The Dernogalizer

November 30, 2009

Colleges Going Green

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 4:38 pm
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I’m going to occasionally post a round up of some notable campus environmental stories to highlight steps being taken by universities around the country to reduce their environmental impact.  Here’s a few neat ones below.

University of Arizona opens bike share program

“The program, in its second week, currently has 10 cruiser bikes, five at Tyndall Avenue Garage and fice at Sixth Street garage. Organizers started the program small so they could work out any problems, said Bill Davidson, marketing specialist for Parking and Transportation Services. The program is free for students, faculty and staff.”

“Davidson said the cost of the program is about $3,000 to $4,000, which includes the purchase of the bikes, the bike racks and the bike locks.”

Pennsylvannia College of Tech expands Weatherization Center

“The facility now has two dedicated, multimedia-equipped classrooms; two similarly equipped classrooms that can be used for training purposes; a weatherization tactics lab; a weatherization diagnostics and energy conservation lab; and office space for instructors and support staff.

Before the expansion, the center trained 250 to 350 people per year, and now it is expected to exceed 1,000 men and women in the coming year, college officials said.”

Unity College Students weatherize community homes

“On November 7 and 14, Unity College students and faculty paired up with members of the community to help weatherize homes in the Unity area. This program is called Neighbors Warming Neighbors and is sponsored by the Unity Barn Raisers. The goal of this project is to help community members support themselves through the winter season, as well as reduce the carbon footprint of the town. Teams of four or five were sent out with weatherization kits specific to the houses they would be working on. On average, each team worked on two houses. The team left the homeowner with additional supplies if needed, suggestions on what else they could, and a blanket.

Over the two days, roughly two dozen homes were weatherized.”

Texas State University St. Marcos converts physical fitness to renewable energy

“The retrofitting of 30 elliptical machines in the Student Recreation Center will give the equipment the capability of converting exercise into renewable energy, connecting it to the university power grid. The unveiling of the retrofitted machines will take place Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. in the SRC, making Texas State the first university in the state to generate electricity in sucha way, and making it the largest of its kind in the world.”

Eastern Illinois Univ to Replace Coal with Biomass

“Honeywell today announced a $79 million renewable energy and building retrofit program with Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. The program, which combines energy-efficient facility upgrades with one of the largest biomass-fueled heating plants on a university campus, will help EIU address deferred maintenance, improve its infrastructure, and save approximately $140 million in energy and operating costs over the next two decades.

EIU will finance the improvements and use the savings, guaranteed by Honeywell through a 20-year performance contract, to pay for the work. As a result, the program will not place a burden on the university’s budget or require additional taxpayer dollars or student fees.”

November 27, 2009

Solar Price to be 50% less in 2010 than 2008

Filed under: energy — Matt Dernoga @ 11:27 pm
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According to a new analysis by New Energy Finance, the price of solar power will be 50% less by the end of 2009 than it was in 2008.  This is in comparison to a 10% drop in costs of other renewable energy sources.  The report also notes the cost of wind turbines have dropped by 18-20% since 2008.  For more detailed information on why this is, check out the report, or a post I made back in August.

November 26, 2009

China Announces “Carbon Intensity” Target

This deal worked exactly as it was reported it would last week.  Yesterday, the Obama Administration announced a target, plus the fact that he would be attending Copenhagen towards the beginning.  Now, China has followed suit by announcing an emissions intensity reduction target of 40-45%.  This is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP, so China is looking to nearly halve that.  Because of a rapidly growing GDP, this reduction still ensures that China’s emissions will rise for awhile, but that as China grows it will grow much more sustainably than it currently is, or was.  I expect China will surpass this target anyways, as they’re already furiously investing in renewable energy.  For an excellent analysis of what this target really means, check out this blog post by energy policy analysis Julian Wong.  Notable excerpts are posted below.

“Beijing said it would aim to reduce its “carbon intensity” by 40-45% by the year 2020, compared with 2005 levels.  Carbon intensity, China’s preferred measurement, is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP.  But our correspondent says it does not mean China’s overall levels of carbon dioxide will start falling.  Its economy is still growing and is mostly fuelled by polluting coal, says the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Beijing.  It will be at least a couple of decades before China’s emissions peak, so it is likely to remain the largest polluter for some time to come, he adds.”

“Beijing also said on Thursday that Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao would attend the talks.  That confirmation came a day after US President Barack Obama said he would go to the summit.  The US – the second largest polluter after China – said President Obama would offer to cut US emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.  But the offer was less than hoped for by the EU, Japan and UN scientists – most other countries’ targets are given in comparison with 1990 figures.  BBC environment correspondent Richard Black says that on that basis the US figure amounts to just a few percentage points, as its emissions have risen by about 15% since 1990.  This is much less than the EU’s pledge of a 20% cut over the same period, or a 30% cut if there is a global deal; and much less than the 25-40% figure that developing countries are demanding.”

China is showing that it wants to play a leading role in tackling global climate change, he adds.  It has already made a pledge to increase its renewable energy targets to grow more forests and develop green industries.  Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China’s climate campaign manager, told AFP news agency: “This is definitely a very positive step China is taking, but we think China can do more than this.”

UMD for Clean Energy in the Washington Post

I already had a post last week where the Diamondback covered our presentation to the College Park City Council, and on Thanksgiving day our proposal for tax credits for green businesses has made it into the Washington Post and the Gazette.

U-Md. students urge College Park to create tax credit for ‘green’ firms

By David Hill

Representatives from UMD for Clean Energy presented their plan to the College Park City Council at its Nov. 17 work session. Their proposal would give property tax breaks to businesses that provide energy-efficient products and services, as well as those that reduce their own carbon footprint.

It could take several years to implement, and city officials appear willing to listen. But the plan faces several obstacles, one of which is that it is not currently legal.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1). “We’d like to utilize some version of it and we’re working on a fix right now with the state.”

Municipalities in Maryland are not allowed to offer tax breaks to businesses based on whether they are environmentally friendly, or “green.” Federal and state governments have done it for years — mostly to reduce energy use and reliance on nonrenewable sources — and counties in Maryland have had the right since May.

Nonetheless, the students said that with time and legislation, the proposed city-level tax break would make College Park a popular destination for a growing number of energy-efficient organizations.

“The renewable energy industry is expanding,” said Matt Dernoga, who met with the council alongside fellow student Hilary Staver. “We’re going to have to invest and shift away from conventional energy sources.”

Their proposal would call for a two-tier system. Tier 1 businesses — those that specialize in energy-efficient products and services — would receive a tax credit. A smaller credit would go to Tier 2 businesses in non-”green” sectors that adopt eco-friendly practices such as recycling and improving storm-water management.

Edmonston-based Community Forklift, which collects and sells used building materials, and Beltsville-based solar energy provider SunEdison are examples of businesses that would qualify for Tier 1. Staver said the city has few, if any, Tier 1 qualifiers of its own and that adding new ones would have a positive impact.

The students did not suggest a specific amount for the credit.

“[If residents] see that these companies are taking steps to reduce environmental impact … then it makes people think more about it in their lives,” Staver said. “It helps set an example for the public.”

While new Tier 1 businesses also would boost the city’s revenue, Mayor Stephen Brayman expressed concern over the tax breaks existing city businesses could receive. He said that in difficult economic times, lower taxes for Tier 2 operations could leave residents to foot the bill.

“If residents are paying more taxes to give businesses tax breaks, that might not be popular,” Brayman said, adding that the city’s budget likely will shrink in 2011 and 2012 due to the current economic decline. “The city doesn’t really have any money to give up.”

The council and student group said they would be willing to work toward a compromise. City officials currently lobbying the state for permission to offer a revitalization tax credit to attract new businesses, and Wojahn said they could incorporate language that appeals specifically to green businesses.

“We could probably adopt some parts of [the students'] proposal,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more important to attract these types of businesses.”

November 25, 2009

Obama Will Travel to Copenhagen, Announces Emissions Target

I posted a couple days ago that President Obama was going to announce a short term emissions target before Copenhagen.  That announcement came today, along with Obama’s announcement that he would in fact be traveling to Copenhagen.  The target is 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, which is likely what they think they can get in domestic US legislation.

The White House’s extensive press release is below, which includes some domestic and international accomplishments.

President to Attend Copenhagen Climate Talks

Administration Announces U.S. Emission Target for Copenhagen

The White House announced today that President Obama will travel to Copenhagen on Dec. 9 to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where he is eager to work with the international community to drive progress toward a comprehensive and operational Copenhagen accord.   The President has worked steadily on behalf of a positive outcome in Copenhagen throughout the year.  Based on the President’s work on climate change over the past 10 months – in the Major Economies Forum, the G20, bilateral discussions and multilateral consultations – and based on progress made in recent, constructive discussions with China and India’s Leaders, the President believes it is possible to reach a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen.  The President’s decision to go is a sign of his continuing commitment and leadership to find a global solution to the global threat of climate change, and to lay the foundation for a new, sustainable and prosperous clean energy future.

The White House also announced that, in the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that includes robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies, the President is prepared to put on the table a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation.  In light of the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83% by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in this pending legislation would entail a 30% reduction below 2005 levels in 2025 and a 42% reduction below 2005 in 2030.  This provisional target is in line with current legislation in both chambers of Congress and demonstrates a significant contribution to a problem that the U.S. has neglected for too long.  With less than two weeks to go until the beginning of the Copenhagen conference, it is essential that the countries of the world, led by the major economies, do what it takes to produce a strong, operational agreement that will both launch us on a concerted effort to combat climate change and serve as a stepping stone to a legally binding treaty.  The President is working closely with Congress to pass energy and climate legislation as soon as possible.

Underscoring President Obama’s commitment to American leadership on clean energy and combating climate change, the White House also announced today that a host of Cabinet secretaries and other top officials from across the Administration will travel to Copenhagen for the conference.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson are all scheduled to attend, along with Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner.

For the first time, the U.S. delegation will have a U.S. Center at the conference, providing a unique and interactive forum to share our story with the world.  In addition to working with other countries to advance American interests, U.S. delegates will keynote a series of events highlighting actions by the Obama Administration to provide domestic and global leadership in the transition to a clean energy economy.  Topics will range from energy efficiency investments and global commitments to renewables policy and clean energy jobs.  The following keynote events and speakers are currently scheduled:

  • Wednesday, December 9th: Taking Action at Home, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson
  • Thursday, December 10th: New Energy Future: the role of public lands in clean energy production and carbon capture, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
  • Friday, December 11th: Clean Energy Jobs in a Global Marketplace, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
  • Monday, December 14th: Leading in Energy Efficiency and Renewables, Energy Secretary Steven Chu
  • Tuesday, December 15th: Clean Energy Investments: creating opportunities for rural economies,Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
  • Thursday, December 17th: Backing Up International Agreement with Domestic Action, CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Assistant to the President Carol Browner

These events will underline the historic progress the Obama Administration has made to address climate change and create a new energy future.  In addition to passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House of Representatives this summer, Administration officials will highlight an impressive resume of American action and accomplishments over the last 10 months, including:

DOMESTIC LEADERSHIP

  • Recovery Act: The U.S. is investing more than $80 billion in clean energy through its Recovery Act – including the largest-ever investment in renewable energy, which will double our generation of clean renewable energy like wind and solar in three years.
  • Efficiency Standard for Automobiles:  President Obama announced the first ever joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks in May.  The new standards are projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program with a fuel economy gain averaging more than 5 percent per year and a reduction of approximately 900 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Advancing Comprehensive Energy Legislation: Passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation is a top priority for the Administration and significant progress has been made.  In June, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act that will promote clean energy investments and lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent by 2050.  The Senate continues to advance their efforts to pass comprehensive legislation and move the U.S.  closer to a system of clean energy incentives that create new energy jobs, reduce our dependence on oil, and cut pollution.
  • Appliance Efficiency Standards: The Obama Administration has forged more stringent energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential appliances, including microwaves, kitchen ranges, dishwashers, lightbulbs and other common appliances.  This common sense approach makes improved efficiency a manufacturing requirement for the everyday appliances used in practically every home and business, resulting in a significant reduction in energy use.  Altogether, about two dozen new energy efficiency standards will be completed in the next few years.
  • Offshore Energy Development:  Within the Administration’s first 100 days, a new regulatory framework was established to facilitate the development of alternative energy projects in an economic and environmentally sound manner that allows us to tap into the vast energy potential of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that development of wind energy alone on the OCS may provide an additional 1,900 gigawatts of clean energy to the U.S.
  • Emissions Inventory Rule: For the first time, the U.S. will catalogue greenhouse gas emissions from large emission sources – an important initial step toward measurable and transparent reductions.

INTERNATIONAL LEADERSHIP

  • The Major Economies Forum (MEF): President Obama launched the MEF in March 2009, creating a new dialogue among developed and emerging economies to combat climate change and promote clean energy. At the July L’Aquila summit, MEF Leaders announced important new agreements to support the UN climate talks and launched a new Global Partnership to promote clean energy technologies.
  • Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies: The President spearheaded an agreement at the Pittsburgh G20 summit for all G20 nations to phase out their fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term and to work with other countries to do the same.  Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations followed the G20 lead at their summit in Singapore, expanding the number of countries committing to these subsidies.  According to the International Energy Agency, this measure alone could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent or more by 2050.
  • Bilateral Energy and Climate Partnerships: The U.S. is accelerating its collaboration with ChinaIndia,MexicoCanada and other key international partners to combat climate change, coordinate clean energy research and development, and support the international climate talks.
  • Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas: President Obama proposed a partnership with our neighbors in the western hemisphere to advance energy security and combat climate change.  An early product of this cooperation is Chile’s Renewable Energy Center, which receives technical support from the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Phasing Down HFCs (Hydrofluorocarbons): The U.S. joined Canada and Mexico in proposing to phase-down HFC emissions, a very potent greenhouse gas, in developed and developing countries under the Montreal Protocol.  This represents a down payment of about 10% of the emission reductions necessary to cut global greenhouse gas emissions to half their current levels by 2050.

In Defense of Science

Filed under: Climate Change — Matt Dernoga @ 1:44 pm
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A few days ago, it surfaced that e-mails hacked from a British university showed some embarrassing conversations between climate scientists, which global warming deniers have stretched and chalked up to data misrepresentation, and a massive global scientific conspiracy to trick people into reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  For more background information, check out EnviroKnow.

This is of course quite embarrassing, but for me the embarrassment should lie with the deniers and conspiracy theorists running with this fairytale.  I’ve looked at the pieces of the e-mails deniers are going ballistic about, and I really don’t see anything remotely resembling a smoking gun.  To me, the real revelation is that conservatives and deniers have openly revealed how anti-science they are with this “controversy”.  Advocates for reducing greenhouse gas emissions have accused deniers and many conservatives of being anti-science, and deniers have tried to counter that in a number of pathetic ways, largely by pointing at “scientists” who question the mainstream science.

But there is nothing more damning, and no better way to label yourself  “anti-science”, than to celebrate the illegal(yes those e-mails were hacked, and then published all around the web) character assassination of thousands of respected scientists worldwide who try their best to perform research, establish data-sets and trends, and give our policymakers and the American people the information necessary to make informed decisions.  Never mind all of the scientific discoveries and technological innovation that gives so many of us such a high standard of living.  This mindset of mass scientific conspiracy and distrust needs to be defeated, or it threatens to take our society back to the dark ages.

There have also been some recent statements by top scientific agencies that only highlight how dire the science is.  It’s irresponsible to disregard these warnings, such as this statement by the UK MET office, Natural Environmental Research Council, and the Royal Society, which reinforces the scientific consensus of man-made global warming.

“The 2007 IPCC Assessment, the most comprehensive and respected analysis of climate change to date, states clearly that without substantial global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions we can likely expect a world of increasing droughts, floods and species loss, of rising seas and displaced human populations. However even since the 2007 IPCC Assessment the evidence for dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change has strengthened. The scientific evidence which underpins calls for action at Copenhagen is very strong. Without co-ordinated international action on greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts on climate and civilisation could be severe.”

Because world leaders are not taking the issue seriously enough, we are now on track for the 6 degrees celcius doomsday scenario.

A few e-mails of out thousands sent by a few scientists out of thousands taken out of context by global warming deniers does not come within a light year of collapsing all of the scientific research, data, and current events that point to a warming planet caused by greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s why record highs of outnumbered record lows by an ever increasing ratio, which reached 2:1 in the last decade.  It’s why NASA recently reported the hottest June to October on record.  It’s why every each decade is considerably hotter than the last, and why ocean surface temperatures are the warmest on record.  It’s why declassified US spy satellites show the impact of warming on our ice caps, and East Antarctica is losing ice mass.  Increased wildfires and pine bark beetles moving North.  Australia being pushed to the breaking point by drought.  That’s all happening now.

Collectively, present events and the scientific consensus put the deniers to shame, and that is where the embarrassment should lie.

Below are comments by some UK scientists regarding the e-mail “controversy”.

Dr Chris Huntingford, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said:

“Using the very comprehensive set of temperature measurements available to us, we do know that there has been significant warming over the last hundred years. These datasets have been compiled by independent research laboratories in both the UK and the USA.

“Computer model descriptions of the climate system are increasing in their predictive skill, and there are now very good reasons to believe that their output is accurate and can be trusted. These simulations provide compelling evidence of the link between global warming and increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels.

“Such state-of-the-art computer models of how the climate functions do also account for natural cycles in the Earth system. However, when the additional influence of humans is not considered, they are unable to explain the rapid rate of warming that has been observed over the last Century. The implication is that to a very high level of certainty, the warming observed in the last Century is not part of a natural cycle.

“Almost all current scientific understanding of how the climate system operates suggests that humankind is having an influence on our climate system.”

Professor John Burrows, Director of the Biogeochemistry Programme, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), said:

“The peer review scientific process was created to try to avoid conspiracies from any side on an issue. Despite the adverse reaction in some quarters the current discussion is a perfect example that whilst it doesn’t always look perfect, an open debate, backed up by peer review, is what science is all about.

“Whilst not ignoring “emailgate” we should not inadvertently move the public attention from the established scientific consensus to the attempt at character assassination being made by these climate change sceptics.

“The basic physics of global climate change has been known since Arrhenius at the end of the 19th century if not before. The four Assessment Reports from the IPCC are consistent, however, the data since 1990 seems to follow worst case scenarios. To me this is evidence that the scientific community is behaving responsibly and rather cautiously with respect to the science of climate change.”

Professor Piers Forster, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, said:

“Scientists at the Climate Research Unit are leading experts in the world’s temperature record. They do an amazingly hard job of collecting data from lots of counties, looking at errors and putting the different datasets together. They have been under increasing pressure from a few individuals to respond to multiple FOI calls. Like all us scientists they are short of man-power and stretch their resources to the maximum to do as much new science as possible. The need to respond to FOI requests are often too large to make them feasibly achievable and whilst some of the emails show scientists to be all too human, nothing I have read makes me doubt the veracity of the peer review process or the general warming trend in the global temperature record. I know that when errors in their global temperature product have previously been found (e.g. Thomson et al., 2008, Nature), they responded as all scientists should, researching the source of the error with true scientific enthusiasm. “

Dr Stephan Harrison, Associate Professor in Quaternary Science, School of Geography, University of Exeter, said:

“The emails from the Climatic Research Unit which have been published on the internet have been seized upon by climate change sceptics as evidence that scientists are involved in a global warming conspiracy, suppression of dissenting voices and making data up to support a global warming agenda. We shouldn’t get too carried away, however. Irrespective of what may or may not have been said in some private emails, this doesn’t change the physical properties of carbon dioxide, and doesn’t change the fact that human activity is warming the planet. There’s a lot of politics in all of this debate, but it is the science that has to drive policy.”

Kathy Maskell, Spokesperson, & Professor Rowan Sutton, Walker Institute, University of Reading, said:

“Throughout the Earth’s history there have been natural changes in climate caused by many factors, including variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, volcanic eruptions, and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. The scientific evidence now shows that people are changing the global climate.

“Climate scientists look at both natural factors that cause climate to change and they look at the effect that people are having on climate. There is no doubt that human activity, such as burning fossil fuels and agriculture, is increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This increase in greenhouse gases is causing the globe to warm.

“The current warmth is unusual in the context of the last 1000 years (at least) and is not just part of a natural cycle. Past changes are also thought to have occurred much more slowly than the warming over the 20th century.

“The majority of scientists agree that much of the warming since the mid-20th century is very likely due to increasing greenhouse gases being produced by human activity. Scientists have looked at different possible causes for the warming. Natural changes (like changes in the Sun’s output) cannot explain 20th century warming. The only way to reproduce the warming over the 20th century is to include the effects that people are having on the climate.

“Over the 20th century as a whole there has been a warming trend of 0.7 degrees centigrade and the warming has accelerated since the mid-20th century. The warming has not been steady and there have been periods of cooling. This is exactly what climate scientists would expect. As well as increasing greenhouse gases, natural factors (such as volcanic eruptions and changes in sea surface temeprature in the Pacific called El Nino) are also affecting global temperature. So scientists would expect there to be short periods where there is less warming and even cooling, but overall the trend is towards higher global temperatures. “

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“Once appropriate action has been taken over the hacking, there has to be some process to assess the substance of the e-mail messages as well. The selective disclosure and dissemination of the messages has created the impression of impropriety, and the only way of clearing the air now would be through a rigorous investigation. I have sympathy for the climate researchers at the University of East Anglia and other institutions who have been the target of an aggressive campaign by so-called ‘sceptics’ over a number of years. But I fear that only a thorough investigation could now clear their names.

“There needs to be an assurance that these e-mail messages have not revealed inappropriate conduct in the preparation of journal articles and in dealing with requests from other researchers for access to data. This will probably require investigations both by the host institutions and by the relevant journals. There may also be a role for the UK Office of Research Integrity to advise on any investigation.

“The e-mail messages I have seen posted on ‘sceptics” websites do not cast doubt on the basic physical fact that the Earth is warming in response to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. ‘Sceptics’ may seek to wrongly portray these e-mail messages as a smoking gun from a worldwide conspiracy to create a global warming hoax, but that is simply a ridiculous fantasy.”

Dr Andy Challinor, lecturer in Climate Change Modelling, University of Leeds, said:

“Scientists are frequently faced with choices about methods of presenting data. The aim is to represent the underlying facts clearly, and there is rarely a single correct way of doing this. The mechanisms for anthropogenic climate change are established science that is well-understood. The idea that the many scientists across the globe working on climate change could collude in misrepresenting the fundamentals of the science is ludicrous, since it would be both counter-cultural to science and logistically impossible.”

Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, Industrial Fellow, University of Cambridge BP Institute, said:

“The evidence base for climate change continues to be debated. However, what is disappointing is that there is less debate about what we should be doing morally regardless of the strength of the case for or against climate change being driven by mankind. Even if some people want to dismiss the evidence base, what do they think we should do as responsible citizens? Clearly we should be seeking ways of reducing our impact on the planet – this is irrefutable.

“Improving energy efficiency and switching to non/low-carbon energy sources are vital. In the case of improved energy efficiency, there are strong economic arguments today as to why this should be done now. In the case of switching to non/low carbon energy sources, the economic arguments are longer-term and may involve consideration of the cost of climate change as per the Stern report. In summary, I fail to understand why people want to debate the evidence base for climate change rather than debate what we should be doing anyway to reduce our impact on the planet. The technological advances in energy efficiency need to be adopted by more people, and more quickly, before we invest more time debating climate change! “



November 24, 2009

Stopping Coal-Powered Transmission Lines

Filed under: Energy/Climate,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:52 am
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This is my second post on the need for the Maryland Public Service Commission to reject transmission lines that would take coal burned in West Virginia, and transfer it into my state of Maryland as a source of power.  You can find part 1 here.  Today I have a column out in the Diamondback making the case against MAPP and PATH, and for offshore wind power.  I also want to be sure to plug the rally against the power lines on December 1st at 1pm in Baltimore.  You can find out additional information about the MAPP and PATH issue on the Maryland Sierra Club’s website.

MAPP and PATH: Time to draw the line

By Matt Dernoga

I have a minor suggestion for the utility companies. If you’re going to try to portray your attempts to build gigantic interstate transmission lines as a way to transfer renewable energy, don’t connect them to coal plants.

Coal power squared: That’s what Pepco Holdings Inc. is trying to sell us with the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, along with Allegheny Energy and American Electric Power pushing the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline. MAPP is 150 miles long and starts at a coal-powered plant in Virginia, which crosses into this state and ends in Delaware, racing across the Chesapeake Bay in the process. PATH is 275 miles long, starts at one of the nation’s largest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in West Virginia and arrives in Kemptown, Md.

The motivation for both projects is pretty simple. The local electricity markets for these coal-fired power plants pay 6.63 cents a kilowatt hour in West Virginia and 9.1 cents in Virginia. There’s a considerable profit to be made by selling this power in a state such as Maryland, where the average market price is 13.45 cents a kilowatt hour.

I think that’s fine — profit is always the motivator — but the question is, what do ordinary people and not just companies get out of the deal?

If you like people, the residents who live in the way of the combined 425 miles of massive transmission lines would face upheaval from eminent domain due to the “right of way” for an approved transmission line. The people who live by the coal plants get to breathe more rarefied air. If you like nature, the lines would also cut across forests, a wildlife refuge and the Chesapeake Bay. If you like money, you’re in luck if you work for one of the utilities. Ratepayers will cover the $1.8 billion cost of PATH and $1.4 billion cost of MAPP. Is a sense of absurdity unavoidable?

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing  about these lines is they would lower the incentive for Maryland to use our enviable offshore wind resources. The U.S. Energy Department said the state has “outstanding” wind for power generation offshore, with breezes steadily averaging 18 to 20 mph and about 160 feet above the waves. This is about the height at which wind turbines would spin.

Earlier this year, the Interior Department declared that U.S. offshore wind resources could lead America’s clean energy revolution. Over 1,000 gigawatts of wind potential exists off of the Atlantic coast alone. It would be tremendous if the state could lead the way and tap into this clean energy source. Plus, I’d like to write about something we’re building that’s a good idea for a change.

Fortunately, citizens in states that will be impacted by these transmission lines have been rising up in opposition and demanding their public service commissions make decisions on MAPP and PATH in the interest of the public. State activists are looking to stop the importation of dirty coal power into the state by holding a rally Dec. 1 at 1 p.m. at Preston Gardens Park in Baltimore. Join them and help convince state legislators to make the right decision: No to new coal.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

November 23, 2009

US will announce emissions target before Copenhagen

It has just recently surfaced that the Obama Administration is going to announce short term emissions targets for Copenhagen before the conference.  It looks like they’re going to be in the ballpark of what we’re currently seeing in the Senate legislation(around 14-20% below 2005 levels by 2020).  While this might not seem surprising, there are two very significant reasons why coming out with a commitment going into Copenhagen will be a very good thing.

1.  Other countries such as Canada, China, and Australia have been dragging their feet domestically and internationally on making significant commitments to reducing emissions because they are waiting to see what the US does.  With the US offering up a specific target, this will shift the pressure onto the leaders of these countries to make their own, and back their “we’re waiting for the US” excuse into a corner.

2.  The target the Obama Administration brings to Copenhagen will have big implications for Senate climate legislation.  The Obama Administration will not want to agree to any target in Copenhagen that they don’t think they can get in a domestic bill.  There have been considerable fears by climate advocates that the Senate provision that currently stands at 20% below 2005 levels by 1990 will get extremely watered down, more so than it already is.  There is also a fear that the Senate bill only do an energy bill, and pass on the climate part of it.  The Obama Administration making an international commitment will send a message to Senate leaders on how much(hopefully little) they can compromise, and it will send a signal that climate+energy needs to be done together.

 

Stopping Coal-Powered Transmission Lines

Filed under: Energy/Climate,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 4:32 pm
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A year ago, I wrote a column opposing transmission lines that would take coal burned in West Virginia, and transport it into my state of Maryland as a source of power.  I also highlighted a column by the Maryland Sierra Club this past summer which continued opposition to the transmission lines.  The battle over these lines is heating up, and with Maryland environmentalists preparing for a big rally in opposition on Dec 1st, there is a good opportunity to stop the two transmission line proposals, “MAPP” and “PATH” in their tracks.  I have a column coming out tomorrow about the issue where I’ll be plugging the rally.  By coincidence, another student at our school has a guest column out today opposing MAPP and PATH, and plugging the rally.  This is great, now there will be back to back columns alerting students about the danger of importing coal power on our state’s environmental and economic well-being.  I’m re-posting the column today below.

Guest column: Toppling King Coal

By Krishna Amin

This state is one of the most forward-thinking in the nation in producing clean energy laws. With Gov. Martin O’Malley’s leadership on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, the state government has taken a huge, culminating step forward in addressing the threat of global warming. However, with this one step forward, the state could be taking an equally or even greater step backward if the state government and Public Service Commission approves of the new ultra high-voltage power lines, the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway and the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline, from Delaware and West Virginia, respectively. These power lines are designed to carry electricity from coal plants to produce more power and are to pass through this state. If more coal-fired power is imported into the state through these power lines, the greenhouse gas reductions that GGRA is aimed to save would be deterred by increased emissions from the dirty energy-producing power plants. Instead of subsidizing dirty coal energy, the state should be encouraging an investment in clean energy and energy efficiency for the future.

These power lines, particularly MAPP, would bisect a sector of the Eastern Shore known for its environmental resources. This would jeopardize land with some of the most productive agricultural soils, forests with the highest carbon sequestration rates and the habitat of the highest concentration of endangered species on the Eastern Shore.

Furthermore, it would also have both aesthetic and environmental impacts on a few of the state’s greatest cultural resources, such as the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, as well as the proposed site for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park.

If dirty energy projects such as MAPP and PATH gain approval, then in the near future coal production will start to dwindle, the price of coal energy will inflate and state customers will be stuck paying high prices for an obsolete energy source while trying to find alternative energy solutions.

Rather than enabling energy production from dirty coal, the government should be focused on alternate options for energy that are renewable and do not have to be imported. This is why here on the campus, MaryPIRG has teamed up with Environment Maryland, the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network to organize a “Down with King Coal!” campaign. Did you see those one-word flyers around the campus this week? MaryPIRG is working to raise awareness of the need to oppose plans for these power lines. We think in order to influence the public service commissions’ decisions, the governor should come out publicly in opposition to the power lines. The campaign has organized a rally to not only show public opposition to the power lines but also reinforce state residents’ commitment to clean energy solutions. The rally will be Dec. 1 at 1 p.m. in Preston Gardens Park in Baltimore. Join us in saying “Down with King Coal!”

Krishna Amin is a junior biochemistry major. She can be reached at krish121 at umd dot edu.

Bill McKibben puts the heat on Obama

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:24 am
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Bill McKibben, the leader of 350.org which organized the largest day of action on climate change in world history this past October, wrote a great op-ed calling on President Obama to step up his game on tacking climate change.  I’m re-posting it below.

Obama needs to feel the heat

Here’s a story of two presidents, Barack Obama of the United States and Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives.

Both are young and charismatic. Both were elected last fall to replace discredited incumbents (Nasheed’s predecessor ruled the island nation for three decades and kept him in a political prison for years). Both have troublesome legislatures (the opposition party controls the chamber in the Maldives).

But on the biggest question the planet faces — if we’ll take action in time to slow down global warming — they couldn’t be more different. One, Nasheed, is leading the fight. The other, as we saw last weekend when he announced that there would be no new treaty anytime soon, is only half in the battle. They both may go to the U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Copenhagen next month, but Nasheed will be there to say: Seize the moment. And if Obama makes it, he will be there to spin, to say, no doubt elegantly: Chill.

To understand the difference between the two men is to understand much of the politics of global warming, as well as the chances for an agreement on climate change — this year or next — significant enough to matter.

In Nasheed’s case, geography almost requires him to be outspoken. His nation is what you picture when you picture paradise: 1,200 tiny islands, each ringed by a reef with a lagoon, white sand beaches and coconut palms. A small fraction have been turned into tourist resorts, but most are either uninhabited or home to fishing communities that go back thousands of years.

But the highest point on most of those islands is only a few feet above sea level. They can’t cope with the rising oceans that every expert says global warming will bring, and they can’t cope with the dying corals that come when seawater gets hotter and more acidic. And so, more than any other leader on Earth, Nasheed has made global warming his rallying cry.

He’s versed in the latest science. He knows, for instance, that trying to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to 450 parts per million is no longer a viable goal. That given what science now shows, the much tougher target of 350 parts per million represents his country’s only chance for survival. As Rajendra Pachauri, the only scientist ever to accept the Nobel Prize for his work on climate, said this month: At 450 ppm, the Maldives and many other islands, as well as larger low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, “will be completely devastated.”

So Nasheed has gone to work. Some of his actions have been symbolic: As part of a global day of climate action that I helped organize, he trained his entire cabinet to scuba dive so they could hold an underwater meeting on an endangered coral reef; they signed a resolution to be presented at the Copenhagen summit demanding that nations take steps to return the atmosphere’s carbon level to 350 parts per million. And some of his actions have been entirely practical: To show its willingness to lead, the Maldives (a poor nation) has committed to being carbon neutral by 2020. There are lots of wind towers on the way, and I’ve seen plans for farming seaweed to make biofuels.

Contrast that with Obama. He too has acted; in fact, he’s done more than his three predecessors combined. He’s taken admirable steps on automobile fuel economy, put stimulus money into green job plans and surrounded himself with an excellent cast of scientific advisers. But doing more than George W. Bush on global warming is like doing more than George Wallace on racial healing. It gives you political cover, but the melting arctic ice is unimpressed.

So it’s not good news that, internationally, Obama’s spokesmen have stuck to the 450 ppm/2 degree target, calling it consensus science when it no longer is. And it’s not good news domestically that Obama turned climate legislation over to Congress to produce, slotting it behind health care on his list of priorities. Since he’d just spent some years in the Senate, the president should have been able to predict what would happen: The already none-too-strong Waxman-Markey (House) and Kerry-Boxer (Senate) bills have been laden with ever more gifts to ever more special interests and ever more loopholes to undermine their targets. And now the Senate legislation has apparently been handed to Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for some more tweaking, an exercise that, from a scientific point of view, seems unlikely to end well.

Obama’s excuse is that the Senate won’t sign tough climate legislation, so there’s no use pushing for it. (And he’s right — the Senate is tough. At 350.org, an organization I co-founded that is dedicated to solving the climate crisis, we’re working to organize candlelight vigils at senators’ offices around the country.) But that’s conceding the game without taking a shot — he hasn’t done any of the things Nasheed has tried to rally his nation and other nations.

Imagine an American president willing to take his Cabinet underwater off the Florida Keys. Or, more realistically, imagine an American president who would take the press corps to Glacier National Park so they could hike the dwindling ice fields, then fly them above the millions of acres of dead lodgepole pines covering much of the West, and then take them to stand on the levees in New Orleans. These are the kinds of stunts Obama knew how to pull off when he was running for president; they seem to be the kind of things he forgot about once he got the office.

And they’re exactly what he needs to do if we’re going to deal with climate in the short time science gives us. A mediocre health-care bill is one thing; you can probably come back in a generation and make it stronger. People may suffer in the meantime, but the problem won’t become logarithmically worse. The climate, on the other hand, is full of traps and tipping points — let it get warm enough to melt the permafrost that locks away vast supplies of methane, and no future president will be able to control the heating. If there were ever a challenge that called for focus, this is it.

Both Nasheed and Obama have dominated summit meetings in the past few days. Nasheed gathered leaders of 11 of the most vulnerable nations on Earth at an island near his country’s capital. They produced a manifesto calling for a 350 ppm world — which would mean many countries, including our own, trying to follow the Maldives swiftly toward carbon neutrality. If global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius, “we would lose the coral reefs. At 2 degrees we would melt Greenland. At 2 degrees my country would not survive,” Nasheed said. “As a president I cannot accept this. As a person I cannot accept this. I refuse to believe that it is too late, and that we cannot do anything about it. Copenhagen is our date with destiny. Let us go there with a better plan.”

He got his answer from Obama a few days later at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore. As one of the U.S. spokesmen put it, “There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full, internationally legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen, which starts in 22 days.”

This is not just spin, it’s pathetic spin. Copenhagen has been on the calendar for years — it’s not a surprise that someone sprung on the president, who shortly after last year’s election declared: “Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change. Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high.”

The stakes didn’t get any lower in the past 12 months. In fact, on Monday NASA issued new data showing that the world has just come through the warmest June-October period in recorded history. Meanwhile, officials at a U.N. summit on hunger were describing new research that showed temperature increases above 2 degrees could cut crop yields by a fifth in poor countries. Meanwhile, a new study showed jellyfish swarming across the world’s oceans as temperatures rise, driving out the species people need for food. Meanwhile — day after day — the list gets longer.

Obama always gets high marks for his cool, his calm, his lack of drama. His patience. Maybe he should learn a thing or two from Nasheed.

Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and the co-founder of 350.org. He is the author of “The End of Nature” and the forthcoming “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.” He will be online to chat with readers Monday at 11 a.m. Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

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