Latest piece for the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.

Last month I covered the emerging science linking arctic ice loss to changes in the jetstream, and the new normal “Weather Whiplash” we are seeing in the Northern Hemisphere the last several years.

Although nearly all climate scientists are in agreement on the general outlines of climate change and greenhouse gas effects, there are still, and will continue to be, areas of the science that are not yet “pound on the table we’re done” as Richard Alley likes to say.  Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers has been making a persuasive case for the last year that polar amplification, and the loss of arctic ice and snow cover, are starting to have dramatic effects on global weather through the jet stream. See that video below if you have not already.

Not everyone is in complete agreement. Dr. Kevin Trenberth is a highly respected senior researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. He reasons that because heat flows are so much greater in the tropics, that we should continue to look there for answers to the puzzle.  I talked to both experts last month, and boiled down the discussion here.

I’ll be posting the complete interviews at a later time for serious wonks, but maybe not till I get back from Greenland.

See the first “Whiplash” video below.


While fossil fuel interests continue to cling to 19th century technology in developed nations, the developing world increasingly is betting on the technologies of the 21st century.

IPS News:

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 13 2013 (IPS) – Emerging economies such as Mexico and India are shifting energy investments into renewable resources while industrialised countries hesitate, noted two new United Nations reports released Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya.

“There is a structural change in the global energy sector underway,” said Ulf Moslener, head of research of the Frankfurt School in Germany.

“Costs are dropping radically. Renewables represented 6.5 percent of all electricity generated and reduced carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes in 2012,” said Moslener, co-author of Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2013, a report sponsored by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Developing countries are finding installing green energy to be far less expensive than relying on fossil fuels, Moslener told IPS. Poorer countries want to reap the benefits of stable energy costs, new jobs, improved air quality and reduced health and climate damage.

While political debates about the future of green energy preoccupy countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, developing countries have embraced cleaner energy. The move is reflected by a narrowing investment gap. In 2012, developing countries invested 112 billion dollars in clean energy, compared to developed economies’ 132 billion dollars.

Investors understand that clean energy no longer costs more than fossil energy. As such, there is a lot of excitement about the potential of large-scale projects in wide range of countries.

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One of the comments I had on my most recent Yale Video was, “after Bob Schieffer’s opening, I wanted to hear more from that gentleman he was talking to on the other side of the split screen”.

That gentleman is the new president of the American Meteorological Society, Marshall Shepherd.

So it’s serendipitous that Shepherd now has  a TED talk on line, posted here.  Not a whole lot that’s new, but given the visibility and credibility of his post, his pro-active, higher profile stance can only be helpful.

I included clips from an NPR interview with Shepherd following the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

Outside magazine has done a short piece on the rapidly upcoming DarkSnowProject mission  to Greenland.  We are still in fundraising mode – although Dr. Jason Box assures me we have enough that we won’t have to swim home, every bit of additional funding means more flight-time, and ice-time, for the scientific team – so if you haven’t jumped in yet, check the button below…

Outside Online:

Everything is connected; a catastrophic weather event in one hemisphere can have ripple effects on the other side of the globe. That is no news to climate scientists. But last summer, as the United States was in the throes of one of its worst wildfire seasons on record, climate scientist Jason Box, who studies Greenland’s ice sheet, wondered about a direct link between those fires and the frightening speed at which the ice sheet was melting.

Among the fires last summer were large tundra blazes in Alaska and Canada. Box used weather analysis and computer models to show that smoke from those fires later passed over the Greenland ice sheet. Last summer also marked a catastrophic, unprecedented milestone in the loss of that ice sheet: 90 percent of the world’s largest island was thawing in July.

Did the wildfires exacerbate that massive thaw? Box thinks they did, and now he’s leading a fundraising effort to find out.

Is this the new reality? Will more and more scientists need to turn to the masses and to platforms like Kickstarter to get their funding? “Some funders say they’re outraged that the government doesn’t support us, but the reality is that we are trying to get ahead of that,” Box explains.

The quick “no” he received from the NSF to his initial request didn’t surprise Box, because he’d been seeking money from the rapid funding program, which is generally used to fund research in the wake of a volcano or a similar event that requires a quick response. Plus, Box had recently received a rapid funding grant for another project. He says he could have held off and applied for government funding through other avenues, but that process would have taken at least a year and he wants to strike while the memory of last summer’s fire season is still hot, so to speak.

“The 2012 wildfires captured the attention of the American public,” he says. “Not just in Colorado but elsewhere, so the timing is good. Let’s get there this summer.”

Besides, Box likes to try new things. “It’s like an experiment. I’m learning a ton about marketing and what motivates people and how to use the media to engage in citizen science,” he says.


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In a striking parallel to recent (surprising) Tea Party skepticism about nuclear energy in Georgia, the sensible, wind savvy folk in Iowa recently turned down new nuclear power, and doubled down on a whopping new injection of wind energy, from investor Warren Buffet.

Iowans are the people who know wind best in the US, and historically they have supported in polls by as much as 81 percent.

Pew Charitable Trust Stateline:

Iowa’s vast crop of wind turbines is about to grow even larger.

Last month, the state’s largest energy company, MidAmerican Energy, announced it will add more than 650 turbines to Iowa’s wide open spaces by 2015. (See infographic)

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad touted the $1.9 billion project as the “largest economic development investment in the history of the state.” MidAmerican Energy is owned by billionaire businessman Warren Buffet, who is betting big on renewable energy.


This revealing “poll” appears on the same page as the local Iowa TV news story above.

Iowa is already a U.S. leader in wind energy production, thanks largely to a wind-friendly legislature, lack of local opposition and, of course, plenty of strong breezes.

Though Texas dwarfs other states in total megawatts produced, the much smaller Hawkeye state ranks first in the total share of wind energy it generates. (See table)

In 2012, wind accounted for nearly a quarter of Iowa’s energy portfolio—24.5 percent–up from 19 percent the year before, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Only neighboring South Dakota, at 23.9 percent, comes close.

Meanwhile, Iowa citizens said no thanks to massive subsidies for a speculative new nuclear power project.

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I’ll be doing a longer video piece on the whole issue of climate sensitivity that has been current over the last few months.  One of the first people I wanted to talk to was Dr. Kevin Trenberth – and you can see part of the longer skype interview above.  Trenberth contributed to a recent paper showing that the deeper ocean has been collecting more heat over recent years, a factor that has to be considered in any discussion of global surface temps in the past decade or two.

Below, you can read Dr. Trenberth’s very valuable discussion of the issue, recently posted on the  “Conversation” blog series out of Australia.

The Conversation:

Has global warming stalled? This question is increasingly being asked because the local weather seems cool and wet, or because the global mean temperature is not increasing at its earlier rate or the long-term rate expected from climate model projections.

The answer depends a lot on what one means by “global warming”. For some it is equated to the “global mean temperature”. That keeps going up but also has ups and downs from year to year. More on that shortly.

Why should it go up? Well, because the planet is warming as a result of human activities. With increasing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, there is an imbalance in energy flows in and out of the top of the atmosphere: the greenhouse gases increasingly trap more radiation and hence create warming. “Warming” really means heating, and this can exhibit itself in many ways.

trenberthleftRising surface temperatures are just one manifestation. Melting Arctic sea ice is another. So is melting of glaciers and other land ice that contribute to rising sea levels. Increasing the water cycle and invigorating storms is yet another. But most (more than 90%) of the energy imbalance goes into the ocean, and several analyses have now shown this. But even there, how much warms the upper layers of the ocean, as opposed to how much penetrates deeper into the ocean where it may not have much immediate influence, is a key issue.

The ups and downs of global temperature

My colleagues and I have just published a new analysis showing that in the past decade about 30% of the heat has been dumped at levels below 700m, where most previous analyses stop.

The first point is that this is fairly new; it is not there throughout the record. The cause of the shift is a particular change in winds, especially in the Pacific Ocean where the subtropical trade winds have become noticeably stronger, changing ocean currents and providing a mechanism for heat to be carried down into the ocean. This is associated with weather patterns in the Pacific, which are in turn related to the La Niña phase of the El Niño phenomenon.

Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from ORAS4, as represented by its 5 ensemble members. The time series show monthly anomalies smoothed with a 12-month running mean, with respect to the 1958–1965 base period. Hatching extends over the range of the ensemble members and hence the spread gives a measure of the uncertainty as represented by ORAS4 (which does not cover all sources of uncertainty). The vertical colored bars indicate a two year interval following the volcanic eruptions with a 6 month lead (owing to the 12-month running mean), and the 1997–98 El Niño event again with 6 months on either side. On lower right, the linear slope for a set of global heating rates (W/m2) is given.

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Coal 101

May 30, 2013

Nice new, informative animation from the Sierra Club on coal.


This may already be old news to people who read this blog, but here it is again.

The building sector is set to use far less energy in the next three decades than previously thought, according to the 2013 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Driven primarily by efficiency regulations for lighting and HVAC equipment, individual homes and commercial buildings show steady declines in energy use through 2040, says the agency. Architecture 2030, which crunches the numbers each year, has released a chart comparing 2013 projections with prior ones, declaring, “The building sector is tracking ahead of the 2030 reduction targets.”

“When I looked at the numbers and looked across the board at all the statistics, I just literally fell off my chair,” says Ed Mazria, FAIA, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, which is known for its 2030 Challenge to radically curtail fossil-fuel consumption in the built environment. “Looking at projections out to 2030, we’re adding about 60 billion square feet, and the numbers are still flat.” That represents a 22.6% increase in building floor area, says the organization—a rate that attempts to take a slow recession recovery into account for the near term without giving it undue influence in the long term. (The model assumes an average annual growth of 2.5% in gross domestic product through 2040—projecting slightly slower recession recovery through 2015 than some other federal agencies and slightly faster recovery than others.)

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I’ve said it before, I’ll keep saying it. No matter what you think about the need to decarbonize – the revolution is coming, because the technology is so compelling it simply is going to have its way.

Armchair Economics:

A picture is worth a thousand words. The graph above compares the price history of solar energy to conventional energy sources. This is what a disruptive technology looks like. While conventional energy prices remained pretty flat in inflation adjusted terms, the cost of solar is dropping,fast, and is likely to continue doing so as technology and manufacturing processes improve.

While solar currently accounts for less than 1% of the energy supply, it is an exponentially improving technology, both in terms of price (14%/year) and pace of construction (60%/year). Already it is approaching parity with other energy sources in the Western US. Assuming this trend continues for another 10 to 20 years, and there’s no reason not to, solar power will become 5 to 10 times more cost effective than it is today. This raises an interesting question. What happens if solar becomes an order of magnitude cheaper than other sources of power?

This is the nature of disruptive technology. It represents such an improvement that it renders existing industries obsolete. We saw waves of disruption take place as the Internet upended entire industries. Expect to see a lot of this in the coming years.


You can see where this is going, can’t you. As network prices surge, rooftop solar PV prices are falling even more dramatically in the other direction. As the Edison Electric Institute and leading US utilities have pointed out this year, customers now have the option of sourcing electricity from their own resources at a cheaper cost, and will be tempted to use the grid only as a backup. This, of course, is a major threat to their business model. It’s what AGL Energy, and Hawaii’s network operator have both described as the “death spiral.”

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I’ve written and talked about this for years. It’s not getting any less significant.

Smart money is betting on sustainability and renewable technology.  There’s a new sense of urgency, because in states like mine, where the anti-science crowd has done their best to hold up progress, there is a real threat to the health of our major utilities if we do not update our regulatory structures fast enough to keep up with new technology, and the increasing recognition by the financial community that sustainable business will soon be the only business.

Climate Deniers, WindBaggers and the “Agenda 21” crowd will take this as more evidence of the vast, left wing conspiracy.

Guys, if you want to argue the science of interdependence, don’t look at me. Take it up with the capitalists at Walmart.

According to a recent survey conducted by SRI, 65 percent of retail investors and 53 percent of institutional investors are currently expressing interest in fossil fuel-free portfolios in reaction to climate change. More than 2,000 SRI industry professionals took the First Affirmative Financial Network’s Fossil Fuels Divestment Survey in anticipation of the 24th annual SRI Conference taking place October 28-30 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Other key survey findings include:

  • 77 percent see growing risks for investors associated with fossil fuel company holdings in their investment portfolios.
  • 30 percent of those surveyed either already do – or are getting ready to – offer fossil-fuel free portfolios to investors.
  • 63 percent believe that investors will in the next 10 years start divesting in meaningful numbers from fossil-fuel companies due to climate change implications of such energy sources.


Since launching its sustainability program in 2006, Walmart has reduced energy consumption in its stores, installed solar panels on its rooftops, curbed emissions from its trucks and recycled millions of tons of its trash. Now that the world’s biggest retailer has streamlined its own operations, it is turning its attention elsewhere — actually, almost everywhere.

Since last fall, Walmart has rolled out what it callsa supplier sustainability index to thousands of suppliers, asking them pointed questions about their operations and prodding them to better understand and manage their own supply chains.

It’s Walmart’s most ambitious environmental project ever, and if all goes according to plan, it will change the way all kinds of consumer products — clothes, toys, electronics, food and beverages — are made. The typical Walmart stocks 125,000 to 150,000 products (!), and the environmental and social performance of most companies that make them soon will be rated and ranked in Bentonville, Ark.

So Walmart is asking lots of questions of its suppliers. Among them:

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