Siberia Burning

July 29, 2019

New Scientist:(paywall)

Huge wildfires are continuing to burn across the Arctic, and have now released more carbon dioxide in 2019 than in any year since satellite records began nearly two decades ago.

Temperatures have been well above average in the region, and fires erupted in boreal peatlands across Siberia around 9 June. Normally the fires would last a few days, but this year some vegetation and peatland has been ablaze for a month and a half.

The result is the rapid release of more than 121 megatonnes of carbon dioxide – more than Belgium’s annual emissions – eclipsing the previous record of 110mt of CO2 for the whole of 2004. “Based on our 17 years of data, this is unusual, particularly for northern Siberia,” says Mark Parrington of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

There is certainly an argument for keeping existing nuclear plants open, if the needed subsidies don’t crowd out funding for renewable energy, as the video above explains.

But subsidizing a pair of nuclear plants, AND old coal plants, like Ohio just did – is pretty hard to take – and transparently corrupt.

Vox:

The bill, just signed by Republican Governor Mike DeWine, is called HB6. Though the story behind it is complex and sordid, the bill itself is pretty simple. It would do four things:

Bail out two nuclear plants: From 2021 until 2027, Ohio ratepayers will pay a new monthly surcharge on their electricity bills, from 85 cents for residential customers up to $2,400 for big industrial customers. The surcharge will produce about $170 million a year. $150 million of that will be used by the utility FirstEnergy (one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the country) to subsidize its two big nuclear power plants — Davis-Besse, outside of Toledo, and Perry, northeast of Cleveland — which it claims are losing moneyand will be closed in the next couple of years without bailouts. The remaining $20 million will divided among six existing solar projects in rural areas of the state. (Note: as we’ll discuss below, nuclear power plants generate low-carbon energy and are worth saving. But not like this.)

Bail out two coal plants: FirstEnergy customers across Ohio will pay an additional monthly surcharge ($1.50 for residential customers; up to $1,500 for big industrials) to help bail out two old, hyper-polluting coal plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (a collective owned by several large utilities), one in Ohio, one in Indiana. 

Gut renewable energy standards: Ohio has one of the oldest renewable portfolio standards in the country, requiring its utilities to get 12.5 percent of their power from renewables by 2027. The bill reduces the target to 8.5 percent by 2026, exempts large industrial customers, and kills the standard after 2026, effectively nullifying any incentive for new renewable energy development in the state.

Gut energy efficiency standards: Ohio utilities are required to reduce customers’ energy use 22 percent from 2008 levels by 2027 through energy efficiency programs (which were set to save Ohio ratepayers $4 billion over the next 10 years). HB6 allows utilities to abandon those programs entirely once they hit 17.5 percent, a level most have almost reached already. 

To summarize: the bill would subsidize four uncompetitive power plants, remove all incentive to build more renewable energy projects, and cancel efforts to help customers use less energy. It is a bill only a utility (and the lawmakers who do its bidding) could love, an extravagant gift to FirstEnergy investors that hoses Ohio ratepayers. (FirstEnergy’s stock price has been rising all year, despite, or perhaps because of, its 2018 bankruptcy.)

Despite a tsunami of dark money supporting the bill, HB6 was overwhelmingly opposed by ratepayer groups, business groups, free-market conservative groups, environmental groups, and Ohioans generally. Its only support came from its only beneficiaries: the utilities that own the bailed-out plants, the employees of the bailed-out plants, the communities where the bailed-out plants are located, and possibly Donald Trump, who doesn’t want to see coal plants closing during his reelection campaign.

Above article is longer and well worth reading or bookmarking.

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Somewhat of a Weekend Wonk bonus I just ran across.
Major news organization looking into the impact of climate fueled extreme weather events across the US heartland.

My most recent Yale Climate Connections video showed how scientists have traced the climate fingerprints in this series of events.

Nice description of the “snowball earth” epoch some hundreds of millions of years ago.

Sometimes cited as “evidence” that co2 is not an important greenhouse gas, as I showed in this video, part of the Crock of the Week series where I debunked “Lord” Christopher Monckton. (starts at 2:04 if you’re rushed)

Darkness Into Light?

July 26, 2019

One of the Dark Side’s most dangerous and amoral hitmen says he’s had a change of heart, wants to do something about climate.
Author of the famous “Luntz memo”, pollster Frank Luntz helped shape devious language and tactics for a generation of Republican politicians who delayed, dissembled, and disinformed their followers on what scientists have been telling us.

Now he says his house almost burned down in a wildfire, and he gets it.
Can he use his powers for good?

He says one reason he hasn’t so far is because environmentalist have been mean to him.

Take a breath and admit you want to strangle the bastard, but we should probably listen to what he has to say.

Grist:

Frank Luntz’s up-close encounter with our increasingly wild weather came at 3:15 a.m. one morning, when the GOP master messenger woke up to his phone blaring an emergency evacuation warning. Luntz saw flames outside his bedroom window. The famous pollster’s home in Los Angeles was in the path of the Skirball Fire, one of the many wildfires that destroyed parts of Southern California in December 2017.

Luntz, whose advice helped Republicans hold power for years and also keep their heads in the sand when it comes to climate change, cited the fire as an example of the climate crisis made personal. He’s the same political consultant who convinced conservatives to rebrand the “estate tax” as the “death tax.” He crafted talking points for the Koch brothers and reportedly convinced the Trump administration to talk about “border security” to drum up support for building a border wall.

But the reality of climate change is increasingly too hard to ignore. “The courageous firefighters of L.A., they saved my home, but others aren’t so lucky,” he said as he recounted the tale during a Senate testimony on Thursday. “Rising sea levels, melting ice caps, tornadoes, and hurricanes more ferocious than ever. It is happening.”

Luntz was one of three Republicans invited by Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, to speak to the Special Committee on the Climate Crisis about breaking down partisan barriers and taking action on climate change. “Elected Republicans are mostly awful on climate, but it wasn’t always that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way in the future,” Schatz said in a press release before the hearing, “The Right Thing To Do: Conservatives for Climate Action.”

The hearing came amid signs that Republican voters are increasingly out of step with their elected representatives on climate change. In parts of the country hit hardest by extreme weather, like Florida, Republicans are already changing their tune on environmental policy. According to a survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication last year, 52 percent of Republicans said if there’s a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth, the environment should come first.

Luntz played a role in turning the environment into a partisan battlefield. During President George W. Bush’s first term, his infamous memo warned Republican party leaders that they were losing “the environmental communications battle,” an issue on which Bush was “most vulnerable.” He advised them to emphasize a lack of scientific certainty around climate change and drop “global warming” for the less scary-sounding “climate change.”

Luntz is now offering his messaging services to the cause of climate action. “I’m here before you to say that I was wrong in 2001,” Luntz told the Senate committee. “Just stop using something that I wrote 18 years ago, because it’s not accurate today.”

“That was a lifetime ago,” he said. “I’ve changed.” He promised to help the Democrats on the climate committee, provided that they put “policies ahead of politics” and commit to nonpartisan solutions.

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Completely predictable reaction of natural system to careless human behavior. Younger generation at risk due to stupid parents.

Calling Captain Obvious.

Smithsonian:

A group of climate scientists has reached a surprising conclusion about Earth’s past eras of naturally-driven, global warming and cooling—they weren’t global after all.

The authors of new studies in Nature and Nature Geoscience used evidence of ancient climates gathered around the world, from tree rings to coral reefs, to examine the pace and extent of well-known episodes of warming or cooling over the past 2,000 years. They report that events like the Little Ice Age and Mediaeval Warm Period, driven by natural variability, were actually more regional than global in scope.

In fact, the only time in the past 2,000 years that nearly all of the Earth has undergone significant warming or cooling is the present period of change that began in the 20th century, according to the research of Nathan Steiger, an atmospheric scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and colleagues. The rate of warming was also higher during the second half of the 20th century than during any similar period of the past 2,000 years, the studies found.

“It was surprising to us that the coherence of the climate, prior to the industrial revolution, was much more regional,” Steiger says. “There were regional periods of cold or warmth, but it’s only during the contemporary period where there’s a global warm period that’s very different from what we see in the past. On one hand it isn’t all that surprising that the climate now is fundamentally different, but this provides a really nice long-term context where can clearly see that contrast.”

Science News:

That finding stands in stark contrast to the team’s conclusions about the current era of warming: It is occurring concurrently around the globe, with the hottest temperatures in the study found to be right at the end of the 20th century. “It is coherent in a way we didn’t experience over the last 2,000 years,” Steiger says.

Because the study’s temperature data go only to 2000, the last two decades of temperatures weren’t included. But NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in February that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, and the last five years were the five hottest on record (SN Online: 2/6/19). Human activities have been repeatedly cited by scientists as the cause of these ongoing record-breaking temperatures (SN Online: 7/2/19).

At a news conference on July 22, Steiger noted that the Nature study didn’t specifically mention that the current warming is due to anthropogenic activities, in part because so many previous studies have repeatedly and clearly demonstrated that link. “We don’t need to look at paleoclimate to know that.” (see video below)

A second study, published in Nature Geoscience, does address the question of anthropogenic warming more explicitly. The study, authored by Neukom and other members of the PAGES 2k Consortium, used the same temperature proxies as the Nature study. But instead of comparing spatial patterns of warming and cooling around the globe, the team looked at the average global temperature through time.

That, Neukom said at the news conference, revealed that the current rate of warming is much faster than anything observed in the last 2,000 years that can be attributed to natural variability. “It’s another angle to look at the extraordinary nature of current warming,” he said.

A third study, also in Nature Geoscience, added another layer of context to the trends, by looking at what natural forces may have been behind large regional temperature fluctuations such as the Little Ice Age.

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