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. There is more info over at websites like cooleffect.org for those who want to see what they can do personally to help their carbon emissions be reduced.

Rising Seas and Carbon Footprint Visualizations

National Geographic

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 and are always in serious need of carbon management. 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.

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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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. 

The Anthropocene Is Here

The last 250 years of human history have vastly changed out planet. During this time, human activities have greatly transformed geologically significant conditions and processes. The change is so immense that many geologists now refer to our current time as the Anthropocene – a word coined in 2000 by Eugene Stoermer and Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-winning Dutch chemist. The word “Anthropocene” is derived from the Greek anthropos for ‘human’ and Greek kainos, meaning ‘new’ or ‘recent’, and thus it basically means the human-dominated time of recent earth history. Anthropocene is not yet an official geological time scale term. The  International Commission on Stratigraphy is now considering recognizing the Anthropocene as a geological epoch and their decision on its inclusion is slated for 2016. In the meantime, ‘Anthropocene’ appears profusely in the geological literature – the publisher Elsevier has even started a new aca­demic journal titled Anthropocene.

A video, Welcome to the Anthropocene, is a good intro into the proposed epoch. It’s part of:

a collaborative project being run by researchers and communicators that aims to improve our ‘collective understanding of the Earth system’. The online project combines high-level scientific data with visualisations to help communicate the global geological and environmental impacts of human behaviour over the last 250 years.

Watch the full video with related content here: http://www.richannel.org/welcome-to-the-anthropocene

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:

Siberian Cave Climate Records Indicate Permafrost Melt

Climate records from Siberian caves suggest an impending permafrost thaw and a resulting global warming acceleration.

Permafrost regions cover 24% of the northern hemisphere land surface, and hold an estimated 17,000 Gt of organic carbon. Thawing releases CO2 and CH4, creating positive feedback during greenhouse warming.

The researchers, led by Gideon Henderson at the University of Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, studied speleothem records from the caves to identify periods where temperatures were above freezing. Speleothems, such as stalactites and stalagmites, form when water seeps through cracks in cave walls, dissolving minerals which precipitate in the air filled cave.

‘Cave temperatures usually approximate the local mean annual air temperature’ says Anton Vaks, the paper’s lead author. ‘When they drop below 0 degrees, the rock above and around the cave freezes, and speleothem growth stops.’

By dating the speleothems and comparing their ages to existing climate records, it is possible to identify the degree of warming which caused the permafrost to melt. New results from Ledyanaya Lenskaya Cave, Eastern Siberia, extend previous records to one million years, and show major deposition of speleothems at around one million years and 400,000 years ago.

‘Both episodes occurred when global temperatures increased 1.5°C ± 0.5 above the pre-industrial level’ says Vaks, ‘showing that this degree of warming is a tipping point for continuous permafrost to start thawing.’

Global temperatures are currently around 0.7 degrees above pre-industrial level, with current models suggesting that a warming of 1.5°C ± 0.5 will be achieved within 10-30 years.

This paper will be presented at the Geological Society’s forthcoming William Smith Meeting, held on 25-27 June,  – a meeting that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the beginning of modern dating methods used in the earth sciences. (From: The Geological Society of London. “Siberian caves warn of permafrost meltdown.”Alpha Galileo Foundation, 19 Jun. 2013. Web. 21 Jun. 2013.)

Temperature Change Over The Last 100 Years – Fastest on Record For Past 11,000 Years

A team of scientists just published a record of global temperatures in the journal Science that dates back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago.

As summarized in a brief note on National Public Radio, this global temperature compilation gives us a jolting view of temperature change over the last 100 years:

Shaun Marcott, a geologist at Oregon State University, says “global temperatures are warmer than about 75 percent of anything we’ve seen over the last 11,000 years or so.” The other way to look at that is, 25 percent of the time since the last ice age, it’s been warmer than now.

You might think, so what’s to worry about? But Marcott says the record shows just how unusual our current warming is. “It’s really the rates of change here that’s amazing and atypical,” he says. Essentially, it’s warming up superfast”.

Read more on this at NPR: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/08/173739884/since-end-of-last-ice-age-rates-of-global-warming-amazing-and-atypical

The research article is published in Science – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6124/1198.abstract

Science 8 March 2013:

Vol. 339 no. 6124 pp. 1198-1201

DOI: 10.1126/science.1228026

Climate Change News

In reading through the torrent of recent news on climate change, I’ve come across a few events that stand out. Following is a brief summary of each taken from the original source:

Nicholas Stern: ‘I got it wrong on climate change – it’s far, far worse’

by Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott, The Observer, guardian.co.uk — 26 January 2013

“Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more “blunt” about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four”. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”

[…]

A New Draft of the National Climate Assessment was released for public review in early January 2013

The following text is from the draft’s Introduction – Letter to the American People:

 “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. This report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee concludes that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report, written in 2009. Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience. So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.”

The concluding paragraph of the letter states, “This National Climate Assessment collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping to show what is actually happening and what it means for peoples’ lives, livelihoods, and future. This report includes analyses of impacts on seven selected sectors: human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems and biodiversity. This report additionally focuses on the interactions among several sectors at the national level. It also assesses key impacts on the regions of the U.S.: Northeast, Southeast and Caribbean, Midwest, Great Plains, Southwest, Northwest, Alaska and the Arctic, Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands; as well as coastal areas, oceans, and marine resources. Finally, this report is the first to explicitly assess the current state of adaptation, mitigation, and decision support activities.”

President Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech, 21 January 2013 (taken from the Whitehouse transcript)

[…]

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. 

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”