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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #46A

Posted on 12 November 2014 by John Hartz

A tricky transition from fossil fuel

Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well.

Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal?

Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous.

A Tricky Transition From Fossil Fuel: Denmark Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy by Justin Gillis, New York Times, Nov 10, 2014

Capping warming at 2 C not enough to avert disaster

Scientists, environmentalists and world leaders alike have generally agreed that capping Earth’s temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius would prevent the worst effects of climate change — a cut-off touted again in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But many experts in the field, including former IPCC leaders, have said that even if global warming is kept to that limit, such a rise could nevertheless devastate the environment and endanger humanity — the very effects that the latest study warns will happen if the 2 C ceiling is breached.

“There is no such thing as a safe rise,” said Bob Watson, who was the chair of the IPCC from 1997 to 2002. “You will see food and water insecurity, human health problems, and sea level rise even with a 2 C rise.”

Capping warming at 2 C not enough to avert disaster, climate experts warn by Renee Lewis, Al Jazeera, Nov 8, 2014

Conservatives don't hate climate change, they hate the proposed solutions

Conservatives who reject the science of climate change aren't necessarily reacting to the science, according to a new study from researchers at Duke University. They're reacting to the fact that they don't like proposed solutions more strongly identified with liberals.

The paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, looks at the relationship between political ideology and rejection of scientific evidence. The researchers look most closely at climate change and other environmental challenges,an area where those who identify as liberals or Democrats mostly accept scientific conclusions while conservatives or Republicans largely reject them. The researchers conclude that on climate and other important societal issues, this denial is "rooted not in a fear of the general problem, per se, but rather in fear of the specific solutions associated with that problem."

The authors blame this denial of climate science on what they deem "solution aversion," i.e., the proposed solutions are "more aversive and more threatening to individuals who hold an ideology that is incompatible with or even challenged by the solution."

Conservatives don't hate climate change, they hate the proposed solutions: Study by Kate Shepard, The Huffington Post, Nov 7, 2014

G20 states spend $88bn in fossil fuel exploration subsidies

Leading world economies are spending $88 billion (71 billion euros) a year in fossil fuel exploration subsidies, sapping investment from low-carbon alternatives and increasing the risk of "dangerous climate change", a report said Tuesday.

The report by Britain's Overseas Development Institute think tank said that these subsidies "could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than two degrees Celsius".

The report was published in conjunction with Oil Change International, a US advocacy group, and comes ahead of a meeting of G20 leaders this weekend in Brisbane, Australia. 

G20 states spend $88bn in fossil fuel exploration subsidies: report by Parvez Jabri, AP/Business Recorder, Nov 11, 2014

Global warming worsening watery dead zones

Global warming is likely playing a bigger role than previously thought in dead zones in oceans, lakes and rivers around the world and it’s only going to get worse, according to a new study.

Dead zones occur when fertilizer runoff clogs waterways with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. That leads to an explosion of microbes that consumes oxygen and leaves the water depleted of oxygen, harming marine life.

Scientists have long known that warmer water increases this problem, but a new study Monday in the journal Global Change Biology by Smithsonian Institution researchers found about two dozen different ways — biologically, chemically and physically — that climate change worsens the oxygen depletion.

“We’ve underestimated the effect of climate change on dead zones,” said study lead author Andrew Altieri, a researcher at the Smithsonian’s tropical center in Panama.

Study: Global warming worsening watery dead zones by Seth Borenstien, AP/Salon, Nov 10, 2014

Interview with Bill McKibben: 'When the history of this time is written'

"When the history of this time is written, Shell will get more than a footnote," noted American author, turned climate activist Bill McKibben whilst speaking at the London School of Economics last week.

Having just come from a climate conference sponsored by the Anglo Dutch oil giant, the irony of the juxtaposition certainly wasn't lost on him:

They were the company that when it emerged that the Arctic had melted thanks to our efforts, they didn't say: "Perhaps, we should stop what we are doing." Instead it said: "Oh, this will make it easier to drill for more oil up in the Arctic."

McKibben's disparaging remarks came two days after the United Nations issued it's "final warning" on the ever-alarming state of our climate.

Interview with Bill McKibben: 'When the History of This Time Is Written' by Aiko Stevenson, The Huffington Post, Nov 10, 2014

New U.S.-China climate deal is a game changer

In what may prove to be a watershed moment in the fight against climate change, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced from Beijing on Wednesday that they are pursuing ambitious new greenhouse gas emission reductions.

China and the U.S. are the world’s two largest emitters of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane, and their cooperation is absolutely essential to the success of any global effort to scale back emissions and avert catastrophic climate change.

According to a statement from the White House press office, the U.S. will reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, with “best efforts” to hit the higher end of that range. China will have its CO2 emissions peak around 2030, “make best efforts to peak early,” and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy portfolio to “around” 20 percent by 2030. You might notice a lot of wiggle room in that language. There’s more. The White House release refers to these goals as statements of “intent.” They don’t promise or even “agree” to hit these targets, they merely “intend” to.

New U.S.-China climate deal is a game changer by Ben Adler, Grist, Nov 12, 2014

Post climate pact, IEA warns fossil fuel trends dire

The odds that any climate change agreement among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters will succeed became a little greater on Tuesday as China and the U.S. committed to slash carbon pollution in the coming decades.

It was a critical move because the world’s thirst for fossil fuels continues unabated even as wind, solar and other low-carbon energy sources are coming into their prime.

That message was hammered home a day after the pact was struck in the form of a dire warning from the International Energy Agency in its annual World Energy Outlook, which was released on Wednesday. The IEA said the U.S., China and the rest of the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitters are going to have to do a lot to put the brakes on climate change because the globe is still hooked on fossil fuels, and there’s little indication that will change much over the next 25 years.

Post climate pact, IEA warns fossil fuel trends dire by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, Nov 12, 2014

Republicans vow to fight E.P.A. and approve Keystone pipeline

The new Republican Congress is headed for a clash with the White House over two ambitious Environmental Protection Agency regulations that are the heart of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible. 

Republicans Vow to Fight E.P.A. and Approve Keystone Pipeline by Coral Davenport, New York Times, Nov 10, 2014

The end of beaches? Why the world’s shorelines are in serious trouble

We can have our beachfront properties — our Miami high-rises, our Hamptons mansions, our Jersey boardwalks — or we can have our beaches. But as geologist and Duke University emeritus professor Orrin Pilkey has been arguing for decades now, we can’t have both.

As the oceans warm and sea levels rise, coastal living is becoming an increasingly risky proposition. Any climate scientist would tell you not to invest in a beach house, and yet large-scale migration inland is something we’ve yet to see. The beaches themselves can withstand extreme weather, of course. But it’s our attempts to hold them in place, through techno-fixes like seawalls and beach replenishment, that ironically enough will end up destroying them. Sooner or later, Pilkey argues, we’re going to be forced to retreat. The question is whether there’ll be any beach left by then.

The Last Beach,” which Pilkey co-wrote with J. Andrew G. Cooper, a professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster, is but his latest attempt to drive home just how wrong-headed our push to build on and preserve shorelines is. It’s been an uphill battle; for Pilkey, what counts as progress was that people acknowledged his plea not to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy instead of just attacking him for suggesting it — even if they didn’t really end up following his advice.

The end of beaches? Why the world’s shorelines are in serious trouble by Lindsay Abrams. Salon, Nov 8, 2014

Underwater 'storms' may hold key to melting Antarctic ice

Scientists using robotic ocean gliders to wander frigid Antarctic waters say they may have discovered a mechanism behind the melting of polar ice shelves – miniature submarine "storms" that are lobbing packets of warmer water toward the continent.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shed light on the complicated currents that could potentially be contributing to the loss of West Antarctic ice.

Thawing ice in Antarctica has contributed to the rising ocean levels that are a signature of climate change, and it’s thought that warm water reaching the ice shelf has played a key role in melting it. But it’s not clear how warm water has managed to get past the continental shelf break to start the process, and an international team of researchers wanted to find out.

Underwater 'storms' may hold key to melting Antarctic ice by Amina Kahn, Los Angeles Times, Nov 10, 2014

U.S. and China announce new climate goals

The United States and China announced new goals for reducing their global warming pollution in the coming decades, with the U.S. ramping up its rate of decarbonization in five to 10 years and China promising that its carbon emissions will peak in the next 15 years.

The announcements, which came at a multinational summit in Beijing Tuesday, made clear for the first time the commitments that the two biggest sources of greenhouse gases will make as part of the urgent United Nations negotiations. The talks aim to reach a comprehensive climate change treaty that could be signed in Paris at the end of 2015.

The U.S. and China produce about a third of the total annual emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greerhouse gas. Both have set out plans to reduce emissions, especially by using less coal in the production of electricity. Their new pledges would deepen those commitments.

U.S. and China, World's Biggest Carbon Polluters, Announce New Climate Goals by John H Cushman, Jr, Inside Climate News, Nov 12, 2014

Use the Web? Congrats, you’re an environmentalist.

As of now, the top three most widely used US search engines, by a considerable margin, are Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft's Bing. If you live in this country and you are actually online, there's well over a 90 percent chance that you use one of them, according to the web data company comScore.

This we all know. But what few people realize is that if you are using these searches, it is growing more and more likely that you are also engaging in what is, in effect, a green pattern of Internet use.

The reason? Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are part of a growing number of tech and other major companies that are entering into long-term "power purchase" agreements (PPAs) with wind farms to ensure a steady stream of power, at a fixed cost, over a period as long as several decades. Most recently, last month Yahoo signed such a deal for wind power in the Great Plains with OwnEnergy, a wind energy developer.

Use the Web? Congrats, you’re an environmentalist. by Chris Mooney, Wonkblog, Washington Post, Nov 6, 2014

What you need to know about U.S.-China Climate Pact

It’s been a busy few months for international movement on climate change. Following a September climate march and meetings at the United Nations and an announcement by the European Union to cut greenhouse gas emissions, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping topped it all by announcing a new joint climate commitment late on Tuesday.

“As the world’s largest economies and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a responsibility to lead the world on climate change,” President Obama said in a joint press conference with President Xi in Beijing.

In short, it’s a landmark deal, and provides a ray of hope for limiting global carbon emissions and securing a new global treaty on climate change.

What You Need to Know About U.S.-China Climate Pact by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Nov 12, 2014

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Comments 1 to 2:

  1. I though this title sums up the recent situation nicely (even if I'm not sure China is trying to save anything other than its reputation):

     China Tries to Save Earth: Republicans Furious

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  2. GISTemp is out for October: .76C — tied for warmest October on record (2005).  2014 is on track for warmest year on record.  Sept-Oct ENSO (MEI) = .36.  

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