Energy & Environment

Oil Industry’s Trade Group Knew Early on About Global Warming

Inside Climate News: “A Columbia University report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute in 1982 cautioned that global warming ‘can have serious consequences for man’s comfort and survival.’ It is the latest indication that the oil industry learned of the possible threat it posed to the climate far earlier than previously known.”

“The report, ‘Climate Models and CO2 Warming, A Selective Review and Summary,’ was written by Alan Oppenheim and William L.  Donn of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory for API’s Climate and Energy task force, said James J. Nelson, the task force’s former director. From 1979 to 1983, API and the nation’s largest oil companies convened the task force to monitor and share climate research, including their in-house efforts. Exxon ran the most ambitious of the corporate programs, but other oil companies had their own projects, smaller than Exxon’s and focused largely on climate modeling.”

“The report did not focus on the forces behind the increase in CO2 concentrations, but it linked the phenomenon plainly to fossil fuel use. Atmospheric CO2, it said, ‘is expected to double some time in the next century. Just when depends on the particular estimate of the level of increasing energy use per year and the mix of carbon based fuels.'”

“A year after the task force circulated the report to API’s members, the organization disbanded the committee and shifted its work on climate change from the environment directorate to its lobbying arm.”

Arctic Sea Ice Levels Hit Record Low

EcoWatch: “January Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, attended by unusually high air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean and a strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) for the first three weeks of the month. Meanwhile in the Antarctic, this year’s extent was lower than average for January, in contrast to the record high extents in January 2015.”

Monthly January ice extent for 1979 to 2016 shows a decline of 3.2 percent per decade. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

“The monthly average January 2016 sea ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, 110,000 square kilometers (42,500 square miles) less than the previous record low in 2011. The next lowest extent was in 2006. Interestingly, while 2006 and 2011 did not reach record summer lows, they both preceded years that did, though this may well be simply coincidence.”

“The trend for January is now -3.2% per decade. January 2016 continues a streak that began in 2005 where every January monthly extent has been less than 14.25 million square kilometers (5.50 million square miles). In contrast, before 2005 (1979 through 2004), every January extent was above 14.25 million square kilometers.”

Renewables’ 2016 Forecast: Further Growth

The US Energy Information Administration projects that electricity generated from utility-scale renewable plants is expected to grow by 9% in 2016.

“Much of the growth comes from new installations of wind and solar plants and increases in hydroelectric generation after a relatively dry 2015. In 2016, electricity from utility-scale renewable sources is expected to account for 14% of the total electricity generated in the United States, with wind and solar contributing 5.2% and 0.8%, respectively.”

graph of electricity generation from utility-scale plants, as explained in the article text

Fuel Fix: “The report follows a vote in Congress last year to extend federal tax credits for renewables, but the EIA said “most utility-scale plants” beginning operation this year were already under development.”

The Unstoppable Renewables Revolution

Joe Romm, writing in Think Progress, explains why “it is turning out to be less challenging than expected to incorporate more and more renewables into the electric grid — and to handle periods of time when demand is high but the wind isn’t blowing and/or the sun isn’t shining.”

“Researchers concluded that ‘with improvements in transmission infrastructure, weather-driven renewable resources could supply most of the nation’s electricity at costs similar to today’s’ … [and] a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years.”

“Half or more of the ‘intermittency problem’ is really a ‘predictability problem.’ If we could predict with high accuracy wind availability and solar availability 24 to 36 hours in advance at a regional level, then electricity operators have many strategies available to them … An even cheaper way to fill the gap from clouds or a lull in winds is to use ‘demand response.‘”

“A second way to deal with the variability of wind and solar photovoltaics is to integrate electricity storage into the grid … battery prices are coming down sharply, as huge investments are being made in various types of battery technologies by electric car companies and others, including utilities. That’s a key reason battery storage for the electric grid use has started to grow rapidly in this country and around the world.”

costs-of-batteries-evs-nykivst-and-nilsson

Output Hits New Low in Kentucky Coal Country

The Hill: “Kentucky coal mines produced their smallest amount of coal in 62 years last year, a figure that’s likely to keep falling.”

“A preliminary report Monday from Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet said the state put out 61.4 million tons of coal in 2015, down 20.7 percent from the prior year and the lowest volume since 1954.”

“The coal industry in Kentucky had 8,401 people employed at the end of the year, a 28 percent plunge from the end of 2014, and less than half of the 2008 employment figure.”

It’s Not Just Flint

Washington Post: “In a new paper just out in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters, sociologist Mary Collins of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and two colleagues from the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and the University of Maryland examined what they term “hyper-polluters”: Industrial facilities that, based on EPA data, generate disproportionately large amounts of air pollution. Then, they cross-referenced the location of these facilities with socio-demographic data from the 2000 census.”

The result: “We find striking evidence that extreme emitters are likely impacting EJ [environmental justice] communities even more significantly than typical EJ scholarship might predict.”

“The study adds to a body of evidence showing that the U.S. continues to struggle when it comes to ‘environmental justice,’ a concept advanced by advocates and researchers to describe the reality that poor and minority communities tend to have disproportionate exposures to environmental hazards.”

No Improvement in Doomsday Clock

Eco Watch: “With ‘utter dismay,’ the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Tuesday that the symbolic Doomsday Clock will hold at three minutes to midnight—at the ‘brink’ of man-made apocalypse—because world leaders have failed to take the necessary steps to protect citizens from the grave threats of nuclear war and runaway climate change.”

doomsdayclimate

“The decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock ‘is not good news,’ it continues, ‘but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.’”

“Since the clock was first introduced in 1947, the hands have moved 22 times. As Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin, explained, the clock represents a ‘summary view of leading experts deeply engaged in the existential issues of our time.’”

Massive Methane Leaks Could Happen Anywhere

Inside Climate News: “Earlier this week, the massive methane leak spewing from an underground natural gas storage facility in California’s Aliso Canyon passed a symbolic milestone: its duration exceeded BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Now, a growing number of environmentalists, engineers and industry watchdogs say the disaster on the outskirts of Los Angeles could happen elsewhere. There are  more than 400 underground natural gas storage sites spread across 31 states, and, like Aliso Canyon, decades-old equipment is deteriorating at many of them.”

“There is little federal oversight for the storage of trillions of cubic feet of potentially explosive fuel that is also a potent greenhouse gas. More than 100 facilities like Aliso Canyon that are owned and operated by local utility companies are subject to a patchwork of state regulations, which vary significantly from state to state.”

There are more than 400 natural gas storage sites like Aliso Canyon across the country

Will 2016 Surpass 2015 as the Hottest Year on Record?

Ecowatch: There is unlikely to be any respite from the increase in global temperatures—”scientists expect 2016 to be even warmer than 2015.”

“In a joint summary with former head of NASA GISS, Dr. James Hansen, Schmidt says 2015 global temperature ‘smashed the prior record’ and ‘should practically terminate’ discussion of any slowdown in the pace of global warming.”

“Yesterday’s news that 2015 was the hottest year on record comes as no great surprise. Perhaps what’s most remarkable is how much hotter it has been.”

How the Met Office’s annual forecasts (grey shading) compare to actual observed temperatures (red) since 2000. The prediction for 2016 is another year of record-breaking warmth, with global temperature expected to fall within 0.72-0.96C above the 1961-1990 average. Photo credit: Met Office

“Given the strength of the current El Niño, we expect 2016 to be even warmer globally than 2015. The lagged effects of El Niño are already starting to appear in the monthly temperature observations which are registering more than 0.8 degrees above norm in recent months. This is consistent with our forecast for unprecedented warmth in the coming year. Overall, we expect El Niño to contribute around 25 percent to what will most likely be a new record global temperature in 2016. Much of the rest is down to climate change.”

2015 Was Earth’s Warmest Year on Record

Politico: “The Earth’s temperatures reached the warmest level in more than a century of records, breaking the previous high mark set in 2014, federal scientists said Wednesday.”

“The data is the latest to show the upward trend in the Earth’s temperature, which scientists say is caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.”

“Overall, 2015 global temperatures rose by 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit over the 20th century average, reaching the highest level in 136 of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA said. Last year’s temperatures surpassed the 2014 record by a wide 0.29-degree margin.”

635888831571897217-record-warm.png

Acceptance of Gays in U.S. at a New High

Gallup: “A new high of 60% of Americans say they are satisfied with the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the U.S. — up from 53% in 2014 and 2015. As recently as 10 years ago, satisfaction was as low as 32%.”

Trend: Americans' Satisfaction With Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians in the U.S.

“But despite being in the minority, there are many Americans who are unhappy with the advancements made in gay rights, and there are judges, religious figures and GOP presidential candidates who seek to undo what gay rights supporters have achieved. Meanwhile, another faction of Americans are dissatisfied because they seek more acceptance for gays and lesbians — perhaps in response to continued efforts to walk back newly achieved gay rights, hate crimes against LGBT people and other acts of intolerance directed at the community.”

Cuomo Pledges to Phase Out Coal in New York by 2020

The Hill: “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday he aims to phase out coal-fired power plants in the state by 2020.”

“‘We will help the few remaining coal plants transition but we must clean our air and protect our health and that must be our first priority,’ he said. New York only gets about 1.3 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.”

“In his speech, Cuomo also reaffirmed his plans to cut carbon pollution in New York by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. He has mandated that the state get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and pledged to add 150,000 solar panels and 300 wind turbines around the state. ”

“Cuomo’s energy pledges are among the most aggressive in the nation. Hawaii lawmakers lawmakers passed a law last year mandating 100-percent renewable energy by 2045. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has pushed to generate half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”

Renewables Finish Another Record-Breaking Year

Bloomberg: “Renewables just finished another record-breaking year, with more money invested ($329 billion) and more capacity added (121 gigawatts) than ever before, according to new data released Thursday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. Oil, coal and natural gas bottomed out over the last 18 months, with bargain prices not seen in a decade. That’s just one of a handful of reasons 2015 should have been a rough year for clean energy. But the opposite was true.”

Bloomberg: “The 4 percent increase in clean energy technology spending from 2014 reflected tumbling prices for photovoltaics and wind turbines as well as a few big financings for offshore wind farms on the drawing board for years, according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance released on Thursday.”

“Another ‘strong year’ is in store for renewables in 2016, said Angus McCrone, chief editor at BNEF, stopping short of saying another record will be reached. “

Obama’s Focus on Climate Change in SOTU: Is it Enough?

Daily Kos: “President Obama spent eight paragraphs on climate change Tuesday night in his State of the Union address … This continued reordering of presidential priorities dating back to his June 2013 speech on climate change is welcome indeed … Our optimism is tempered with caution.”

“Here’s Jamie Henn at Common Dreams: With Keystone XL rejected and the Paris agreement in his back pocket, President Obama may feel like his climate legacy is secured. But the coming months will be defining ones for his Presidency and the entire planet. Many of the fights ahead won’t be in the Halls of Congress or in Washington, D.C. but out in places like [the oil pipeline hub of Cushing, Oklahoma] on the sharp edge between the fossil fuel era of the past and the clean energy economy of the future. The decisions about which coal, oil and gas reserves the administration intends to set off limits will determine the scorecard used by future historians in judging the President’s record on the issue. Which is why the climate mantra for the rest of President Obama’s term, and whoever succeeds him, is strikingly simple: keep it in the ground.”