World’s largest concentrated solar plant switches on in the Sahara

CNN reports: Morocco has switched on what will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant.

The new site near the city of Ouarzazate — famous as a filming location for Hollywood blockbusters like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gladiator” — could produce enough energy to power over one million homes by 2018 and reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 760,000 tons per year, according to the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) finance group.

As His Majesty Mohammed VI of Morocco pressed a button on 4 February 2016, the first phase of the three-part project was set in motion. [Continue reading…]

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The staggering economic cost of air pollution

The Washington Post reports: Air pollution caused by energy production in the U.S. caused at least $131 billion in damages in the year 2011 alone, a new analysis concludes — but while the number sounds grim, it’s also a sign of improvement. In 2002, the damages totaled as high as $175 billion, and the decline in the past decade highlights the success of more stringent emissions regulations on the energy sector while also pointing out the need to continue cracking down.

“The bulk of the cost of emissions is the result of health impacts — so morbidity and particularly mortality,” said the paper’s lead author, Paulina Jaramillo, an assistant professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Using models, researchers can place a monetary value on the health effects caused by air pollution and come up with a “social cost” of the offending emissions — in other words, the monetary damages associated with emitting an additional ton (or other unit) of a given type of pollutant. This social cost can then be used to calculate the total monetary damages produced by a certain amount of emissions in a given time period.

The new analysis, just published in the journal Energy Policy, did just that. Using an up-to-date model and a set of data acquired from the Environmental Protection Agency on emissions from the energy sector, the researchers set about estimating the monetary damages caused by air pollution from energy production between 2002 and 2011. [Continue reading…]

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What you need to know about the Zika virus and climate change

Climate Central reports: The rapid rise of the Zika virus is turning into a full-on public health crisis. The virus, transferred via specific types of mosquitoes, “is now spreading explosively” across Latin America, according to Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

There could be up to 4 million cases right now, just eight months after the first case was reported in Brazil. There are 23 countries where the virus is active.

A number of factors have had to line up for the Zika virus — a disease that’s been associated with birth defects — to spread so far and wide so quickly, but chief among them is heavy rain and heat. Climate change could play a future role in this virus’ — as well as other mosquito-borne illnesses — spread as it creates conditions more favorable to the mosquitoes that transmit it. [Continue reading…]

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Study: Grid for renewables key to cutting emissions

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Climate Central reports: Carbon dioxide emissions from generating electricity could be cut by 78 percent within the next 15 years if the country makes the same Herculean effort to expand solar and wind technology that it did to build the Interstate Highway System.

That’s the conclusion of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study published Monday in Nature Climate Change, which shows that a new system of transcontinental transmission lines connected to wind and solar farms nationwide is the key to dramatically reducing emissions from the nation’s power plants.

Alexander MacDonald, retired director of NOAA’s Earth System Laboratory and the study’s lead author, said weather occurs on a very large scale and any system capturing sunshine and wind has to be built on a scale to match it. MacDonald said putting such as system in place would be like building a new Interstate Highway System, but the stakes are higher because of climate change.

“There is an opportunity to start very serious (emissions) mitigation right now, that’s what the study says,” MacDonald said. “The idea that wind and solar are too intermittent, or wind and solar are too expensive, or we have to wait for a breakthrough, this study shows that’s not true.” [Continue reading…]

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By 2030, renewables will be the world’s primary power source

Climate Progress reports: In November, the International Energy Agency quietly dropped this bombshell projection: “Driven by continued policy support, renewables account for half of additional global generation, overtaking coal around 2030 to become the largest power source.”

In this post, I’ll dive deeper into this rapidly-approaching role reversal for coal and renewables. In Part Two, I’ll explain why the so-called “intermittency” problem for some renewables is basically solved and thus not a barrier to this reversal.

In releasing its World Energy Outlook 2015 last fall, the IEA published this chart of projected electricity generation in 2040: [Continue reading…]

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People who deny climate science don’t put their money where their mouth is

By Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol

At a news conference announcing that 2015 broke all previous heat records by a wide margin, one journalist started a question with “If this trend continues…” The response by the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin Schmidt, summed up the physics of climate change succinctly: “It’s not a question of if…”

Even if global emissions begin to decline, as now appears possible after the agreement signed in Paris last December, there is no reasonable scientific doubt that the upward trends in global temperature, sea levels, and extreme weather events will continue for quite some time.

Politically and ideologically motivated denial will nonetheless continue for a little while longer, until it ceases to be politically opportune.

So how does one deny that climate change is upon us and that 2015 was by far the hottest year on record? What misinformation will be disseminated to confuse the public?

[Read more…]

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SEC is criticized for lax enforcement of climate risk disclosure

The New York Times reports: As recently as 2011, shares in Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest private sector coal company, traded at the equivalent of $1,000. Today, they hover around $4 each. Over that time, investors who held the stock lost millions.

Peabody, like other coal companies, has been hammered as cheap natural gas erodes the demand for coal. But concerns about climate change are also an issue for the company as customers and investors turn away from fossil fuels.

Peabody saw this coming. Even as the company privately projected that coal demand would slump and prices would fall, it withheld this information from investors. Instead, Peabody said in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was not possible to know how changing attitudes toward climate change would affect its business.

Peabody’s double talk was revealed as part of a two-year investigation by the New York attorney general. In a settlement in November, Peabody agreed that it would disclose more about climate change risks in its regular filings with the S.E.C.

In theory, however, Peabody should have been making such disclosures all along. [Continue reading…]

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We have 12 months until the next ‘hottest year’ memo – will we be ready?

By James Dyke, University of Southampton

It’s official. 2015 was the warmest year ever recorded. In fact, one would need to go back some 130,000 years to experience such high surface temperatures.

This really just confirms what we already assumed. The monster El Niño that began to erupt towards the end of 2014 further amplified the background signal of global warming that is being driven by greenhouse gas emissions. While the forecast is for a diminishing El Niño as we move towards the northern hemisphere summer, it hasn’t done with us yet – 2016 may prove to be even warmer.

Beyond this year temperatures may decrease. For a while. This of course will be seized upon by some people who continue to dispute the Earth is experiencing significant and sustained warming – let alone that humans are primarily responsible for such a trend. People with this attitude have fallen for the “escalator” fallacy; it’s possible to show a short-term decrease in temperature if you pick your start and end times carefully, but looking at the longer-term produces a clear increasing trend.

[Read more…]

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2015 was the hottest year on record, by a stunning margin

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Bloomberg reports: To say that 2015 was hot is an understatement. The average recorded temperature across the surface of the planet was so far above normal that it set a record for setting records.

The year was more than a quarter of a degree Fahrenheit warmer than the last global heat record—set all the way back in 2014—according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration figures released on Wednesday. A quarter of a degree may not sound like much, but on a planetary scale it’s a huge leap. Most previous records were measured by hundredths of a degree.

A powerful El Niño is largely responsible for the year’s extremes, but make no mistake: This is what global warming looks like. Temperatures are rising 10 times faster than during the bounce back from the last ice age. Fifteen of the hottest 16 years on record have come in the 21st century. [Continue reading…]

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California said to target Exxon in climate inquiry

The New York Times reports: California’s attorney general is investigating Exxon Mobil on whether the company lied to the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change, and whether the company’s statements over the years constitute violations of securities laws and other statutes.

The investigation is similar to one started in November by the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, for which the company has already produced thousands of documents.

Mr. Schneiderman, calling climate change “the defining issue of our time,” applauded the action taken by Kamala D. Harris, the attorney general.

“Just like any other publicly traded company, these energy giants have an obligation to ensure that their disclosures to investors of known and reasonably likely risks are truthful and not misleading, and to disclose to the public the risks associated with their products,” he said.

The California investigation was first reported by The Los Angeles Times, and was confirmed by people with knowledge of details of the inquiry. [Continue reading…]

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Bill McKibben: The real zombie apocalypse

Here we are just a couple of weeks into 2016 and we already know that last year was the second-warmest on record in the continental United States (the winner so far being 2012); the month of December was a U.S. record-breaker for heat and also precipitation; and it’s assumed that, when the final figures come in later this month, 2015 will prove to be the hottest year on record globally. Even before this news is confirmed, we know that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred in the twenty-first century which, at least to me, looks ominously like a pattern. And early expectations are that this year will top last, with the help of a continuing monster El Niño event in the overheating waters of the Pacific that has only added to the impact of global warming and to fierce weather around the world. Everywhere it seems increasingly possible to see the signs of climate change: the melting Arctic; the destabilizing ice sheets in both the Antarctic and Greenland; the already rising sea levels that are someday destined to submerge major coastal cities; the disappearing glaciers (and so, in some regions, endangered water supplies); monster typhoons; severe droughts; and the burning that goes with a globally expanding fire season; the — in a word — extremity of it all.

With 2015 in the history books, it’s easy enough to think of our changing weather as part of that history, but that would be a mistake. Climate change, if allowed to come to full fruition, will be something else altogether — not history, but the possible end of it. History, after all, is something we’re generally familiar with. It has its surprises, but the rise and fall of nations, of empires, even of civilizations, the coming of democracy or dictators, the rising of peoples, the failure of revolutions, and yet more autocrats, all of that is the normal course of human events. All of it is part of the ongoing record. Climate change is something else entirely. Certainly, it emerges from history, since through our industrial processes — the burning of coal and oil — we created it, however inadvertently (at first). But let’s face it: global warming is the potential deal-breaker for history. It threatens not just to submerge global cities, but to sink civilization itself.

Don’t think of it as a tragedy for the planet. Give Earth a few million years and it’ll do fine. If climate change does its worst, life, in some fashion, possibly even human life, will undoubtedly survive and someday once again flourish, but the environment in which our civilizations have been built and our modest history recorded, the welcoming planet we’ve known will cease to exist in any time span that is meaningful to us. That is the future reality we face in the grim zombie world of the giant energy companies and energy states that Bill McKibben describes today. It’s why organizations like the one he founded, 350.org, are so important to our future and to the literal preservation of history. Unless we ensure that the human future is powered by alternative energy, and do so relatively quickly, while keeping the preponderance of fossil fuels in the ground, we will indeed find ourselves out of history and in the midst of a climate-change version of a zombie apocalypse. Tom Engelhardt

Night of the living dead, climate change-style
How to stop the fossil fuel industry from wrecking our world
By Bill McKibben

When I was a kid, I was creepily fascinated by the wrongheaded idea, current in my grade school, that your hair and your fingernails kept growing after you died. The lesson seemed to be that it was hard to kill something off — if it wanted to keep going.

Something similar is happening right now with the fossil fuel industry. Even as the global warming crisis makes it clear that coal, natural gas, and oil are yesterday’s energy, the momentum of two centuries of fossil fuel development means new projects keep emerging in a zombie-like fashion.

[Read more…]

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Denmark just broke a world record for wind power — again

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Climate Progress reports: One European country can’t seem to stop breaking records when it comes to wind power.

In 2015, Denmark produced almost half of its electricity from wind power, breaking a world record for the most wind production ever recorded — a world record set last year, by Denmark.

The record 42 percent electricity generated from wind represents a three percent increase from the 39 percent it generated in 2014, which at the time broke the world record for the most electricity from wind production by a single country. According to the Danish national grid operator Energinet, this year’s number represents both the highest figure ever and the highest proportion of electricity from wind for any country.

Moreover, for 16 percent of the year, two Western regions in Denmark produced more electricity than the region’s residents consumed, leading to an electricity surplus. While it’s not unusual for wind power production to exceed consumption some of the time, the fact that it happened for such a significant period of time means that Denmark can sell surplus energy to consumers in Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Denmark also imports some hydroelectric power from Norway and solar energy from Germany. [Continue reading…]

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This is where 90 percent of global warming is going

The Washington Post reports: Scientists have known for some time that when global warming occurs, the oceans will be the site of the most profound response.

The reason is simply that they are able to retain vastly more heat than the atmosphere. “Ninety, perhaps 95 percent of the accumulated heat is in the oceans,” said Peter Gleckler, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The physical reason is that water has a far greater heat “capacity” than air, requiring more energy to raise its temperature — something that is apparent to anyone who has ever tried to boil it on a stove.

Gleckler is the lead author of a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change finding that, in the past two decades, ocean heat content has been rising rapidly and that, much more than before, heat is also mixing into the deeper layers of the ocean, rather than remaining near the surface. [Continue reading…]

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Our voices and actions bring hope for the year ahead

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David Suzuki writes: Like any year, 2015 had its share of good and bad, tragedy and beauty, hope and despair. It’s difficult not to get discouraged by events like the Syrian war and refugee crisis, violent outbreaks in Beirut, Paris, Burundi, the U.S. and so many other places, and the ongoing climate catastrophe.

But responses to these tragedies and disasters offer hope. It became clear during 2015 that when those who believe in protecting people and the planet, treating each other with fairness, respect and kindness and seeking solutions stand up, speak out and act for what is right and just, we will be heard.

As Syria descended deeper into chaos during 2015, people in many wealthy nations called for blocking refugees. But many more opened their hearts, homes and wallets and showed compassion. Governments responded by opening doors to people who have lost everything, including family and friends, to flee death and destruction.

Shootings and the inevitable absurd arguments against gun control continued south of the border, but many people, including the president, rallied for an end to the insanity. And while the U.S. presidential race remains mired in bigotry, ignorance and a dumbfounding rejection of climate science, many U.S. citizens, including political candidates, are speaking out for a positive approach more aligned with America’s professed values. And in 2015, voters here and elsewhere rejected fear-based election campaigns that promoted continued reliance on climate-altering coal, oil and gas.

The fossil fuel industry and its supporters continued to sow doubt and confusion about the overwhelming evidence for human-caused climate change and to rail against solutions, but many more people marched, signed petitions, sent letters, talked to friends and family, demanded action from political, religious and business leaders, and got on with innovating and implementing solutions.

The public appetite for a constructive approach to global warming led Canada to shift course in 2015, taking global warming seriously enough to make positive contributions at the Paris climate conference in December. The resulting agreement won’t lower emissions enough to prevent catastrophic warming, but it’s a significant leap from previous attempts, and it includes commitments to improve targets.

If we want to heal this world we have so badly damaged, we must do all we can. Although many necessary and profound changes must come from governments, industry and other institutions, we can all do our part. For the climate, we can conserve energy, eat less meat, drive less, improve energy efficiency in our homes and businesses and continue to stand up and speak out. [Continue reading…]

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Scientists move one step closer to turning water into hydrogen fuel, affordably

Christian Science Monitor reports: Scientists have cleared one hurdle on the path to deriving hydrogen fuel from water affordably, a breakthrough that could drastically change the way we power vehicles.

Hydrogen has the potential to fuel incredibly environmentally clean cars. But making that fuel hasn’t been so efficient or economical. Pure hydrogen gas does not occur naturally on Earth, so scientists must devise ways to separate hydrogen from naturally occurring compounds, like H2 O.

Until now, cars that run on water have been out of reach. Electrolysis, the process of breaking H2 O into hydrogen and oxygen gases by passing an electric current through water, and other possible methods have been prohibitively expensive or difficult.

But a team of scientists have come up with a different mechanism to produce hydrogen fuel from water. These researchers have created a biomaterial that catalyzes the splitting of the water elements, which they describe in a paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry. [Continue reading…]

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