U.S. Makes Strides on Climate Change

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

As Grist puts it, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is making progress on climate change. Overall, the country’s carbon emissions fell 1.7 percent last year—in part because of the explosive growth of natural gas and the Great Recession. Looking at energy-related carbon emissions in the last five years, the U.S. has experienced a roughly 6 percent drop. In fact, total greenhouse gas emissions are not expected to reach 2010 levels again until 2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That doesn’t mean everyone is concerned about its progress. Generation X—individuals ranging from 32 to 52—may not be the stereotypical slackers they are often portrayed to be, but most are not extremely worried about climate change, according to a new poll. Only about 20 percent said they were highly concerned, while 42 percent were moderately concerned about climate change. The remaining 37 percent showed less concern or none at all. That said, when looking at the population as a whole, there is a “substantial” increase in the number of Americans concerned with the issue, according to a study comparing various opinion polls.

One technology intended to artificially cool the planet and combat climate change, may actually make climate conditions worse. Four separate climate models used by a group of scientists to test the concept of geoengineering—where an increase in the world’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels was balanced by a “dimming” of the sun—showed undesirable climate effects, including a reduction in global rainfall. One map suggests many of these projects are already under way across the world—with one new field test proposed by Harvard researchers that would combine sulfate particles with water vapor to form aerosols to reflect the sun’s rays. “The time has come to differentiate: some geoengineering techniques are more dangerous than others,” said Victor Smetacek of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. His team recently came out with a study that looks at dumping iron into the sea to bury carbon dioxide for centuries, potentially reducing the impact of climate change.

Temperatures, Drought Threaten Resources

Drought conditions, now gripping much of the country, have led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare natural disasters in more than 1,000 counties in 26 states. Labeled the sixth most severe drought in the United States since record keeping began in 1895, the heat and lack of rain is taking a heavy toll on crops—especially in key corn growing states in the Midwestraising food and fuel prices. A map by the National Climatic Data Center illustrating the subtraction of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration in June attempts to show why. Even if there had been normal precipitation amounts, it would not have been enough to meet potential evapotranspiration demand in most areas, says Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman.

An iceberg twice the size of Manhattan broke off a Greenland glacier this week.  In addition, the Arctic lost in June about 1.1 million square miles of ice, a record. That’s nearly equivalent to the area of Alaska, Florida, Texas and California combined. The rapid retreat of snow and ice has sparked interest in the Arctic’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. Shell already has plans to begin exploratory drilling in the area as early as this summer if permits arrive as projected. Proponents say if Shell finds oil, thousands of jobs could be created, while others voice concern over the possibility of spills and marine pollution. Regardless, the pace of widespread drilling in the region remains uncertain.

Countries Reconsider Nuclear

Following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster a year ago, Germany opted to shut down all of its nuclear plants by 2022. The plan was to expand its current renewable energy portfolio—which makes up about 20 percent of the energy mix—to 35 percent by 2020 and 80 percent in 2050. Those targets may be less likely and could be readjusted if jobs are threatened. “The timeframe and the goals of the energy revolution are intact,” said Economy Minister Philipp Rösler. “But we will have to make adjustments if jobs and our competitiveness should become endangered.”

Meanwhile, Japan, which ordered all nuclear power plants shut down for inspection after Fukushima, will restart a second reactor to handle energy demand. The decision has prompted protests as Japan considers three energy options as it moves forward—reduce nuclear power to zero as soon as it can, decrease it to 15 percent by 2030 or aim for a 20-25 percent share by 2030.

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.