August 25, 2014

4th hottest July on record

This July was the fourth-hottest July on record, and 2014 so far is tied for the third-hottest January-July period on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The rankings, which take into account average temperatures on land and ocean surfaces across the globe, come after a string of heat records from this spring and summer. NOAA ranked June 2014 as the hottest June on record, with especially high ocean temperatures adding to the overall global heat, and May 2014 also ranked as the hottest May on record — the 39th consecutive May with warmer than average temperatures.

The Eastern half of the U.S. experienced lower-than-average temperatures this July, but the Western U.S. — along with much of the rest of the globe, was hotter than average. Warm temperatures in the Western U.S. combined with major drought in some places — California is in the midst of an extreme drought right now, and overall, the drought in the Western U.S. cost the U.S. $4 billion from January to May 2014.

Overall, July temperatures were 1.15°F above average for the globe. For comparison, the hottest July on record, which according to NOAA's measurements occurred in 1998, had temperatures that were 1.31°F higher than average.

Today is Earth Overshoot Day

Today is Earth Overshoot day and we're not even two thirds of the way through the year. That means we need 1 1/2 earths to sustain life on earth. 

When I was born, humans were using less than three quarters of the earth's resources. 

It has taken less than eight months for humanity to use up nature's entire budget for the year and go into ecological overshoot, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank with offices in North America, Europe and Asia.
Global Footprint Network tracks humanity's demand on the planet (Ecological Footprint) against nature's biocapacity, i.e., its ability to replenish the planet's resources and absorb waste, including CO2.  Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity's Footprint in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. Since 2000, overshoot has grown, according to Global Footprint Network's calculations. Consequently, Earth Overshoot Day has moved from early October in 2000 to August 19th this year.
"Global overshoot is becoming a defining challenge of the 21st century. It is both an ecological and an economic problem," said Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network and the co-creator of the Ecological Footprint resource accounting metric. "Countries with resource deficits and low income are exceptionally vulnerable. Even high-income countries that have had the financial advantage to shield themselves from the most direct impacts of resource dependence need to realize that a long-term solution requires addressing such dependencies before they turn into a significant economic stress."
In 1961, humanity used just about three-quarters of the capacity Earth had available for generating food, fiber, timber, fish stock and absorbing greenhouse gases. Most countries had biocapacities larger than their own respective Footprints. By the early 1970s, global economic and demographic growth had increased humanity's Footprint beyond what the planet could renewably produce. We went into ecological overshoot.
Today, 86 percent of the world population lives in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew. According to Global Footprint Network's calculations, it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable ecological resources necessary to support humanity's current Footprint. Moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the biocapacity of three planets well before mid-century. This may be physically unfeasible.
The costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. The interest we are paying on that mounting ecological debt in the form of deforestation, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere also comes with mounting human and economic costs.
Governments who ignore resource limits in their decision-making might put their long-term economic performance at risk. In times of persistent overshoot, those countries running biocapacity deficits will find that reducing their resource dependence is aligned with their self-interest. Conversely, countries that are endowed with biocapacity reserves have an incentive to preserve these ecological assets that constitute a growing competitive advantage in a world of tightening ecological constraints.

Renewables set new record in Germany

Renewable energy generators delivered 28 per cent of Germany's power production during the first half of this year, according to new figures, marking the latest milestone for the country as it continues its high-profile Energiewende low carbon transition.
Analysis by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy published this week reveals that wind and solar power projects significantly increased their levels of generation in the first half of 2014, compared with the same period last year, thanks to a combination of mild temperatures, high winds and increased capacity.
In the first half of the year, solar and wind power plants met around 17 per cent of Germany's electricity demand - or 45 TWh. A further 11 per cent was provided by biomass and hydropower plants, meaning that renewables met more than a quarter of power demand.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel energy plants all saw a decline in generation compared with last year. Gas fired power plants in particular produced a quarter less power than in the first half of 2013, and half as much as in the first half of 2010, marking a declining trend.
Production from brown coal powered plants fell by four per cent and hard coal dropped by 11 per cent compared with last year.
Max Hildebrandt, renewable energy industry expert at Germany Trade & Invest, said the figures demonstrated the success of the government's policies to drive up renewables capacity.
"The reoccurring records for renewables in Germany demonstrate the incredible success of Germany's EEG legislation," he said.
The news comes in the same week as the UK set a new summer record for wind power output and research suggested the UK's solar capacity has passed the 5GW mark for the first time. [Business Green]

Environmental News Digest

Mercury Levels In The Ocean Are Now 3 Times Higher Than Before The Industrial Revolution - Largely the result of burning and mining coal 

Drilling Company Owner Gets 28 Months In Prison For Dumping Fracking Waste Into River

New Study Finds Tornado Outbreaks Could Have a Climate Change Assist -

Watch John Holdren's (Obama's Science Advisor) excellent 3 minute video on the link between wildfires and Climate Change - Very Powerful

Canadians Can't Drink Their Water After 1.3 Billion Gallons Of Mining Waste Flows Into Rivers

Tesla Trumps Toyota: Why Hydrogen Cars Can't Compete With Pure Electric Cars - 

Top PR Firms say - We Won't Work For Climate Denier Clients

Toledo Water Ban Lifted But Test Results Kept Secret 

Beijing cuts coal consumption 7%

Beijing cut coal consumption seven per cent in the first half of this year as the Chinese capital battles the smog that has besieged it over recent years.
By 2017, it aims to pare consumption to less than 10 million tonnes a year compared to the 19 tonnes consumed last year and reports last week suggested coal could be ditched entirely by 2020.
Public unrest over Beijing's toxic air led the central government to declare a nationwide "war on pollution", which has seen city authorities close or relocate hundreds of factories, replace aging coal-fired plants with gas-fired plants and renewable energy, raise vehicle emissions standards, and introduce London-style congestion charges. [Business Green

Drillers Illegally using Diesel Fuel to Frac

new report charges that several oil and gas companies have been illegally using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing operations, and then doctoring records to hide violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The report,  by the Environmental Integrity Project, found that between 2010 and July 2014 at least 351 wells were fracked by 33 different companies using diesel fuels without a permit. The Integrity Project, an environmental organization based in Washington, D.C., said it used the industry-backed database, FracFocus, to identify violations and to determine the records had been retroactively amended by the companies to erase the evidence.
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires drilling companies to obtain permits when they intend to use diesel fuel in their fracking operations. As well, the companies are obligated to notify nearby landowners of their activity, report the chemical and physical characteristics of the fluids used, conduct water quality tests before and after drilling, and test the integrity of well structures to ensure they can withstand high injection pressures. Diesel fuel contains a high concentration of carcinogenic chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, and they disperse easily in groundwater. [Clean Techies]

Fracking Occurring in Drinking Water

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.
Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.
"Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and millions of gallons of fluids containing numerous inorganic and organic additives were injected directly into these two formations during hundreds of stimulation events," concluded Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson of Stanford's School of Earth Sciences in a presentation Tuesday at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco. [LA Times]

'Experts' underestimate renewable energy success

One of the striking patterns of behavior in the energy industry over the last decade has been the ability of the "established" energy experts to completely underestimate the growth of renewable energy – and to overplay the credentials of fossil fuels.
So who is best at getting the forecasts right? This interesting graphic shows that the green NGOs – are a lot closer to the mark, particularly when it comes down to forecasts for wind and solar capacity additions.
The graph below pretty much speaks for itself. Greenpeace has been a lot closer to reality than the International Energy Agency. Perhaps it also has a better grip on how quickly the world can move to a largely renewable-based energy system.

Wind Prices hit all time low

The U.S. continues to be a global leader in wind energy, ranking second in installed capacity in the world, according to two reports released today by the Department of Energy. 
Total installed wind power capacity in the United States now stands at 61 Gigawatts (GW), which meets nearly 4.5% of electricity demand in an average year. 
The cost of wind energy in the U.S. is at an all-time low of 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy, and utility companies are in some cases electing to use wind as an energy source over fossil fuels because of its low cost.

Impacts of Fracking

Here is the latest on fracking - This time from Ohio... 

Operators of an Ohio wastewater injection well sue individuals over billboards criticizing the project, in what advocates say is part of a broader pattern of industry quieting opponents in the state. 

Actions by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) have also thwarted citizens' attempts to speak out against fracking and related activities, Johnson said. ODNR staffers showed up with at least 14 armed personnel and a dog at one 2013 meeting in Portage County.

This time from Oklahoma... 

Oklahoma's Geology Survey recorded an unprecedented 20 small earthquakes across the state on Tuesday, highlighting the dramatic increase of seismic activity that has occurred there as the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing — otherwise known as fracking — has spread across the state.

Cornell University geophysics professor Katie Keranen is the latest researcher to produce a scientific study showing a probable connection between earthquakes wastewater injection, finding in July that the more than 2,500 small earthquakes that have hit Oklahoma in the past five years can be linked to it. Keranen's study analyzed four prolific wastewater disposal wells in southeast Oklahoma City, which collectively inject approximately four million barrels of wastewater into the ground each month. The research showed that fluid from those wells was migrating along fault lines for miles, and Keranen's team determined the migration was likely responsible for earthquakes occurring as far as 22 miles away.

August 3, 2014

Enough Solar for Everyone

Here is a good reminder of exactly how little area is required to provide enough solar power for the entire worldBelow is a map that shows the area we'd need from the Northern Africa desert in order to get the job done.

An area of 158 miles x 158 miles would be enough to meet the total electricity demand of the world. The amount of electricity needed by the EU-25 states could be produced on an area of 68 miles x 68 miles. For Germany with a demand of 500 TWh/y an area of 28 miles x 28 miles is required, which concerns 0.03 % of all suited areas in North Africa.

Our planet receives 6,000 times more energy from the sun every day than all seven billion of us can consume.  [Clean Techies]

53.3 Years of Oil Left - According to BP

BP publishes a statistical review of world energy every year.  Here is BP's webpage on oil reserves showing only 53.3 years of oil production remaining. 

Oil reserves

Total world proved oil reserves reached 1687.9 billion barrels at the end of 2013
Sufficient to meet 53.3 years of global production. The largest additions to reserves came from Russia, adding 900 million barrels and Venezuela adding 800 million barrels. OPEC members continue to hold the majority of reserves, accounting for 71.9% of the global total. South & Central America continues to hold the highest R/P ratio. Over the past decade, global proved reserves have increased by 27%, or over 350 billion barrels.

Lessons Bees Can Teach Us

Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause, but rather a thousand little cuts. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.
The real issue, though, is not the volume of problems, but the interactions among them. Here we find a core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy, where one plus one equals three, or four, or more. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees' immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.
These findings provide the most sophisticated data set available for any species about synergies among pesticides, and between pesticides and disease. The only human equivalent is research into pharmaceutical interactions, with many prescription drugs showing harmful or fatal side effects when used together, particularly in patients who already are disease-compromised. Pesticides have medical impacts as potent as pharmaceuticals do, yet we know virtually nothing about their synergistic impacts on our health, or their interplay with human diseases.
Observing the tumultuous demise of honeybees should alert us that our own well-being might be similarly threatened. The honeybee is a remarkably resilient species that has thrived for 40 million years, and the widespread collapse of so many colonies presents a clear message: We must demand that our regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined chemicals may affect human health before approving compounds.
Bees also provide some clues to how we may build a more collaborative relationship with the services that ecosystems can provide. Beyond honeybees, there are thousands of wild bee species that could offer some of the pollination service needed for agriculture. Yet feral bees — that is, bees not kept by beekeepers — also are threatened by factors similar to those afflicting honeybees: heavy pesticide use, destruction of nesting sites by overly intensive agriculture and a lack of diverse nectar and pollen sources thanks to highly effective weed killers, which decimate the unmanaged plants that bees depend on for nutrition.
Recently, my laboratory at Simon Fraser University conducted a study on farms that produce canola oil that illustrated the profound value of wild bees. We discovered that crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators.
A variety of wild plants means a healthier, more diverse bee population, which will then move to the planted fields next door in larger and more active numbers. Indeed, farmers who planted their entire field would earn about $27,000 in profit per farm, whereas those who left a third unplanted for bees to nest and forage in would earn $65,000 on a farm of similar size.
Such logic goes against conventional wisdom that fields and bees alike can be uniformly micromanaged. The current challenges faced by managed honeybees and wild bees remind us that we can manage too much. Excessive cultivation, chemical use and habitat destruction eventually destroy the very organisms that could be our partners.
And this insight goes beyond mere agricultural economics. There is a lesson in the decline of bees about how to respond to the most fundamental challenges facing contemporary human societies. We can best meet our own needs if we maintain a balance with nature — a balance that is as important to our health and prosperity as it is to the bees.
Mark Winston, a biologist and the director of the Center for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, is the author of the forthcoming book "Bee Time: Lessons From the Hive."  [NY Times]

Keeping Cool - with less AC

Before I Crank Up the AC, we…
  1. Switch to t-shirts, shorts and bare feet. In the winter, we pull on wool sweaters and socks. Once it hits the 80s and 90s, our philosophy is "less is best." I also wear a lot of sleeveless dresses that flow rather than cling. The swooshing fabric actually seems to create a small but welcome breeze when I walk.
  2. Draw the curtains and pull the shades. Keeping direct sunlight out of the house can help keep it 10 degrees cooler inside. I have double-honeycomb shades on most of my windows and thermal insulated window quilts on my French doors. They make a difference summer or winter.
  3. Shade windows from outside. The most sunlight comes through south and west facing windows, so these should be your priorities for exterior awnings or overhangs. A wide variety are available, including those that can retract in winter to let the sun in.
  4. Insulate. Most of us tend to seal up cracks around leaky doors and windows, attics, and crawl spaces to keep our houses warmer in winter. But the principle works just as well in summer. Once we cool the air in our house, we try to keep it inside! We don't have a fireplace, but if you do, make sure to close the damper to prevent cooled air from sneaking out the chimney. If you're not sure where you should insulate first, get an energy audit. The audit will tell you where your home is losing air that's been heated or cooled. It will also analyze the amount of energy your appliances use. After the audit, you'll receive a comprehensive home performance report that includes recommendations for energy saving improvements. The cost of the audit depends on where you live; many utilities subsidize the cost of an audit.
  5. Maintain the HVAC system (or Upgrade your air conditioner). We don't have window air conditioners, but if you do, it's a good idea to do some basic maintenance on them before you really need them. Also, shade your unit from the hot sun if possible; just don't obstruct air flow. If you've been using the same window unit for a while, consider replacing it with a more energy-efficient model. I have a whole-house HVAC system, which I get checked annually to keep it working at maximum energy efficiency.
  6. Shift to LEDs. Regular incandescent light bulbs mostly give off heat. LEDs are called light emitting diodes because they mostly release light (which is a lot cooler than heat!). Though LEDs are somewhat more expensive than CFLs, another smart lighting option, their price is dropping all the time as consumer demand goes up. In addition to saving energy and money, I love the fact that, once installed, many of these bulbs last for a decade or more. I'm too busy to keep changing light bulbs, aren't you? Likewise, run appliances like clothes dryers, dishwashers and ovens in the cooler evening or morning hours when the heat they emit won't be quite so noticeable–and send you scampering to crank up the AC even more.
Use Fans Along With the AC…
We've found that using room fans lets us reduce the AC while still keeping our house comfortable. Here's what we do:
Cool our home to 78 or 80 degrees, then use fans. The hotter it gets outside, the colder we usually want it inside. But our mantra is "No igloos! "Instead, we set the thermostat to 78 or 80 degrees, which will keep the temperature– and the humidity level — under control (along with our electricity bills). Then we use strategically placed fans to cool the rooms we are in at the moment.
Reduce AC use when we're not home. In our house, we actually turn off the AC during the day and keep the blinds closed on the south-facing windows that get the most solar gain. In the evening, when everyone gets home, we turn fans on in the rooms we're in while the AC cools down the house and removes some of the humidity that's built up. We also have a fan in each bedroom. That way, we can keep the AC at a reasonable temperature without overcooling the entire house. Generally, as long as the air is moving, we feel cooler and comfortable.
We also…
Eat cold food. Summer is a great time to get out of a hot kitchen. We keep baking and broiling to a minimum, favoring salads, quickly steamed vegetables, yogurt and cereal, cold soups made in a blender or food processor, fruit salads and ice cream over roasts, casseroles, and homemade desserts like pies and cookies. We use a microwave, toaster or toaster oven if we need to heat something up, and an electric tea kettle to boil water quickly and without much emitted heat.
Use big appliances at night or in early morning. Plus, we use a drying rack instead of the clothes dryer for everything except sheets and towels. Summer is not the time to sweat through labor-intensive chores like washing walls and baseboards. We happily save those for cooler days in fall or winter.

New Interactive Boston Flood Map

A recently released interactive flood map for Boston shows that my son's new apartment near Fenway Park will be underwater if there is a storm surge of 7.5 feet. 

It looks like he stays dry if the storm surge stays below 5 feet. 

Same thing goes for his office at 5 Cambridge Center in Kendall Square. 

We've had three storms since Hurricane Sandy that would have flooded the Faneuil Hall area if they had arrived at high tide. We've been lucky so far - all of them arrived at low tide. 

Boston is rated the 8th most vulnerable city in the country for sea level rise. 

[Climate Progress] [WGBH]

Coal and the Social Cost of Carbon

Is the Obama Administration for coal or against coal?  

Which do they believe is more important? Reducing emissions or their all of the above energy strategy? 

It is hard to tell if you read these two stories on two very different policies put in place by the federal government. 

In the first story, the federal government is ignoring its own social cost of carbon policies when it comes to setting coal lease prices. 

The Bureau of Land Management has leased 2.2 billion tons of publicly owned coal during the Obama administration, unlocking 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 825 million passenger vehicles, and more than the 3.7 billion tons that was emitted in the entire European Union in 2012. …
A ton of publicly owned coal leased during the Obama administration will, on average, cause damages estimated at between $22 and $237, using the federal government’s social cost of carbon estimates — yet the average price per ton for those coal leases was only $1.03. …
The carbon pollution from publicly owned coal leased during the Obama administration will cause damages estimated at between $52 billion and $530 billion, using the federal government’s social cost of carbon estimates. In contrast, the total amount of revenue generated from those coal leases sales was $2.3 billion.
The federal coal leasing program is the source of 40% of US coal extraction. One BLM field office in Wyoming recently proposed a plan that estimates new coal leases amounting to 10.2 billion tons, which would unlock an estimated 16.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution.
Meanwhile, in another section of the federal government…. They are using the social cost of carbon to promote their agenda. 
Failing to adequately reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change could cost the United States economy $150 billion a year, according to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released Tuesday.
The report is part of the White House’s effort to increase public support for President Obama’s climate-change agenda, chiefly an Environmental Protection Agency proposal targeting coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution. The E.P.A. will hold public hearings on the proposal, which are expected to be heated, this week in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington.
The rule could lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants, a decline in domestic coal production, an increase in electricity rates and a fundamental transformation of the nation’s power supply. The White House has repeatedly sought to make the case that the long-term cost of not cutting carbon emissions — including longer droughts, worse floods and bigger wildfires that will damage homes, businesses and the nation’s infrastructure — will be higher than the short-term expense of carrying out the regulation.
Hmmm… What lessons can we learn from this experience?