D-Day: On January 5, House Republicans Begin Search for the Truth on Climate Science and Clean Energy

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Fox News Commentator Fred Barnes sees January 5  as D-Day, “when Republicans start to do business as the House majority.”

This newly empowered house majority will include Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who will be the vice chair of the Committee on Science and Technology and who has a history of attempting to investigate the science of climate change. Sensenbrenner recently called the scientific consensus on climate change a “massive international scientific fraud.” The Committee on Science and Technology’s jurisdiction includes scientific research and education, space exploration, clean energy innovation and climate change research.

Paul Broun (R-Ga.), head of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, has criticized the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare, and has accused the Obama administration of “muzzling experts, limiting access, retaliating against dissent and systematically misrepresenting science.”

Science Committee head Ralph Hall (R-Texas) has also questioned mainstream climate science, and is a champion of fossil fuels. He recently told the Dallas Morning News his investigations of climate science could include subpoenaing scientists:

“I’m interested in the truth on that,” Hall said. “There are a lot of people who believe that a lot of decisions were made on the false statements of others. I’ll try to find out who those others are, and ask them to come before the committee. And if they don’t come before the committee, well, we might subpoena them.”

It’s Not Just the Science: The House Energy Committee Not Exactly Bullish on Renewable Energy

Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the new head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has spoken publicly against subsidies for clean energy, and recently penned an essay for the Daily Caller in which he wrote, “Since I am sure that the industry will never give up its free money voluntarily, now is the time for us to slash it on our terms.”

Upton has written elsewhere that in the U.S. we “need to strengthen our energy security,” and “without affordable, domestic energy supplies, America is likely to continue to face the geopolitical vulnerability that comes from being at the mercy of other nations for such a disproportionate share of our energy supply.”

On the bright side, Tuesday the House accepted the Senate version of the America COMPETES Act, aimed at increasing the budgets of the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The Fight Against Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rolls On

The same tax extensions Upton rails against, which will subsidize ethanol and wind, are also going to subsidize liquid fuels made from coal, which generate almost twice the greenhouse gas emissions as regular gasoline.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) believes the new congress will be “much more likely” to vote for his bill, which could stop looming EPA climate change rules.

California Isn’t Waiting for the Feds to Take Action

California has approved rules that will create the world’s second-largest carbon market after the European Union, allowing industry and others to trade billions of dollars in carbon credits.” A substantial number of manufacturers still view the program as a disaster that will raise costs and hurt the state’s competitiveness,” reports Reuters.

March of the Polar Bears

A new paper says significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions could save the arctic habitat on which the polar bear depends, but the state of Alaska is suing the federal government over its decision to designate 187,000 square miles of the state as critical habitat for the bears. Another new paper modeling the climate suggests that a small refuge of Arctic sea ice may persist into the late 21st century along the northern coast of Canada and Greenland, providing a vital refuge for polar bears and other wildlife.

Green Is Still a Smart Investment

Warren Buffet thinks green cars are going to pay off for him as an investment within five years. While the first sub-$30,000 all-electric-vehicles will begin to arrive in a trickle in 2011, and then a flood in 2012.

Companies are reducing their carbon footprint even in the absence of legislation, while a Spanish conglomerate closed on a $1.45 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy for a 250-megawatt solar thermal plant in Arizona. Another solar thermal plant in Nevada will store the power it generates in molten salts so that it can generate energy 24/7.

U.S. Energy Information Administration Projects Climate Catastrophe

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook is out, and it projects energy-related CO2 emissions are going to grow 6 percent during the next 30 years, a rate slower than might be expected, but incompatible with what the science says the U.S. needs to achieve in order to avert catastrophic global warming. The EIA projects that through 2035, coal will remain the dominant fuel for generating electricity in the U.S., and overall emissions growth will be stymied by various existing state and federal policies, “including appliance and building efficiency standards, higher energy prices, shifts in housing growth, and the continued transition to a more service-oriented economy.”

This emissions scenario contrasts sharply with U.S. promises for emissions reductions made at Cancún and the draw-down of emissions required to preserve a livable climate, according to NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director James Hansen, and would “almost certainly commit the world to catastrophic climate change, including rapid sea level rise, extreme famine, desertification, and ecological collapse on land and sea,” argues Brad Johnson of Think Progress.

A New Spin on Climate Refugees

A nuanced piece in Slate asks what impact the fence between India and Bangladesh will have on an influx of future climate refugees.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Cancún Climate Talks Limp to a Compromise at Close of Hottest Year on Record

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

It’s official, at least according to NASA: worldwide, 2010 was the hottest year on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre may disagree, but the bottom line, says Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post, “is that all of the data as measured by land, sea, air, and even from space, shows 2010 has been an unusually warm year globally.”

Meanwhile, the international climate talks in Cancún concluded Saturday with an agreement endorsed by 193 of the 194 countries present. For the first time, the international climate agreement included emissions targets for developing as well as developed countries, as well as an adaptation and mitigation fund for channeling $100 billion from developed to developing countries via the World Bank.

Scientists were quick to point out if emissions pledges are delivered upon, they could lead to 3.2 degrees of warming and a CO2 concentration of 650 ppm by 2100. Notably, India indicated it would accept greenhouse gas emissions limits in the future, and the country played a key role in breaking a deadlock over how to verify emissions.

The deal represents a starting point, at least, but, “ongoing greenhouse gas emissions have committed the world to at least [a] 1.5-degree Celsius warming from pre-Industrial levels.” This is a mere 0.5 degree Celsius below what the Copenhagen Accord—and Cancún compromise text—promise to avert.

The agreement also advances a framework for preventing deforestation and transferring green technology to the developing world.

Overall, Cancún was a small but significant success, and international frameworks of its kind aren’t where real progress on climate change is going to be made anyway, says Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

Taking the opposite position, John Vidal, environment editor at The Guardian, said most of the “triumphs” of Cancún are merely a “political aspiration,” including the $100 billion for a climate fund.

“For there to be any chance to hold temperatures to even 2C, countries had to agree to ‘peak’ their emissions in the next 10 years and then rapidly reduce them. But all references to peaking have been dropped [from the agreement],” Vidal adds.

A “Clear and Present Danger” to Civilization

More than a few reports were timed to coincide with the news spotlight shown on climate issues during the Cancún talks, and bluntest among them is a new paper from Ohio State University’s Lonnie Thompson, who is worth quoting in full:

“Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”

Self-described “climate hawk” Joseph Romm has a summary of Thompson’s paper and links to his other work at Climate Progress.

A new study describes the fate of the American southwest in the near future, including a high likelihood for a 60-year drought of the kind last seen in that region during the Middle Ages.

“I don’t consider the Southwest unique,” Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, told ClimateWire. “I consider them the first dying canary in the coal mine. … There is more and more evidence that climate changes are going to be felt in the Southwest early and deeply.”

When “Smart Growth” Means Harvesting Energy from Cities Themselves

A paper that went largely unnoticed by the press when it first came out in late October proposes exploiting the fact water in aquifers below cities is slightly warmer than surrounding areas in order to heat those same cities. Researchers estimate that by exploiting the “urban heat island” effect, they could warm entire cities such as Winnipeg and Tokyo for centuries.

In China, the Hangzhou East Railway Station for high-speed trains will soon sport the world’s largest single-building solar photovoltaic power plant, which will cover 148,000 square meters (1.3 million square feet) and generate 10 megawatts of power.

Stateside, Soladigm, a company that just received $30 million in early-stage funding, hopes to manufacture windows that automatically dim or become more transparent in response to outside temperatures. Their CEO claims use of these windows can reduce expenditure on heating and cooling by 25 percent.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Some Progress in Cancún Climate Talks, but Mostly a Morass of Competing, Even Mutually Exclusive Interests

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Monday, negotiators at the Cancún climate summit got down to brass tacks, settling into “vast, sunless meeting rooms, intent on restoring the credibility of a process aimed at slowing global warming.” There were the usual moments of comic relief, including the removal of professional climate skeptic Christopher Monckton from a corporate lunch, and two apparent early victories in negotiations between the U.S. and China:

China appears ready to accede to U.S. demands that it should allow verification of its emissions, and China made a pledge the U.S. is in no position to make: that its carbon emissions targets will be binding as a U.N. convention.

This pledge, also made last year at Copenhagen, would see China reduce the “carbon intensity” of its economy – that is, the amount of carbon it emits per unit of GDP – by 40 to 45 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

Some called China’s pledge a “game changer” for a country aiming for “redemption” at Cancún, but U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern said the pledge was nothing more than “business as usual.” Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin confirmed Stern’s analysis, denying the country had softened its stance on its own emissions.

Japan Says No to Kyoto Protocol

Last week Japan shook up the conference by announcing its opposition to the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the targets of which would have represented a 29 percent cut in emissions versus the levels expected for 2010, for signatory countries. The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind the surprise announcement – Japan is no longer willing to lower its own emissions, to the detriment of its economy, while the U.S. and China sit idly by.

Meanwhile, China, India, Brazil and South Africa opened the meeting by pushing the U.S. to pledge deeper emissions cuts than its Copenhagen pledge of 17 percent by 2020 based on 2005 levels, which represents “a zero reduction from 1990, the baseline for Kyoto, according to India Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.”

The Good News about Cancún

While no one expected the U.S. to make deeper cuts at Cancún in light of the domestic appetite for climate legislation, as the talks approached their Friday close, negotiators made progress in a handful of areas, including deforestation, which currently accounts for roughly 15 percent of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

Other areas in which negotiators made headway included a compromise text released by India proposing a system for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions cuts and a European Union pledge toward a global fund to finance adaptation and mitigation efforts in the developing world.

… And the Persistent Disconnect between Negotiations and Scientific Reality

Taking the temperature of the negotiations as a whole, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out the obvious: when compared to the demands for emissions reductions, made apparent by the science of climate change, progress at the conference has been insufficient and “business as usual cannot be tolerated, for it would condemn millions – no, billions – billions of children, women, and men around the world to shrinking horizons, and smaller futures.”

Two former U.S. State Department officials re-iterated the oft-heard claim a global climate pact is unrealistic and should be abandoned.

Is the U.S. Going to Pay for the Damage It Did to the Climate?

Farrukh Iqbal Khan, chair of the Adaptation Fund, tells Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones that as more and more countries face devastating impacts worsened by climate change, as Pakistan did with its recent floods, they are increasingly finding themselves helpless to do anything about it.

Four Republican Senators don’t want the U.S. to direct money to the U.N. climate adaptation fund, even as companies including Starbucks and Nike argued the U.S. should take the lead in doing just that.

Emissions Regulations to Go before the U.S. Supreme Court

An earlier lower court ruling allowing states to sue emitters of greenhouse gas emissions for creating a “public nuisance” set up an important test of whether or not the courts can be used to penalize those who contribute to climate change. It’s therefore notable the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of that ruling by four power plant companies.

In U.S. Congress, is “Clean” Energy the New “Renewable”?

United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said at a nuclear energy summit Tuesday the Obama administration might be amenable to including nuclear power in future energy legislation, expanding, in an apparent attempt at bipartisanship, the concept of domestic and climate-friendly energy sources beyond renewables.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Just in Time for Cancún Climate Talks, Trove of Scientific Papers Paints Most Accurate Portrait of Earth’s Future Yet

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Just in time for the ongoing talks on what, if anything, the nations of Earth can agree to do about climate change in  Cancún, Mexico, the U.K.’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has rounded up a trove of cutting-edge scientific research that paints what may be the most accurate portrait of Earth’s future to date.

The highlights from this series of papers published by the Royal Society:

The U.N. has long sought to limit warming of the Earth to 2ºC by 2100, but a new paper from scientists at the U.K.’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of Exeter says with high emissions and strong carbon cycle feedbacks, we could reach 4ºC as early as 2060.

The impacts associated with 2°C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so 2°C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change. Adapting to 4ºC of warming will be more challenging and qualitatively different from adapting to 2ºC of warming.

Average warming of 4ºC globally means  warming during the summer months over the U.S., Europe, Africa and Australia; winter temperatures in the Arctic will increase 12-16ºC. This will lead to sea level rise, displacing, without adaptation, 187 million people over the century.

Climate Realism Crawls out of Its Den, Sees Its Shadow, Guarantees a Few More Centuries of Warming

Economist Eban Goodstein argues we’ve effectively blown all the relevant deadlines for starting to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, virtually guaranteeing, absent economic collapse or a near-magical technological breakthrough in solar power production, 550 ppm of atmospheric CO2 and at least 2.3ºC of warming, enough to guarantee future warming for centuries.

On the other hand, Kjell Aleklett, professor of physics at the University of Uppsala and president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, argues that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s business-as-usual scenario implying 6ºC of warming assumes elevations in levels of coal consumption that are unrealistic given likely reserves. Aleklett does not assert, however, that limited supplies of fossil fuels will keep us out of trouble in terms of the climate:

“Ninety percent of all coal reserves in the world can be found in six countries: the U.S., India, China, Russia, South Africa, and of course Australia,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. ”The whole CO2 emissions problem is only six countries. Those are the drug dealers when it comes to selling coal. If these six countries would stop selling coal, there would be no problem at all.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that regionally, China is already facing a “peak coal” scenario.

Cancun: Jarabe Tapatío Without the Triumphal March

 Slate’s Michael Levi is optimistic about the potential for effective action at this week’s international climate talks in Cancún. While Journalist Marc Gunther gives us 10 blanket reasons climate talks don’t work.

Conservatives and liberals alike are ready to lay the blame at the feet of China and its rabid consumption of coal. Mother Jones’s Kate Sheppard rounds up the rest of the generally dire news on the talks, ranging from their potential to become irrelevant to the intractability of the positions of the 180 countries who are potential signatories to any agreement.

Two professors, in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, say negotiators in Cancún should forget about carbon dioxide and go for the low-hanging fruit such as: methane, hydrofluorocarbons, dark particle soot and lower atmospheric ozone. Scientists in the Telegraph say negotiators should just give up on the U.S.

In any event, reaching the emissions targets originally set forth by the U.N. would require World War II-style rationing in the developed world, argues Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre.

Finally, Something Even Tea Partiers and Environmentalists Agree On

It’s official: everyone outside of the corn belt officially hates the ethanol tax credit. Even Al Gore, the man whose tie-breaking vote initiated the credit, is now admitting it was a mistake. Next up: can both ends of the political spectrum unite on a plan to energize America’s clean energy industry before we fall even further behind the Chinese?

How to Blame Extreme Weather on Climate Change (Without Having to Apologize for Doing So)

Fractional risk attribution” allows scientists to compare our world to one in which warming never occurred, leading them to conclude, for example, global warming was 75 percent responsible for the European heat wave of 2003.

Last But Not Least: The Good News

Owing to uncertainty about future carbon regulations and America’s glut of natural gas, Progress Energy Carolinas is turning from coal to gas-fired power plants. It’s part of a larger trend away from coal for power generation that “has the potential to reshape energy consumption in the United States significantly and permanently,” says Dan Eggers, a Credit Suisse energy analyst.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.