The Florida SunSentinel reported that Florida’s coast has been impacted by one of the greatest environmental disaster’s in American history, the BP Gulf oil spill. From the SunSentinel:Continue Reading
The pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, scientists said Saturday.
“We are basically looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations,” Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Field, a member of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said emissions from burning fossil fuels since 2000 have largely outpaced the estimates used in the U.N. panel’s 2007 reports. The higher emissions are largely the result of the increased burning of coal in developing countries, he said.
Unexpectedly large amounts of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere as the result of “feedback loops” that are speeding up natural processes. Prominent among these, evidence indicates, is a cycle in which higher temperatures are beginning to melt the arctic permafrost, which could release hundreds of billions of tons of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, said several scientists on a panel at the meeting.
The permafrost holds 1 trillion tons of carbon, and as much as 10 percent of that could be released this century, Field said. Melting permafrost also releases methane, which is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
“It’s a vicious cycle of feedback where warming causes the release of carbon from permafrost, which causes more warming, which causes more release from permafrost,” Field said.
Evidence is also accumulating that terrestrial and marine ecosystems cannot remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as earlier estimates suggested, Field said.
In the oceans, warmer weather is driving stronger winds that are exposing deeper layers of water, which are already saturated with carbon and not as able to absorb as much from the atmosphere. The carbon is making the oceans more acidic, which also reduces their ability to absorb carbon.
On land, rising carbon dioxide levels had been expected to boost plant growth and result in greater sequestration of carbon dioxide. As plants undergo photosynthesis to draw energy from the sun, carbon is drawn out of the atmosphere and trapped in the plant matter. But especially in northern latitudes, this effect may be offset significantly by the fact that vegetation-covered land absorbs much more of the sun’s heat than snow-covered terrain, said scientists on the panel.
Earlier snowmelt, the shrinking arctic ice cover and the northward spread of vegetation are causing the Northern Hemisphere to absorb, rather than reflect, more of the sun’s energy and reinforce the warming trend.
While it takes a relatively long time for plants to take carbon out of the atmosphere, that carbon can be released rapidly by wildfires, which contribute about a third as much carbon to the atmosphere as burning fossil fuels, according to a paper Field co-authored.
Fires such as the recent deadly blazes in southern Australia have increased in recent years, and that trend is expected to continue, Field said. Warmer weather, earlier snowmelt, drought and beetle infestations facilitated by warmer climates are all contributing to the rising number of fires linked to climate change. Across large swaths of the United States and Canada, bark beetles have killed many mature trees, making forests more flammable. And tropical rain forests that were not susceptible to forest fires in the past are likely to become drier as temperatures rise, growing more vulnerable.
Preventing deforestation in the tropics is more important than in northern latitudes, the panel agreed, since lush tropical forests sequester more carbon than sparser northern forests. And deforestation in northern areas has benefits, since larger areas end up covered in exposed, heat-reflecting snow.
Many scientists and policymakers are advocating increased incentives for preserving tropical forests, especially in the face of demand for clearing forest to grow biofuel crops such as soy. Promoting biofuels without also creating forest-preservation incentives would be “like weatherizing your house and deliberately keeping your windows open,” said Peter Frumhoff, chief of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate program. “It’s just not a smart policy.”
Field said the U.N. panel’s next assessment of Earth’s climate trends, scheduled for release in 2014, will for the first time incorporate policy proposals. It will also include complicated models of interconnected ecosystem feedbacks.
The panel’s last report noted that preliminary knowledge of such feedbacks suggested that an additional 100 billion to 500 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions would have to be prevented in the next century to avoid dangerous global warming. Currently, about 10 billion tons of carbon are emitted each year.
The energy challenges our country faces are severe and have gone unaddressed for far too long. Our addiction to foreign oil doesn’t just undermine our national security and wreak havoc on our environment — it cripples our economy and strains the budgets of working families all across America. President Obama and Vice President Biden have a comprehensive plan to invest in alternative and renewable energy, end our addiction to foreign oil, address the global climate crisis and create millions of new jobs.
The Obama-Biden comprehensive New Energy for America plan will:
- Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
- Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.
- Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars — cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon — on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America.
- Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
- Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Energy Plan Overview
Provide Short-term Relief to American Families
- Crack Down on Excessive Energy Speculation.
- Swap Oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to Cut Prices.
Eliminate Our Current Imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 Years
- Increase Fuel Economy Standards.
- Get 1 Million Plug-In Hybrid Cars on the Road by 2015.
- Create a New $7,000 Tax Credit for Purchasing Advanced Vehicles.
- Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
- A “Use it or Lose It” Approach to Existing Oil and Gas Leases.
- Promote the Responsible Domestic Production of Oil and Natural Gas.
Create Millions of New Green Jobs
- Ensure 10 percent of Our Electricity Comes from Renewable Sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
- Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source – Energy Efficiency.
- Weatherize One Million Homes Annually.
- Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology.
- Prioritize the Construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline.
Reduce our Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent by 2050
- Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
- Make the U.S. a Leader on Climate Change.
Los Angeles Times:
Some states — including Michigan — already see renewable energy as their future: It’s the only sector that appears to be making room for more employees despite the recession.
Reporting from Hemlock, Mich. — While Detroit’s automakers struggle to rebuild their sputtering operations, the key to jump-starting Michigan’s economy may lie 80 miles northwest of the Motor City.
This is the home of Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. It makes a material crucial for constructing photovoltaic panels. And that has turned this snow-covered hamlet into an unlikely hotbed for solar energy.
On Dec. 15, the same week that General Motors Corp. and Chrysler begged $17.4 billion from taxpayers to stave off collapse, Hemlock announced a $3-billion expansion that could create hundreds of jobs. It’s a rare piece of good news for this battered Rust Belt state, whose 9.6% unemployment rate is the nation’s highest.
In contrast to Detroit iron, Hemlock’s quartz-based polycrystalline silicon is in such demand that workers in white smocks and protective gear toil around the clock to get it to customers around the globe.
Hemlock has been deluged with applications from idle factory hands such as former autoworker Don Sloboda. The 50-year-old Saginaw resident has been retraining at a local community college for what he hopes is the region’s new engine of job growth.
“It looks like the future to me,” Sloboda said.
Whether clean energy can pull Michigan out of the ditch remains to be seen. But the push is on to retool America with so-called green-collar industries.
President-elect Barack Obama wants to spend $150 billion over the next decade to promote energy from the sun, wind and other renewable sources as well as energy conservation. Plans include raising vehicle fuel-economy standards and subsidizing consumer purchases of plug-in hybrids. Obama wants to weatherize 1 million homes annually and upgrade the nation’s creaky electrical grid. His team has talked of providing tax credits and loan guarantees to clean-energy companies.
His goals: create 5 million new jobs repowering America over 10 years; assert U.S. leadership on global climate change; and wean the U.S. from its dependence on imported petroleum.
“Breaking our oil addiction . . . is going to take nothing less than the complete transformation of our economy,” Obama said during a campaign stop in Michigan’s capital, Lansing, last year.
Americans have heard it before. Every president since Richard Nixon has touted energy independence, yet the goal remains elusive. The U.S. imported less than a third of its crude around the time of the Arab oil embargo in 1973. Today foreigners feed nearly 60% of the nation’s petroleum habit.
Skeptics fear that the president-elect’s Green New Deal will do little but waste taxpayers’ money. The government squandered billions on the Jimmy Carter-era synthetic-fuels program, a failed effort to create vehicle fuel from coal.
Corn-based ethanol — the latest recipient of fat subsidies — is loathed by many environmentalists, who say it is an inefficient fuel that gobbles precious cropland and helps to drive up food prices.
Better to let the market decide, not the state, said Donald Boudreaux, chairman of the economics department at George Mason University in Virginia.
“The history of government picking winners in the U.S. is not that grand,” he said. “People instinctively love the idea of green jobs. . . . But there is a lot of mass stupidity out there.”
Renewable-energy proponents such as former California Treasurer Phil Angelides say stupidity would be to stick with current U.S. energy policy, which has turbocharged global warming, super-sized the trade deficit and propped up oil-rich regimes hostile to American interests.
Angelides heads the Apollo Alliance, a coalition promoting clean industries as a means of rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and lessening the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
“It’s the best path to recovery and the best chance of creating jobs that can’t be outsourced,” he said.
Although Angelides’ organization takes its name from the space program that put Americans on the moon, creating green jobs isn’t rocket science, said Oakland activist Van Jones, author of “The Green Collar Economy.”
Jones said Obama’s proposal to weatherize homes would pay for itself through energy savings while putting legions of unemployed construction workers back on the job. A $100-billion investment in a green recovery could create 2 million jobs within two years, a good chunk of them in retrofitting, according to a recent University of Massachusetts study.
“You can employ a lot of people very quickly with off-the-shelf technology like caulk guns,” said Jones, founder of Green for All, an economic development group. “This isn’t George Jetson stuff.”
No one knows precisely how many green jobs exist in the U.S. economy. Estimates range from less than 1 million workers to nearly four times that. What’s clear is that clean industries have been growing rapidly without a lot of help from Uncle Sam.
Worldwide, investors poured a record $117.2 billion into alternative energy in 2007, according to London research firm New Energy Finance. The costs of wind and solar power are dropping fast.
But the industry slowed in late 2008 as the U.S. financial system imploded. Plunging oil prices and frozen credit markets have derailed a number of renewable-energy projects. Some advocates say U.S. government support is needed to keep the sector moving forward.
That strategy has worked for Germany and Japan: Neither is blessed with abundant sunshine, yet these nations boast more rooftop solar arrays than anyplace else, thanks largely to government subsidies. That has created vibrant domestic markets for solar power and tens of thousands of jobs. Asian and European solar module makers dominate the industry.
The irony, say American solar executives, is that the U.S. was an early innovator. Bell Labs introduced the world’s first photovoltaic device in the 1950s. NASA’s space work advanced the field.
The U.S. “created this technology, but we didn’t value it because [fossil fuel] energy was so cheap,” said Ron Kenedi, an American who is vice president of the U.S. solar operations of Japan’s Sharp Corp., a major manufacturer of solar cells.
“We need to reclaim our birthright.”
Many state and local governments aren’t waiting for Washington.
Tough state mandates to cut greenhouse gases and boost the use of renewable energy have turned California into the nation’s hottest market for solar energy. Installers such as SolarCity of Foster City continue to hire even as the rest of California’s economy stalls.
Pennsylvania used incentives to lure Spanish wind-turbine maker Gamesa Technology Corp. to set up shop in an old steel facility. The company now employs more than 1,000 workers in the state, most of them unionized.
New Mexico is diversifying its mineral-based economy with green technology. Germany’s Schott Solar is building a $100-million plant near Albuquerque and the state is grooming wind power technicians at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, one of only a few such programs in the country.
Trained wind workers are in such demand that General Electric Co., a maker of turbines, has promised to hire every Mesalands graduate for the next three years.
Michigan has started its own Green Jobs Initiative to retrain displaced factory workers for careers in renewable energy.
“If we can bend sheet metal for car fenders, we can bend it for windmills,” said Ken Horn, a Republican state representative from hard-hit Saginaw.
A tavern owner, Horn said his regulars had been buzzing about green energy — a sign that the industry was no longer considered fringe or radical.
Michigan’s brightest renewable stars are in solar. United Solar Ovonic, a major producer of thin-film photovoltaics, operates three manufacturing facilities in Michigan and has two more under construction in the state.
Hemlock Semiconductor is a joint venture of two Japanese firms and Midland, Mich.-based Dow Corning Corp., which owns a majority stake.
It is expanding its rural campus not far from Saginaw and building a plant in Tennessee to produce more polycrystalline silicon — a semiconductor that allows solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity.
The exacting chemical process begins with the mining of quartz and ends with huge, gray, U-shaped bars of polycrystalline silicon wheeled to an assembly line at Hemlock’s Michigan plant, where they’re broken into small chunks for shipment.
Most of the product is sent to Asia and Europe, where solar manufacturers turn it into the familiar panels seen on rooftops. Hemlock employs 1,400 full-time and contract workers in Michigan and expects to add 500 more in the next few years. The plant operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, never stopping, even in a recent blizzard.
Snow and ice couldn’t keep Rich Steudemann from sliding into work on a recent morning. A mechanical engineer with more than two decades in the auto industry, Steudemann jumped at the chance to join Hemlock last fall as a quality-control expert.
“This is like the era of Henry Ford,” said Steudemann, 45. “This industry is just starting to take off.”
ITC Holdings Corp. said it wants to build the world’s largest renewable-energy transmission system, a $12 billion project to bring electricity from wind farms in the Dakotas to Chicago.
The Michigan power transmission company’s proposal, known as the Green Power Express, calls for about 3,000 miles of new lines that could move 12,000 megawatts of power from the upper Midwest to cities where there’s demand for the electricity. The project, announced today, would cross portions of North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, according to the company.
President Barack Obama has called for the U.S. to double its use of renewable energy in three years. Obama, speaking at a town hall meeting in Indiana today, said investments in the electric grid are needed to bring wind energy to Chicago and “to other places all across the country.” ITC needs changes in U.S. regulations to get the project built, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Welch said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“What we really need is the federal government to start to make some needed rule changes or modifications,” said Welch.
Under current regulations, the project wouldn’t meet requirements to pay back the needed investment soon enough.
ITC rose $1.73, or 4 percent, to $44.99 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. It was the largest percentage gain this year. Shares have fallen 19 percent in the last 12 months.
ITC of Novi, Michigan, already operates 15,000 miles of transmission lines. The company, a former unit of Michigan-based DTE Energy Co., went public in 2005 after Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Trimaran Capital Partners LLC bought it.
Private-equity investors may shy away from ITC’s wind-power project because of the regulatory uncertainty, said Kevin Book, a senior analyst for Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Virginia.
“They’re unlikely to get equity market buy-in on the basis of first-ever negotiations with the federal government,” said Book in a phone interview today. “Investors are too conservative to pay a premium for future regulatory payouts.”
Still, a “green stamp” from regulators that promises higher than normal returns could get investor attention, Book said.
Wind power accounted for 1.5 percent of total U.S. power generating capacity in 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration. A study by the Energy Department found wind could provide as much as 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2030.
The U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on an economic stimulus measure that would “provide unprecedented incentives for renewable generation,” according to a report issued today by Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York.
The House and Senate stimulus plans would offer $80 billion in federal loan guarantees for renewable power and associated transmission, Hugh Wynne, Stephen Zhang and Francois Broquin said in the report.
That would be enough to fund about 40,000 megawatts of new wind projects, “equivalent to twice the wind capacity additions achieved worldwide in 2007,” they said.
Legislation has also been proposed in the House and Senate to require that a portion of electricity come from renewable sources, which would benefit wind-power projects, according to the report.
ITC said it would make a filing today with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking approval of a 12.3 percent return rate for the project, as well as the ability to recover some funds before construction is completed, according to the company. Costs of the line would be shared among electricity customers across multiple states.
The company is also suggesting the federal agency gather state regulators, utilities and others affected by the new lines to collaborate on how the project could get the multiple approvals it would need.
The project would fail existing requirements for approval of new power lines in the Midwest. Welch said the current system doesn’t encourage projects that would help the renewable power industry and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
A study of the project for ITC by CRA International Inc. found the wind power that could be transmitted would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34 million metric tons, the equivalent of the annual emissions of as many as nine 600- megawatt coal-fired power plants.
Welch said his company has approached wind-project developers who are interested in using the new system to connect their facilities.
BP Plc, Europe’s second-largest oil company, and Clipper Windpower Plc announced plans last July to build the world’s biggest wind farm at a site in South Dakota. The project, capable of generating 5,050 megawatts, would cost $12 billion to $15 billion.
There is currently a 46-year wait for projects seeking to connect to the grid operated by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc., Welch said.
The Midwest ISO and other power grid operators today released a study that estimates more than $80 billion in new transmission infrastructure would be needed to get 20 percent of the eastern U.S.’s electricity from wind generation by 2024.
‘Highest Quality’ Wind
“The wind we’re connecting in the Dakotas is some of the highest quality onshore wind development in the country,” said Welch of ITC. “There is so much pent-up potential for wind generation in the Dakotas, everything is like race horses waiting to go.”
Construction of the project would be done in phases, and ITC is looking for partners from among utilities whose service territory the lines would traverse. Construction could begin in 24 months, and power could start flowing three years after that, said Welch.
“We don’t need studies, we don’t need the money to finance it,” Welch said. “We need people to give us the change in rules and regulations that allow us to get it built.”
“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet”
Thus spaketh Al Gore when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
Love him or loathe him, no one can deny that Al Gore brought the issue of climate change front and center and helped amazing people like Dr. James Hansen finally be heard and heeded rather than ridiculed.
According to Al’s testimony, he told the senators the first step in addressing America’s woes starts with an economic recovery plan with an emphasis on putting Americans back to work based on building a clean and renewable energy focused economy.
Gore’s speech is certainly worth listening to:
As I sit here and bake in temperatures that have exceeded 40 degrees celcius (105F) at least 10 times this month with more of the same on the way; as I picked up a magpie that died yesterday from the heat and watched another stumbling around like a drunk – soon to join its expired mate – I’m reminded that this heatwave may not be an aberration.. but the new normal for summer in this part of Australia.
I hope I don’t live to witness the trees here turn to dust.