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2013 SkS Weekly News Roundup #51C

Posted on 21 December 2013 by John Hartz

  • 2013 in review: Obama talks climate change – but pushes fracking
  • 2013 climate year in review: 'the heat is on. Now we must act'
  • 2014 climate change crystal ball
  • Canada’s new emissions rules on hold again, Harper says
  • In Northern Gateway pipeline decision, economics trumped all else
  • Most companies still releasing unsustainable amounts of CO2
  • Panel's approval for Northern Gateway sets stage for PM's pipeline battle
  • Reviewing top U.S. climate news stories of 2013
  • Strong start for California carbon market, but challenges loom
  • Yeah, about that global warming “pause” …

2013 in review: Obama talks climate change – but pushes fracking

This was the year when climate change came out of the closet.

Barack Obama elevated climate change to one of his top presidential priorities. White House and other officials brought up the topic in public after spending the previous four years scuttling away from any mention of climate change. Climate change became a factor in state elections and there were polls suggesting even Republicans in the most conservative states wanted to take measures to avoid a future of dangerous climate change.

But it was also a year when Obama claimed as a personal achievement the expansion of oil and gas production through hydraulic fracturing, and when the coal industry sent coal overseas to rescue the mines closing down at home.

2013 in review: Obama talks climate change – but pushes fracking by Suzanne Goldenberg. The Guardian, Dec 20, 2013

2013 climate year in review: 'the heat is on. Now we must act'

On 10 May 2013, the concentration of climate-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. The last time so much greenhouse gas was in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today.

The milestone moment was a sobering reminder that the emission of globe-warming gases is continuing unabated, despite ever more certainty that the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation is on track to end the millennia of relatively stable climate during which human civilisation has flourished.

2013 climate year in review: 'the heat is on. Now we must act' by Damian Carrington, Dec The Guardian, Dec 19, 2013

2014 climate change crystal ball

Reporter Bryan Walsh of Time magazine on December 12 engaged in a little climate science 101 for the benefit of readers. Yes, November was cold in many places across the U.S., he wrote. And yes, the climate globally is still warming.

Five days later, The Atlantic published a similar story with the title: “November Was the Warmest November Since We Started Keeping Track: It’s amazing what we can do when everybody works together.”

As coming cold temperatures are accompanied by reminders that global warming is alive and well, journalists, scientists, policymakers, and others are gearing up for another year of climate change developments. Here are a few things to keep an eye on in 2014:

2014 Climate Change Crystal Ball: Upcoming Stories to Keep an Eye On by Bruce Lieberman, Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, Dec 19, 2013 

Canada’s new emissions rules on hold again, Harper says

Canada is once again delaying emissions regulations in the oil and gas sector, despite major pipeline projects that continue to put intense scrutiny on the energy industry’s environmental track record.

The long-promised federal regulations, most recently due this year, now need to be done “in concert with” the United States, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Global News in an interview. “So that’s what I’m hoping we’ll be able to do over the next couple of years,” he said.

Canada’s new emissions rules on hold again, Harper says by Josh Wingrove, Daniel LeBlanc abd Shawn McCarthy, The Globe & Mail, Dec 19, 2013

In Northern Gateway pipeline decision, economics trumped all else

An independent Canadian federal panel on Thursday approved Enbridge's proposal to build a new pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the British Columbia coast, a significant gain in the industry's long campaign to find export markets for the nation's abundant but carbon-heavy form of crude oil.

The panel set 209 conditions on the project as a way to overcome environmental and safety concerns. Even that, it said, would not guarantee that there would be no environmental harm.

But its central message was that the economic interest in building the line was paramount—"that Canadians will be better off with this project than without it." 

In Northern Gateway Pipeline Decision, Economics Trumped All Else by John Cushman, Inside Climate News, Dec 19, 2013

Most companies still releasing unsustainable amounts of CO2

The majority of large global corporations that have reported their annual greenhouse gas emissions for several years now are still releasing more carbon dioxide than they should, a new study published on Wednesday showed.

And most companies scrutinized in the study are still not using science-based thresholds to set emissions targets and to drive actions to reduce their carbon footprint.

Coordinated by U.S.-based Climate Counts, an organization that measures the role corporations play on climate, the report tried to analyze emissions of 100 companies against science-based targets that seek to limit rising temperature to two degrees Celsius.

Most companies still releasing unsustainable amounts of CO2 - study, Reuters, Dec 18, 2013

Panel's approval for Northern Gateway sets stage for PM's pipeline battle 

The National Energy Board has given a conditional green light to the Northern Gateway pipeline project, handing off to Prime Minister Stephen Harper a crucial decision that threatens to intensify aboriginal opposition and become a political flashpoint in the next federal election.

In a report Thursday, an NEB review panel recommended that Ottawa approve the $6.5-billion pipeline and crude supertanker terminal in Kitimat,. B.C., once the government and Enbridge Inc. have addressed the 209 environmental, safety and financial conditions set down by the panel. The pipeline would deliver 520,000 barrels a day of oil sands bitumen to the British Columbia coast, opening new markets for the Alberta-based oil industry.

Panel's approval for Northern Gateway sets stage for PM's pipeline battle by Shawn McCarthy, Gloria Galloway and Brent Jang, The Globe & Mail, Dec 19, 2013 

Reviewing top U.S. climate news stories of 2013

Many events in 2013 illustrate how climate change increasingly is playing a role in the daily lives of people around the world, whether through efforts to combat it, adapt to it, or devise renewable energy and low-carbon approaches to managing it.

Dealing with climate change creates diverse challenges for scientists, policymakers, businesses. and individuals. Among noteworthy actions in 2013 has been the continuing switch from coal to natural gas in the electricity sector in the U.S., contributing to a decline in U.S. carbon emissions. But that news is tempered by the rise in coal consumption globally, particularly in China and India.

Despite risks climate change poses for humans and natural systems, it continues to evoke little to moderate concern from the American public generally, and concerned scientists and policy makers worry that public awareness lags sharply behind what they say is scientific understanding. While climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that Earth’s climate is warming primarily as a result of fossil fuel combustion, many Americans and policy makers appear unconvinced and unconcerned.

Some of the following choices for noteworthy climate stories — admittedly a selective and partial sampling — may seem unfamiliar, and some of those named here may not make big news for years to come. But no matter what, new and old media in 2013 produced a range of climate change news coverage with some important numbers. 

Reviewing Top U.S. Climate News Stories of 2013, Lisa Palmer, Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, Dec 19, 29013

Strong start for California carbon market, but challenges loom

As the clock winds down on the first year of California's carbon trading market for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, state officials say they have a lot to celebrate.

The state's cap-and-trade program, which could become a model for other U.S. states, sets a limit on the amount of heat-trapping gases businesses can emit and allows them to trade excess permits.

Regulators this year held a series of permit auctions, with strong demand from buyers. The program poured $533 million into state coffers and is expected to raise $1.5 billion next year.

"California has achieved a strong, transparent carbon price, and we have created a model for the world to follow," said state Sen. Fran Pavley, the author of the state's landmark 2006 law designed to combat global warming. "We have shown that sending a strong signal to the marketplace can reduce pollution and spur better investment planning and economic growth."

Strong start for California carbon market, but challenges loom by Rory Carroll, Reuters, Dec 20, 2013

Yeah, about that global warming “pause” …

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the ongoing noise about global warming, then you’ve heard of the so-called pause. This is the idea that the planet hasn’t actually been warming for the past 15 years or so.

However, this is baloney. First off, the plot used by people who would deny the Earth is warming up (and that humans are behind it) only shows the temperature of the air over land and ocean. But our atmosphere (pardon the weird metaphor) doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the extra heat retained by our planet is also warming the oceans. In fact, most of that heat is going into deep ocean waters.

Second, if you look at temperatures historically, we see ups and down like this every few decades; you have to look at the overall multidecade trend and not focus on some short (and cherry-picked) time frame.

And now we have something else to add to that list: The “pause” may not exist at all.

Yeah, about that global warming “pause” … by Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy, Slate. Dec 16, 2013

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. I would expand the first sentence of the first article:

    "This was the year when climate change came out of the closet..."

    To: "...announce that we're all f'ed."

    Consider these questions:

    --Does anyone anywhere think that wind and solar can grow to from about 1% of total energy sources to being over 7% in the next year?

    --Does anyone think that economic growth can happen while energy use rapidly shrinks?

    --Does anyone think that the world will suddenly plan a 6% or more shrinkage of the world economy, or a 10% or more shrinkage of the industrial nations' economies?

    If the answer to all of these is "no" (and that is clearly the only honest answer to them), then we have to agree that two of the world's top climatologist essentially said that we are now completely and utterly beyond hope.

    (J. Hansen said we need immediate at least 6% annual reducsions in emissions; K. Anderson, 10% annual reductions from industrialized countries to avoid 2 degrees C increase. Potsdam Institute, IEA, World Bank, PWC, and a number of others have said much the same.)

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  2. wili @ 1

    If the world's finance system collapses, as many pundits are saying it might well, then, depending on how the chips fall, there could easily a reduction in economic activity to the extent required. If that happens, climate change will be the least of our worries.


    I suppose the net outcome is that we are, as you point out, in a mess, and it is really only a question of timing. I just hope that the denial community are pleased with themselves. Of course, considering their behaviour, I expect that they have a spare planet to go to. The sooner they go to it, the better.

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  3. Maybe a global financial collapse will come along just in time to save our sorry a$$e$, lol. But I wouldn't count on it. The collapse in 2008 barely made a tiny, temporary blip in the trajectory of the rise in C emissions.

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  4. The links at your "Reviewing top U.S. climate news stories of 2013" and at your "Climate Change 2014 Crystal Ball" both go to the same site. Is that intentional?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] No, it was not intentional.

    The correct url for Reviewing top U.S. climate news stories of 2013 is:

    The url in the OP has also been corrected.

  5. I wouldn't count on economic contraction saving our sorry asses. Even declining emissions still add to what's already there, especially for CO2, which is very long lived. So we have the situation that, even if economies start to fall apart, atmospheric concentrations will continue up. As Hansen has pointed out we really need to be at no more than 350 ppm (we're near 400 ppm now). There is still an energy imbalance and the situation will continue to get worse. The only mitigation that's possible now is complete collapse of the world's major economies where "collapse" is the dictionary definition, "to break apart and fall down suddenly".
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  6. I think the fact that solar and wind power have both come way down in price the past five years will help enormously.  The past decade. governments have shown that they will not take sufficient action to prevent damaging AGW.  Texas now has the most wind power of any US state.  They are not building wind in Texas to save the environment, they make more money than any other method of generation.  This Think Progress link describes extraordinary growth in solar installations in the US.  This is also economically driven.  

    Look at how fast coal was replaced with gas when gas became cheaper.  Coal export terminals are being cancelled.   That is because coal is becoming uneconomic.  How can China (and India) continue to install more coal with no air to breathe?  They are ramping up renewables for economic and pollution reasons.  Solar has reached grid parity in India with coal, while coal is difficult to buy in India.

    The best way to encourage renewables now is to encourage laws that enable high values of electricity from net metering.  Utilities (and the Koch brothers) have realized that their business plans are about to be upset and are trying to keep out rooftop solar by charging them an arm and a leg for connection to the net.

    A student in my class showed us his Dad's new Chevy Volt.  I asked if he bought it to help the environment or to save money.  He said 100% to save money. If enought wind is installed and/or solar comes down enough we may yet have a chance to change the projectory of the CO2 curve.  People will do the right thing for the environment if they save money.

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  7. As Michael Sweet explains, I think we are going to be saved by greed. According to FERC, the U.S. now generates only 29% of its electricity from coal vs 42% from natural gas. Those numbers were essentially reversed just five years ago. When the 'fracking' boom made natural gas cheaper than coal there was a sea change in U.S. electricity generation. However, natural gas prices are already starting to rise again while solar and wind costs continue to decline. Natural gas has killed off coal use in the U.S. much faster than renewables could have, but soon we may see renewables killing off natural gas just as quickly. The past few months there has been more renewable (more solar than wind) power added to the U.S. grid than fossil fuel (almost 100% natural gas) power. Natural gas is still the biggest new source for the year as a whole, but even just over the course of 2013 the balance has shifted and it seems likely renewables will be the majority new source for 2014 and later.

    As wind and solar continue to gain steam the huge economic benefits currently given to fossil fuels will be withdrawn and even shifted to supporting renewable power. Already we are seeing efforts by utilities to charge ridiculous prices to connect renewables to the grid being beaten back in most cases (Spain not-withstanding). That loss of control will only continue to get worse for the fossil fuel lobbies. We may not be at 7% global wind and solar next year, but over the course of this decade financial pressures are going to move solar & wind to the forefront. Unless some significant new factor is introduced I'd expect nearly all new electricity generation being added by 2020 will be renewable.

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  8. This Bloomburg report says that a major electricity generator in Germany is planning on closing 7% of its generating capacity in Nothern Europe because of low prices.   The low prices are caused by less electricity demand and renewable generation.  It is not peer reviewed, but hopefully it will be confirmed.  It is clear that the German price for electricity will go down next year partly due to their renewable policies.  When renewables are cheaper than coal they will be rapidly built out.  That time may be now!

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  9. Yes, encourage economic transition through net metering and carbon tax.

    But that's not really enough for what the situation is demanding right now. As the widget at the top right of the page should make clear, we are dropping bombs on our childrens heads.

    If there was an industry in your neighborhood mass producing bombs that you knew they were planning to drop on your house and your neighbors houses, would you call for merely a slight increase in the tax on bomb production to encourage that company to move into some other line of business?? In WWII, did we decide that greed would win the war for us if we just let the market do its thing?

    The top climatologists of the world are saying we need cuts of 6-10% or more NOW, if we want any remote chance of having anything remotely like a viable planet left. Advocating doing nothing and just 'trusting the market' sounds rather...Chamberlain-esque, at best.

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