Climate Change News September 12, 2011

Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
September 12, 2011



GAO Study: Geo-Engineering Technologies Not Yet Ready to Combat Climate Change

Climate engineering technologies are not yet developed enough for large-scale implementation, according to a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The proposed technologies fall into one of two categories: carbon dioxide removal or solar radiation management. Carbon dioxide removal would reduce atmospheric CO2 and, therefore, reduce heat trapped by the atmosphere. Alternatively, solar radiation management involves dispersing reflective materials into the atmosphere or space in order to scatter and deflect incoming radiation from the sun. The GAO ranked the “technological readiness” of each option on a scale of one to nine, with the “direct air capture of carbon dioxide” receiving a three, the highest rank. The GAO cited cost, effectiveness and adverse consequences as the highest causes for concern in geo-engineering technologies. The GAO also surveyed 1,006 U.S. adults unfamiliar with geo-engineering technology and stated that “when given information on the technologies, they tend to be open to research but concerned about safety.”

For additional information see: Scientific American, GAO Report

EU and Australia Negotiate Linking of Carbon Trading Systems

European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso confirmed that the European Union was in negotiations to link Australia’s planned carbon trading system to Europe’s system, in a statement released September 5. In July, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard confirmed the levying of a new tax that will require Australia’s top 500 carbon emitters to pay $23 per ton starting July 2012. If negotiations between Australia and the EU are successful, this will precede the introduction of a full carbon trading system in 2015. Barroso praised the plan, citing mutual interest in expanding global carbon markets. Obstacles to Australia’s involvement in a global carbon trading scheme include issues of exchange rate between Australia and the EU, and criticism from Australia’s influential mining industry.

For additional information see: Business Green, International Business Times

Low-lying Nation of Kiribati Contemplates ‘Floating Islands’

Anote Tong, president of the low-lying island nation of Kiribati, said that he is considering building floating islands as a possible adaptation to climate change. At a meeting of Pacific leaders, Mr. Tong recognized that the concept sounded "like something from science fiction" but he also said that they were running out of options. Kiribati is an extremely poor nation, so the $2 billion platforms would require outside funding from the developed world. Mr. Tong has also considered building sea walls, which would cost an estimated $1 billion, or even relocating people to islands off New Zealand. "Every time I fly into Auckland I see these huge land masses which they call derelict islands but we would love to have them," he said. According to Mr. Tong, climate change is already affecting the citizens of Kiribati, as some have lost their homes to rising sea levels.

For additional information see: Telegraph, AP

Deutsche Bank Lowers Projected Price of Carbon

Concerns about Europe’s sovereign debt prompted Deutsche Bank to lower the projected price of carbon from 17 Euros to 12 Euros per ton by the end of 2011, and from 19 Euros to 15 Euros per ton by the end of 2012. Deutsche Bank maintained its forecast that emissions in the carbon trading scheme will be capped at 395 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2020. Poor profit margins in power plants are expected to drive carbon purchases lower than expected, and many companies are expected to switch to less carbon-intensive fuels. These reduced projections have affected longer term forecasts as well. The projected price of carbon in 2020 has fallen from 30 Euros to 28 Euros per ton. The bank’s new estimates were published on September 6.

For additional information see: Business Green, Deutsche Bank

Google Reveals Carbon Emission Levels

On September 8, Google released information about its carbon footprint for the first time, revealing that the company emits 1.5 million tons of carbon annually. Google stated that its data centers use 50 percent less energy than other data centers in the industry, and the company’s system of cloud-based servers can be up to 80 times as energy efficient as server systems that require companies to operate their own servers. Thirty percent of Google’s electricity is from renewable energy, and this will grow to 35 percent in 2012. Google’s efforts to reduce emissions include purchasing energy from renewable sources, and plans for a Carbon Disclosure Project, that will inform people about the company’s carbon consumption.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Study

Many Insurance Companies Lack Climate Change Policy

According to a new report by the environmental investor organization Ceres, only one in eight insurance companies have developed a policy in response to climate change, though insurers generally admit the substantial effect that climate change will likely have on the insurance industry. The study concluded that most insurance companies that recognize the potential impact of climate risk do not incorporate climate change into risk management; 88 companies were surveyed, only 11 of which have formal climate policies. Fifty companies lacked a formal plan to reduce their own operational emissions, though many reported steps such as recycling and encouraging the use of reusable coffee cups to reduce emissions. Ceres recommended requiring public disclosure of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Form in order to give regulators a more comprehensive depiction of climate activities in the insurance market.

For additional information see: Reuters, The Report, Ceres Press Release

Entertainment Electronics Responsible for More GHG Emissions than Larger Appliances

A recent study calculated that consumer electronics such as televisions, computers, and audio systems account for more emissions than larger household appliances such as refrigerators. Though larger appliances require more energy to operate, the manufacturing processes of entertainment electronics greatly increases their environmental impact. The researchers found that manufacturing a single laptop creates 700 pounds of greenhouse gases. Researchers suggested that the rapid development and consumption of new electronic devices renders their manufacturing an important factor in greenhouse gas emissions.

For additional information see: Chemical and Engineering News, Study

Study: Switching from Coal to Natural Gas Could Exacerbate Global Warming

Converting from coal to natural gas will not slow climate change, according to research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The opposite will actually occur, at least in the short term. The reason for the increase in temperature is that while coal produces more greenhouse gas emissions, it also produces other pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ash, which block light from the sun, thus helping to cool the atmosphere. In addition, the rate of leakage of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas development would also reduce the benefits of fuel switching. "Whatever the methane leakage rate, you can't get away from the additional warming that will occur initially because, by not burning coal, you're not having the cooling effect of sulfates and other particles," lead author Tom Wigley said. "This particle effect is a double-edged sword because reducing them is a good thing in terms of lessening air pollution and acid rain. But the paradox is when we clean up these particles, it slows down efforts to reduce global warming." Eliminating coal emissions will marginally increase the average global temperature until 2050 before it declines. If methane leaks are not contained, the temperature will rise until 2140 before decreasing, according to the study, which was published in the journal Climate Change.

For additional information see: UCAR, Los Angeles Times, Science Daily, Study Abstract

King Crabs Invade Antarctic Waters

According to a study from the University of Hawaii, the habitat of a species of crab is expanding as the coastal shelf waters of Antarctica become warmer. The species of king crabs were previously only found in the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica, but climate change has allowed them to populate Palmer Deep, a basin on the edge of the continental shelf next to the West Antarctic Peninsula, at 400 to 600 meters below sea level. The current population of invasive crabs in the Palmer Deep is expected to be over 1 million. According to Dr. Craig Smith, a professor of oceanography from the University of Hawaii, waters 500 meters above the shelf could be warm enough to support king crab populations within the next 20 years. The crabs alter their habitat by reducing biodiversity and changing the geochemistry of their surroundings by consuming and digesting small animals living in the sediment, harming the ecosystems they inhabit.

For additional information see: ABC, AFP

Climate Change Threatens California Chinook Salmon

A recent study found that populations of spring-run Chinook salmon may be depleted in California by the end of the century because the waters will be too warm to spawn. The researchers used a model of the Butte Creek watershed, and considered hydropowered dams located on the river, as well as several models that project climate change through 2099. Nearly every scenario suggested that rising temperatures will render the salmon incapable of spawning. According to the lead author of the study, the depletion of salmon is avoidable, but the solutions would affect hydroelectric power generation. One option would likely require reducing hydroelectric power generation during the warmest months, which are also the peak months for energy consumption in California. Other potential solutions include holding water for salmon at other locations, and dumping cooler water into the stream during heat waves. The study was published in the Journal of Water Resources and Management.

For additional information see: Summit County Voice, Science Daily, Abstract

Crop Yields Key to Emission Analysis

A recent study led by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service suggested that analyzing emissions per unit of crop yield rather than per area units could lead to different results. When analyzed in terms of area, tillage practices do not notably affect nitrous oxide emissions. However, when crop yields are taken into account, nitrous oxide emissions become significant because “no-till” areas have lower crop yield. When nitrous oxide emissions are calculated per yield of grain, emissions are 52 to 66 percent higher when there is no tilling. The effect of tilling can have varying effects on crop yields, depending on factors such as soil temperature. In some regions, tilling may actually increase crop yield. Expressing greenhouse gas emissions in terms of crop yield could reveal the specific outcome of tilling in different regions.

For additional information see: Science Daily, Article

Study: Clouds Do Not Cause Climate Change

A study by Texas A&M professor Andrew Dessler showed that clouds act as a feedback response to warming temperatures rather than the cause of warming temperatures. Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences, has spent the last 10 years studying El Niño and La Niña effects, which are caused by the cyclical warming and cooling of the Pacific Ocean. La Niña is also seen has the cause of the prolonged droughts experienced by Texas. In his study, he found that clouds do not play a significant role in the initiation of these cycles, a discovery which is in line with contemporary scientific consensus. "The bottom line is that clouds have not replaced humans as the cause of the recent warming the Earth is experiencing," Dessler says. The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

For additional information see: Science Daily, International Business Times, Study Abstract

Pole to Pole Data Collection Flights Reinforce Mathematical Models of Global Warming

Data collected from several years of pole-to-pole flights in a project known as HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) reinforce the mathematical model predictions that climate change is impacted by human activities, according to scientists associated with the project. Data from HIPPO have been used to quantify processes of carbon cycling that are important in managing greenhouse gas emissions. The flights enabled scientists to observe the distribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) to test the predictions of previous mathematical models about climate change. One of the most significant research milestones for the project was quantifying seasonal fluxes of CO2 that are processed by the land plants and the ocean. The studies, which included collecting and quantifying over 80 different gases, also include strong evidence that areas of the ocean surface that have been exposed due to melting ice caps are emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

For additional information see: LA Times, Science Daily, Science News

Other Headlines

September 23: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon will take place at the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23–Oct. 2, 2011. The award-winning program challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. Open to the public free of charge, visitors can tour the houses, gather ideas to use in their own homes, and learn how energy-saving features can help them save money today.

Writers: Joey Gosselar, Kate Glass, and Matthew Johnson

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