Happy new year, such as it is..
I’m taking it slow for a few days, and binge watching Game of Thrones (again, this time with my wife, who finally relented and is now addicted).

Now officially being reported in mainstream media, 2014 will be listed as the hottest year in the instrumental record.


Now watch the item below, as newscasters from a small station in the southern US grapple with reporting the news to what is, one suspects, a conservative and scientifically challenged audience.  First, you’ll see them introduce the NBC network piece above, which plays, then the local broadcasters try to parse the news, starting at 1:52,  where one of them notes that “..everyone that believes in global warming can take this and run with it if they want..”



Here is a look at five places that will help push 2014 into the global warming record books.

  • Australia: For the second year in a row, Australians saw heat records topple from the Gold Coast to the Coral Coast. The country kicked off January with an extreme heat wave; temperatures soared higher than 120 F (49 C). Heat waves in the autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November) also drove temperatures into the record books.
  • Eastern Pacific Ocean: Toasty temperatures developed in the eastern Pacific Ocean, despite an El Niño that never appeared. The heat was especially notable off the western coast of the United States. Fishing boats spotted species well north of their range, such as a giant ocean sunfish offshore of Alaska. For the global ocean, the September to November sea surface temperature was 1.13 F (0.63 C) above the 20th century average of 60.7 F (16.0 C), surpassing the previous record by 0.11 F (0.06 C), according to NOAA.
  • Siberia: Central Siberia defrosted in spring and early summer under temperatures more than 9 F (5 C) above its 1981 to 2010 average. Ice on the Ob River began to break up two weeks earlier than normal. The heat may have unleashed methane gas trapped in previously frozen permafrost, triggering underground explosions that formed spectacularly deep holes.
  • California: The long-running drought in California was made worse in 2014 by record heat. The first 10 months of 2014 were the warmest in California’s history since 1895, further burdening the state’s water demands.
  • Northern Europe: The same weather pattern that froze North America in early 2014 brought an unusually warm spring to countries including Denmark, Norway and Turkey. The sultry spring was the warmest in a century or more in these countries. In addition, January to October was the warmest 10-month period on record for Central England since 1659, and the warmest such period for the Netherlands since 1706.



The New York Time’s Justin Gillis has a story detailing reasons for optimism in restoring the world’s rainforests as a potential critical carbon sink.

But from the Guardian, a sour note on the rise of Brazil’s “Chainsaw Queen”.
Welcome any clarifications.


But now, driven by a growing environmental movement in countries that are home to tropical forests, and by mounting pressure from Western consumers who care about sustainable practices, corporate and government leaders are making a fresh push to slow the cutting — and eventually to halt it. In addition, plans are being made by some of those same leaders to encourage forest regrowth on such a giant scale that it might actually pull a sizable fraction of human-released carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it into long-term storage.

With the recent signs of progress, long-wary environmental groups are permitting themselves a burst of optimism about the world’s forests.

“The public should take heart,” said Rolf Skar, who helps lead forest conservation work for the environmental group Greenpeace. “We are at a potentially historic moment where the world is starting to wake up to this issue, and to apply real solutions.”

Still, Greenpeace and other groups expect years of hard work as they try to hold business leaders and politicians accountable for the torrent of promises they have made lately. The momentum to slow or halt deforestation is fragile, for many reasons. And even though rich Western governments have hinted for years that they might be willing to spend tens of billions of dollars to help poor countries save their forests, they have allocated only a few billion dollars.

The Guardian:

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has stirred up the wrath of environmentalists by appointing a controversial advocate of agribusiness and weaker forest conservation as her new agriculture minister.

Kátia Abreu, who has been nicknamed the “chainsaw queen” by her enemies, is included in a new cabinet that rewards political allies who supported Rousseff in her recent narrow re-election victory.

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And a funny one.

For the record, I don’t think I’d be welcome in either camp, because, like Groucho, I couldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.

Happy Holidays, whatever your persuasion.

Rocky Mountain Institute:

Christmas is just a few days away, and with it, also TBS’s annual marathon of A Christmas Story. Readers of a certain generation will remember it as the classic movie from 1983 in which Ralphie Parker, the central character, pines for an airsoft Red Ryder BB gun, only to be rebuffed, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

As it turns out, he’d do a number on the climate, too. The other day a colleague alerted me to the fact that some airsoft guns use HFC 134a as a propellant. HFC 134a is 3,800 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over a 20-year period.

But here are 10 other statistics you might not know about greenhouse gas emissions and energy this holiday season:

1. If considered as a separate nation, the United States’ building stock would rank third in energy consumption: Only China and the U.S. consume more primary energy than the U.S. built environment, which uses 8 percent of the world’s primary energy, 42 percent of U.S. primary energy, and 72 percent of U.S. electricity.

2. Searching for parking burns one million barrels of oil per day: In Los Angeles alone, city drivers searching for parking in a 15-block district drove more than 950,000 miles, emitted 730 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and burned 47,000 gallons of gasoline.

3. Junk mail has a huge carbon footprint, not just a landfill footprint: The energy used to produce, deliver, and dispose of junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 2.8 million cars.

4. Micropower now produces about one-fourth of the world’s total electricity: Low- and no-carbon micropower, which includes renewables minus big hydro, plus cogeneration, now produces one-fourth of the world’s electricity. When you add big hydro and nuclear to the mix, micropower produced half the world’s electricity in 2013.

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The Keystone Fixation

December 24, 2014


A mystery. And a clue.

Dan Farber in Legal Planet:

Perseveration is a psychological syndrome where you can’t stop doing something even if the original reason for doing it has vanished.  I’m beginning to wonder if the continuing fervor of Republican support for the project reflects an institutional equivalent of this syndrome.  The economic and political case for the project is fading, but Republicans just can’t seem to let go.

Admittedly, if you put aside the environmental issues, the project was appealing when oil was expensive and consumers were worried about high gas prices.  But today, U.S. oil production is booming, oil is cheap, and gas prices are falling. Yet, Mitch McConnell swears that his first act as Senate majority leader will be to pass a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline.  It seems like an odd priority given the declining economic and political benefits of the project.

Indeed, there seems to be a good chance that the project won’t be built even if it gets federal approval. As the LA Times reports:

Even at the Manhattan Institute, a free market-oriented think tank with little patience for the arguments made by pipeline opponents, questions are emerging about whether Keystone still deserves star billing in the energy debate.

“I’m for cheap, abundant, reliable energy. Period,” said Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the conservative group. “This is not ideological. This is about what the economics say.… The project is clearly very challenged right now.”

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Very worthwhile, if somewhat tooth-grinding reading, in the Washington Post.  Miami’s real estate market hardly blinks at global climate change, and the now locked-in sea level rise that will devastate South Florida in coming decades.

(if you haven’t seen my video on South Florida Sea Level rise, above, now is a good time)

The one-percenters from South America and elsewhere who are fueling the real estate bubble will probably come out just fine. Many are not actually living in the posh developments that are springing up along beaches  – where eroding sand must be trucked and replaced regularly.  These are simply places to park billions of dollars until it becomes obviously unsustainable – probably after the next cat-4 or 5 storm comes thru with a reality check.

In the meantime, taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for the growing number of pumps needed to keep water off the streets during high tide. Another example of how the fossil fuel industry privatizes the profits of burning carbon fuels, and socializes the costs.

Washington Post:

Meanwhile, Miami Beach keeps growing. Last year, the city collected $128 million in property taxes, an increase from $117 million in 2013 and $114 million in 2012. Thirty-two new condo towers have been proposed since 2011, said Peter Zalewski, founder of condo consulting site CraneSpotters.com. Twelve are currently under construction. The average asking price for resale condos, he said, is about $1.1 million.

Many buyers come from South America, more concerned by currency instability in their home countries than encroaching saltwater: “They want somewhere safe to park their money,” said Zalewski, whose firm tracks applications. “A lot of buyers here never step foot in the condos. They’ll sell them before the water makes it to the bottom floor of their buildings, anyway.

Foreign investors fueled nearly one-third of real estate transactions last year in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, according to a National Association of Realtors report. Eighty-one percent paid cash, the report found, and 72 percent bought a condo or townhouse.

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A popular myth propogated by climate deniers since the early 90s, is that, with global warming, we’ll see increased crop production.
The most recent research does not support this notion.  Crop yields are heading toward a heat-induced drop at the very time when population pressures will be increasing across the most vulnerable areas of the planet.


Global warming will cut average wheat yields by six percent for every degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) of temperature rise in a bigger-than-expected brake on food production in a hotter world, a study said on Monday.

The report, by a U.S.-led team of scientists, said a six percent drop would be 42 million tonnes of 701 million tonnes of wheat production worldwide in 2012, highlighting a need to breed more heat-tolerant crops.

In recent decades, wheat yields had declined in hotter sites such as in India, Africa, Brazil and Australia, more than offsetting yield gains in some cooler places including parts of the United States, Europe and China, the study showed.

At the peak of the 2012 drought in the upper midwest, I spoke to Agronomist Phil Robertson of Michigan State University, at MSU’s Ag research station, where the green, irrigated lawn in the background belied the brown and crunchy dry conditions elsewhere in the area. Dr. Robertson is an author of the US Global Change Research progam’s evaluation of climate impacts US Midwest. He gave a thoughtful and measured evaluation of what crop research is showing about yields in a warming world.


A fall of 6% in yield may not sound dramatic, but as the world’s population grows the pressure on staple crops will increase.

Food price riots have been seen in several developing countries following sudden rises of less than 10% in food prices in recent years, demonstrating the vulnerability of the poor to grain prices. The global population is currently over 7bn and is forecast to rise to at least 9bn, and potentially up to 12bn, by 2050, which will put more pressure on agricultural land and water sources.

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Al Gore Remarks in Lima

December 23, 2014

Brief stemwinder of a talk given at the recent Lima Climate negotiations.  Small taste of how he can get going on this when he really stretches out.

Remember when 500 megabytes was considered a “large” hard drive? As the Internet took off in the mid 90’s, demand for larger hard drives pushed innovations in technology and production, dropping prices.

Similarly, the big drop in solar photovoltaic prices of the last half decade was precipitated by policies in Germany, California, and elsewhere, jumpstarting demand for new PV panels that were soon pouring out of China.
Storage of energy, a market which has only heated up in the last 5 years, looks like it’s following a similar innovation path, encouraged by policy initiatives in California and elsewhere.

Now the industry is taking off,  – faster than many anticipated. Sound familiar?


Last October, California became the first government to require its utilities to store a significant slice of the power they produce, instead of using it all right away. Now a growing roster of states and countries is taking up versions of the same idea, creating rules or incentives that will place storage in homes in Japan and Germany, at wind farms in Puerto Rico, along transmission lines in Ontario, and at individual buildings in Manhattan.

Every region has a somewhat different problem. The fact that energy storage is being applied to each is a sign that batteries are getting cheaper and better, and that the overseers of the power grid are beginning to rewrite the rules to accommodate energy storage, several industry experts said.

Renewable Energy World:

“One of the shots that was heard around the world was AB 2514, which is a California mandate for the minimum amount of energy storage the utilities have to install by 2020. That minimum allocated across the three major IOUs in California — Southern California Edison (SCE), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) — totals 1.325 gigawatts,” according to John Jung, CEO of the energy storage software, services & systems company GreenSmith.

Power Engineering:

Other states may follow California’s lead and adopt similar requirements. Texas and New York are aggressively pursuing several initiatives to promote the development and commercial application of grid-scale energy storage.

Home to more than 10,000 MW of wind power capacity, Texas has become a major testing ground for storage technology. Duke Energy built a large lead acid battery storage facility near a wind farm in west Texas. Dresser-Rand plans to build a 317-MW storage facility for compressed air in east Texas. In New York, state officials announced a $23 million public-private investment to build a battery storage test and commercialization center in partnership with NY-BEST.

The most obvious niche for energy storage is in meeting “peak” power demand, those few hours on high demand days where large amounts of additional power are needed for, say, air conditioning.  Traditionally, this market has been dominated by Natural Gas turbines, and even expensive diesel generating units. This power is very expensive.  The initial success of solar energy in California has been because, even at the higher prices of a few years ago, solar solutions were competitive with the very expensive “peaker” plants.  Energy storage companies hope to hit that same sweet spot in pricing as their technologies develop.

Now, in a bidding process for peak electrical solutions in California, energy storage has unexpectedly beaten hundreds of traditional power plant solutions for meeting peak energy demand.


The bidding results indicate that the cost of storage is falling, experts say, although neither the utility nor the companies whose projects were selected would say what price the utility would pay. And the value of storage varies by location, with California an extreme case. Because of wind farms, the state has very cheap energy available at night, some of which now goes to waste.

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This is a series.  2 other installments below:

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