coal

Time:

Michelle Bell’s 2004 study linking short-term exposure to air pollution to increased risk of death was a breakthrough. Previous research had shown how the pollutant ozone damages human health, but Bell’s was the first to show persuasively how damaging even a short exposure can be to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

What made Bell’s study possible — and distinguished it from previous research — was the ability to analyze huge amounts of health data from people in 95 urban areas across the country. “We need this data to do the research and we need the research to make the most effective decisions,” she says.

Since publication, the work has been cited more than 1,000 times and, a decade later, informed the Clean Power Plan, a central Obama-era regulation aimed at fighting climate change.

But a study’s like Bell’s could soon disappear from the toolbox of policymakers at the Environmental Protection Agency if Scott Pruitt, the agency’s top official, follows through on a plan to require more public disclosure of data used for research. Pruitt, who made his remarks in an interview with the conservative outlet The Daily Caller last week, says that data used in research that informs EPA policy should be available for the public to review.

“We need to make sure their data and methodology are published as part of the record,” Pruitt told The Daily Caller. “Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important.”

But scientists say that policy would actually end up stymying essential research. Environmental and public health researchers rely on health and medical data from subjects who were promised privacy in exchange for details about their health histories. Those large data sets are often kept confidential and can be viewed only by a select set of researchers on a given project.

“My research deals with real world populations, it’s not looking at data in a lab or looking at cell culture,” says Bell. “We’re effe at birth defect records from actual babies, we’re looking at birth records, we’re looking at Medicare records.”

Surrendering the ability to access that data would mean that the EPA would lose vital information used to craft regulations aimed at protecting human health. The EPA has used health data like Bell’s study to protect Americans from everything from air pollution to the chemicals found in household products.

The details of Pruitt’s proposed policy on undisclosed data — called “secret science” by some Republicans —remain unclear. An EPA spokesperson referred a request for information to TheDaily Caller.

Why does Pruitt’s EPA want to make science more difficult?

Science Daily:

A new study performed in the Netherlands has linked exposure to residential air pollution during fetal life with brain abnormalities that may contribute to impaired cognitive function in school-age children. The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, reports that the air pollution levels related to brain alterations were below those considered to be safe.

“We observed brain development effects in relationship to fine particles levels below the current EU limit,” said lead author Mònica Guxens, MD, of Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Spain, a center supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation, and Erasmus University Medical Center, the Netherlands. This finding adds to previous studies that have linked acceptable air pollution levels with other complications including cognitive decline and fetal growth development. “Therefore, we cannot warrant the safety of the current levels of air pollution in our cities,” said Dr. Guxens. Read the rest of this entry »

chinasponge2

It’s physics. Warmer air holds more moisture.
Early climate models predicted, and now decades of observations confirm, many parts of the planet are now seeing rain come down in more intense downpours, straining infrastructure adapted to literally, another planet.

Even in my small midwestern town, the city council is currently awaiting a report from consultants on ideas to handle more frequent flooding events, which threaten property values in neighborhoods formerly not subject to flooding.

Cities need to adapt. Nature knows how.

Yale360:

Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favorite son, described his city’s stormwater problem well: By “covering a ground plot with buildings and pavements, which carry off most of the rain and prevent its soaking into the Earth and renewing and purifying the Springs … the water of wells must gradually grow worse, and in time be unfit for use as I find has happened in all old cities.”

When he wrote this in 1789, many of Philadelphia’s water sources, the scores of streams that ran into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, were already cesspools of household and industrial waste. As they became intolerable eyesores and miasmic health hazards, the city simply covered them with brick arches, turned the streams into sewers, and on top constructed new streets, an expanding impervious landscape that left the rains with even fewer places for “soaking into the Earth.”

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A rain garden manages stormwater runoff in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. PHILADELPHIA WATER DEPARTMENT

Crude as it was, this network of underground-to-riverfront outfalls through ever-larger pipes was pretty much the way Philadelphia and other U.S. cities coped with their stormwater for the next 200 years. But Ben Franklin’s town has decided to take the lead in undoing this ever-more costly and outdated system that annually pours huge volumes of polluted stormwater runoff and untreated sewage into the Delaware and the Schuylkill. Instead of building more and bigger sewers and related infrastructure, Philadelphia has adopted a relatively new paradigm for urban stormwater: Rather than convey it, detain it — recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into the earth.

The city is now in the seventh year of a 25-year project designed to fulfill an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce by 85 percent Philadelphia’s combined sewer overflows. These overflows occur when heavy rains overwhelm the capacity of the city’s sewage treatment plants to handle the flow from both storm and sanitary sewers, forcing the diversion of untreated effluent into the system’s river outfalls. But rather than spending an estimated $9.6 billion on a “gray” infrastructure program of ever-larger tunnels, the city is investing an estimated $2.4 billion in public funds — to be augmented by large expenditures from the private sector — to create a citywide mosaic of green stormwater infrastructure.

precip_heavy Read the rest of this entry »

Shell Oil outlines a 2C scenario. Is it realistic?
See proposed milestones in timeline above.

Washington Post:

Royal Dutch Shell on Monday outlined a scenario in which, by 2070, we would be using far less of the company’s own product — oil — as cars become electric, a massive carbon storage industry develops, and transportation begins a shift toward a reliance on hydrogen as an energy carrier.

The company’s Sky scenario was designed to imagine a world that complies with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, managing to hold the planet’s warming to “well below” a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels. Shell has said that it supports the Paris agreement.

The scenario, which finds the world in a net-zero emissions state by 2070, is based on the idea that “a simple extension of current efforts, whether efficiency mandates, modest carbon taxes, or renewable energy supports, is insufficient for the scale of change required,” the oil company document reads.

“The relevant transformations in the energy and natural systems require concurrent climate policy action and the deployment of disruptive new technologies at mass scale within government policy environments that strongly incentivize investment and innovation.”

“Anytime we see a forecast looking out many decades (in this case, 2070), it can be an interesting talking point but does not seriously influence investor decisions,” said Pavel Molchanov, energy analyst at the investment firm Raymond James, said in an email. “Even for long-term-oriented investors, that is simply too distant a time frame.”

Royal Dutch Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden in past interviews with The Washington Post has acknowledged that “climate change is real” and that “action is needed” but has asserted that the world will need to keep burning fossil fuels even if renewable energy catapults forward.

“It doesn’t mean we have to kiss hydrocarbons goodbye. In fact, we can’t,” he said.

In November, the company said it would cut the carbon footprint of making (not burning) its own petroleum products by 20 percent by 2035 and by about half by 2050. Shareholder groups, however, have noted that if Shell increases its overall fossil fuel production, then it will undercut some of those gains.

Below, analysis by Glenn Peters, of Oslo’s Center for International Climate Research, who has been a critic of overly rosy projections for carbon capture and storage in particular.

Glenn Peters, Center for Climate Forecasting, Norway: 

Shell has just released a new scenario, Sky, which meets the goals of the Paris Agreement. How does it compare with other low carbon pathways?

We have loads of scenarios consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, depending on how “well below 2°C” is interpreted. Read the rest of this entry »

John Wangari sold 300 rabbits, and bought a dynamo.

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An illustration shows some of the mechanisms inside wind turbines. Repowering can include new internal technology, as well as longer, lighter blades. Credit: Siemens

Wind Power myth: Decommissioned wind turbines left to decay.

Reality:

Wind Operator: “We’d like to repower the wind turbine in your field, and you’ll make more revenue”.
Farmer: “uh, gee – Ok”.

Inside Climate News:

Old wind farms that have towered over the same fields for more than a decade may be generating more power now than ever before.

As America’s biggest wind farms age, their owners are starting to “repower” them with more efficient turbines, new electronics and longer, lighter blades that can sweep more wind with each rotation. The result is a thriving new industry, new jobs and more renewable energy.

New blades and technology updates have completely “revitalized” two Leeward Energy wind farms near Sweetwater, Texas, saving the company money and allowing the farm to generate more energy, said Leeward CEO Greg Wolf.

“In a sense, we have a whole new wind farm,” he said.

Last year, the U.S. wind industry completed 15 partial repowering projects totaling 2,136 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association. (To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. wind industry added about 7,000 megawatts of wind power capacity in 2017.) As the market for wind continues to expand and technology keeps dropping in cost and becoming more efficient, renewable energy companies around the world are starting to update their fleets.

“It’s extending the life of these projects without having to build a new wind farm, by taking advantage of existing infrastructure, project locations and power purchase agreements to help save costs,” said Celeste Wanner, research analyst for AWEA. “Repowering benefits everyone with lower cost to consumers and higher performance of the turbines.”

Saving Money, Raising Power Production

When wind development started to take off a few decades ago, major companies gobbled up some of the best sites for wind production. But turbine efficiency continues to improve, and costs have dropped by two-thirds since 2009.

“The energy capacity factor of the average turbine has jumped from 30 percent in the early 2000s to anywhere from 40 to 50 percent now,” Wanner said. “Compare that to a typical coal plant, which has about 54 percent.”

With the advancement of technology—and incentives in the form of federal tax credits—more wind farms are now choosing to replace blades and turbine parts, rather than the entire 300-foot structures.

Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking now. More later.

Independent:

More than a dozen protesters who clambered into holes dug for a high pressure gas pipeline said they had been found not responsible by a judge after hearing them argue their actions to try and stop climate change were a legal “necessity”.

Karenna Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, was among more than 198 people who were arrested because of their 2015 actions protesting the pipeline in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Thirteen people were to go on trial this week, though prosecutors downgraded their original criminal charges to one of civil infraction.

On Tuesday, Judge Mary Ann Driscoll of West Roxbury District Court, found all 13 defendants not responsible, the equivalent of not guilty in a criminal case. She did so after each of the defendants addressed the judge and explained why they were driven to try and halt the pipeline’s construction.

 

blankenship

Paul Krugman:

In 2010 an explosion at a coal mine operated by Massey Energy killed 29 men. In 2015 Don Blankenship, the company’s former C.E.O., was sent to prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards. In 2018, Blankenship appears to have a real chance at becoming the Republican candidate for senator from West Virginia.

Blankenship is one of four Republicans with criminal convictions running for office this year, several of whom may well win their party’s nominations. And there is a much broader list of Republican politicians facing credible accusations of huge ethical lapses who nonetheless emerged victorious in G.O.P. primaries, ranging from Roy Moore to, well, Donald Trump.

To be sure, there have been plenty of crooked Democrats. But usually the revelation of their crookedness ended their political careers. What’s striking about today’s Republican landscape is that people who are obvious crooks, con men or worse continue to attract strong support from the party’s base. Moore narrowly lost in Alabama’s special election, but he received 91 percent of the votes of self-identified Republicans.

And Trump, although unprecedentedly unpopular for a president at this stage of his term, continues to receive overwhelming support from the G.O.P. base. Some Republican politicians have openly admitted that this makes the party’s congressional wing unwilling to hold Trump accountable for even the most spectacular malfeasance, up to and including possible collusion with a hostile foreign power.

And this sustained reliance on the big con has, over time, exerted a strong selection effect both on the party’s leadership and on its base. G.O.P. politicians tend disproportionately to be con men (and in some cases, con women), because playing the party’s political game requires both a willingness to and a talent for saying one thing while doing another. And the party’s base consists disproportionately of the easily conned — those who are easily fooled by claims that Those People are the problem and don’t notice how much the true Republican agenda hurts them.

Here’s the third implication, which should scare you: The nature of the modern G.O.P.’s game gives it a bias against democracy. After all, one way to protect yourself against voters who figure out what you’re up to is to stop them from voting. Vote suppression and extreme gerrymandering are already key parts of Republican strategy, but what we’ve seen so far may be just the beginning.

Wonkette:

Despite multiple investigations finding that the Big Branch explosion was due to a buildup of coal dust that resulted from lax safety procedures, Blankenship continues to claim — with no evidence — that all the investigators were wrong, and, as you’d expect from a guy who gives robber barons a bad name, actually blames federal regulators for the mine disaster. Blankenship was sentenced in 2015 to a whole year in prison on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety regulations. The jury found him not guilty on two felony charges (securities fraud and lying to federal investigators) that could have put him away for up to 30 years, but even that year in minimum security prompted Blankenship to declare himself a political prisoner. You see, he was such a terrific, powerful spokesman for Big Coal that Barack Obama had to silence him by sending him to the Gulag. Read the rest of this entry »

ukcarbon90_500
The UK now has the lowest carbon emissions since the 90s.
The 1890s.

Financial Times:

Declining coal use has pushed UK carbon emissions to levels last consistently seen in 1890, highlighting the country’s progress in cutting greenhouse gases faster than most other developed economies. Emissions fell by 2.6 per cent in 2017, driven by a nearly one-fifth reduction in the use of coal as the energy industry shifts towards cleaner sources of electricity generation, especially wind and solar power.

The data marked the fifth successive year in which the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into UK skies has fallen, and emissions are now 38 per cent below the level of 1990. “With coal quickly disappearing in the UK and other fossil fuel use mostly flat, emissions have continued their steady decline,” said Zeke Hausfather, author of the report by Carbon Brief, a climate research and news organisation, which based its findings on the latest UK government data.

“Overall, CO2 emissions have declined faster in the UK since the early 1990s than in almost any other large economy.” Emissions were lower for brief periods during strikes in the 1920s and in 1893 but last year’s CO2 output was the lowest in a year of normal economic activity since 1890, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, the Forth Bridge was opened in Scotland, and the first official county cricket match was played between Yorkshire and Gloucestershire.

The emissions data were extrapolated from measurements of UK energy use that stretch back to Victorian times. Having relied on coal to propel its industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, the UK has shifted away from the fuel faster than most countries in pursuit of a government target to phase out the last coal-fired power stations by 2025.

ukcoal1890

Independent:

More than half of the electricity generated in the UK in 2017 came from low-carbon sources for the first time ever, new analysis has concluded.

Renewables and nuclear provided more electricity than all fossil fuels combined, with wind generation alone supplying twice as much energy as coal, according to analysis by Carbon Brief, a website that tracks climate change and energy policy.

It found that wind made a greater contribution to the country’s electricity needs than coal in every month apart from January. The share from low-carbon sources doubled between 2008 and 2017, Carbon Brief said. Much of this was due to a greatly reduced amount of coal power as older plants have reached the end of their lives.

Read the rest of this entry »

You can think of the new Yale Climate Connections video as your Executive Briefing on current observations and projections for Global Sea Level, one of Climate Change’s most critical impacts.

I caught up with Jeff Goodell a few months ago, after his book “The Waters will Come” hit the bestseller list.  Jeff was a key member of the original Dark Snow Project team on our first trip to Greenland in 2013 – and flew with the team along the wall of Illulissat Glacier – the world’s fastest moving ice stream. He recalls it vividly in the book.

supportdarksnow

Not long after, I was at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and managed to sit down with a number of key researchers, some new to me – who helped fill in the details. Among them, Jonathan Bamber, Eric Rignot,  and Rob DeConto. I added some great detail from Dark Snow Project chief Scientist Jason Box, something I’ve been trying to get out for some time.

Finally, I scored an extremely useful Skype interview with Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado, whose recent paper on the acceleration in the rate of sea level rise has become a key touchstone in the discussion.

One of the key moments here is Eric Rignot filling in some detail on observations of West Antarctic ice sheet retreat. Famously, in 2014, Dr Rignot left a lot of folks peeling their jaws off the floor with the announcement that “…the fuse is already blown” as far as the retreat of giant glaciers like Pine Island and Thwaites – meaning meter level ocean rise is already baked into the climate change cake.
But that does not mean humans are powerless.

Read the rest of this entry »