A Second Warning – Forcing Earth’s Ecosystems Beyond Their Breaking Point

The Athabaska glacier in the Columbia Icefields, Alberta, Canada, has receded 1.5 km and lost over 50% of its volume during the last 125 years (Photo: D. Hanneman)

Twenty-five years after the Union of Concerned Scientists and over 1700 independent scientists published their “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”, a new group of scientists (bolstered by 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries) have again issued a warning that humanity has not made significant progress in mitigating environmental challenges.

The recently published viewpoint of these scientists and signatories appears in the 11/13/17 issue of BioScience and can be read on line at “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice”. The authors review the 1992 warning of major environmental challenges and our response to it by:

we look back at their warning
and evaluate the human response
by exploring available time-series
data. Since 1992, with the exception
of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone
layer, humanity has failed to make
sufficient progress in generally solving
these foreseen environmental challenges,
and alarmingly, most of them
are getting far worse…

The newly published warning of our need to deal with these major challenges –  catastrophic climate change, deforestation, agricultural production associated with farming ruminants for meat consumption, and a sixth mass extinction event (just to name a few of them) – makes the reading of this viewpoint critical. It takes less than 10 minutes to read this, and – if you are a scientist, then sign on to support it. More than signing, find a way to become active in really dealing with these challenges.

The U.S. Energy-Climate World Upheaval: 2008-2014

If the recent U.S. energy-climate world seems like it’s in upheaval, that’s because it is. Amy Harder of the National Journal, just posted a good synopsis of the monumental changes in the U.S. energy-climate world with her article – The Five Biggest Energy Changes in the Past Six Years. Harder notes:

In 2008, Washington was grappling with what it thought was a scarce supply of oil and natural gas, energy prices were high, presidential candidates of all stripes embraced action on global warming, and President Obama was riding to victory on his slogan of change you can believe in.

Today, six years later, who would have thought this much change would come to the energy and climate world this fast? Here are the biggest changes over the past six years.

The changes that Harder elaborates on include:

–          America’s oil and natural-gas boom

–          The rise of EPA and the fall of climate-friendly Republicans

–          Environmental movement flipping from top down to bottom up

–          Imports and exports of fossil fuels with exports up and imports down

–          Renewable-energy growth, which is objectively significant but still relatively small

Overall, I think this is a helpful, brief summary of the U.S. energy-climate world – basically a good starting point for those interested in more detail on this area.

Natural Gas and Climate Change

The rise in natural gas production, particularly in the U.S., has unquestionably impacted the global energy equation. Fueled by the unconventional-natural-gas revolution, natural gas is now a significant factor in the U.S. and global energy mix. As Sonal Patel summarized from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2013 World Energy Outlook (WEO-2013):

By 2035, natural gas demand will outpace that of any other individual fuel and end up nearly 50% higher than in 2011. Demand for gas will come mostly from the Middle East—driven by new power generation—but also from Asian countries, including China, India, and Indonesia, and Latin America. Power generation continues to be the largest source of gas demand, accounting for around 40% of global demand over the period. New gas plants, meanwhile, are expected to make up around a quarter (or 1,000 GW) of net capacity additions in the world’s power sector through 2035.

Given the seemingly inevitable scenario of natural gas playing a significant role in the energy mix (and particularly in U.S., given the recent unconventional-natural-gas boom), how will its increased use influence climate change and future energy policies? The tenet that natural gas, being a cleaner-burning fuel, will lessen a carbon footprint has been bandied around for awhile now. Amy Harder, from National Journal, picks up this thread with:

First the aforementioned wisdom: Natural gas is unquestionably helping the United States reduce its climate footprint. Our nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions have dropped to levels not seen since the 1990s, thanks in part to this cleaner-burning fuel. Natural gas produces half the carbon emissions of coal and about a third fewer than oil. This is why everyone in the Obama administration, including the president himself, can’t talk enough about the climate benefits of natural gas.

Three disparate factors make the relationship between natural gas and climate change not so unequivocally simple and good. Concerns about methane emissions persist, but notwithstanding that challenge, two greater problems loom: First, shifting significantly away from coal to natural gas doesn’t get the planet anywhere close to the carbon-reduction levels scientists say we must reach. And second, while the natural-gas boom is great for the economy and the immediate reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, it has deflated the political urgency to cut fossil-fuel dependence, which was more compelling when we thought our resources of oil and natural gas were scarce. We have a great problem of energy abundance.

Obviously, natural gas is not the total panacea for “fueling” the transition to a carbon-negative energy mix. But given the current and predicted production/market conditions, it will be a considerable part of the future global energy equation.

Rising Seas and Carbon Footprint Visualizations

National Geographic "Rising Seas" map of projected North American shoreline change from ice melt. Map from: http://tiny.cc/xc0z9w
National Geographic “Rising Seas” map of projected North American shoreline change from ice melt. Map from: http://tiny.cc/xc0z9w

New sets of interactive maps help to visualize both the impact of rising seas on the world’s coastlines and U.S household carbon footprints.National Geographic has posted a set of world-wide interactive maps that show new coastal outlines resulting from the premise of all ice melting and thus raising sea level approximately 216 feet. As noted by the authors:

There are more than five million cubic miles of ice on Earth, and some scientists say it would take more than 5,000 years to melt it all. If we continue adding carbon to the atmosphere, we’ll very likely create an ice-free planet, with an average temperature of perhaps 80 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the current 58.

Continuing on the topic of adding carbon to the atmosphere, University of Berkeley researchers, Christopher Jones and Daniel Kammen, looked at the spatial distribution of U.S. household carbon footprints. The researchers first point out the obvious in that carbon footprints in densely populated areas are typically low because of smaller residences, shorter commutes, and the availability of mass transit. Here’s the catch though – the suburbs have an unusually large carbon footprint. In fact the footprint is so large that it negates the “green” urban core. As Jones and Kammen summarize:

As a policy measure to reduce GHG emissions, increasing population density appears to have severe limitations and unexpected trade-offs. In suburbs, we find more population- dense suburbs actually have noticeably higher HCF, largely because of income effects. Population density does correlate with lower HCF when controlling for income and household size; however, in practice population density measures may have little control over income of residents. Increasing rents would also likely further contribute to pressures to suburbanize the suburbs, leading to a possible net increase in emissions. As a policy measure for urban cores, any such strategy should consider the larger impact on surrounding areas, not just the residents of population dense communities themselves. The relationship is also log−linear, with a 10-fold increase in population density yielding only a 25% decrease in HCF. Generally, we find no evidence for net GHG benefits of population density in urban cores or suburbs when considering effects on entire metropolitan areas.

U.S. Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint by Household. "Source: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network, Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint (2013)"
U.S. Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint by Household. “Source: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network, Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint (2013)”

 

Top Five 2014 Energy/Environmental Priorities of the EU

I thought that it’s instructive for anyone interested in US energy/environmental policy to look at what the EU has on its 2014 agenda. Environmental journalist Sonja van Renssen outlines the top 5 EU energy/environmental issues. The issue priorities are:

  • The biggest issue on the agenda will be the climate and energy package to be unveiled by the European Commission on January 22nd.

  • ETS and how to include emissions from international aviation will also be high on the agenda, with  the European Parliament and the biggest Member States disagreeing on the way forward.

  • Shale gas will be back on the agenda with a long-awaited proposal to be tabled by the European Commission also on January 22nd.

  • In 2014, DG Environment’s priority will be waste and resource efficiency with a ‘circular economy’ package expected to be presented by environment Commissioner Potočnik in spring.

  • The alternative fuel strategy with difficult trialogue negotiations between the Council, European Parliament and Commission lying ahead.

View environmental journalist Sonja van Renssen talk about the energy/environment priorities:


 

Dead Mud Encroaches On To Maine’s Shellfish Flats

“Dead mud” is not a geologic term that I had heard before. But it well describes a geologic event that may have catastrophic implications for coastal areas as oceans continue to acidify.

The Maine coastal areas are being particularly hard hit with dead mud:

The spread of “dead mud” among Maine’s shellfish flats could have disastrous implications for clammers, lobstermen, oyster farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.

Mark Green, an oyster grower and marine science professor at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, defines dead mud:

The darker muds and sulfur-rich muds don’t have any clams, and those are the flats that have lower pH levels. Places where historically there have been great harvests that supported clammers for decades, you now see water quality changes that are reflected in the mud.” The more acidic the water, the lower the pH.

In the following video, Prof. Mark Green further explains ocean acidification and how it affects marine life:
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Whose Land Is It Anyways?

The development of energy resources is typically dependent upon the availability of infrastructure such as hydrocarbon pipelines and transmission lines. Many of the issues concerning energy development and consequently infrastructure construction focus on the impact of climate change generated by a particular energy resource. The continuing controversy over the permitting of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is a flashpoint in the debate over the development of Canada’s tar sands and its impact on climate change. Likewise, many wind- power advocates champion this use of renewable energy to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and catastrophic climate change.

The issues regarding energy resources and their impact on climate change are paramount to future energy policies. However, there is another significant concern tied to energy/infrastructure development, and that is the associated landowner-eminent domain problem. The movement of energy, whether it is hydrocarbons or electricity, involves infrastructure that is built in large part, on private property. When energy infrastructure is built by private corporations, these entities need to deal with private landowners so that infrastructure can be constructed on their lands. Ideally this is accomplished by corporations and landowners negotiating a fair price for the use of their lands. However, that is truly an ideal world scenario. The reality is that private corporations have lately pushed legislation through numerous state legislatures and court systems to gain the right of eminent domain for their infrastructure projects. The right of eminent domain has historically been used by governments to seize private property for public use and then to fairly compensate the owner for that ”taken” property. However, eminent domain usage for recent private infrastructure projects becomes one where private corporations can take private lands for their private gain. For example, the Montana 2011 legislature passed legislation via House Bill 198 that gives private corporations the right of eminent domain for projects such as nuclear generation and storage, hydro, certain transmission lines, certain major pipe lines, geothermal exploration, transportation links, pump stations and other facilities associated with the delivery of energy that receive permits through the Montana Major Facility Siting Act (see the Concerned Citizens Montana website for background on HB 198 and Geopostings.com for a review on Montana Senate Bill 180, the bill intended for repealing a part of HB 198 during the Montana 2013 legislative session).

In a needed first step for educating the Montana legal and legislative communities about the recent changes in eminent domain law, the State Bar of Montana CLE (Continuing Legal Education) Institute will convene a course on Montana Condemnation Rights on February 14, 2014, at Fairmont Hot Springs, Fairmont, Montana. A link to the course brochure is: MT Condemnation Rights.

The MT CLE course is well balanced in that it contains presentations from many sides of the eminent domain issue. More specific information on the CLE course presentations includes:

–          CONDEMNATION 101—What every real estate practitioner should know about condemnation. An overview of condemnation law in Montana, including condemnation authority, time frames, notices, rights of possession, valuation and attorney fees and expenses. [This element of the program is intended as an overview and not a detailed consideration of the latest developments in Montana law.  However, there should be a brief introduction to the US  Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London (propriety of using the power of eminent domain for economic development purposes) which placed new focus on the intended scope of the power of eminent domain as well as the Montana response.]  (1 hour presentation by Hertha L. Lund, Lund Law PLLC, Bozeman, Montana.)

–          TAKINGS AND TRANSMISSION— This presentation will explore the range of state laws governing eminent domain authority for interstate transmission lines, particularly those designed to bring renewable energy generated in one state to customers in other states.  It will focus in particular on various state approaches to granting private merchant transmission lines eminent domain authority to build transmission lines, and whether such lines are a “public use” for purposes of meeting state statutory eminent domain requirements.  In addressing these issues, this presentation will discuss the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision, the litigation and legislative activity surrounding the Montana Alberta Tie Line (MATL) project, some historical context with regard to state constitutional and statutory grants of eminent domain to private parties in the West, and the role of “just compensation” in eminent domain disputes involving transmission lines. (1.25 hours presentation by Professor Alexandra B. Klass, Professor of Law, the University of Minnesota Law School.)

–          THE EASEMENT:  PROCESS, TACTICS AND SUBSTANCE- How and what to negotiate to fully protect landowners’ property rights when confronted with the possibility of transmission lines burdening their land. A negotiation/drafting checklist will emerge which prove extremely helpful for any practitioner handling future utility easements. (1 hour presentation by Dennis R. Lopach, Attorney, Helena, Mt.)

–          THE MONTANA BATTLE: LITIGATION/LEGISLATION RELATING TO PRIVATE EMINENT DOMAIN FOR TRANSMISSION LINES AND OTHER CONTESTED CONDEMNATION ISSUES. A debate to highlight the opposing views by lawyers intimately involved in the process. Participants include: Hertha L. Lund (Private Landowners) Lund Law, PLLC, Bozeman, MT and John Alke (Utilities) Hughes, Kelner, Sullivan and Alke, Helena, MT. Each lawyer will be given 30 minutes to present their case in chief. (Total debate time: 1.5 hours.)

–          HOT TOPIC ROUNDTABLE-  A facilitated panel discussion including all speakers will address “Hot Topics” which have emerged throughout the day. (Facilitator:  Brian Kahn, Attorney, Helena, MT. Total Roundtable time is 1.25 hours.)

The potential use of eminent domain by a private corporation, Northwestern Energy, to build a high-voltage transmission line through a southwestern Montana community.
The potential use of eminent domain by a private corporation, Northwestern Energy, to build a high-voltage transmission line through a southwestern Montana community.

Human Influence On The Climate System Is Unmistakable

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s (IPCC) much awaited report, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), concludes that scientists are 95% certain that humans are the “dominant cause” of global warming since the 1950s. A policy makers’ summary for AR5, IPCC’s latest report on physical evidence for climate change, was released today. The full report will be released on September 30th.

As noted in IPCC’s 9.27.2013 press release on the AR5:

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe, a new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes.

 

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming

since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

 

Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of  the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I

assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.

 

“Observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence. Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I said: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

 

“Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur

more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” he added.

 

Projections of climate change are based on a new set of four scenarios of future greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosols, spanning a wide range of possible futures. The Working Group I report assessed global and regional-scale climate change for the early, mid-, and later 21st century.

 

 

“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years,” said Co-Chair Qin Dahe. The report finds with high confidence that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and

2010. 

Energy Conservation And Efficiency….. Good For People, Business, And The Environment

– By John Vincent, Former Montana Public Service Commissioner

It’s recently become all too clear that “big power” is “waging war” on energy efficiency and conservation because it reduces the amount of power they sell and cuts into their profits. But for others (residential consumers, private businesses – both large and small, and corporations), energy efficiency is saving energy, saving money, and improving bottom lines. And it’s good for the environment, too. Less generation, especially, but not exclusively, coal fired generation, reduces CO2 emissions (natural gas produces about half the CO2 of coal but also emits high quantities of methane,  a “green house” gas 20 times more potent than CO2).

IDAHO’S J.R. SIMPLOT COMPANY LEADS THE WAY ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY

The J.R. Simplot Company shows the way to energy conservation and efficiency. This is a great example of the conservation/efficiency ethic being taken to heart by a major American business. With more than 10,000 employees, the J.R. Simplot Company is one of the nation’s largest privately owned companies. And, it’s no secret that the Simplots are a politically conservative family and business. They have fully embraced (dare it be said) a good, old fashioned conservative ethic; saving money……….. by using less energy and consequently also cutting costs.

Here’s what they’ve accomplished through energy efficiency and conservation since 2009:

–  saved 1.3 trillion btu’s of natural gas (enough to take 29,929 cars off the road and keep 95,056 tons of co2 out of the air),

–  reduced electrical use by 390,821,028 kilowatt hours (enough to take 35,400 homes off the grid),

– saved millions of dollars*.

Of course, when individuals and businesses save energy it also reduces the need for new and extremely costly centralized electrical generation plants and long distance, high voltage transmission lines – both of which would cost (not save) electric customers billions of dollars, pose a threat to the loss of private property rights through eminent domain, and harm the environment. When asked recently by the Idaho Statesman newspaper why they undertook their energy saving efforts, the Simplot family fell back on the words of the company’s founder, J.R. Simplot: “do well by doing good.”

Good advice.

*actual dollar amount of savings to be posted soon

Energy Efficiency Can Save Big Money And Greenhouse-Gas Emissions In Urban Transport Systems

The International Energy Agency just released a new report that shows how energy efficiency of urban transport systems could facilitate savings of up to USD 70 trillion that would be spent on vehicles, fuel and transportation infrastructure from now until 2050.

The report,  A Tale of Renewed Cities, draws on examples from more than 30 cities across the globe to show how to improve transport efficiency through better urban planning and travel demand management. Extra benefits include lower greenhouse-gas emissions and higher quality of life.

The report comes at a critical time: More than half of the world’s population already lives in cities, many of which suffer from traffic jams and overcrowded roads that cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost fuel and time and that harm environmental quality, health and safety.

“As the share of the world’s population living in cities grows to nearly 70 percent by 2050 and energy consumption for transport in cities is expected to double, the need for efficient, affordable, safe and high-capacity transport solutions will become more acute,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as she presented the report. “Urgent steps to improve the efficiency of urban transport systems are needed not only for energy security reasons, but also to mitigate the numerous negative climate, noise, air pollution, congestion and economic impacts of rising urban transport volumes.”

The IEA report, A Tale of Renewed Cities, is available for download at: http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/name,39940,en.html

Or – check out the slideshare: