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Energy and Global Warming News for June 25: Scotland approves 42% reduction in CO2 by 2020; Sears Tower to generate most of its own power

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"Energy and Global Warming News for June 25: Scotland approves 42% reduction in CO2 by 2020; Sears Tower to generate most of its own power"

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Scotland approves world’s “most ambitious” climate bill

Businesses in Scotland can expect to face significantly more demanding carbon emissions targets than their counterparts in the rest of the UK, after the Scottish Parliament passed a climate bill that is far more stringent than that adopted by Westminster.

As with the UK bill, the Scottish legislation sets a target of cutting emissions 80 per cent by 2050, but that target includes emissions from international shipping and aviation, while the UK will not formally decide whether international emissions are included until 2012.

Moreover, the Scottish bill sets significantly more demanding medium-term targets, requiring a 42 per cent cut in emissions by 2020. In contrast, the UK’s recently released carbon budgets require emissions to be cut by 34 per cent below 1990 levels by the later date of 2022.

Sears Tower to Be Revamped to Produce Most of Its Own Power

The Sears Tower, that bronze-black monument that forms the 110-story peak of the skyline here and stands as the tallest office building in the Western Hemisphere, will soon have another unique feature: wind turbines sprouting from its recessed rooftops high in the sky.

The building’s owners, leasing agents and architects said Wednesday that they are literally taking environmental sustainability to new heights with a $350 million retrofit of the 1970s-era modernist building “” and the turbines are only the tip of the transformation. The plan, to begin immediately, aims to reduce electricity use in the tower by 80 percent over five years through upgrades in the glass exterior, internal lighting, heating, cooling and elevator systems “” and its own green power generation.

Baltimore drivers to test ‘near-enough perfect’ electric fleet

The speed at which the world embraces the electric car rests in its ability to build a better battery.

Several U.S. companies hope to race ahead of foreign rivals by using federal loans and grants to commercialize electric cars and lighter, longer-lasting batteries. But a Canadian company might get there first.

Mississauga, Ontario-based Electrovaya Inc. yesterday unveiled the Maya 300, a plug-in electric car that can get up to 120 miles on a charge of its lithium-ion battery. The Maya 300 charges in about eight hours, plugs into a regular household outlet and will be available to consumers within a year, promised Electrovaya Chairman and CEO Sankar Das Gupta, who unveiled a four-door version of the vehicle at the city’s Inner Harbor.

Offshore wind farms could meet a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs

The UK’s seas could provide enough extra wind energy to power the equivalent of 19m homes, according to an assessment by the government.

The government’s strategic environmental assessment (Sea) confirmed projections that an extra 25GW of electricity generation capacity could be accommodated in UK waters.

This would be in addition to the 8GW of wind power already built or planned offshore, bringing the potential total electricity capacity of offshore wind to 33GW – enough to power every household in the UK.

U.S. gives go-ahead for offshore towers to study wind

Proposed wind farms off the coast of New Jersey and Delaware took a major step forward yesterday when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave four companies the right to build research towers offshore – the first such leases the agency has issued for the nation’s outer continental shelf.

The leases will allow the companies to gather crucial data on wind speeds and other meteorological information.

Until now, the companies and New Jersey, which has agreed to invest $12 million in three projects, have relied on public data and wind resource experts.

U.S. pulp-maker pioneers new biofuel

From the outside, the rustic red-brick mill on a bend in Maine’s Penobscot River resembles any other struggling American pulp and paper mill.

But along with its usual business of pulp-making, the century-old mill is doing something unprecedented: Developing technology to produce bio-butanol, a jet fuel, from parts of trees that would otherwise go to waste, one of the world’s first to do so.

Production is still two years away, but the reinvention of Maine’s Old Town Fuel & Fiber mill is already drawing interest as a potential model for a new wave of biofuel companies that could slash dependence on oil, create jobs and reduce the emissions that lead to global warming.

Ice on fire: The next fossil fuel

Deep in the Arctic Circle, in the Messoyakha gas field of western Siberia, lies a mystery. Back in 1970, Russian engineers began pumping natural gas from beneath the permafrost and piping it east across the tundra to the Norilsk metal smelter, the biggest industrial enterprise in the Arctic.

By the late 70s, they were on the brink of winding down the operation. According to their surveys, they had sapped nearly all the methane from the deposit. But despite their estimates, the gas just kept on coming. The field continues to power Norilsk today.

Where is this methane coming from? The Soviet geologists initially thought it was leaking from another deposit hidden beneath the first. But their experiments revealed the opposite – the mystery methane is seeping into the well from the icy permafrost above.

Evolution faster when it’s warmer

Climate could have a direct effect on the speed of “molecular evolution” in mammals, according to a study.

Researchers have found that, among pairs of mammals of the same species, the DNA of those living in warmer climates changes at a faster rate.

These mutations – where one letter of the DNA code is substituted for another – are a first step in evolution.

[JR:  Not fast enough to preserve both of the "sapiens" in homo sapiens sapiens, though.]

Ozone Hole Reduces Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Uptake In Southern Ocean

Does ozone have an impact on the ocean’s role as a “carbon sink”? Yes, according to researchers from three laboratories attached to INSU-CNRS, UPMC, CEA, IRD, MNHN and UVSQ. Using original simulations, they have demonstrated that the hole in the ozone layer reduces atmospheric carbon uptake in the Southern Ocean and contributes to the increase in ocean acidity.

These results, which are published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, should have a considerable impact on future models of the IPCC, which, for the moment, do not take ozone variations into account.

Dry Autumns And Winters May Lead To Fewer Tornadoes In The Spring

Global warming will likely mean more unpredictable weather, scientists say, and a new study by researchers at the University of Georgia pins down, possibly for the first time, how drought conditions in an area’s fall and winter may effect tornado activity the following spring.

The study, published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is specific to Georgia and the Southeast, but further study could reveal patterns that might make this more general””including the already tornado-prone Great Plains.

2M Americans face heightened cancer risks — EPA

Two million Americans face increased cancer risks of greater than 100 in a million from exposure to toxic air pollution, according to a U.S. EPA report released today.

EPA estimates that all 285 million U.S. residents have an increased cancer risk of greater than 10 in a million from exposure to air toxics. The average cancer risk, based on 2002 pollution levels, is 36 in a million.

The agency has asserted that levels above a 100-in-a-million risk level are generally unacceptable.

Forest restoration halted over food supply concerns

The Chinese government yesterday announced it would suspend a project to reforest arable land in order to maximize crop production in the face of expected food shortages.

Lu Xinshe, deputy head of the ministry of land and resources, said the country was struggling to maintain the 120 million hectares of cultivation necessary to maintain food self-sufficiency. Expanding urban areas is cutting into farmland, and Chinese officials are particularly wary of food shortages after famines in the late 1950s and early 1960s killed between 15 million and 40 million people.

More preemies born in neighborhoods with heavy pollution from cars, trucks

Women exposed to air pollution from freeways and congested roads are much more likely to give birth to premature babies and suffer from preeclampsia, according to a study by University of California scientists published Wednesday.

The findings, based on pregnant women in the Long Beach/Orange County region of Southern California, add to the growing evidence that car and truck exhaust can jeopardize the health of babies while they are in the womb.

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15 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for June 25: Scotland approves 42% reduction in CO2 by 2020; Sears Tower to generate most of its own power

  1. James Thompson says:

    Joe,

    Thank you for highlighting what is happening in the UK and Scotland. There is very little debate or resistance to reducing CO2 in this part of the world – we are just quietly getting on with it. Scotland has some excellent renewable resources, but so does the US – so what’s the hold up in the US?

    The UK as a whole is on track to a 23% reduction on 1990 levels, whereas the US is arguing over a 17% reduction from 2005 levels, a far less ambitious target, particularly as your baseline is double ours.

    Maybe you should start selling CO2 reduction as an international competition rather than a chore!

    (p.s. unfortunately the UK is not all squeeky clean. In parallel with our climate legislation is a 2003 Aviation white paper calling for a tripling of aviation capacity. This will entirely undo our CO2 savings elsewhere, but through the mysteries of Kyoto the CO2 doesn’t count…)

  2. Greg Robie says:

    An interesting series of news stories, Joe.

    Given this article http://www.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/climate_carbon_energy/climate_deal/news/?uNewsID=168321 concerning the EU leaving an offset approach to CO2 untouched, and what has happened to ACES so far (including offsets, I wonder if Scotland is the _ONLY_ country to have a significant climate bill (or do they tap the loophole of offsets too?

    I wonder what percentage of the Sears Tower project is possible through efficiency. What was built in 1970 was designed in the ’60s when energy was cheap and addressing this cost, an afterthought. That this is a project suggest that this project will recoup the investment and that the cost of controlling GHG emissions is going to be significant in the minds of the Tower’s owners.

    While the clip on the permafrost methane in Russia doesn’t address my “What’s up” with Arctic atmospheric methane in my previous comment today, what can go down can certainly go up when its has a molecular weight of 10.

    Concerning IPCC modeling needing to change for the Ozone study, and the relationship between dry conditions and tornadoes, have you had a chance to look into what the adjustments in the modeling might be relative to predicted drought I Tweeted to CP on the 20th (my birthday!)? Maybe it won’t be as dry as predicted and the severe weather will yet include more tornadoes.

    The Long Beach study feels a lot like one I saw a report on yesterday concerning the hugely negative economic contribution of coal to West Virginia because of health costs. Poverty also, and maybe more so, contributes to health problems. Little about capitalism systemically values protecting health; paying for health (unless it can be profited from . . . and someone else is paying!).

    Always something interesting to read here. Thanks.

  3. dhogaza says:

    Buried in the Sears Tower story is a short mention of the fact that the Empire State Building is also going to be renovated to improve energy efficiency.

    While the Republican and some of the Democratic party members are apparently still stuck in fingers-in-the-ears mode, it’s heartening to see businesses stepping up with flagship projects like the Sears Tower renovation.

  4. Jim Beacon says:

    James,

    The reason we are having such a problem moving forward in the U.S. is two-fold:

    1) Unlike Europe, we in the U.S. have consistently failed to pass strong laws (and enforcement) of campaign spending and contributions or lobbying abuses by big-money corporate interests in our country. The result is that virtually everyone in our Congress and White House are puppets of industry. Theoretically they are responsible to the people when they vote and you’d think the people would be vote them out office when they are blatantly just doing the bidding of their corporate masters. And they often do vote them out. Unfortunately, our campaign and electoral system has become so expensive to participate in (again, due to no real regulation) that the person they vote in to replace the old corporate puppet is already a new corporate puppet before ever getting to Washington. This effect is true of virtually all candidates for *both* major political parties (and even the so-called independents to a lesser degree).

    2) While there are a lot of good, honest and concerned people who belong to our Republican political party (roughly 50% of the voting population), the leadership and control of that party was taken hostage over the last 20 years by radical so-called “conservatives” who are not true conservatives, but simply those who fanatically believe that no regulation is the best policy and that government should only exist to fight wars and provide corporate welfare. They disguise their true nature by draping themselves in the flag, acting very religious and invoking the Word of God regularly, as well as proclaiming themselves to be the only True Defenders of individual liberty and the Holy Advocates of small business against oppression by Big Government.

    But in truth, the leaders and major representatives of this party are the worst of the bought and paid for corporate stooges. But if you were to ask me why any non-wealthy thinking person with eyes to see and ears to hear continues to believe in their fake public posturing and continues be part of and vote for this party, I’m afraid I can’t explain it.

    While all governments have these two factors to contend with to one degree or another, they have become so extreme in the U.S. over the past two decades that they have badly crippled our government. And their effect has never been more obvious than during the negotiations and debates over the Kyoto Treaty 10 years ago and over the Waxman-Markey bill today.

    But hey, given the castration of Waxman-Markey at the hands of our dysfunctional political system, it’s great to see some elements of the private sector deciding to move ahead without it. The owners of the Sears Tower deserve a lot of recognition and credit — and so do the owners of the few companies running big warehouse operations with flat roofs covering acres who have begun covering those roofs with solar panels.

    It’s now obvious that while those controlling the government of our country are perfectly willing to spend a Trillion $ dollars in corporate welfare payments to bail out Wall Street bankers and other corporate bandits, they not going willing to do what needs be done when it comes to the rest of us and the imminent threat of human-accelerated climate change — we are just going to have to do it ourselves.

    So, basically, the United States is now relying on the rest of the world to lead the way and has been ever since 1998. I can only offer my personal apology for this failure on the part my country.

  5. Leland Palmer says:

    Concerning the “ice on fire” story about the next fossil fuel, this has been known for a long time, but perhaps not widely.

    The methane hydrates constitute perhaps the largest source of fossil carbon on the planet, depending on which estimates you listen to. Certainly, this is an immense source of natural gas.

    But this part is new to me, and potentially a huge game changer:

    There might in fact be a safer way of tapping clathrates which, if successful, could quash the criticisms. Since other gases can also form clathrates, it should be possible to pump one of these gases into the crystals to displace the methane. Carbon dioxide would be an ideal candidate, says Ersland – the resulting crystal is even more stable than methane clathrate, meaning another greenhouse gas would be stored out of harm’s way.

    Ersland has already demonstrated his technique in the lab. In joint research with the energy company ConocoPhillips based in Houston, Texas, he replaced methane with CO2 in artificial clathrate crystals. The exchange was rapid and did not damage the clathrate structure, making it the safest way to extract the methane yet found (Chemical Engineering Journal, DOI: 10.1016/j.cej.2008.12.028). Substituting methane with CO2 “will increase the stability of the reservoir sediments as well as maintaining the clathrates in their solid state”, Ersland says.

    The acid test will be an experiment planned for January next year. ConocoPhillips intends to pour liquefied CO2 down a borehole into the Alaskan north slope’s clathrate deposit. If all goes well, the CO2 will fill the clathrate crystals and the displaced methane will shoot up the wellhead to the surface. The method could be both a safe way of capturing the methane and an environmental argument for pursuing the goal – the clathrate structures would be acting as a carbon sink.

    In the absence of global warming, this seems like a feasible strategy. With global warming, maybe not.

    Oxyfuel combustion would work for natural gas from methane hydrates, but because natural gas combustion is more efficient than coal combustion, the potential for efficiency improvement with a topping cycle like HIPPS is less.

    Dunno, bears thinking about, IMO.

  6. James Thompson says:

    Jim, It is curious that the US prides itself on being democratic – after all that is why we invaded Iraq wasn’t it (leaving aside the 100 billion+ barrels of oil that Saddam was keeping off the market…). Your description of the hi-jacking of political power by corporate interests suggests an almost total lack of democracy.

    But then you have to ask why corporations are not interested in addressing climate change. If anything you might expect them to take a longer term view that politicians, whose horizon stops at the next election. And corporations have reputations to defend and deep pockets when they get sued.

    Maybe it’s just the American cultural thing of personal freedom to do exactly what you want if you have the money. I think that is stronger in the US than anywhere. Maybe some people want climate change to be a trial of strength in which rich people/countries will do fine and the poor will go to the wall.

  7. James Thompson says:

    Greg Robie

    “I wonder if Scotland is the _ONLY_ country to have a significant climate bill (or do they tap the loophole of offsets too?”

    The bill is available in full from the link below. It is a slender 70 pages and (from a quick skim through) looks extremely watertight. The authors seem to have gone out of their way to anticipate loopholes and close them off. Including aviation and shipping is a major plus – even the UK Climate Act has put that off to 2012.

    http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/bills/17-ClimateChange/b17bs3-aspassed.pdf

    I would like people to dip in and comment. This document is what I would have liked W-M to be, not a 1200 page pile of spagetti.

  8. Leland Palmer says:

    I’m having a hard time making the methane hydrate idea carbon negative. It seems pretty much carbon neutral, additions of methane to the atmosphere from small leaks and associated losses aside. If the natural gas was burned soon after it came out of the deposit, and the energy shipped via long distance DC power lines, though, this would minimize the danger of numerous small leaks.

    Only if the CO2 injected into the hydrate deposits comes from biomass sources, and if the CO2 from the combustion of the natural gas itself is deep injected into a second reservoir such as a deep aquifer, is the idea strictly carbon negative, I think.

    Methane hydrates are a huge and potentially immensely profitable source of natural gas, though. The cheap nature and huge abundance of this source of natural gas could possibly pay for the sequestration of the CO2 in the second reservoir. Higher combustion temperatures of oxyfuel combustion could potentially also pay for the sequestration, if a way was found to technologically exploit this higher Carnot efficiency, by adding a topping cycle of some sort – perhaps MHD.

    Anyway, it’s a potentially practically limitless source of energy that seems naturally carbon neutral, and that could be made carbon negative with some effort.

    The somewhat fragile nature of CO2 hydrates scares me a little. The best form of carbon sequestration seems to be carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation.

  9. Greg Robie says:

    Good Morning James (thought it is afternoon there),

    Thanks for posting the link to a REAL climate bill. I told my wife, a member of the McCreight/MacRae clan, about it as another thing to be proud of. My first impression is that it is clear and concise. It is structured such that one gets the impression that it is Scotland’s intent to actually meet the targets named; targets that are (at least currently) scientifically meaningful.

    I do not get that impression re: ACES/W-M. As you note, Scotland’s legislation is not a mishmash like ACES/W-M. Is ACES/W-M a reflection of a difference in political “sensibilities”? Are the US “sensibilities” the result of the this country affording corporations personhood under its 14th Amendment through the 1886 Supreme Court decision that did so? Has this inhuman citizen, in turn, “grown up” and changed this society to conform to the economic sensibilities of “profit before public good”; of “greed is good?”

    Anyway, a significant defect I can see the Scottish legislation shares is that while it does not seem to embrace offsets directly, it does so indirectly. For example, how much of a Scottish lifestyle is interwoven and dependent on international sources of GHG emissions? IMHO, developed countries need to pay for the cost of these “non-jurisdictional” sources as well (if we are REALLY serious about accomplishing anything that is scientifically significant; if we are interested in justice).

    Which, relative to justice, we, in the US, seem to be challenged to effect. In fact, our various moral sensibilities may preclude this culture from even grasping what justice demands (the attempt to bailout a bankrupt fractional reserve banking system through rule changes (of unprecedented/illegal/unconstitutional magnitude) comes to mind as an example of what I mean).

  10. scruss says:

    Re the Sears tower, I dunno why architects are so hung up on vertical axis wind turbines – at best, they don’t work tremendously well. That tiny little solar array might be able to light a floor or two, but anything less than net zero energy usage for highrises is just not trying.

  11. Charlie says:

    The NYT Sears Tower headline “to produce most of its own power” appears to be a mistake added by the NYT editors. The big reduction in energy purchased is efficiency gains, and they aren’t making any claims about how much of their own energy they produce on-site. I suggest linking to one of the many other articles on the topic that doesn’t have that dubious claim. The claim they all make is 80% reduction in energy use. That’s better anyway. (Producing 51% of your own energy which would only reduce energy imported by 49%.)

    For example, see the Reuters article linked from my name.

  12. Charlie says:

    Link from my name is the architects’ web page on the project. Lots of quantitative claims but none about quantity of their own energy produced.

    As is typical for an architect’s web site, they try to hard to make the graphics fancy and the result is barely legible text and difficult navigation. Reminds me of some notorious buildings that have fancy shapes but poor functionality.

  13. Greg Robie says:

    James,

    It looks to me like there is a loophole and offsets are possible in Scottish legislation, see page 12 lines 9 & 10. Is the REAL just a slightly less bad version of what every other developed nation seems to be trying (as in smoke and mirrors; as in who blinks first)?

    =|

    PS: It won’t be the climate!

  14. Greg Robie says:

    Joe, may I again commend Drew Westen of Emory University and his work on motivated reasoning as a scientific approach to the dynamics being discussed here (the incredulity over the apparent trust in pseudo-science). Maybe he could address this in a guest blog