Table Of Contents

    Portugal met 100 percent of its energy needs through renewable sources for several consecutive days in 2016. Above, a wind farm in Madeira, Portugal. Image courtesy of EWEA via


    Coalition of Attorneys General Urge Incoming Administration to Uphold Legal Defense of Clean Power Plan

    On December 28, attorneys general from 15 states, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Virginia, issued a letter to President-elect Trump and congressional leaders requesting the federal government continue its defense of the Clean Power Plan. The letter invokes the "significant human and economic costs inflicted by unchecked carbon pollution" and cites the Environmental Protection Agency's obligation to adhere to the Clean Air Act. The signatories also provide a direct rebuttal to a December 14 letter signed by attorneys general in 22 conservative states that urged an "executive order on day one" to rescind the "unlawful" rule. The latest letter in defense of the rule states the question of its legality is still under consideration by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and that a strong legal precedent exists for the Clean Power Plan as issued. The attorneys general go on to argue that an executive order striking the rule would not be upheld in court.

    For more information see:

    Climate Change News, Washington Post, Letter

    Skeptics Posit Exxon's Climate Stance Under Tillerson was an Elaborate Public Relations Ploy

    Climate watchdogs question the sincerity of Exxon's stance on climate change under the leadership of former CEO, Rex Tillerson. As the Trump administration's nominee for Secretary of State, Tillerson would hold authority over the office that represents the United States in international climate diplomacy. Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Exxon "agree[s] with the IPCC on climate science — except where it’s inconvenient.” Though Tillerson publicly endorsed a carbon tax in January 2009, industry monitors point to growing pressure on Exxon to shift its position at the time, as the pro-climate Obama administration took power and momentum gathered behind the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill. Exxon lobbied against the failed bill, but has not pursued a carbon tax bill in its place. Exxon continues to fund organizations hostile to climate change policies, despite announcing it would no longer fund other like-minded groups. Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University characterizes Exxon's transition under Tillerson as a "clever and sophisticated" form of climate denial.

    For more information see:

    New York Times

    California Leaders Vow to Continue Climate Policies Regardless of Federal Actions

    Governor Jerry Brown and California legislators have pledged to work directly with other states and foreign nations to enact climate policies, despite opposition from Republican leaders at the federal level. California's cap and trade program is already connected to the province of Quebec, Canada, while state officials have discussed potential partnerships with Mexico and China. Critics say California's aggressive policy stance could isolate it and present a competitive disadvantage versus states with less stringent regulations. However, as one of the ten largest economies in the world, California's actions carry weight with private markets. The state's clean air and energy efficiency efforts have become a vital part of the regional economy, but could suffer if the federal government reverses course on climate and environmental protection. Gov. Brown remains confident that governments already have the necessary momentum, stating, “In a paradoxical way, [Trump's election] could speed up the efforts of leaders in the world to take climate change seriously. The shock of official congressional and presidential denial will reverberate through the world.”

    For more information see:

    New York Times


    Ontario's Cap and Trade System to Go Live in January 2017

    On January 1, 2017, the Canadian province of Ontario will launch its own cap and trade system. The system will connect with existing cap and trade programs in Quebec and California, boosting the cross-state carbon market to 60 million people while driving down costs. Ontario's Environment Minister, Glen Murray, says the large economy of scale is necessary to make the carbon cuts economically viable. Starting in 2018, participants will be able to sell carbon credits across all three markets. Ontario's system will set a hard cap on emissions for companies, which will decrease annually. The mandatory cuts will be 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Cap and trade revenues, estimated at C$1.9 billion annually, will fund programs designed to increase electric vehicle ownership, retrofit buildings, introduce more efficient industrial equipment, and other climate actions. Estimates suggest Ontario's initial price on carbon will be C$19 per tonne, which could add C$13 to an average household's annual heating and gasoline costs.

    For more information see:

    Globe and Mail


    Entire Country of Portugal Ran on 100 Percent Renewable Energy for Nearly 4.5 Consecutive Days

    For nearly 4.5 consecutive days in May 2016, the nation of Portugal met its electricity needs exclusively through renewable energy. António Sá da Costa, managing director of the renewable energy association Apren, said the event was the convergence of three factors: “We had the power plants in place to take advantage of the natural conditions during that period; [we had the necessary] wind, water and sun; [and] we had the operational grid capability – in terms of both distribution and transportation – to manage this type of situation.” Portugal's climate alternates between wet and dry years, causing its energy mix to fluctuate as well. In 2016, Portugal generated 32 percent of its electricity from hydro, 25 percent from wind, 2 percent from solar, and the rest from fossil fuels. Sá da Costa predicts further investment in wind and solar could allow Portugal to generate 60 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

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    Earth Scientists Urged to Push Back Against Anti-Science Political Agendas

    Climate scientists are grappling with how best to advocate for and protect their work as climate deniers prepare to take prominent posts within the federal government. December's American Geophysical Union conference saw this debate play out on a small scale among 20,000 scientists. An outdoor rally urging people to "stand up for science" was held near the conference site, drawing 500 attendees. Kim Cobb of Georgia Tech expressed dissatisfaction with the relatively small crowd, asking, “What is the nightmare scenario that will get you [to speak out]?" The conference itself featured sessions on how best to achieve the community's goals and navigate a new political landscape that has many earth scientists concerned. Jane Zelikova with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said, “We as scientists have to become comfortable saying how we feel, even if it sounds political. And we need an organization like the Union of Concerned Scientists to be less risk-averse, and yell louder, and be political.”

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    Warming Waters Cause Atlantic Fisheries to Change Faster than Industry Regulations can Adapt

    Two-thirds of marine species in the Northeast United States have adjusted their range toward deeper or more northerly regions in search of cooler water. The climate change-induced warming has led to a disparity between where fish are found and the rules governing how fishermen may operate. Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University observed, “Our management system assumes that the ocean has white lines drawn on it, but fish don’t see those lines." State and federal fishery managers are attempting to ease the conflict by accounting for warming ocean temperatures, reviewing the permitting structure, and ensuring states have more equitable representation on fishery councils. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut delivered a letter to the Commerce Department in June, pointing out the hardships facing fishermen and stating, “As species of fish move north, the allocation levels should migrate with them.” One proposal under consideration is ecosystem-based management, which would maintain population levels for categories of fish essential to a healthy ecosystem, rather than instituting catch limits strictly on individual species type.

    For more information see:

    New York Times


    Maine Embraces Economic Benefits of Emerging Arctic Shipping Routes

    Maine's residents hope to adapt to a warming Arctic and North Atlantic by pursuing new opportunities afforded by climate change. The Gulf of Maine has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the world's oceans, leading to the collapse of the local cod fishery. However, the climate shift has led to a boom in lobster stocks and pushed the state to diversify its economy. The state is trying to position itself as a shipping "gateway" as diminishing sea ice opens up Arctic routes. The Icelandic shipping firm Eimskip set up a hub in Portland in 2013, establishing a steady trade market in Maine. Meanwhile, the city of Eastport had its busiest shipping year ever in 2012 and is seeking to expand its capabilities in anticipation of business from the Arctic routes. Professor Ralph Pundt of the Maine Maritime Academy is concerned that Maine may struggle to balance growth and the environment: “We have possible opportunities [in the Arctic], but we have huge responsibilities to protect that area, and it’s my concern that we won’t."

    For more information see:

    Christian Science Monitor


    Experiment in Colorado Mountains Shows Trees May Follow Warming Climate, but Rain Could Be Limiting Factor

    A large-scale experiment in Colorado is providing scientists and federal agencies with data on how trees may respond to climate change. The decade-long, $7 million experiment is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Scientists suspended infrared heaters along scaffolding on experimental plots along Colorado's Niwot Ridge. The heaters raised the temperatures in the plots by 1.5 to 4 degrees Celsius at an elevation of 11,200 feet, where the natural treeline stops due to insufficient soil, high winds, and cold temperatures. In plots seeded with conifer trees, warmer temperatures and extra water allowed trees to grow and survive for more than three years. However, warm plots without the artificial increase in water saw their trees die after two years. Team leader Jeff Mitton of the University of Colorado said this is concerning because even if trees follow warmer temperatures into higher elevations, "that can only happen if the amount of precipitation is increasing. And, in Colorado, there is no consensus on whether precipitation will increase or decrease.”

    For more information see:

    Denver Post


    More Research Needed if Negative Emissions Technologies are to Make an Impact

    A range of "negative emissions" technologies are being explored by scientists as tools for aiding global climate mitigation goals. A technique called "enhanced weathering" would use agricultural lands to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through a natural chemical reaction. The crushed silicate would be applied across a field, capturing CO2 while releasing nutrients back into the soil. A major drawback of weathering is the economic and environmental cost associated with mining, preparing, and transporting the silicate. Another method, "bio-energy with carbon capture and storage," uses fast-growing plants to remove CO2, which are then harvested and burned in power plants. However, scaling up the process to sufficient levels would require an inordinate amount of arable land. According to Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, “All the negative emissions technologies, except for growing forests, are in the very early stages of development. If these technologies are going to make a difference, they’re going to have to go from essentially nothing now to a massive scale in decades.”

    For more information see:

    Scientific American



    White House Releases Draft Interagency Report on the State of Climate Science

    Efforts to Diminish Social Cost of Carbon Metric Will Face Resistance from Economists

    Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Scrubs Website of Information Attributing Climate Change to Humans, Says Science is "Being Debated"

    World Bank: Waste Flared by Natural Gas Industry Is Enough to Power Africa's Annual Electricity Demand

    Lawyers Representing Youths Threatened by Climate Change File Deposition Against Tillerson

    Study: Migrating Birds Reach Summer Breeding Grounds a Day Earlier for Every Degree Increase in Global Temperatures


    Writer and Editor: Brian La Shier