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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #52B

Posted on 27 December 2014 by John Hartz

A bit of good green energy news for your holidays, courtesy of New England

I write about bad news pretty much all the time, so for the holiday season, let’s check out a little piece of good news.

Of all the criticisms lobbed at renewable energy, two points are most common:

  • Wind and solar are intermittent — the wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine — which means they are not “dispatchable,” i.e., a grid manager cannot reliably and predictably deploy them to meet demand.
  • Renewables are more expensive than fossil fuels.

As it happens, the New England ISO (Independent System Operator) is busy upending that conventional wisdom.

A bit of good green energy news for your holidays, courtesy of New England by David Roberts, Grist, Dec 23, 2014

Christian goup gives Australian Prime Minister ‘Clean Energy 4 Christmas’

In the last year, Australia has earned a lamentable reputation as a country going rapidly backward on addressing climate change. After Tony Abbott was elected prime minister in 2013, his huge man crush on coal impacted the country in numerous ways, as it repealed its carbon taxdumped its Renewable Energy Target and gave encouragement to big new environment-destroying, greenhouse gas-emitting coal projects. It dragged its feet on contributing to the Green Climate Fund, saying it wouldn’t do so and then finally making a pledge during the recent climate summit in Peru.

But some Australians aren’t taking this lying down. A group called Common Grace, who describe themselves as “thousands of Christians from various denominations who are passionate about Jesus and justice,” have been collecting donations to buy solar panels for Kirribilli House, Australia’s equivalent of the White House. And they announced last week that they have met their goal of $6,000, crowdfunding the 12 panels in just four days. 

Christian Group Gives Coal-Loving Australian Prime Minister ‘Clean Energy 4 Christmas’ by Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch, Dec 23, 2014

Climate change is melting Christmas in the US

“I’m Dreaming of an ozone layer,? Just like the one I used to know / Which kept out UV rays / Before aerosol sprays / And allowed for actual snow.”

OK, so this week’s lyrical New Yorker essay on climate change Christmas carols is a blatant oversimplification of a serious issue — but it is not untrue that our warming planet is slowly killing aspects of the holiday tradition we’ve taken for granted.

Not least of which is the very headquarters of Christmastime, the North Pole, where ice sheets are melting at such a rapid clip Santa’s workshop has actually drifted slightly to the south. In an article published on Christmas Eve 2012 titled ” The Polar Express,” the New Yorker (clearly a big fan of Christmas climate change puns) writes that eventually, “you’ll be able to cross the North Pole in a canoe.” And scientists say the subsequent rising sea level may actually shift the distribution of weight on the Earth andchange the planet’s rotation, all the while our thawing arctic is causing a geopolitical fight for ownership of Santa’s abode.

Climate Change Is Melting Christmas In The US by Meg Neal, Gizmodo, Dec 26, 2014

Five bits of research that shaped climate science in 2014

Climate science never stops developing. Over the course of the year we've covered a myriad of scientific studies, some of which have made the news, and others which have been more quietly received. Here's our pick of the papers that have shaped scientific discussion about climate change in 2014.

Five bits of research that shaped climate science in 2014 by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, Dec 26, 2014

Green bonds may help limit effects of climate change

A few years ago, the Mexican government pinpointed a promising method for reducing carbon dioxide emissions: Encourage Mexicans to trade in their old refrigerators, air conditioners, light bulbs and the like for more up-to-date models. After all, about 80 percent of the country’s energy comes from fossil fuels, and household appliances account for about a quarter of its electricity use. But how to pay for the program, while making it affordable for poor households?Description:

The answer: A financing mechanism called a green bond. After implementing this new strategy for funding environmentally friendly investments, the Mexican initiative is on track to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 1 million tons a year for the foreseeable future — the equivalent of cutting the carbon emissions of 217,000 cars annually, according to green bond pioneer World Bank, which issued the instrument.

Green Bonds May Help Limit Effects of Climate Change by Anne Field, Ensia, Climate Progress, Dec

Greenland's ice loss now comes from surface

Greenland's disappearing ice shifted gears in the past decade, switching from shrinking glaciers to surface melting, researchers reported here last week at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting.

Instead of losing ice where massive glaciers meet the sea, Greenland now sends meltwater rushing into the ocean via a vastnetwork of lakes and rivers, according to several studies. The results do not mean that glaciers have stopped their speedy flow, only that surface melting now exerts a morepowerful influence on ice loss, researchers said.

 "We no longer see giant icebergs calving" from glaciers, releasing ice into the sea, said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at the National Snow and IceData Center, who led one of the new studies. "The majority of water is coming from surface melt."

Greenland's Ice Loss Now Comes from Surface by Becky Oskin, LiveScience, Dec 22, 2014

How solar power and electric cars could make suburban living awesome again

The suburbs have had it rough in the last few years. The 2008-2009 economic collapse led to waves of foreclosures in suburbia, as home prices plummeted. More recently, census data suggest that Americans are actually shifting back closer to city centers, often giving up on the dream of a big home in suburbs (much less the far-flung "exurbs").

It doesn't help that suburbia has long been the poster child for unsustainable living. You have to drive farther to work, so you use a lot of gas. Meanwhile, while having a bigger home may be a plus, that home is also costlier to heat and cool. It all adds up — not just in electricity bills, but in overall greenhouse gas emissions. That's why suburbanites, in general, tend to have bigger carbon footprints than city dwellers.

How solar power and electric cars could make suburban living awesome again by Chris Mooney, Wonkblog, Washoington Post, Dec 24, 2014

Ice-free Arctic could be just six years away

Frank Pokiak remembers long days on the land, camped at traditional hunting grounds under June’s 24-hour sun, secure in the knowledge that sea ice would provide a safe highway back to his Tuktoyaktuk home.

Those days are gone.

“We used to stay out quite a while, eh,” recalls Pokiak, a longtime Inuvialuit hunter. “We go hunting geese and ducks along the coast and after the snow melts on the ground we still have access via the ocean.

“We don’t really do that any more. You can’t stay out on the land as long. The ice is melting quicker.”

Ice-free Arctic could be just six years away by Bob Weber, Canadian Press/The Star, Dec 22, 2014

Major U.S. cities face more blackouts under climate change

New York City will be increasingly susceptible to hurricane-triggered blackouts in coming decades, despite the mitigation efforts put into action since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast two years ago, a new study has found.

While the direct impacts of hurricanes, such as loss of life, flooding, slowed or lost wages and infrastructure damage, are punishing to cities recovering from a storm, electrical blackouts represent a grave concern, as well.

An examination of how potential changes in hurricane intensity and activity could influence blackouts in 27 American cities, including New York City, the report from Johns Hopkins University used a computer simulation to predict the growing vulnerability of electrical grids in major urban areas up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Major U.S. cities face more blackouts under climate change by Benjamin Hulac, ClimateWire/Scientific American, Dec 23, 2014

Miami’s climate catch-22

Argentine developer Alan Faena recently listed the most expensive condo in this city’s history at $55 million. The Mid Beach penthouse features a private elevator, an infinity pool, an uninterrupted view of the Atlantic.

The catch: The tower stands on what scientists call one of America’s most vulnerable floodplains.

But Miami Beach needs this penthouse — and many more like it. The more developers build here, the more taxes and fees the city collects to fund a $300-million storm water project to defend the shore against the rising sea. Approval of these luxury homes on what environmentalists warn is global warming quicksand amounts to a high-stakes bet that Miami Beach can, essentially, out-build climate change and protect its $27 billion worth of real estate.

The move makes budgetary sense in a state with no income tax: Much of South Florida’s public infrastructure is supported by property taxes.

Miami’s climate catch-22: Building waterfront condos to pay for protection against the rising sea by Danielle Paquette, Washington Post, Dec 22, 2014

Pinot Noir is wine’s Polar Bear

If plants had a climate change ambassador akin to the animal kingdom’s polar bear, it would probably be pinot noir. If the withholding, thin-skinned, and heat-averse wine grape were your girlfriend, your friends would call her high-maintenance.

Even subtle shifts in climate affect pinot noir. Oenophiles worship its “transparency”: the unfiltered expression of both terroir and vintage—where it was grown and what conditions it faced while doing it. Pinot noir likes to live on the edge, producing its most elegant expression when planted in warmer pockets of cooler places. As frost-tolerant as many whites, it has the narrowest agreeable temperature range of the top 15 most planted varietals.

Pinot Noir Is Wine’s Polar Bear by Carrie Miller, Slate, Dec 23, 2014

Rescued scientists bring back a warning from the Antarctic

The voyage was meant to retrace the steps of Douglas Mawson, the great polar explorer and scientist who led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911. What happened instead captured the world’s attention, something none of the scientists, journalists and paying public aboard could have foreseen.

The Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck in ice on Christmas Day 2013 only two weeks after leaving New Zealand. A rescue mission swung into operation. Chinese, French and Australian icebreakers hurried to the scene only to be defeated by the ice floes themselves.

News editors around the world must have thanked their chosen gods. Into the seasonal dead zone, a real story had dropped. Stranded far from home, those aboard the Shokalskiy faced danger amidst the spectacular ice.

Rescued scientists bring back a warning from the Antarctic by Ian Sample, The Guardian, Dec 25, 2014

Scientists in focus – Susan Wijffels and Rebecca Cowley

Two energetic and extraordinarily knowledgeable scientists from Australia have worked tirelessly for years to help us better quantify our changing climate. Dr. Susan Wijffels and Rebecca Cowley are a complementary team that has dramatically improved ocean measurements and set a standard for quality.

As I’ve written before, “Global Warming” is, in truth “Ocean Warming.” The vast majority of the extra energy that enters our climate system ends up in the oceans. But measuring the long-term increase in ocean heat is a major challenge. First, we need accurate measurements that can tell us how much energy is contained in the waters. Second, we need those measurements to be made for years and decades so that long-term trends can be identified. 

Scientists in focus – Susan Wijffels and Rebecca Cowley by John Abraham, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, Dec 26, 2014

The 5 most important developments in climate change in 2014

This year may go down as one of the more consequential years for action to prevent the worst effects of climate change. I have written in the past about why fighting climate change is proving to be such a challenge, but an end-of-the-year reflection on what we are getting right might make for a refreshing change.

The good news is that while global emissions continue to grow, 2014 saw a great deal of progress toward putting in place the policies and infrastructure necessary to eventually reverse that trend. Mankind has only just begun to change its damaging course, and much more work needs to be done, but here are five reasons to be cautiously optimistic:

The 5 most important developments in climate change in 2014 by 

Top 500 companies' carbon emissions rise despite calls for cuts

Greenhouse gas emissions by the world's top 500 companies rose 3.1 percent from 2010 to 2013, far off the cuts urged by the United Nations to limit global warming, a study showed on Monday.

The top 500 firms by capitalisation accounted for 13.8 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions and 28 percent of gross domestic product in 2013, according to the report, drawn up by the information provider Thomson Reuters and BSD Consulting, a global sustainability consultancy.

"Almost all of us use products from these companies," said Tim Nixon, Director of Sustainability at Thomson Reuters. "This is about transparency. We hope companies will look at the report and engage with their stakeholders to reduce emissions."

Top 500 companies' carbon emissions rise despite calls for cuts by Alister Doyle, Reuters, Dec 22, 2014

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    From bad to worse: a roadmap to global burning

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