with an exclamation point. Holiday shoppers in New York’s Rockefeller Center have been checking off their lists in weather that’s an eerie 20 degrees warmer than normal. Meanwhile, another stack of global temperature records has fallen. Last month was the hottest November in 136 years of data, according to U.S. figures released on Thursday, making it the ninth record-breaking month of 2015. This year has been so far off the charts, it’s certain to go down as the hottest year on record even if December turns out to be unusually cool (it won’t).  El Niño is largely responsible for this year’s extremes, but make no mistake: This is what global warming looks like. Before this year, 13 of the 14 hottest years fell in the 21st century. The thermometer creep is relentless. The animation below shows the earth’s warming climate, recorded in monthly measurements from land and sea dating back to 1880. Temperatures are displayed in degrees above or below the 20th century average.

NASA: 2015 Will Be ‘A Scorcher Relative To All Other Years On Record - November was so hot globally it’s now over 99.999 percent certain 2015 will be the hottest year on record — driven overwhelmingly by record levels of carbon pollution in the air. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), tweeted out this chart Monday: 2015 will be a scorcher relative to all other years in the record. Even with sampling uncertainty: Schmidt also tweeted out “With Nov update to GISTEMP, probability of 2015 being a record year is > 99.999%.” Scientifically, >99.999 percent certainty is equivalent to the chances that:
  • The new Star Wars movie will make money.
  • Donald Trump will say something at the Las Vegas GOP debate that will offend somebody.
  • At some point in your life, you will experience either death or taxes.
Air temperatures in the Arctic reach 115-year high: researchers: The Arctic is heating up, with air temperatures the hottest in 115 years, and the melting ice destroying walrus’ habitat and forcing some fish northward, a global scientific report said Tuesday. Air temperature anomalies over land were 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 degrees Celsius) above average, “the highest since records began in 1900,” said the 2015 Arctic Report Card, an annual peer-reviewed study issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Meanwhile, the annual sea ice maximum occurred February 25, about two weeks earlier than average, and was “the lowest extent recorded since records began in 1979.” “Warming is happening more than twice as fast in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world. We know this is due to climate change, and its impacts are creating major challenges for Arctic communities,” said NOAA chief scientist Rick Spinrad at the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco. “We also know what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” he said.

Monster El Nino Hurls 43+ Foot Waves at US West Coast -- For NOAA, it looks like we’re well on the way toward seeing one of the most powerful El Ninos ever recorded. And already, there’s some brutal Fall and Winter weather events starting to emerge as a result. One event, in particular, is today roaring into the US West Coast like a Godzilla-hurled freight train.  It’s just one upshot of a Monster El Nino in a record warm world. A weather and climate event — one likely pumped up by an overall atmospheric warming of 1 C above 1880s levels — that will likely continue to have severe and worsening global impacts over the coming months. NOAA’s September, October, November ONI Index, the key zone for measuring El Nino strength, hit a +2.0 degree Celsius positive anomaly this week. That’s just 0.3 C shy of the most powerful El Nino ever recorded — 1997-1998 which peaked out at +2.3 C in the same monitor. With October, November and December likely to show even hotter overall readings for the Central Equatorial Pacific, it appears that the 2015-2016 El Nino will strike very close to this ONI high mark. Peak weekly sea surface temperature values already exceeded top 1997-1998 temperature levels for NOAA (+2.8 C for 1997-1998 vs + 3.1 C for 2015-2016). So we wait on the ONI three month measure for October, November and December to give broader confirmation. The other major El Nino monitor — the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) in Australia — has weekly sea surface temperatures peaking at +2.5 C in the same zone. This is 0.2 C short of peak 1997-1998 values. BOM notes that the current El Nino is near peak and that, according to its own measures, is unlikely to exceed 1997-1998 but will likely hit within the top 3 strongest events.

As Florida Keys flood, property worries seep in - (AFP) - Extreme high tides have turned streets into canal-like swamps in the Florida Keys, with armies of mosquitoes and the stench of stagnating water filling the air, and residents worried rising sea levels will put a damper on property values in the island chain. On Key Largo, a tropical isle famous for snorkeling and fishing, the floods began in late September. While people expected high tides due to the season and the influence of a super moon, they were taken by surprise when a handful of streets in the lowest-lying neighborhoods stayed inundated for nearly a month with 16-inches (40-centimeters) of saltwater. By early November, the roads finally dried up. But unusually heavy rains in December brought it all back again. "Like a sewer," said Narelle Prew, 49, who has lived for the past 20 years in her four-bedroom home on Adams Drive, a waterfront lane lined by boat docks. Residents have signed petitions, voiced anger at community meetings and demanded that local officials do something, whether by raising roads or improving drainage. Sometimes, they clash over whether the floods are, or are not, a result of man-made climate change. "There seems to be a mix of responses -- whether they think it is sea level rise, and what they think the government should be doing about it."

Greenland's glaciers retreating at record speeds  (UPI) -- Greenland's glaciers are on retreat, shrinking at strikingly fast rates -- at least twice as fast as any time over the last 9,500 years. Researchers with Columbia University's Earth Institute compared modern satellite data with records of glacier growth and decline gleaned from ice cores. Their findings were published last week in the journal Climate of the Past. "If we compare the rate that these glaciers have retreated in the last hundred years to the rate that they retreated when they disappeared between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago, we see the rate of retreat in the last 100 years was about twice what it was under this naturally forced disappearance," study co-author William D'Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, explained in a press release.  Scientists were able to measure ancient glacier movements by measuring the levels of silt and sediments trapped in the ice cores collected from a glacial lake. As glaciers move, they grind the bedrock beneath them. The faster the movement, the more sediment, which is washed downstream by the glacier's melt water.

Paris climate deal: nearly 200 nations sign in end of fossil fuel era - Governments have signalled an end to the fossil fuel era, committing for the first time to a universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. After 20 years of fraught meetings, including the past two weeks spent in an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on to a legal agreement on Saturday evening that set ambitious goals to limit temperature rises and to hold governments to account for reaching those targets. Government and business leaders said the agreement, which set a new goal to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century, sent a powerful signal to global markets, hastening the transition away from fossil fuels and to a clean energy economy. The deal was carefully constructed to carry legal force but without requiring approval by the US Congress - which would have almost certainly rejected it.

Paris climate deal: key points at a glance -- Governments have agreed to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels: something that would have seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. There is a scientific rationale for the number. John Schellnhuber, a scientist who advises Germany and the Vatican, says 1.5C marks the point where there is a real danger of serious “tipping points” in the world’s climate. . But bear in mind we’ve already hit 1C, and recent data shows no sign of a major fall in the global emissions driving the warming. As many of the green groups here in Paris note, the 1.5C aspiration is meaningless if there aren’t measures for hitting it. The 1.5C passage from the Paris agreement. Before the conference started, more than 180 countries had submitted pledges to cut or curb their carbon emissions (intended nationally defined contributions, or INDCs, in the UN jargon). These are not sufficient to prevent global temperatures from rising beyond 2C – in fact it is thought they will lead to a 2.7C rise or higher. The INDCs are recognised under the agreement, but are not legally binding. Countries have promised to try to bring global emissions down from peak levels as soon as possible. More significantly, they pledged “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”. Experts say, in plain English, that means getting to “net zero emissions” between 2050 and 2100. The UN’s climate science panel says net zero emissions must happen by 2070 to avoid dangerous warming.

Analysis: The final Paris climate deal - Carbon Brief - The 31-page draft no longer has any brackets to indicate areas of disagreement on the text.  Nonetheless, the COP21 plenary later today must still sign off on the deal. The final draft of the Paris deal includes a temperature limit of “well below 2C”, and says there should be “efforts” to limit it to 1.5C. This is stronger than many countries had hoped just months previously, but falls short of the desires of many island and vulnerable nations, which had pushed for 1.5C as an absolute limit. To give practical relevance to the temperature limit, the deal also includes a long-term emissions goal. The draft wording aims to peak global greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and to achieve “balance” between emissions and sinks in the second half of the century. This is similar to the “emissions neutrality” language, which appeared in the previous draft, but more specific and tightly defined. It effectively means reaching net-zero emissions after 2050, though the lack of a specific timeline is a blow to those that wanted the clearest possible message for investors. The text provides essentially a two-stage process to increase ambition over time, acknowledging that the current provisions are not going to be enough to reach the long-term 2C temperature limit.   In 2018, there will be a facilitative dialogue to take stock of the collective efforts of countries, which should inform the efforts of future commitments. Countries which have submitted targets for 2025 are then urged to come back in 2020 with a new target, while those with 2030 targets are invited to “communicate or update” them.

Here’s what you need to know about the new Paris climate agreement | Grist: — The Paris Agreement to address climate change, adopted on Saturday, will be remembered as a big step forward and at the same time a frustrating set of compromises and omissions. The COP21 conference brought every country to the table, they all accepted the science of climate change, and they agreed to work together to do something about it. But some proved more ambitious than others, and the rich countries didn’t come up with enough money to get the best deal possible. The bottom line is that the agreement gets us far closer to containing climate change than we were two weeks ago, but still far short of where we need to go. In fact, we won’t even know for years what it will accomplish. How much the agreement reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and through that reduces warming, will depend on whether countries meet their targets for curbing emissions and deploying renewable energy and whether they ramp up their ambition in the years ahead. In terms of climate justice, there is even less to cheer. Rich countries like the U.S., Canada, and the European Union upped their pledges for climate finance slightly, but nowhere near enough to compensate for the hugely outsized share of the global carbon budget they have devoured.

ANALYSIS-A la carte action on climate change: (Reuters) - At the end of bargaining, when the last bracketed differences in diplomatic language were [glossed over], the global climate accord that emerged from two weeks of talks in Paris proved to be a very a la carte deal. The intentional flexibility of the Paris agreement was constructed not only to accommodate the diversity of 195 national interests. It had to compensate for its limited legal authority with enough aspirational language to send governments away confident that a global turn from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources was inevitable. "You cannot always press the parties to do something on your own terms," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told Reuters in an interview just hours before the agreement was adopted but not in serious doubt. "Just motivate the parties so that they do it in their own way." Most countries in Paris accept that they face a wicked problem in trying to stop rising global temperatures. With some exceptions, there is a willingness to get off dirty energy sources, though many will still need to burn a lot of coal for quite a while. All know it will take billions of dollars to get there. What no one wanted to accept was an onerous collection of international rules dictating how they do it. The final accord therefore repeatedly "invites," "urges," "requests" and "further requests" countries to take action. The most ambitious goals - such as holding the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 Celsius degrees above pre-industrial levels - are aspirational, requiring belief that technologies yet to be invented will offer a realistic route to achieving them.

Agriculture Plays A Huge Role In Climate Change. So Why Was It Left Out Of The Paris Climate Deal?  Despite claiming nearly half of the world’s land and accounting for one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, food and agriculture had always played a secondary role in international climate negotiations, pushed aside in favor of discussions about energy and transportation.But this year — as delegates from nearly 200 countries met in Paris to push for a global agreement on climate change — agriculture finally got a moment in the spotlight.Some of that attention is a result of the way that the talks were structured, requiring individual countries to submit independent climate pledges in advance of the conference — something that no other conference has done. Those individual plans — known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs — tend to mention agriculture, especially in relationship to mitigation: more than 80 percent include strategies for mitigating the impact of agriculture on climate change, while 60 percent include strategies for adapting agriculture to climate change.  “Countries see agriculture as part of the solution, and that, I think, is changing things,” There is no fraternity in the world who is more susceptible to climate change than farmers.  Food security is mentioned in the preamble to the final Paris agreement, an inclusion that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s director José Graziano da Silva called “a game changer.” But within the main text of the climate agreement forged in Paris, both food security and agriculture are left out — an absence that some say signals a rift between country-level priorities and international action.

Countries just adopted a historic climate change accord. Here’s what happens next - The word “historic,” already being used to describe the just-accepted Paris climate agreement, is more than warranted. The world will now have a new and comprehensive regime in place to shape how its diverse nations go about the urgent task of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why climate activists are ecstatic the world over right now. It’s a big deal. The more ambiguous news, however, is that this document, by its very nature, depends on key sectors of society to respond to help make sure its goals are realized. Countries, companies and individuals all across the planet will have to do the right things — and very hard things, at that. And it’s too soon to tell exactly how they will do so. What’s more, even if everyone plays by the rules, the standards and goals set out by the Paris agreement may not be enough to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change. New science suggests that forces already set in motion — the melting of glaciers, the release of carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost — could unleash considerable impacts that this new deal is unable to prevent. But We have seen even before this landmark text a sharp growth in renewable energy installments around the world, from the U.S. to Germany to China. We have seen the coal industry begin to stumble and a surge in natural gas. The trends, in other words, are already pointing in the direction that the agreement itself means to encourage. But what will energy companies — and energy investors — do once they read that the world now intends to “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible…and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter?” Will this send a strong enough “signal,” to change the decisions that these companies, and these wealthy individuals, make?

The world just agreed to a major climate deal in Paris. Now comes the hard part. - What this Paris agreement does, then, is provide a set of diplomatic tools to prod countries into cutting emissions even more deeply over time. The deal's text starts with aspirational goals: the world should aim for an emissions peak "as soon as possible" and limit total warming to less than 2°C, or perhaps even to 1.5°C. (The Earth has already warmed about 1°C since pre-industrial times.) It's a signal that countries at least hope to do more than they're already doing. The deal then adds transparency measures to verify that nations are actually restraining their emissions. Importantly, it requires that countries reconvene every five years to reconsider the ambition level of their pledges. And wealthy countries have set a goal of providing more than $100 billion per year in public and private financing by 2020 for poorer countries, to help them invest in clean energy and cope with sea-level rise, droughts, floods, and other ravages of climate change. There are plenty of hard questions about how effective these diplomatic tools will be. Will the transparency measures work? Will that climate aid actually materialize? The basic reality, though, is that the Paris agreement can only encourage countries to step up their efforts. It can't force them to do so. That's the hard part, the part that comes next. Further action will ultimately depend on policymakers and investors and engineers and scientists and activists across the globe, not the UN. In other words, the Paris deal is only a first step. Perhaps the easiest step. To stop global warming, every country will have to do much, much more in the years ahead to transition away from fossil fuels (which still provide 86 percent of the world's energy), move to cleaner sources, and halt deforestation. They'll have to pursue new policies, adopt new technologies, go far beyond what they've already promised.

How Much Will the Paris Climate Deal Cost the U.S.? -- Now that officials from the U.S. and nearly 200 other countries have reached a deal in Paris meant to keep global warming at bay, many citizens back home want to know—how much will it cost us? No one knows for sure, but one estimate from an environmental think tank in Washington pegs the cost as a $170 billion hit to U.S. gross domestic product in 2030, or about 0.7% of the total economic output that year. “You don’t collapse an economy by switching to cleaner fuels,” . “Every time the business community has rung warnings bells, and frankly the economy keeps going.” The idea behind the Paris talks is that all countries have to participate in a United Nations-organized effort to curb emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. To get everyone on board, each country was allowed to develop its own plan, and countries aren’t compelled to meet their targets, which cover the period after 2020. Few political leaders are interested in ordering up deep, painful cuts to emissions in ways that could unleash high electricity prices, stunt industrial growth or prevent impoverished citizens from clawing their way into the middle class.So most countries, under pressure from peers as well as domestic critics, settled on cuts likely to cause small to moderate economic pain in the medium term, with the potential for big benefits in the longer term if all the major economies comply and humankind keeps the effects of climate change at bay. The U.S. pledge is built around President Barack Obama’s “clean power plan,” which focuses on steep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector—mainly coal. The U.S. government estimates the impact of the power rule—issued by the Environmental Protection Agency—at between $28 billion and $39 billion in 2030, or 0.1% to 0.2% of projected GDP.

Why $16.5 Trillion to Save the Planet Isn't as Much as You Think - Making the energy industry safer for the climate may not cost as much as you think, even if the price tag is $16.5 trillion. That’s the sum the International Energy Agency estimates it will cost the 187 governments to clean up pollution under the pledges made for the United Nations climate talks in Paris, which concluded on Saturday. In all, governments will spend $13.5 trillion meeting their goals. If they spent $3 trillion more, it would hold temperature increases to the ceiling they adopted of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s an eye-popping figure. Yet the world is already set to invest about $68 trillion on its energy needs by 2040, even without a climate plan, the IEA projects. That will go for everything from renewable energy to coal-fired plants and building efficiency upgrades. The Paris deal is intended to fundamentally tilt the spending toward the greener side of the business.“The strength of the agreement is that it allows a thousand policy flowers to bloom,” . “This sends a powerful economic signal that fossil fuels will be saddled with financial and legal premiums to remain part of the energy mix, and clean energy will enjoy subsidies.” The deal endorsed the 2-degree goal and called on nations to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.” That more ambitious target implies vast cuts to emissions from burning fossil fuels that will go beyond the IEA’s estimate.

Paris COP21: Costliest treaty in history solves next to nothing -  The Paris Treaty will do very little to rein in temperature reductions, Copenhagen Consensus president Dr. Lomborg said today.  “The Paris Treaty promises to keep temperature rises below 2°C. However, the actual promises made here will do almost nothing to achieve that. It is widely accepted that to keep temperature rises below 2°C, we have to reduce CO₂ emissions by 6,000Gt.
- Paris cuts between 2016 and 2030 only amount to less than 1% of CO₂ cuts needed to reach 2°C target
- Paris will likely be the world’s most expensive treaty ever at a costs of at least $1 trillion a year
- $100bn in climate aid is a very poor use of money
- Without technological breakthroughs, large carbon cuts will remain hugely expensive 
- Gates-led innovation fund is best initiative to emerge from Paris
- Green R&D needs to be increased 10-fold to $100 billion per year

Saving the Planet: How Climate Breakthroughs Are Made -- Breaking news Saturday in Paris from the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: National leaders described the agreement finally reached as “an historic breakthrough”.  Oops. My mistake. That was from the 13th COP in Bali in 2007. Then there was the 15th COP in Copenhagen in 2009, which achieved an “unprecedented breakthrough… to curb greenhouse gas emissions.” Of course, the 16th COP in Cancun in 2010 produced a“breakthrough deal”. Not to be outdone, the 17th COP in Durban in 2011 reached a “breakthrough on [a] course for [a] future accord.” The 19th COP in Warsaw in 2013 yielded a“foundation for a global agreement.” The 20th COP in Lima in 2014 produced a “global warming agreement… [that] would for the first time commit all countries… to [cut] emissions.” And now, finally, at long last, the 21st COP just this past Saturday “reached a landmark accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.” So: Climate negotiation breakthroughs are a dime a dozen. They live or die in the details, and the thunderous applause drowning out even the noise from the innumerable private jets departing Paris has obscured three crucial parameters that will make this agreement only the latest exercise in delusion: Precisely what has been agreed, who actually will pay the costs, and the degree to which the “planet” has been “saved.”

CON21 - Ilargi -- French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius just announced, in Paris, a “legally binding agreement” that no-one has agreed the financing for. We can hear a couple thousand lawyers across the globe snicker. But it’s all the COP21 ‘oh-so-important’ climate conference managed to come up with. No surprises there. They couldn’t make the 2ºC former goal stick, so they go for 1.5ºC this time. All on red, double or nothing. Because who really cares among the leadership, just as long as the ‘targets’ are far enough away that they can’t be held accountable. I’ve been writing the following through the past days, and wondering if I should post it, because I know so many readers of the Automatic Earth have so much emotion invested in these things, and they’re good and fine emotions. But some things must still be said regardless of consequences. Precisely because of that kind of reaction. No contract is legally binding if there’s no agreement on payment. Nobody has a legal claim on your home without it being specified that, if, when and how they’re going to pay for it.  I understand some people may get offended by some of the things I have to say about this – though not all for the same reasons either-, but please try and understand that and why the entire CON21 conference has offended me. After watching the horse and pony show just now, I thought I’d let ‘er rip:

The Godfather Of Climate Change Calls Obama's Deal "A Fraud, It's Bullshit" -Amid all the self-congratulatory mutual masturbation that has effused since the "historic" signing of a climate 'deal' with no enforcement mechanism, few are better qualified (or more outspoken) to describe the utter farce that COP21 is than former NASA scientist James Hansen, who as The Guardian notes, is considered the father of global awareness of climate change...“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”The talks, intended to reach a new global deal on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020, have spent much time and energy on two major issues: whether the world should aim to contain the temperature rise to 1.5C or 2C above preindustrial levels, and how much funding should be doled out by wealthy countries to developing nations that risk being swamped by rising seas and bashed by escalating extreme weather events. But, according to Hansen, the international jamboree is pointless unless greenhouse gas emissions aren’t taxed across the board. He argues that only this will force down emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

What climate ‘tipping points’ are – and how they could suddenly change our planet - Just think of the climate like a chair. It takes a strong push to tip over a chair stood on four legs, but when it’s leaning on only two legs the required push becomes smaller. Indeed, if the inclination becomes large enough, it will tip over by itself. Today, climate change inclination is increasing – and we know it could suddenly tip over, as our planet has previously witnessed several abrupt switches between different states. Along with what happened to the Sahara, there are also the flip-flops between ice ages and moderate conditions which happened every 1,000 years, before things settled down 10,000 years ago. The idea that global warming might destabilise many climate systems and give rise to abrupt transitions was explored in the movie The Day After Tomorrow, in which melting ice shelves caused a sudden reversal in Atlantic currents – and a worldwide catastrophe.The idea of climate tipping points was explored more rigorously by a team of scientists led by myself for a study recently published in the journal PNAS. We looked at all the simulations performed by 37 climate models that had been used to inform the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) – together with their historical and pre-industrial simulations. That gave us a gigantic amount of data: around 1015 bytes divided over several computer servers around the world. We detected 37 cases of abrupt change, distributed over three different climate change scenarios. These include the Arctic becoming ice-free even in winter, the Amazon rainforest dying off and the total disappearance of snow and ice cover on the Tibetan Plateau.

Blocking the Sun Is No Plan B for Global Warming - More than 300 watts per square meter of sunshine hits the top of Earth's atmosphere each year. To a tinkerer's mind there is an obvious solution: block some of that sunlight from coming in. That's the solution known as geoengineering—the large-scale manipulation of the planet’s environment, in this case the sky. As negotiators at the climate talks underway here spar over what to do about adding more CO2 to the air, geoengineering becomes more and more attractive to those with this tinkerer's bent—a group dubbed the "geoclique" by journalist Eli Kintisch in his 2010 book Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe. These scientists, engineers and businessmen want to at least study options for blocking sunlight, which they say can be relatively inexpensive when compared with the bill for transforming the trillion-dollar global energy system that largely burns fossil fuels. Figuring out how droplets of sulfuric acid sprayed into the stratosphere might offset rising CO2 offers physicists a chance to have a literal global impact. As journalist Oliver Morton details in his new book "The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World," the geoclique is calling the approach "solar-radiation management," to fend off critics who call the sulfur idea far-fetched, or dangerous. The lexical sleight of hand hasn’t attracted the favor of climate negotiators, although a nation or even an average Internet billionaire could pay for a program to swathe the world in a sulfuric veil, using specially modified jet planes plying the stratosphere. A more speculative and longer-term alternative would be a fleet of self-propelled ships that could seed low-lying clouds across the world's oceans, expanding cloud cover and reflecting more sunlight.

Beijing issues 2nd smog red alert of the month - US News: (AP) — China's capital Beijing issued its second smog red alert of the month, triggering vehicle restrictions and forcing schools to close. A wave of smog is due to settle over the city of 22.5 million from Saturday to Tuesday. Levels of PM2.5, the smallest and deadliest airborne particles, are set to top 500, according to the official Beijing government website. That is more than 20 times the level that is considered safe by the World Health Organization. Half the city's cars will be forced off the road on any given day, while barbecue grills and other outdoor smoke sources will be banned and factory production restricted. Schools will close and residents advised to avoid outdoor activities. On Friday afternoon, the air was relatively good, with a PM2.5 reading of about 80 and the sun shining brightly over the city. However, visibility in some parts of Beijing will fall to less than 500 meters (1,600 feet) on Tuesday when the smog will be at its worst, the city government website said. An almost complete lack of wind would contribute to the smog's lingering over the city, it said. Smog red alerts are triggered when levels of PM2.5 above 300 are forecast to last for more than 72 hours. Although the four-tier smog warning system was launched two years ago, Beijing had not issued a red alert until last week, drawing accusations that it was ignoring serious bouts of smog to avoid the economic costs. Some residents have defied the odd-even license plate number traffic restrictions and complained about the need to stay home from work to accompany housebound children. Others have used the break from school to travel to places where the air is better, while many who stay wear air filtering face masks and run air purifiers in their homes. Scientific studies attribute 1.4 million premature deaths per year to China's smog, or almost 4,000 per day.

Will China Be the Enforcer of the Paris Climate Agreement? -- One of the main reasons the climate foot-draggers, in both parties, want to go slow on climate in the U.S. (aside both parties’ allegiance to “wealth creation”) is the China argument. In simple form, it says, “Whatever the U.S. does to save the climate will be undone by China, so why bother?” I don’t think that argument holds true any longer. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in The Telegraph: China is the low-carbon superpower and will be the ultimate enforcer of the COP21 climate deal in Paris Chinese scientists have published two alarming reports in a matter of weeks. Both conclude that the Himalayan glaciers and the Tibetan permafrost are succumbing to catastrophic climate change, threatening the water systems of the Yellow River, the Yangtze and the Mekong. One report was by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The other was a 900-page door-stopper from the science ministry, called the “Third National Assessment Report on Climate Change”. The latter is the official line of the Communist Party. It states that China has already warmed by 0.9-1.5 degrees over the past century – higher than the global average – and may warm by a further five degrees by 2100, with effects that would overwhelm the coastal cities of Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou. The message is that China faces a civilizational threat. Whether or not you accept the hypothesis of man-made global warming is irrelevant. The Chinese Academy and the Politburo do accept it. So does President Xi Jinping, who spent his Cultural Revolution carting coal in the mining region of Shaanxi. This political fact is tectonic for the global fossil industry and the economics of energy. Eight of the world’s biggest solar companies are Chinese. So is the second biggest wind power group, GoldWind. China invested $90bn in renewable energy last year and is already the superpower of low-carbon industries. It installed more solar in the first quarter than currently exists in France. Isabel Hilton from China Dialogue says the energy shift has reached a point where Beijing has a vested commercial interest in holding the world to the Paris deal. “The Chinese think they can dominate low-carbon technologies,” she said….

Beijing's Smog Alarms Public, But Data Shows India's Air Quality Is Far Worse - Forbes: Beijing’s dangerous levels of smog clogged news feeds this week. But analysis of World Health Organization data obtained by Forbes shows that other cities suffer far worse air pollution — in some cases, 50 percent more on average.The Chinese capital issued the second ever red alert for hazardously high levels of air pollution Friday. The first red alert closed down schools and limited traffic between Monday and Thursday. Pollution levels reached 300 micrograms per cubic meter, 12 times the World Health Organization’s recommended exposure of 25. The pollution mostly comes from China’s coal-burning power plants. It kills over 4,000 people a day, according to a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal earlier this year. Beijing’s smog looms large in the public’s imagination, perhaps as a symbol of collective anxiety about the rise of a foreign power. But, as our infographic shows, other parts of the developing world have far worse average air pollution. According to data collected by WHO in 2014, 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. No Chinese city appears in the top 20, although 14 Chinese cities were in the top 100 cities with the worst air. Beijing ranked 76th in that list. (The lone pink marker in the U.S. is Fresno, California — 161st)

Canadian company sells cans of fresh air to China - What would you pay for a breath of fresh air? Canadian company Vitality Air thinks it's worth between $15 and $46. In the wake of a red alert issued this month in Beijing for air pollution, the product has become increasingly popular in China. "Just like bottled water, premium air is a growing industry because people are noticing the difference," Vitality Air website says. The company says the canned air is "fresh Rocky Mountain air" from Alberta, Canada. Customers can buy canned air or pure oxygen similar to what you'd find in an oxygen bar. The canisters come in different sizes with an inhalation mask for optimal use. Vitality Air has received international orders from other countries and will be sending its first 500 bottle shipment to China this week, according to CNBC.

Critics concerned about some wind farms planned for Texas — The residents of Clay County gained national attention over the summer when it was announced the county’s new Shannon Wind Farm would power Facebook’s new billion-dollar Fort Worth data center 100 miles to the southeast. Last July, Clay County Judge Kenneth Liggett told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that residents overwhelmingly supported the new wind farm near Windthorst, saying: “99 percent of folks like it. One or two don’t.” The Star-Telegram reports five months later, he said that’s no longer the case. “It has been diminished a bunch by the actions of this group,” Liggett said. That group, Clay County Against Wind Farms, has been having meetings to raise awareness about two new proposed wind farms in the county just east of Wichita Falls. With an estimated population of 10,370, Clay County maintains a rural feel, and rancher Forrest Baldwin wants to keep it that way. “What we’re trying to do is get folks that might be interested in wind turbines to stop and think about it a little bit,” said Baldwin, whose family owns the 7,000-acre Sanzenbacher Ranch near Henrietta, established in 1873. “Are we really going to fundamentally transform the county from this rural setting that you see to more of an industrial type complex, and I think the majority of people now are saying, ‘No that’s not what we want,’ ” Baldwin said. To him, wind farms are a blight for several reasons, among them: They ruin the rural skyline, hurt land values and reduce the acreage used for agriculture.

Not-From-The-Onion-But-Should-Be story of the day -  This town is not too bright about solar panels. A North Carolina town rejected a solar farm proposal after citizens at the Woodland Town Council expressed fears that the panels would take away sunlight from their town.  Jane Mann, a retired science teacher from Northampton, spoke at the town meeting with concerns about photosynthesis and was worried plants wouldn’t get enough sunlight if solar panels were installed, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald reported. She also argued that solar panels could cause cancer.  Her husband, Bobby Mann, claimed that solar farms would “suck up all the energy from the sun” and ruin the town’s businesses. “You’re killing your town,” he said. “All the young people are going to move out." Company representatives from the Strata Solar Company tried reasoning with the town’s concerns, and told them there wouldn’t be any negative impacts. “The panels don’t draw additional sunlight,” Brent Niemann, a company representative told the concerned citizens. “There are no toxical materials on site. This is a tried and true technology.” It appeared the solar company’s appeal to sensibility didn’t work, as the town rejected the proposal, 3-1 against rezoning land near the town’s highway to build the solar farm.

North Carolina citizenry defeat pernicious Big Solar plan to suck up the Sun -- The citizens of Woodland, N.C. have spoken loud and clear: They don't want none of them highfalutin solar panels in their good town. They scare off the kids. "All the young people are going to move out," warned Bobby Mann, a local resident concerned about the future of his burg. Worse, Mann said, the solar panels would suck up all the energy from the Sun.  Another resident—a retired science teacher, no less—expressed concern that a proposed solar farm would block photosynthesis, and prevent nearby plants from growing. Jane Mann then went on to add that there seemed to have been a lot of cancer deaths in the area, and that no one could tell her solar panels didn't cause cancer. “I want information," Mann said. "Enough is enough." These comments were reported not in The Onion, but rather by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. They came during a Woodland Town Council meeting in which Strata Solar Company sought to rezone an area northeast of the town, off of US Highway 258, to build a solar farm. The council not only rejected the proposal, it went a step further, voting for a complete moratorium on solar farms. That seemed to please the residents evidently tired of Big Solar's relentless intrusion into their community. One resident, Mary Hobbs, said her home was surrounded by solar farms and has lost its value. That led Ars to the satellite view of Woodland on Google Maps, to see if we could verify the veracity of Hobbs' claims. This publication will not look the other way as Big Solar attempts to railroad the good citizens of small-town America. Alas, when we looked at the satellite view we didn't see any sign of solar farms as we perused the verdant fields and woods of the aptly named Woodland.

What Just Happened in Solar Is a Bigger Deal Than Oil Exports -- The clean-energy boom is about to be transformed. In a surprise move, U.S. lawmakers agreed to extend tax credits for solar and wind for another five years. This will give an unprecedented boost to the industry and change the course of deployment in the U.S. The extension will add an extra 20 gigawatts of solar power—more than every panel ever installed in the U.S. prior to 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). The U.S. was already one of the world's biggest clean-energy investors. This deal is like adding another America of solar power into the mix. The wind credit will contribute another 19 gigawatts over five years. Combined, the extensions will spur more than $73 billion of investment and supply enough electricity to power 8 million U.S. homes, according to BNEF. In the short term, the deal will speed up the shift from fossil fuels more than the global climate deal struck this month in Paris and more than Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan that regulates coal plants, This is exactly the sort of bridge the industry needed. The costs of installing wind and solar power have dropped precipitously—by more than 90 percent since the original tax credits took effect—but in most places coal and natural gas are still cheaper than unsubsidized renewables. By the time the new tax credit expires, solar and wind will be the cheapest forms of new electricity in many states across the U.S. The tax credits, valued at about $25 billion over five years, will drive $38 billion of investment in solar and $35 billion in wind through 2021, according to BNEF. The scale of the new projects will help push costs down further and will stimulate new investment that lasts beyond the extension of the credits.

U.S. Renewable Energy isn’t Helping the Economy — or the Fight Against ISIS – Manhattan Institute - Although the Islamic State is located in some of the sunniest regions of the globe, it’s making money selling not stolen solar panels and wind turbines but stolen oil. That should send a message to Congress, whose new $1.1 trillion spending bill extends the wind-production credit that expired last year and provides a new extension to the solar credit. Congress will vote on the bill Friday. Extension of renewable energy credits was the price to pay for allowing American companies to export crude oil, a ban that has been in place since 1975. With oil piling up in storage facilities, the need to export is obvious. The Iran deal allows Iran to export oil, and it’s only fair to allow American corporations the same rights as their Iranian counterparts. The bill shows that it’s practically impossible to get rid of a program or a tax credit. The rationale for renewable energy is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants have declined by 15% from 2005 to 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration, not from the use of renewables, but because of the growth of natural gas-fired power plants. With low natural gas prices, this is likely to continue. America generated 27% of its electricity from natural gas in 2014, compared with 4.4% from wind and less than 0.5% from solar. (Another 39% came from coal and 19% came from nuclear power.) Wind energy is dependent on credits.  ISIS is not putting up windmills or solar panels. It is not forcing ethanol into the gasoline supply (as EPA announced it would do last week). It is getting funds from oil to grab more lands in Syria and Iraq, and fund suicide bombers to kill Westerners. Oil, together with natural gas and coal, are valuable commodities to produce energy, while renewables are not. While ISIS kills, America is slowing its economy with its focus on renewables.

Hatred, Insults and Even Death Threats Over Climate Science? -- Here are some actual quotes from mail, emails, and phone messages to climate scientists: "You and your colleagues … ought to be shot, quartered and fed to the pigs” “Just a quick note to encourage you to do the right thing and shoot yourself in the head” “Wanker, you wanker you nead (sic) to be killed” “Beware of retribution upon yours. Someone somewhere will hunt you down” “I hope someone puts a bullet between your eyes” “I hope your child sees your head in a basket after you’ve been guillotined” We’re talking about scientists here — people who have studied calculus and physics most of their lives, working behind-the-scenes. If they were interested in being celebrities they could have gone into the TV weather field, for example. If they were interested in making a fortune, they could have used their intellect to make millions on Wall Street. If they wanted to change the world, they could have gotten into politics.

Cheap gas spurs SUV sales and puts U.S. climate goals at risk - Surging demand for trucks and SUVs fueled by cheap gasoline is holding back improvements in U.S. fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions, a government report due out on Wednesday is expected to show. The disconnect between consumer demand for larger, less efficient vehicles and the Obama administration's climate goals sets up a clash between the auto industry and federal regulators. Mark Rosekind, who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a Reuters interview last week the administration will consider automakers' arguments that the shift away from cars makes it harder to hit the 2025 fleet average fuel economy target of 54.5 miles (87.7 km) per gallon. But the landmark agreement announced in France over the weekend, to transform the world's fossil fuel-driven economy in bid to arrest global warming, could make a cut in the target difficult for the U.S. government to accept. "Unfortunately there have been too many decisions that are made - 'Oh, prices went down, it's OK again,'" said Rosekind. said. "No, it's not." Consumers are responding to signals from gas pumps, where a combination of relatively low taxes - federal gasoline taxes have not gone up since 1993 - and oil unleashed by hydraulic fracturing or fracking have pushed U.S. gasoline prices to an average of just over $2 a gallon - the lowest level in six years. In November, fuel efficiency of vehicles purchased fell sharply to 25 mpg - down 0.8 mpg from a peak in August 2014, said University of Michigan researcher Michael Sivak, who tracks fuel efficiency.

Why Volkswagen Cheated --  On December 10, Volkswagen Chairman Hans-Dieter Pötsch made a public admission: A group of the company’s engineers decided to cheat on emissions tests in 2005 because they couldn’t find a technical solution within the company’s “time frame and budget” to build diesel engines that would meet U.S. emissions standards. When the engineers did find a solution, he said, they chose to keep on cheating, rather than employ it. Noting that Volkswagen had suspended nine managers believed to be involved in the deception, Pötsch added that the scandal arose from “a mindset in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of the rules.” But Pötsch did not answer perhaps the biggest question of the scandal: Why did Volkswagen cheat on that particular engine at that particular time?Part of the answer lies, Newsweek has learned, in the unprecedented tightening of emissions standards by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for model year 2004, when the agency dramatically raised the bar on how much pollution new cars in the U.S. would be permitted to discharge into the atmosphere—presenting a virtually impossible engineering challenge to the world’s automakers.Since the mid-1970s, the EPA has introduced progressively more stringent emissions standards for light-duty vehicles, including cars, sport-utility vehicles and small pickup trucks. But the requirements for model year 2004 were among the toughest ever. The federal agency slashed the amount of nitrogen oxide it allowed cars to emit from their tailpipes by more than 94 percent—from 1.25 to 0.07 grams a mile. Nitrogen oxide is a pollutant found in vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke that, along with carbon dioxide, the EPA heavily regulates. Pollutants from tailpipe emissions can cause premature death, bronchitis, asthma and respiratory and cardiovascular illness.

Methane Leaks Responsible for 30% + of Climate Change  -- For decades, utilities in California have logged, but not repaired, thousands of pinprick leaks in pipelines criss-crossing the state. These leaks are considered non-hazardous because they don’t pose a health or safety risk. But they do pose an environmental risk. Tim O’Connor, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), says not many people, from utilities to state leaders, have been thinking about it.“It is this hidden environmental issue which is quite significant,” O’Connor says.‘Certain situations—not all, I want to be very clear on this—you’d find some leaks that would go unrepaired for literally years.’ Eric Hofmann, Utility Workers Union of America If you add up the greenhouse gas emissions coming from all pipeline leaks statewide, he says, it’s as if we’re putting 700,000 more cars on the roads.Methane is a Potent Greenhouse GasMost Californians who care about climate change understand that carbon dioxide emissions are a key part of the problem, but methane – which can seep from landfills, oil and gas infrastructure, wastewater ponds or agricultural facilities – is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to combating climate change.“It has a stronger global warming potential,” explains Riley Duren, a climate scientist who has been tracking atmospheric methane with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “On a 20-year timeline, methane is about 80 times more efficient at trapping heat than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.”

Britain follows Paris deal with cuts to green subsidies – Britain cut more renewable energy subsidies on Thursday, putting jobs at risk and drawing criticism for losing credibility in tackling climate change, a week after the landmark deal in Paris. Britain’s Conservative government has been reining in spending on all renewables subsidies since it took power in May, saying the cost of technology has come down sharply and subsidies should reflect that. Thursday’s cuts came a day after it allowed the use of fracking to extract shale gas below national parks and protected areas and as the licenses were awarded for shale oil and gas extraction. “Ministers happily take credit for being climate champions on an international stage while flagrantly undermining the renewable industry here at home,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas.  The government produced its own impact assessment on the changes showing they could result in the loss of between 9,700 and 18,700 solar jobs. “In a world that has just committed to strengthened climate action in Paris and which sees solar as the future, the UK government needs to get behind the British solar industry,” Paul Barwell, the head of Britain’s Solar Trade Association, said in a statement.

Japan, S Korea plan 61 new coal plants in next 10 years, despite global climate deal - Less than a week since signing the global climate deal in Paris, Japan and South Korea are pressing ahead with plans to open scores of new coal-fired power plants, casting doubt on the strength of their commitment to cutting CO2 emissions.Even as many of the world's rich nations seek to phase out the use of coal, Asia's two most developed economies are burning more than ever and plan to add at least 60 new coal-fired power plants over the next 10 years. Officials at both countries' energy ministries said those plans were unchanged. Japan, in particular, has been criticised for its lack of ambition - its 18-percent target for emissions cuts from 1990 to 2030 is less than half of Europe's - and questions have been raised about its ability to deliver, since the target relies on atomic energy, which is very unpopular after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant. "It will not be easy to change the dynamic for domestic coal use, but I think Japan cannot continue ignoring this," . "Eventually Japanese businesses will start recognising the meaning of emissions neutrality and the rapid shift to renewables in other countries and start responding," Analysts say Japan and South Korea could reduce carbon emissions by much more than they pledged in Paris.

Arch Coal to delay bond interest payment as bankruptcy looms - Arch Coal Inc, the second-largest coal miner in the United States, delayed a $90 million interest payment that was due Tuesday, pushing back a widely expected bankruptcy filing. The company's shares shot up nearly 35 percent to $1.20. "It tells you how bad things have become when hanging on becomes a victory," analysts at BB&T Capital Markets wrote in a note. "This year, an ACI filing looks like a near certainty." The company was widely expected to file for bankruptcy by Tuesday. If Arch Coal files a Chapter 11 petition, it will become the fourth coal miner to declare bankruptcy this year, joining Walter Energy Inc, Alpha Natural Resources Inc and Patriot Coal. "Shareholders in this troubled sector are likely relieved that (Arch Coal's) management is exploring options to maximize value to the benefit of all stakeholders," said David Johnson, a founding partner at restructuring firm ACM Partners.

COP21 and the coal industry : Yet that flexibility was required for the deal to win approval from countries such as India, Saudi Arabia and the US – where the agreement will still be subject to Senate approval, the point at which US involvement in the Kyoto Protocoal foundered. It also provides a lifeline for the coal industry, said Benjamin Sporton, CEO of the World Coal Association. “The foundation of this Paris Agreement at the INDCs […] which for many include a role for low-emission coal technologies, such as high-efficiency low-emissions coal and carbon capture and storage,” said Sporton in response to the deal. “With the commitments countries made going into COP21, the International Energy Agency said electricity generation from coal would grow by 24% by 2040.” It was a point picked up elsewhere in the industry with the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) saying that the deal would “support and accelerate the further roll-out of low emissions coal technologies.” “High-efficiency low-emission (HELE) coal-fired power plants are a central element of the emissions reductions plans of China, India, Japan and southeast Asian nations tabled in Paris,” the MCA continued. “More than 650 units are already in place in East Asia along, with more than 1060 of these units under construction or planned.” Sporton also said the Paris deal underlined the need to speed up development and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS). “We call on governments to move quickly to support increased investments in CCS and through providing policy parity for CCS alongside other low-emission technologies.”

Even if the global warming scare were a hoax, we would still need it - - Chinese scientists have published two alarming reports in a matter of weeks. Both conclude that the Himalayan glaciers and the Tibetan permafrost are succumbing to catastrophic climate change, threatening the water systems of the Yellow River, the Yangtze and the Mekong. The Tibetan plateau is the world’s "third pole", the biggest reservoir of fresh water outside the Arctic and Antarctica. The area is warming at twice the global pace, making it the epicentre of global climate risk. One report was by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The other was a 900-page door-stopper from the science ministry, called the “Third National Assessment Report on Climate Change”. The latter is the official line of the Communist Party. It states that China has already warmed by 0.9-1.5 degrees over the past century – higher than the global average - and may warm by a further five degrees by 2100, with effects that would overwhelm the coastal cities of Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou. The message is that China faces a civilizational threat.Whether or not you accept the hypothesis of man-made global warming is irrelevant. The Chinese Academy and the Politburo do accept it.  This political fact is tectonic for the global fossil industry and the economics of energy. Until last Saturday, it was an article of faith among Western climate sceptics and some in the fossil industry that China would never sign up to the COP21 accord in Paris or accept the "ratchet" of five-year reviews. . This political judgment was perhaps plausible three or four years ago in the dying days of the Hu Jintao era. Today it is clutching at straws.

Irradiated: The hidden legacy of 70 years of atomic weaponry: At least 33,480 Americans dead --Byron Vaigneur watched as a brownish sludge containing plutonium broke through the wall of his office on Oct. 3, 1975, and began puddling four feet from his desk at the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant in South Carolina.The radiation from the plutonium likely started attacking his body instantly. He’d later develop breast cancer and, as a result of his other work as a health inspector at the plant, he’d also contract chronic beryllium disease, a debilitating respiratory condition that can be fatal.“I knew we were in one helluva damn mess,” said Vaigneur, now 84, who had a mastectomy to cut out the cancer from his left breast and now is on oxygen, unable to walk more than 100 feet on many days. He says he’s ready to die and has already decided to donate his body to science, hoping it will help others who’ve been exposed to radiation. Vaigneur is one of 107,394 Americans who have been diagnosed with cancers and other diseases after building the nation’s nuclear stockpile over the last seven decades. For his troubles, he got $350,000 from the federal government in 2009. His cash came from a special fund created in 2001 to compensate those sickened in the construction of America’s nuclear arsenal. The program was touted as a way of repaying those who helped end the fight with the Japanese and persevere in the Cold War that followed. Most Americans regard their work as a heroic, patriotic endeavor. But the government has never fully disclosed the enormous human cost.

New database provides monthly inventory and status of U.S. electric generating plants -- EIA's recently introduced Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory consolidates currently available information on electric generators into a single product. This new database will enable users to identify monthly changes in generator status and to track units that are being added or retired from the generating fleet.  Monthly tracking of electricity generator additions is particularly important given the rapid increase in utility-scale (1 megawatt or greater) solar generating units, which have been installed at a rate of 24 plants per month in 2015 and account for nearly two-thirds of the total plants added this year. The full database includes 19,914 operating power plants with more than a million megawatts of net summer capacity (as of September 2015), as well as 1,080 planned plants, 2,989 retired plants, and 687 canceled or postponed plants. The new database integrates information submitted on the monthly survey Form EIA-860M, Monthly Update to Annual Electric Generator Report, and on the annual survey Form EIA-860, Annual Electric Generator Report, and provides information on plant operators, generator fuel and type, operator, and operating status. Generators can be analyzed by sector, state, capacity, technology type, energy source, and prime mover (i.e., a device used to transform one form of energy, commonly mechanical, into electric energy).

A state-by-state look at renewable energy requirements - Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have requirements that utilities get a certain amount of their electricity from renewable sources. Nine additional states have goals for renewable energy, while a dozen others have no targets. A state-by-state look at renewable energy policies.

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