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250-500 Million MW of Extra Energy Now Roiling the Earth’s Climate System

As extreme weather events multiply, scientists are still in the early stages of understanding how more energy is influencing complex weather phenomena

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

Jul 29, 2011

Despite America's intense political polarization over climate change, the scientific measurement of global warming is not in dispute. Since 1900, the earth as a whole has warmed by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, an empirical fact that has become an official U.S. government statistic of the .

It is a seemingly minuscule and barely perceptible increase of average temperature, but spread over the entire surface of the earth that extra energy accumulates into an enormous force. Just what the impacts are on the climate system is something that scientists are only now beginning to understand.

"Seemingly very small changes can have very big implications," said Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

The 1.4 degree rise in average temperature means the entire surface of earth's 500 million square kilometers has become home to between 250 and 500 million megawatts of energy that used to escape the planet's atmospheric shell into space. That's an extra 0.5 to 1 watts, or roughly one Christmas light bulb's worth of heat, falling on every square meter of land and sea.

"It might seem small, but it actually is very significant when you look at earth's history," said Pushker Kharecha, a climate scientist at the and . For the climate to be relatively stable, he said, the energy balance must remain "within a small fraction of a watt [per square meter]."

"No question about it, it's a lot of energy," said Warren Washington, a senior scientist at NCAR.

In a year's time, this energy imbalance is roughly equivalent to 15 to 30 times the global energy consumption of 2007, or to the amount of power generated by 250,000 to a half a million large coal-fired power plants.

Obama Unveils Sharp Increase in Auto Fuel Economy

The plan 'represents the single most important step we've ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on oil,' says Obama

By Ayesha Roscoe, Reuters

Jul 29, 2011

President Barack Obama on Friday formally unveiled standards that would dramatically increase U.S. fuel economy standards for cars and trucks by 2025.

The plan, which is the result of months of negotiations between the Obama administration and auto makers, would require motor company fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

"This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we've ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Obama said at an event announcing the new standards.

Flanked by top auto maker executives, Obama said the new rules would lower the country's oil use by 2.2 million barrels a day over next 15 years and save U.S. consumers almost $2 trillion in fuel costs.

In addition to lowering oil use, the standards are also expected to cut more than 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution during the life of the program — more than the entire amount of carbon the United States emitted in 2010 — the White House said.

Court Rulings Indicate New Mexico's Battle Over GHG Regs Far from Over

Two rulings by the New Mexico State Supreme Court this week indicate that the fight to repeal the state's carbon cap could run far into next year

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jul 28, 2011
New Mexico governor Susana Martinez

At the State Supreme Courthouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico this week, where it was nearly 90 degrees in the shade, something else was heating up: the battle over whether to dismantle the state's greenhouse gas regulations.

At the root of the seven-month-long saga is the December decision by New Mexico's (EIB) to cap global warming emissions from the state's largest power plants by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels starting in 2013.

New Energy Economy (NEE), a nonprofit, led the two-year public process leading up to the landmark law's adoption, which would allow the state to enter the 's (WCI) cap-and-trade program.

But Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who promised during her 2010 campaign to abandon the carbon cap, promptly fired the seven-member EIB in January and tried to stall the ruling's implementation for at least 90 days. Her efforts were later deemed unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court, and the policy went into effect.

But the law is far from secure. Two separate rulings by the court this week indicate that the dispute could run far into next year.

State Dept's Timetable for Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Irks Both Sides

The agency's plan to complete its pipeline review by year-end has left both critics — and the GOP supporters who want to fast-track the process — unhappy

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jul 27, 2011
Keystone pipeline

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Terry and Sen. Mike Johanns might share some of the same constituents in Nebraska. But the two Republicans have mighty vast differences in their respective approaches to a controversial $7 billion oil sands pipeline seemingly destined to slice through the biological heart and lungs of their home state.

Terry's "fierce urgency of now" approach is reflected in a fast-tracked bill the seven-term lawmaker authored that would force the Obama administration to reach a decision about TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline by Nov. 1. It soared through the full GOP-majority House Tuesday evening on a 279-147 vote.

However, Johanns has predicted that the doesn't have a prayer of sneaking through the upper chamber.

Alternatively, the rookie senator and former Agriculture Department secretary has politely but firmly coaxed the State Department to reconsider sullying Nebraska's fragile sandhills landscape and thirst-quenching Ogallala Aquifer with a 36-inch diameter underground pipeline.

Conservation organizations dismissed the House vote as a handout to the fossil fuels industry during a Tuesday teleconference with reporters.

It's one more indication that House Republican leadership is pushing harmful and destructive bills at the behest of Big Oil instead of becoming serious about solving the country's severe energy policy shortcomings, said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs with the

The White House announced its opposition to Terry's bill Monday. A labeled the bill as "unnecessary" because the State Department has already committed to reaching a decision by the end of this year.

"Further, the bill conflicts with long-standing executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and the secretary of state," the statement read. "[It] could prevent the thorough consideration of complex issues which could have serious security, safety, environmental and other ramifications."

Shale Oil Boom Sends Waste Gas Burn-Off Soaring in Texas, N. Dakota

Opponents of the practice say it causes air pollution, boosts global warming and wastes natural resources

By Anna Driver and Bruce Nichols,

Jul 27, 2011
flaring from a natural gas well

Flaring of natural gas from wells is on the upswing in Texas and North Dakota as oil and gas producers rush to develop new shale plays, and critics are not happy about it.

Flaring, once a common practice, involves burning off natural gas that cannot be captured and sold in order to produce more valuable oil. It is frowned upon because it causes air pollution, boosts global warming and wastes natural resources.

Because the market currently prices oil much higher than natural gas, companies including Chesapeake Energy and EOG Resources have sped up the search for crude in basins like the Eagle Ford in Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota.

Gas comes up with the oil, and although pipeline companies are rushing to build the capacity needed to transport the gas to market, their efforts have not caught up with the spike in wells drilled. Unlike gas, oil can be trucked or railed to market.

"The gas is worth very little in comparison to oil," said Bruce Hicks, assistant director of North Dakota's state's oil and gas division. "This is an oil-driven play."

San Fran Finds Novel, and Cheaper, Way for Businesses to Go Solar

A new initiative will allow Bay area small businesses to collectively purchase solar systems, cutting both upfront costs and government red tape

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jul 26, 2011
Moscone Center

California Gov. Jerry Brown set a lofty new target this week: to generate enough clean green energy from rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines to power 3 million homes statewide by 2020.

Speaking at a on Monday, the governor said that 12 gigawatts, more than half of California's 20-gigawatt renewables goal, should come from local, distributed generation — namely, small-scale clean energy projects on homes and businesses. The goal, he said, is to skirt the high costs and extensive review periods of utility-scale installations.

Now, a new initiative in San Francisco could at least begin to help turn Brown's big idea into reality.

Earlier this month, the city kicked off its three-month-long program that allows smaller businesses in the Bay Area to collectively purchase solar systems.

Jenna Goodward, an associate at the (WRI), said the city approached her organization with the idea after she co-authored an April report highlighting cooperative solar purchasing.

The study found that banding businesses together to buy solar panels could shrink upfront installation costs by up to 15 percent and cut by three-quarters the time spent on processing permits and fees.

"San Francisco was working with its commercial residents and local businesses on solar [installations]," she told SolveClimate News. "But even though it was helping them with feasibility studies, there wasn't a lot of uptake. It found that one of the ... barriers was upfront costs and the lack of access to affordable financing."

Tim DeChristopher Sentenced to Two Years for Making False Drilling Bids

Environmental advocates and supporters immediately denounced the sentence as excessive

By Suzanne Goldenberg,

Jul 26, 2011
Tim DeChristopher

Editor's Note: In advance of Tim DeChristopher's trial in March, SolveClimate News conducted exclusive interviews with the environmental activist on his civil disobedience. The video series can be viewed here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

An activist who became a hero to campaigners for disrupting a Bush administration auction for the oil and gas industry with $1.8 million in bogus bids was sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday.

Tim DeChristopher was immediately ordered into custody, and fined $10,000. He had been facing a potential sentence of up to 10 years and a $750,000 fine.

Environmental campaigners and activists, from actress Daryl Hannah to film maker Michael Moore and writer Naomi Klein, immediately denounced the sentence as excessive.

At a vigil outside the Salt Lake City courtroom where sentencing took place, supporters of DeChristopher's Peaceful Uprising civil disobedience movement shouted: "Justice is not found here."

Growing Number of States Paying Utilities to Meet Energy Efficiency Goals

In Minnesota, new bonuses by the state helped Xcel Energy conserve more energy last year than in any other year, resulting in $40 million in new revenue

By Dan Haugen,

Jul 26, 2011
Xcel Energy's High Bridge power plant in St. Paul, Minn.

Imagine pulling into a gas station and being offered a complimentary tune-up to improve your car's fuel efficiency. You'd probably wonder: what's the catch?

So how about when your electric utility gives you a free compact fluorescent light bulb? Or your gas company offers to help pay for new windows or a more efficient furnace?

Gas and electric utilities have unique relationships with their customers in that they spend money on programs to reduce demand for the products they sell.

Why is this? Most states require utilities to invest in conservation programs as part of the regulation they accept for being able to operate as regional monopolies. In other words, they're doing it because they have to.

A growing list of states, however, are experimenting with a new approach. Instead of mandating a minimum investment in energy-efficiency programs, policymakers are designing incentives that reward utilities with new revenue for meeting or exceeding conservation goals.

The hope is that giving utilities a path to earning a profit from encouraging efficiency will inspire more companies to proactively ramp up their conservation programs beyond what might have been achieved through mandates only.

Congress Trying Again to Repeal Ban on Carbon-Heavy Fuels for Military

But numerous Dept. of Defense representatives say they oppose repealing 'Section 526' because of national security and economic concerns

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jul 25, 2011
Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming

WASHINGTON—When chatter on Capitol Hill ramps up about kicking "526" to the curb, it doesn't mean legislators are intent on obliterating May 26 from the calendar.

Instead, it refers to a tiny but significant section of an overarching energy measure that has irked lawmakers from coal and oil states since it was signed by President George W. Bush in 2007.

Briefly, what's known as Section 526 of the blocks federal agencies from contracting for fuels that spew more carbon pollution than conventional petroleum.

As has been the case since its inception, representatives and senators are once again trying to dump the exemption via their respective chambers.

On the House side, for instance, several Department of Defense- and Department of Agriculture-related appropriations and authorization bills contain a Section 526. And Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming is looking for openings to tack a similar amendment onto legislation in the .

While repeal proponents tout their efforts as being about freedom of fuel choices and not compromising military readiness, opponents frame it as an attempt to boost dirtier fuels such as heavy crude mined from the Canadian oil sands, and liquid coal and oil shale, and hinder biofuels, a growing sector of the American economy.

Climate watchdogs count it as one more assault among a lengthy list of initiatives with an anti-environment bent.

Climate Change Forcing Buried Toxics Back Into Atmosphere, Scientists Say

New study finds that as warming heats up oceans and melts Arctic sea ice, buried POPs are being re-released into the environment

By Katherine Bagley, SolveClimate News

Jul 25, 2011

During the industrial boom of the mid-twentieth century thousands of man-made chemicals were created to make chemical processes and products stronger and more durable.

The substances became useful in pest control and crop production, but it wasn't long before they also proved deadly, causing cancers, birth defects and other health problems.

Known as persistent organic pollutants (or POPs), this group of the world's most toxic compounds takes decades to degrade as they circulate through Earth's oceans and the atmosphere, gradually accumulating in the fatty tissues of humans and wildlife.

Once the connection between POPs and toxicity was scientifically proven, wealthy governments sprang into action to reduce the risks, eventually restricting or banning the use of 12 pollutants,  including DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), at the 2001 .

Climatic forces were also helping to limit the chemicals' global reach.

In places like the Arctic, cold temperatures trapped POPs in snow, soil and oceans capped by sea ice, as the long-lived pollutants circled through the region. Between the POPs settling into the Arctic and other sinks — and the international campaign to regulate the chemicals — atmospheric levels of POPs steadily declined during the past decade.

New research, however, suggests that global warming is reversing this downward trend.