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.