March 4, 2015
In 2012, I tagged along with Professor Mauri Pelto on his annual survey of glaciers in the Northern Cascades, something he’s been doing for 3 decades now.
He is the consummate professional, with an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject, (his valuable blog here) and the stamina of a mountain goat. We were lucky enough to catch up with him in San Francisco a few months ago.
March 4, 2015
If there is a “War on Coal”, it’s coming from investors who realize that the era of 19th century energy technology is drawing to a close, and from the Chinese, who realize their system cannot survive continued reliance on poisonous, polluting, water hogging energy.
The numbers tell a grim tale for coal barons.
Tom Sanzillo has 30 years of experience in public and private finance, including as a first deputy comptroller of New York State, where he held oversight over a $156 billion pension fund and $200 billion in municipal bond programs.
Peabody Energy’s numbers for 2014 show that the U.S. coal industry has decoupled from the broader, gradually recovering economy and that the company’s spiral has deepened. Company executives themselves forecast no recovery on the horizon, seeing further losses this year.
Peabody epitomizes the industry’s fundamental structural problem. It is being challenged by dramatic increases in the supply of natural gas, market incursion from renewable sources and the commensurate decrease in power prices.
The company acknowledges that total domestic coal demand could fall by more than 5 to 6 percent in 2015, but it also very optimistically forecasts a rise in natural gas prices into 2017 as a potential catalyst in reversing the eight-year trend in declining U.S. domestic coal demand. All growth capital expenditure has been suspended, and Peabody sees its stay-in-business capex running at less than 30 percent of depreciation, an unsustainable position over the medium term that will see the company continue to shrink.
Arch Coal is in trouble. It has posted significant losses for three years running and its performance in 2015 will most likely remain in the red.
Arch executives say they expect coal markets this year to perform about the same as they did last year, which was a brutal 12 months for U.S. coal producers. This admission—that 2015 will bring no upturn—suggests that whatever initiatives Arch pursues this year will be geared solely toward reducing losses. The company is in hunker-down-and-survive mode.
March 4, 2015
With Merchants of Doubt about to drop, no time like the present to repost one of my most popular videos, detailing the parallels in tactics, and personel, of the tobacco denial, and climate denial, establishments.
Merchants of Doubt necessarily tells only part of the story, but the strategy of attacking science messengers was perfected by the Tobacco Lords long before the Fossil Fuel barons picked it up.
March 3, 2015
Dana Nuccitelli has published a piece looking more deeply at the Slick Willie Soon affair.
An interesting question to ask is, how does a hack for hire get his “science” papers, what he tells his funders are “deliverables” – published? Turns out there are several routes.
Soon’s funding and failure to disclose conflicts of interest raises red flags, and upon further investigation, the underlying problem is clear. Willie Soon does really bad science, and yet is treated as a climate expert and used by members of Congress to justify opposition to climate policies.
In a paper published last year with our colleagues, John Abraham and I discussed the disproportionate attention that poor-quality climate contrarian papers have received. And as I detailed in my just-published book, climate contrarians like Soon simply aren’t held accountable for their bad science and failed climate predictions. This lack of accountability and disproportionate attention are serious problems.
The reason Soon can be treated as an expert is that he’s been able to publish climate-related research in peer-reviewed journals. To get bad science published in peer-reviewed journals, Soon has followed the same strategies as other climate contrarians with flawed research. He has submitted papers to relatively obscure, non-climate science journals, and he’s exploited “pal review” with friendly journal editors.
March 2, 2015
Now another study showing links between climate-enhanced drought, and political instability in the Middle East.
Above, scientists predicted this pattern of drought, and the resulting instability, in news reports from 1983, and ’88.
By now, it’s pretty clear that we’re starting to see visible manifestations of climate change beyond far-off melting ice sheets. One of the most terrifying implications is the increasingly real threat of wars sparked in part by global warming. New evidence says that Syria may be one of the first such conflicts.
We know the basic story in Syria by now: From 2006-2010, an unprecedented drought forced the country from a groundwater-intensive breadbasket of the region to a net food importer. Farmers abandoned their homes—school enrollment in some areas plummeted 80 percent—and flooded Syria’s cities, which were already struggling to sustain an influx of more than 1 million refugees from the conflict in neighboring Iraq. The Syrian government largely ignored these warning signs, helping sow discontent that ultimately spawned violent protests. The link from drought to war was prominently featured in a Showtime documentary last year. A preventable drought-triggered humanitarian crisis sparked the 2011 civil war, and eventually, ISIS.
A new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science provides the clearest evidence yet that human-induced global warming made that drought more likely. The study is the first to examine the drought-to-war narrative in quantitative detail in any country, ultimately linking it to climate change.
“It’s a pretty convincing climate fingerprint,” said Retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, a meteorologist who’s now a professor at Penn State University. After decades of poor water policy, “there was no resilience left in the system.” Titley says, given that context, that the record-setting drought caused Syria to “break catastrophically.”
“It’s not to say you could predict ISIS out of that, but you just set everything up for something really bad to happen,” Titley told me in a phone interview. Given the new results, Titley says, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”
The researchers said this trend matched computer simulations of how the region responds to increases in greenhouse-gas emissions, and appeared to be due to two factors: a weakening of winds that bring moisture-laden air from the Mediterranean and hotter temperatures that cause more evaporation.
Colin P. Kelley, the lead author of the study, said he and his colleagues found that while Syria and the rest of the region known as the Fertile Crescent were normally subject to periodic dry periods, “a drought this severe was two to three times more likely” because of the increasing aridity in the region.
March 2, 2015
The view from the Eastern US notwithstanding, this winter continues to provide evidence, not only of a warming planet, but that warming is proceeding in exactly the ways scientists predicted decades ago, based on an in-depth understanding of atmospheric physics.
Above, see a clip from a BBC production, “The Greenhouse Effect”, from 1988, where Syukuro Manabe predicts enhanced warming in the northern polar regions.
In a world warming from anthropogenic releases of carbon dioxide, we expect, for instance, that the troposphere, the atmosphere’s lower layer, will warm, even while the upper layer, the stratosphere, cools. And indeed, we observe that.
In addition, the dynamics of global change should produce a greater warming in polar areas, in particular the northern polar areas. This is due to several processes, including the loss of sea ice and its reflective, cooling influence, and increased areas of dark sea water and soil. This winter has seen the continued shrinkage of the pool of cool arctic air that typically covers the most northern areas.
Jason Samenow in the Washington Post:
Using an analysis of atmospheric temperature data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Martin has been tracking the size of the Northern Hemisphere cold pool during winter (December-February) over time. Specifically, he has examined the total area of the hemisphere covered by temperatures 23 degrees (-5 degrees Celsius) or lower at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, for the period 1948-1949 to present.
In a study accepted for publication in the Journal of Climate, Martin found that four of the five smallest Northern Hemisphere cold pools on record — averaged over the winter — have occurred since 2004.
“Only 12 of the 43 winter seasons before 1990-1991 had below average seasonally averaged areas whereas 20 of 24 winter seasons have had below average seasonally averaged areas since,” the study says.
The study only incorporates results through last winter but reported last year’s “desperately cold” conditions in the eastern U.S. coincided with the most diminutive Northern Hemisphere cold pool on record up to that point in time.
Taking into account Martin’s analysis of the current winter, the size of the Northern Hemisphere cold pool has reached records low levels in back-to-back years.
A new online lecture-format documentary describes China’s appalling air quality and its health effects.
It’s gone viral.
By early Monday morning, “Under the Dome” had been played more than 20 million times on Youku, a popular video-sharing site, and it was also being viewed widely on other sites.
Tens of thousands of viewers posted comments about the video, many of them parents who identified with Ms. Chai’s concern for her daughter. Some praised her for forthrightly condemning the industrial interests, energy conglomerates and bureaucratic hurdles that she says have obstructed stronger action against pollution. Others lamented that she was able to do so only after leaving her job with the state-run China Central Television.
“Support Chai Jing or those like her who stand up like this to speak the truth,” said one of the comments — which exceeded 25,000 by Sunday afternoon — on Youku. “In this messed-up country that’s devoid of law, cold-hearted, numb and arrogant, they’re like an eye-grabbing sign that shocks the soul.”
Some officials, however, may even welcome it as an opportunity to build support for anti-smog measures. The website of People’s Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper, was one of the first to post “Under the Dome.” And the new minister of environmental protection, Chen Jining, praised the video.
Mr. Chen said at a news conference for Chinese reporters in Beijing on Sunday that the documentary reminded him of Ms. Carson’s “Silent Spring,” which on publication in 1962 inspired a public uproar about excessive use of pesticides, The Beijing Times reported, citing the Xinhua news agency.
Although the doc appears to focus mostly on the most visible aspect of pollution from coal burning and other sources, it is another reminder that the growing Chinese middle class is losing its patience with the development-at-all-costs philosophy of its leaders.
This is why the US/China agreement on cutting greenhouse gases is more than window dressing – there is a growing understanding among Chinese leadership that a move to renewable energy is not just politically correct – it’s critical to the stability of the country.
My recent video below, fleshes out the story.