Romney, Obama Make History with Failure to Mention Climate Change in Last Debate

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The final foreign-policy-focused presidential debate made history Monday when candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama failed to mention climate change. Despite historic drought and record melting of Arctic sea ice, failure to visit the topic marked the first time since the 1980s climate change hasn’t come up in a presidential debate. Some argued the climate should have come up, as almost every major international issue—food prices, military operations and energy access—have an embedded climate component. As Sec. of State Hillary Clinton told an audience in Georgetown recently, energy, climate and foreign policy are all really deeply intertwined.

Energy—the yin to climate’s yang—did come up Monday, it was not nearly as dominant a topic as it was in the second debate last week. Clean energy was mentioned in a short exchange, with Obama and Romney examining the role basic research funding plays in keeping pace with other nations.

It took getting away from the Republicans and Democrats, but three of the four third-party presidential candidates—Gary Johnson, Virgil Goode, Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson—did treat climate change as a serious issue. In a debate televised on C-Span Tuesday, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party called climate change “a greater long-term security risk to the United States than terrorism.”

Is the U.S. Helping Asian Economies Save on Energy Costs?

So far in 2012, U.S. coal exports are setting a record pace. In fact, they are forecasted to reach near 125 million tons—surpassing the previous all-time high of 113 million tons set in 1981. Growing demand in Asia may be a factor, raising the question of whether taxpayers are essentially helping Asian economies save on energy costs. ThinkProgress breaks down the issue ultimately concluding “Americans are paying for large companies to dig up coal at bargain prices, sell it to other countries at market prices, and subsidize their global warming pollution.”

The world’s largest producer of oil, meanwhile, plans to switch to 100 percent renewable energy. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud said he sees solar playing a large role in the transition—with the nation’s vast oil reserves being used to create other goods such as plastics and polymers, rather than burned in power plants. It turns out that Saudi Arabia’s days as world’s largest oil producer may be numbered: the U.S. is now on track to take the spot after a recent surge in production that included the largest one-year gain in over 60 years.

In the U.S., more than 200 scientists are protesting the use of two invasive grasses for advanced biofuel feedstock under the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard. In a letter sent to the Obama administration, they write: “While we appreciate the steps that federal agencies have made to identify and promote renewable energy sources and to invest in second- and third-generation sources of bioenergy, we strongly encourage you to consider the invasive potential of all novel feedstock species, cultivars, and hybrids before providing incentives leading to their cultivation.” The New York Times says the authors fear a repeat of what happened when government-financed programs introduced kudzu—“the vine that ate the South”—in the 1930s.

Convictions a “Fundamental Misunderstanding of Science”

An Italian court, this week sentenced a group of scientist to six years in prison for failing to properly communicate the risk ahead of a deadly 2009 earthquake. Mother Earth called the courts actions a “fundamental misunderstanding of what science can and can’t do.” The verdict outraged those in the scientific community, who claim predicting the absolute date, time and risk is nearly impossible.” The real problem is helping people understand how risk works,” Erik Klemetti, a geoscientist at Denison University in Ohio, told LiveScience. “You can’t expect that scientists can come in and tell people ‘an earthquake will happen here on October 28, 2013.’ Instead, they must understand that there is an increased probability of earthquakes or eruptions in certain areas—and that they must take responsibility for understanding the risks of where they live.” The Guardian reports these claims may be a bit overstated, noting “the prosecutors, and the devastated families they represent, are well aware that scientists cannot predict earthquakes. The accusation they make is not that experts failed to predict the earthquake, but that they failed to properly assess and communicate the risks, telling residents they were safe without any scientific basis for doing so.”

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.

Heated Discussion about Energy in Second Presidential Debate, but No Mention of Climate

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Next to jobs and the economy, the National Journal reports, no other issue has dominated this year’s election as much as energy because it’s a proxy for many other things (subscription). “Energy has not been this big an issue in a presidential campaign since the tumultuous years of the 1970s,” when the Arab oil embargo raised gasoline prices and had Americans waiting in lines at the pump around the country, said Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning energy historian. Six major energy issues are a focus—oil, hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, nuclear, renewable energy and coal—with their views shaping two very different energy industries.

In the second of three presidential debates Tuesday Barack Obama and Mitt Romney revisited several aspects of energy policy in a night of one-liners and disagreements about the issue and many others, such as taxes, measures to reduce the deficit, pay equity for women and health care. Climate change, however, didn’t even make it off the debate moderator’s list of prepared questions. Mother Jones called climate change the “big loser” in the debate, while MSNBC likened the candidates’ failure to mention it in their remarks about energy to not mentioning cancer in a discussion about smoking. Compared to their first debate Oct. 3, much more of their 90 minutes was spent on energy.

Candidates argued about who was the bigger friend to the coal industry and weighed how government could influence gasoline prices—though many factors other than administrative policy tend to influence prices according to the Federal Trade Commission. Among the more heated energy-focused exchanges was one about oil and gas production on federal lands. Romney claimed production on these lands has decreased, while Obama maintained the assertions weren’t true. A check of the facts by NBC indicates these claims may have been slighted skewed. “Oil production did fall by 14 percent on federal lands—onshore and offshore—but that was only in one year, from 2010 to 2011,” NBC writes. “And it was mainly the result of the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. But Obama is correct, that since he took office, oil production on federal lands is up.” This wasn’t the only factoid snafu for these two candidates. Early on, Obama misstated the length of time oil production had risen and each took a few other things out of context.

Supercomputer to Give New Push for Climate Research

Widespread drought has put increasing pressure on global food supplies, allowing reserves to reach their lowest levels in nearly 40 years, which could trigger a food crisis in 2013. A new supercomputer—capable of crunching 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second—just may be able to help scientists improve our understanding of everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to tsunamis, air pollution and the location of water beneath the earth’s surface. TIME claims it can narrow down the 60-square-mile units used in climate change modeling today to just seven-square-mile-tranches—zooming in on the movement of everything from raindrops to wind.

Researchers from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson report that computer modeling methods developed to predict climate change on Earth have successfully predicted the age and location of glaciers and other climatic conditions on Mars. Their predictions have been confirmed through new satellite observations. Lead researcher William Hartmann said, “Some public figures imply that modeling of global climate change on Earth is ‘junk science,’ but if climate models can explain features observed on other planets, then the models must have at least some validity.”

Challenges to an Energy Transition

While some forecast Germany could save billions if it sticks to its plans of replacing nuclear with renewable energy, the plan may come at great cost to consumers. The country’s four main grid operators released estimates this week showing that households will see a nearly 50 percent increase in the tax needed to fund the transformation to renewables, requiring a typical family of four to pay about $324 per year on top of their bill—renewing debate over the transition sparked by the Fukushima disaster.

The Christian Science Monitor calls the energy transition claims made across the world clunky, offering that history suggests it can take up to 50 years to replace an existing energy infrastructure. The problem, according to the Monitor?  We don’t have that long.

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.

Experts Debate a Link between Climate Change and Extreme Weather

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

As the 2012 harvest season comes to a close, pumpkins appear to be one of the few successes for farmers following the severe drought felt across many parts of the United States. Damage to the nation’s two largest crops, corn and soybeans, puts these staples below demand for the first time since 1974, while the rising cost to feed cattle drives up the cost of milk as herds shrink to an eight-year low. As a result, U.S. agricultural exports could be down as much as $2 billion.

More Americans are connecting warming and weather extremes such as drought. According to their latest survey, Yale found 74 percent believe global warming is affecting weather in the U.S.—up from 69 percent in March 2012. One large reinsurance company agrees with this consensus—claiming climate change is driving the increase in natural disasters since 1980 and will continue to for years to come. Others aren’t sold on the findings. “Thirty years is not an appropriate length of time for a climate analysis, much less finding causal factors like climate change,” said Roger Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado.

New software described in the journal Environmental Science and Technology attempts to share the impact of emissions on the health of the climate. The Hestia program maps emissions by city, right down to street level. “Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” said Kevin Gurney, the lead scientist behind the project. “With Hestia, we can provide cities with a complete, three-dimensional picture of where, when and how carbon dioxide emissions are occurring.”

U.S. Slaps Trade Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels

The U.S. Department of Interior has approved 33 renewable energy projects amounting to 10,000 megawatts of electricity on public lands since 2009. This, ThinkProgress points out, meets a goal expressed by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 of authorizing this type of power from non-hydro renewable energy by 2015.

Renewable energy investment, however, has declined roughly 20 percent in the past year. Excess capacity that’s driven down prices for solar panels and wind turbines is to blame, Bloomberg said. Governments are paring support for the industry in places such as the U.S. and Europe after a record $280 billion was invested in clean and low-carbon technologies in 2011. On Wednesday the U.S. Commerce Department announced its final decision on tariffs for Chinese solar panels—imposing tariffs ranging from 24 to near 36 percent. The ruling follows findings that government subsidies may have given Chinese companies an unfair advantage by allowing them to charge less per panel. Some Chinese solar executives blame the country’s glut of solar power on U.S. tariffs—although others blame the Chinese government for propping up the industry and showering it with low-interest loans and other subsidies. Following the ruling, China demanded the U.S. repeal the tariff with Ministry of Commerce Spokesman Shen Danyang saying, “The United States is inciting trade friction in new energy and sending a negative signal to the whole world about protectionism and obstructing the development of new energy development.”

Meanwhile, Australia took one step toward ambitious renewable energy targets—calling for 20 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2020—when it switched on its first solar farm. While it is currently expected to produce 10 megawatts, plans are already underway to expand that to 40.

Iraq Predicted to Become New Top Oil Supplier

Iraq, the world’s third largest oil exporter, could push past Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the top supplier by the 2035, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Their report predicts Iraq could not only top 8 million barrels per day, but become a key supplier to Asian markets. “Developments in Iraq’s energy sector are critical for the country’s prospects and also for the health of the global economy.” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the main author of the report, in a statement. “But success is not assured, and failure to achieve the anticipated increase in Iraq’s oil supply would put global oil markets on course for troubled waters.” Iraq had previously been aiming for a production capacity of 12 million barrels per day by 2017, a target many considered ambitious.

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.

Presidential Candidates Give Little Focus to Energy Policy in First Debate

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Predictions voters would get some answers on energy in the first presidential debate seemed as though they just might come true Wednesday night in Colorado. Just minutes into the broadcast, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama touched on their policies for energy. Even so, the topic of energy was mostly overshadowed by tax policy and health care. As The Houston Chronicle’s Loren Steffy writes “what was said, mostly about fossil fuels, really didn’t raise any new points.”

Previously, on the campaign trail, both candidates proposed higher production of energy as a way to address the nation’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate. The National Journal states economists have said for months that energy production—whether through increased oil and gas drilling or boosting renewable energy or both—won’t create enough jobs to put most of the nation’s 23 million unemployed back to work (subscription).The Washington Post took a closer look at these and other numbers thrown out by candidates during the debate—summing up their origin and any discrepancies.

The largely under-the-radar issue of climate change never even entered the debate. Climate Desk calls climate change “the sleeper issue of 2012,” noting polls indicate both candidates could be using the issue to their advantage. Several new polls indicate voters are backing climate and clean energy policies. Regardless of whether or not the candidates are talking about the issue, the United Nation’s top climate change official Christiana Figueres said whoever wins in November will be forced to confront global warming.

‘Liquid Air’ could be Renewable Energy Storage Solution

Liquid air could work better than batteries or hydrogen for storing excess energy produced from wind turbines or other renewable energy sources during off-peak times, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. A company in the United Kingdom is testing how the liquid air method—originally developed to power vehicles—could help use some of this “wrong-time” energy.

The method would use electricity from off-peak hours to take in air—removing carbon dioxide and water vapor in order to chill air to a cryogenic state. This turns what’s left, which is mostly nitrogen, to a liquid that is stored in giant vacuum flasks until demand increases and it can be warmed again. Re-expanding air could be used to drive turbines.

While the growth in renewables is among the contributing factors to the 9 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. since 2005, one analysis says this decline is unlikely to continue unless there are major departures from the way energy is currently produced and used. The report lays out specific energy-related changes that would need to occur between now and 2035 to have a chance at reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 38 percent below 2005 levels. These include: growth in renewables beyond the 5 percent electricity makeup today to 31 percent by 2035 as well as gains in residential, commercial and industrial energy-using equipment.

Energy Claims among Revised Guidelines for Green Product Labels

The Federal Trade Commission is clamping down on “Green” or “Eco” product labeling—updating marketing guidelines for the first time since 1998. Now, the Commission says product manufacturers better have data to back up claims. Updates cover not only topics in the existing guide, but include new sections clarifying renewable energy and materials claims, as well as the use of carbon offsets and “green” certifications. Specifically, the guides renewable energy claims section instructs marketers to consider specifying the type of energy source used to remain less deceptive. To further avoid the possibility of fines, it cautions against making unqualified “made with renewable energy claims.” It notes that would be deceptive “… unless all, or virtually all, of the significant manufacturing processes involved in making the product or package are powered with renewable energy or non-renewable energy matched by renewable energy certificates.”

Farm Bill Lapses, as Plant Discoveries are Made

As the Weather Channel announced plans to assign names to winter storms as they do for hurricanes, the drought’s effect on crops coupled with the lapse of the Farm Bill has left some to question the larger consequences of the expiration. The Washington Post breaks down what to expect now that the law governing many of our nation’s farm policies has expired. Among the potential consequences: higher milk prices and the lapse of some conservation programs. Mark Hertsgaard, in The New York Times, says the bill is not only a “centerpiece of United States food and agricultural policy, it is also a de facto climate bill.”

Meanwhile, a trio of scientists studying inland plants described in the journal Nature the opposite of what many climate models predict—inland plants may not be so great at pulling increasing carbon dioxide from the air. Looking back on a 13-year set of observations from experimental grassland plots in Minnesota, the study authors found heightened carbon dioxide means more plant growth, but only if there’s the right mix of nutrients available in the soil.

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.