Donald Trump Meets with Al Gore

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Just a few weeks after U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, a critic of climate change science, told New York Times journalists he had an “open mind” on climate change, he and his daughter Ivanka met with former vice president and climate advocate Al Gore.

“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” said Gore of Trump. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting beforehand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued.”

Though Trump and Gore’s topic of discussion wasn’t directly referenced in his statement, it is speculated that climate change was on the list. The Washington Post reports that an aide to Gore, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the former vice president “made clear in his statements following the election that he intended to do everything he could to work with the president-elect to ensure our nation remains a leader in the effort to address the climate crisis.”

Regarding the meeting with Ivanka, however, Gore was more forthcoming.

“It’s no secret that Ivanka Trump is very committed to having a climate policy that makes sense for our country and for our world,” Gore said. “And that was certainly evident in the conversation that I had with her before the conversation with the President-elect.”

Trump’s EPA: Leader Tapped

U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump has tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to replace current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. The nomination seems to follow with Trump’s campaign promises to rollback EPA regulations.

“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” said Trump in a statement. “As my EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, the highly respected Attorney General from the state of Oklahoma, will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”

Pruitt, whose biography indicates he is a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” offered that he intends to run the EPA in a way that “fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

Pruitt was one of two rumored candidates for this post who have called for significant rollbacks in regulations. He has sued the EPA over its regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. In an interview with Reuters in September, Pruitt said that he sees the Clean Power Plan as a form of federal “coercion and commandeering” of energy policy and that his state should have “sovereignty to make decisions for its own markets.”

Warming Could Dramatically Increase Soil Carbon Losses 

A study published last week in the journal Nature documents how carbon loss in soil worsens climate change. The 25-year study finds that as the planet warms, the respiration of microorganisms in soils increases, releasing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The scientists’ compilation of 49 empirical studies of soil carbon emissions from plots around the world revealed that climate change will lead to the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century.

“It’s of the same order of magnitude as having an extra U.S. on the planet,” said Thomas Crowther, a co-author with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

The study found that carbon losses will be greatest in colder places at high latitudes and altitudes—places that have massive carbon stocks but that have largely been missing from previous research.

The researchers note that their global mid-century total for soil carbon emissions is a gross figure, not the net after uptake by above-ground plants.

Correction: In last week’s story about an Arctic Council report on climate and other changes in the Arctic, we should have said that temperatures in the region had reached 9–12 degrees Celsius (16–22 degrees Fahrenheit) above seasonal averages.

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.

Cutting Oil Use Should Be Focus of U.S. Energy Research, New Roadmap Says

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A major study modeled after goal-setting reports from the Departments of Defense and State, the first Quadrennial Technology Review by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), called for a shift in energy research and development priorities to reduce America’s dependence on oil.

“Reliance on oil is the greatest immediate threat to U.S. economic and national security and also contributes to the long-term threat of climate change,” the report said.

The DOE spends about $3 billion annually on research and development, with about three-quarters of that going toward “stationary energy” technologies—such as power plants and buildings—and one-quarter allotted for transportation. The report’s release could shift the funding balance more toward transportation, in particular more efficient cars and electric cars.

It will likely shape the 2013 fiscal year budget request from the Obama administration, due to be sent to Congress in February 2012.

Big Dreams

But a longer-term view isn’t synonymous with funding blue-sky ideas, as in the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which Time dubbed “the Department of Big Dreams.” The Quadrennial Technology Review criticized the DOE for placing too much emphasis on technologies “multiple generations away from practical use.”

Instead, the report called for greater focus on integrated energy systems and deployment over the medium to long term. The Obama administration has no choice but to focus on the longer term, argued Jeff Tollefson of Nature, because the weak economy and political stalemates have stymied progress in the shorter term.

The report sticks close to President Obama’s goals: getting one million electric cars on the road by 2015 and cutting oil imports by one-third by 2025. It also focuses on modernizing the electric grid and deploying clean energy, in line with Obama’s goal for 80 percent for America’s electricity to come from clean sources by 2035.

Carbon Credit Controversy

WikiLeaks has once again stirred up controversy, this time by releasing a diplomatic cable sent by the U.S. embassy in India, revealing discussions about questionable projects there that earn carbon credits through the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Most of the CDM projects in India should not have been certified, the cable said, because they did not achieve emissions cuts beyond what would have happened without the sales of carbon credits.

The cable shows “the CDM is basically a farce,” said a group critical of the program, but officials involved in the program said it has been improved since the cable was sent in 2008.

However, an investigative series last year by the Christian Science Monitor found many instances of fraud and exaggeration. And last week Oxfam published a report alleging 20,000 people were evicted from their land in 2010 to make way for a tree plantation that would earn carbon credits.

Superconductor Espionage

American Superconductor, which designs magnet systems for wind turbines, alleges that Chinese turbine manufacturer Sinovel, its largest customer, stole trade secrets by bribing a disgruntled employee, one of a handful with access to a crucial bit of software.

A court in Austria is hearing the case, in which Sinovel stands accused of offering the rogue employee an employment contract worth at least $1 million. The employee only received a small fraction of what he was promised, and American Superconductor sent Sinovel many parts also without receiving payment.

Sen. John Kerry said such theft would hurt American investment in China.

Master of the Domain

With the internet opening to new domains, there has been a tussle over who will control the .eco domain, with Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection vying against the Canadian company Big Room, supported by former Soviet leader Michel Gorbachev’s charity Green Cross International.

Al Gore’s group has dropped its bid, after many green groups—including, Greenpeace, and WWF—backed Green Cross International. The new domain is intended to be a badge of credibility, said the co-founder of Big Room, and may require disclosure about environmental performance when registering to use the domain.

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.

Snow Is Unequivocal

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: Attention turned this week to the Mid-Atlantic snowstorms and how to understand (and misunderstand) them, and also to how the climate science community—namely the IPCC—might prevent mistakes in process and print that have harmed its reputation in recent months.

Three feet of snow have disabled the capital region. The federal government has been closed all week and still is today, Thursday. The political world is still shoveling it out (literally). This leaves two stories of consequence in the week’s spotlight—ones that always lurk in the background: How hard it is to communicate advanced climate science to policymakers and the public, and how hard it is to communicate basic climate science to policymakers and the public.

Eyes + Snow = Science: Scientific controversies and errors are increasingly giving political cover to policymakers who would rather not deal with the issue, for any available reason. And the snow has reminded everyone that climate is easy enough to dismiss even without recent black eyes to the scientific community.

Political culture generally won’t bear a chain of causality longer than two links. That’s why so much opportunistic rhetoric this week focused on either of these chains: Global warming equals no snow; or snow equals no global warming. Much of the country finds it politically expedient to anthropomorphize climate science into a certain familiar persona and then beat it like it’s a piñata. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) wrote over Twitter, “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle.'” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) built an ice castle that he described as the former vice president’s new home. That’s a fine rhetorical approach for an audience that doesn’t know or care that climate change has nothing to do with Al Gore. Rush Limbaugh ridiculed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for announcing its new information service,, over teleconference rather than a live press conference, due to snow.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the energy committee, observed that the snow makes climate legislation more difficult politically.

In reality, climate change has a causality chain not of, say, two links but of n variables, where n=…  oh, you get the point. And the warming, famously, is unequivocal.

What Comes Down Must Have Gone up: Warmer air holds more moisture. When the temperature drops below freezing, this increased moisture will produce more snow—in this case more than the region has ever recorded. Time‘s Bryan Walsh turns in a concise review. Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC caused a stir by talking about the snow and global warming in the same broadcast. The New York Times makes sure in a lead to reinforce the myth of “two sides” in the climate debate. For thoughtful explorations of the possible relationship between the historic snowstorms and global warming, check out Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog post, “Heavy snowfall in a warming world,” or the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang.

One space to watch is, the NOAA-led initiative to provide various levels of information and responsiveness to Americans’ questions about global warming.

And not that it matters for anything but the box scores, January was the third hottest month globally in 32 years of satellite monitoring.

Opening the Book on ‘ClimateGate’: The Guardian has undertaken an important exercise, publishing a 30,000-word “manuscript” about the pilfered University of East Anglia climate e-mails. The publication leaves the matter an open book, inviting readers to contribute their own observations and insights. More on this initiative once I’ve finished reading it.

New Paneling?: The IPCC was created before the World Wide Web opened vast sources of scientific material to the public. It’s older than the post-cold war era. University of East Anglia professor Mike Hulme, a past IPCC participant, writes in Nature (sub. req.), “It is not feasible for one panel under sole ownership— that of the world’s governments, but operating under the delegated management of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) — to deliver an exhaustive ‘integrated’ assessment of all relevant climate-change knowledge.”

Critics of every persuasion are suggesting how the IPCC should prevent errors large and small, published and procedural, in its fifth assessment report. A collection of opinions in Nature recommend breaking the monolithic United Nations-sponsored edifice into three panels producing shorter, more regular reports; creating an organization akin to the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct transparent scientific, regional, and policy assessments; protecting the layers of review in the current system; and opening the process up to Wikipedia-like community gardening.

Joe Romm of likes to hold feet to the fire. He provides a rather thorough roasting of this New York Times effort to explain the IPCC’s woes.

Cryogenic Politics: The momentum for meaningful climate policy that grew for two years before Copenhagen has come largely to a halt domestically and internationally. The Center for Public Integrity’s Marianne Lavelle continues to track the scale of lobbying efforts in the climate arena. With the president’s original approach to climate legislation flailing, opponents are turning attention elsewhere. Lavelle finds “overt and covert” support for Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution against EPA regulation of heat-trapping gases. The piece documents some activities of the farm, small business, and utility sectors.

The climate backlash continues in the states. California conservatives are pushing for a November referendum on the state’s first-in-the-nation climate law. Advocates have raised about $600,000 to pay staff to gather signatures. Gov. Jan Brewer of neighboring Arizona issued an executive order to drop her state’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative. In Utah, the House Natural Resources Committee last week approved a resolution that states, “[C]limate alarmists’ carbon dioxide-related global warming hypothesis is unable to account for the current downturn in global temperatures.” New York University’s Tyler Volk tried to persuade legislators there to follow the carbon.

The vocabulary of the international policy conversation is changing. “Legally Binding? It’s So 2009” boasts a ClimateWire story published at Negotiators surveyed by the news service suggest that more than a legally binding treaty what the community of nations needs to see is successful and demonstrable actions at home to curb pollution. Trevor Houser of the Peterson Institute for International Economics made the rounds this week with an analysis of nations’ commitments under the Copenhagen Accord.

It’s a Washington truism that if a campaign’s message doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, it will lose. No one has ever managed to reduce global warming, let alone what to do about it, to a successful bumper sticker. And the archipelago of groups that self-identifies as the environmental movement is urged from friendly quarters to re-examine its path forward. Longtime environmental leader Gus Speth delivered the John H. Chaffee Memorial Lecture in January, saying, “The world needs a new environmentalism in America… America has run a 40-year experiment on whether mainstream environmentalism can succeed, and the results are now in.”

Trick Question, Tricky Answers: Last week I posed a query that I then thought about rigorously this weekend while shoveling about 1,000 cubic feet of snow off the driveway and street:  “Have you personally experienced global warming? And how do you know that, exactly?”

The scientifically appropriate answer to first question is, “No.” It makes about as much sense as asking a much-talked-about rookie major league baseball player after a game if he or anyone can say with certainty that his pop fly to deep right field is a reliable index of his future 20-season career batting average.

On the other hand is the increasingly accepted argument, glibly paraphrased, “But come on.” Winter precipitation of increased intensity is predicted for this region. You evaluate the evidence as deeply as you think necessary, or have time for, and make the call.

A few readers did make the call. Alex Smith, who works for Radio Ecoshock in Vancouver, wrote in, “Here in Vancouver, Canada, we have a convoy of trucks hauling snow from the Coastal mountains to our local ski hill for the ‘green’ 2010 Winter Olympics. Turns out, we just had the warmest January on record. All our local snow melted, just weeks before the ski jump and snow board competitions.”

Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University, wrote, “You HAVE to be kidding.  Do you know what it costs to insure my home here in the Florida Keys?  How hard is it to get property insurance? […] Yes, Virginia, there really is global warming.  Just ask any insurance company — and those who pay them who live in the Keys.”

Yes, Virginia—and Maryland, and the District, and Delaware, and Tasmania

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.