Climate Change News April 9, 2012

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
April 9, 2012


Military Investments in Clean Energy Protect Troops, National Security

The United States military is investing two million dollars in solar technology that will let soldiers power equipment and purify water in the field. Thomas Hicks, the Navy’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy, explains the overall move to clean energy as “improving our combat capability, improving our mission effectiveness, and reducing our vulnerabilities to foreign sources of fossil fuel . . . It’s about returning more of our brave soldiers and Marines back home to their families safely.”  During 2007, over one third of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan occurred during attacks on fuel convoys.  Solar modules and other renewable energy sources allow soldiers to cut fuel use and convoy trips. A 2010 Department of Defense study concluded that climate change and energy security are “prominent military vulnerabilities,” and that climate change is an “accelerant of instability and conflict.” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus defended clean energy programs in before Congress, citing the societal benefits of past Navy research and development, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), microchips, and the internet.  

For additional information see: The Daily Climate, Scientific American

NRDC Report Ranks State on Tackling Climate Change

A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report, “Ready or Not: An Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning," ranked the 50 states based on preparedness for climate change, with California topping the list. Report author Ben Chou cited a 2010 water efficiency bill that seeks to reduce urban water use 20 percent per capita by 2020 and the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) as two of California’s important climate change preparedness policies. Alaska, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin are other top ranked states with plans to deal with droughts, shrinking snowpack and other climate change-related water problems. The report said 29 states have done little to prepare, Texas, which experienced severe droughts last year, is low on the list. Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio have no preparedness plans. Chou comments, “This issue is really about protecting our future generations, our public health, our communities and the economy.  It’s not a partisan issue.”

For additional information see: San Francisco Chronicle, Report

Climate Change May Contribute to Global Conflict

Military planners predict worldwide security threats from climate change which is expected to hit developing nations particularly hard, raising the importance of humanitarian response efforts and infrastructure improvements.  For example, the Arab Spring uprisings have been linked to high food prices caused by the failed Russian wheat crop in 2010, a result of an unparalleled heat wave.  According to Bob Corell, of the Environment and Technology Foundation, Africa is particularly vulnerable to droughts, which can lead to increased conflict; ethnic cleansing in Darfur was linked to drought in Sudan.   Future military conflicts may erupt in the Arctic as sea ice melts, opening up shipping lanes which will provide easy access to Asia while avoiding potential conflicts in the Middle East and piracy in the Straits of Malacca, between Malaysia and Indonesia.  The Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change has noted impacts of flooding in Thailand on the regional supply chain, and predicts that flooding and drought in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries may cause mass migrations, increased ethnic tensions and repression.  “Expect this to play out again and again in the future,” Corell warned, "There are going to be Darfur's all over the place."

For additional information see: The Daily Climate

Continued Push for Legal Action Against EU Airline Emissions Rule

Some Republican members of Congress and Airlines for America, an airline industry group, are pushing the U.S. government to file a complaint against the European Union emissions trading scheme (ETS) with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) under Article 84 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The ETS requires airlines to pay for carbon emissions of flights landing or taking off in the EU. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) said, “The administration has talked, and sometimes it’s difficult to get things done unless you draw a line in the sand, but I think the time has come for some additional action.” The U.S. administration is reluctant to pursue an Article 84 case and is pressuring the EU and OCAO to change the rule. Krishna Urs, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs, said, “We haven’t taken anything off the table. We remain firmly committed to opposing the EU [emissions scheme] and to pushing for a solution in ICAO.”  Action in ICAO may not provide a solution because the EU is not a signatory to the aviation treaty nor is it a member of ICAO, though its member nations are.

For additional information see: Politico

Report: Combating Climate Change Is Not Expensive

A report from the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change (CCC), “Statutory Advice on Inclusion of International Aviation and Shipping,” concluded that the UK emissions reductions goal of 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 will cost only 1-2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050. David Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer of the CCC, commented, “You don’t need radical behavior and lifestyle changes to achieve our climate objectives. It’s a very, very small impact on growth. And what you get for that is a whole range of economic benefits.” The results are similar to findings by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which indicated that reductions similar to the UK goal would reduce U.S. GDP by one to 3.5 percent in 2050.  "There is action in various states of the U.S. But at the national level, clearly the US has not got anything like the ambition we have, and I think in the long term that will be to the economic detriment of the U.S.," said Kennedy.

For additional information see: Mother Jones

High Elevation Countries Unite in Effort to Address Climate Change

More than two dozen countries with mountains higher than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) will meet at a two-day conference to discuss the effects of climate change. The Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav sees climate change as the greatest threat to the human population and says, "The climate change clock is ticking and we have little time to adapt.” There is a growing concern among participating countries that climate change effects were not being addressed effectively. "It is high time the contribution of mountains to development is recognized. It is only when we are united, we will be heard,” said Festus Bagoora from National Environment Management Authority of Uganda. The high elevation environments contain 25 percent of Earth’s land surface and almost 13 percent of the world population.  

For additional information see: Hindustan Times

UN Study: Broadband Could Help Combat Climate Change

A study published by the United Nations’ Broadband Commission for Digital Development, estimates that use of information and communication technologies (ICT) could save up to 15 percent of global emissions a year by 2020. The report showed how broadband can simultaneously reduce inefficiency, combat climate change and generate economic growth. The report highlights a smart building pilot program at Microsoft's corporate headquarters that is saving $1 million annually in energy costs by automatically identifying building inefficiencies as well as the use of cloud computing models to run applications and data on centralized server farms could save U.S. companies $12 billion per year.  Hans Vestberg, Chairman of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Climate Change, said, "In today's economic climate, societies need to develop, and with a solutions-driven approach to climate change, we can accelerate a new type of green growth while supporting global sustainable development goals." The report also gave 10 suggestions for global leaders and policy makers to guide transitions to ICT and lower carbon emission.

For additional information see: BusinessGreen, Reuters

Lights Turned Out Across Globe for Earth Hour 2012

On March 31, 147 countries and territories participated in Earth Hour by turning out lights for an hour at 8:30 p.m. local time. "Earth Hour 2012 is a celebration of people power; the world's largest mass event in support of the planet," said Dermond O’Gorman, of the World Wildlife Fund, which organizes the event. Lights went off worldwide at landmarks including the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the Empire State Building and the National Cathedral. Libya, Algeria, Bhutan and French Guinea were first-time participants. "Let us stand together to make of our world a sustainable source for our future as humanity on this planet," tweeted the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, while Rudy Ko, of Society of Wilderness, a Taiwanese environmental group, suggested children ask their parents "to turn the lights off, go out, go to the parks to do some exercise, and enjoy some family time instead of watching TV or play video games."

For additional information see: AP (Seattle pi)

Biomass Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accounting Could Affect EU Carbon Targets

On March 29, the European Parliament was asked to reconsider biomass carbon accounting rules.  Approximately one-half of the European Union’s target for acquiring 20 percent of energy from renewables by 2020 is from biomass.  Wood is the largest source of biomass and is considered carbon neutral.  There is a time lag between when a tree is converted to energy, releasing greenhouse gases (GHG), and when a new tree grows to maturity, capturing GHGs.  Professor Detlef Sprinz, a scientist with the European Environmental Agency, says, "It is wrong to assume that bio-energy is carbon neutral by definition, it depends what you replace it with . . . If you replace a growing forest [with] energy crops under the current accounting rules of the European Union, you may very well increase greenhouse gas emissions.”  A proposal that could impose binding criteria for biomass for energy production had been expected later this year but may be delayed again.

For additional information see: The Guardian

Drop in Carbon Prices Lowers World Carbon Market Value 21 Percent

Analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) found that the value of the world’s carbon market has fallen 21 percent, to €14.2 billion since the start of 2012, and 41 percent compared to the same period last year. Trading volume is up 17 percent since the end of 2011, but carbon prices are at a record low €6.6 per metric ton. BNEF Director of carbon and power research Guy Turner stated, “Trading volumes should pick up further in the year with the introduction of early auctioning in the EU ETS and growing activity in California, although this is unlikely to offset the effect of low prices. We expect the total value of the carbon market in 2012 to be down slightly on last year.” The low prices are attributed to an excess of carbon allowances, which is expected to continue.

For additional information see: Bloomberg

Fertilizers Determined a Source for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A University of California, Berkeley study has determined fertilizer use to be a major source of nitrous oxide emissions. The study was the first of its kind, identifying nitrous oxide molecules that were directly emitted from fertilizers by concentrating on a very specific isotope. Kristie Boering of UC Berkeley says, “We hope this study will contribute to changes in fertilizer use and agricultural practices that will help to mitigate the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.” Limiting nitrous oxide emissions could be part of a first step toward reducing all greenhouse gases and lessening global warming. Nitrous oxide levels have increased 20 percent since 1750. Nitrous oxide is the third most potent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane, trapping heat and contributing to global warming. It also destroys stratospheric ozone, which protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet rays.

For additional information see: UC Berkeley News Center

Rise in Carbon Dioxide Preceded Warming at End of Last Ice Age

Scientists sampled ice cores and undersea sediments at 80 sites around the world and concluded that increasing global temperatures at the end of the last ice age followed a rise in global CO2 levels, according to a study published in Nature on April 4. “This is the first effort to get most of the data that’s out there together,” says Shakun. “It's the first hard empirical proof that CO2 was a big driver of global warming out of the ice age,” said Jeremy Shakun, a paleoclimatologist at Harvard University. The finding confirms past studies of Antarctic ice core gas bubbles that found increases in CO2 levels follow temperature rise; temperatures in the Antarctic had risen before local CO2 levels, but only after a global rise in CO2 levels.  The rise in CO2 at the end of the ice age, from about 180 to 260 parts per million, occurred over 7000 years and was followed by a temperature increase of about six degrees Fahrenheit. According to climate models used by the researchers, CO2 levels are more important than other global warming drivers, including other greenhouse gases, loss of ice sheets, dust and changes in vegetation cover.

For additional information see: Nature, Christian Science Monitor, The Columbus Dispatch

Waterborne Illness Among Alaskan Inuit Linked to Climate Change

A study published in EcoHealth shows increased incidence of waterborne illness linked to climate change in Alaskan Inuit communities. Lead author Sherilee Harper explained that Inuit communities often prefer to drink brook water, or do not have access to tap water. “After periods of heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt there is an increase of bacteria [such as E. coli] in the water, and about two to four weeks later there is an increase in diarrhea and vomiting,” said Harper.  Indigenous communities worldwide are expected to be disproportionately affected by climate change because they interact more closely with their environment, and tend to live in areas more strongly impacted by climate change. The team is seeing similar trends in communities of Batwa pygmies in Uganda and the Shipibo people of Peru.  James Ford, climate scientist at McGill University said, “If we look at what happens in the Arctic and how climate change plays out with its societies and people, we’ll increase our understanding of how as a globe we are going to respond to climate change.”

For additional information see: National Geographic

Report: Mental Health Effects of Climate Change

A report published by the National Wildlife Federation estimated that “200 million Americans will be exposed to serious psychological distress from climate related events and incidents.” A panel of psychiatrists, psychologists, and public health and climate experts predicted increased depression, anxiety, phobias, PTSD, grief, eating disorders, suicide, violence, and substance abuse. The report concluded that children, military personnel and families, elderly and low-income populations with low mobility, and people with pre-existing mental illness are at highest risk. The panel recommends training in psychological effects of extreme weather for medical professionals, especially first responders, and pediatricians and the mental health care community, including school counselors.  

For additional information see: Forbes, National Wildlife Federation Report

Other Headlines

Writers: Alison Alford, Justin Jones, Zuzana Culakova and Erin Tulley

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