Energy and Global Warming News for September 7th: Marine creatures warn of Antarctic ice sheet instability; IBM working to develop 500-mile battery pack

A climate warning from the deep

Bryozoans make unlikely prophets of doom. Nevertheless, scientists believe these tiny marine creatures, which live glued to the side of boulders, rocks and other surfaces, reveal a disturbing aspect about Antarctica that has critical implications for understanding the impact of climate change.

British Antarctic Survey researchers have found the dispersal of these minute animals suggests a sea passage once divided Antarctica 125,000 years ago. The discovery was made for the ongoing Census of Antarctic Marine Life project and involved comparing bryozoans from the Ross and Weddell seas. These two seas are separated by the west Antarctic ice sheet, one of the planet’s largest masses of ice. Bryozoans found in the Ross and Weddell seas should have been fairly different in structure if the sheet had been stable and ancient. The two populations would have slowly evolved in different manners, if the sheet was millions of years old.

But Dr David Barnes and his team discovered that the two populations were almost identical, indicating the two seas must have been connected by a major sea passage in the recent past, around 125,000 years ago. “What we’ve got is this group of animals that don’t disperse very well because the adults don’t move at all and the larvae are short-lived and sink, so they find it difficult to get around,” says Barnes. “So you’re left with this nice signal of where things used to be connected and, in this case, it appears to be a connection between what is now an ice sheet.”

The impact of the west Antarctica ice sheet melting sufficiently to let a major sea passage extend through it would have been considerable. A complete collapse of the sheet today would lead to a sea-level rise of between 11ft and 16ft, for example, though the event uncovered by Barnes may only have been a partial one. Nevertheless, the research indicates that the great ice sheet, once thought to be impregnable, is really highly vulnerable.

When It Comes to Car Batteries, Moore’s Law Does Not Compute

Silicon Valley may be an epicenter of the nascent electric car industry, but don’t expect the battery revolution to mimic the computer revolution, one of I.B.M.’s top energy storage scientists advises.

“Forget Moore’s Law “” it’s nothing like that,” said Winfried Wilcke, senior manager for I.B.M.’s Battery 500 project, referring to the maxim put forward by Gordon Moore, an Intel founder, that computer processing power doubles roughly every two years.

“Lithium ion, which clearly is the best battery technology today, is flat, completely flat since 2003,” Mr. Wilcke said last week at a gathering in San Francisco attended by executives from I.B.M. and Better Place, a Silicon Valley electric car infrastructure company.

Mr. Wilcke’s team at the Almaden Research Center of I.B.M. in San Jose, Calif., is trying to develop a new battery technology called lithium air that could allow a car to go 500 miles on a single charge. Most electric cars coming onto the market this year have a range of around 100 miles.

Obama Offers a Transit Plan to Create Jobs

President Obama, looking to stimulate a sluggish economy and create jobs, called Monday for Congress to approve major upgrades to the nation’s roads, rail lines and runways “” part of a six-year plan that would cost tens of billions of dollars and create a government-run bank to finance innovative transportation projects. With Democrats facing an increasingly bleak midterm election season, Mr. Obama used a speech at a union gathering on Labor Day, the traditional start of the campaign season, to outline his plan. It calls for a quick infusion of $50 billion in government spending that White House officials said could spur job growth as early as next year “” if Congress approves.

EPA To Issue More Rules In Climate Fight

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will roll out more regulations on greenhouse gases and other pollution to help fight climate change, but they will not be as strong as action by Congress, a senior administration official said.

The agency “has a huge role to play in continuing the work to move from where we are now to lower carbon emissions”, said the official, who did not want to be identified as the EPA policies are still being formed.

President Barack Obama, looking to take the lead in global talks on greenhouse gas emissions, has long warned that the EPA would take steps to regulate emissions if Congress failed to pass a climate bill.

The Senate has all but ruled out moving on greenhouse gases this year, even though the House of Representatives passed a bill last year. In late July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stripped climate provisions out of an energy bill, saying he could not get one Republican vote for them.

The senior official stopped short of saying the EPA alone would achieve Obama’s goal of about 17 percent reductions in greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Lisa Jackson’s High-Wire Act on Carbon Controls

Early in his Presidency, Barack Obama made it clear that if Congress failed to limit carbon emissions, he would use his authority under the Clean Air Act to control greenhouse gases. Now that Congress has pulled the plug on legislation, that task has fallen to Lisa Jackson, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency chief. Caught between business groups and some Senate Democrats who want to stop her, and environmental organizations that say she’s not going far enough, Jackson may have the toughest job in town.

Even she agrees that regulation is inferior to legislation. It took a 2007 Supreme Court ruling to clarify that the 1970 law gave the agency the power to regulate carbon at all. One of Jackson’s first moves as EPA administrator was to take up the court’s invitation and declare carbon an environmental threat. Within weeks, she followed that with rules requiring automakers to boost fuel economy 5 percent a year and average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

Diverse water sources key to food security -report

Increasingly erratic rainfall patterns related to climate change pose a major threat to food security and economic growth, water experts said on Monday, arguing for greater investment in water storage.

In a report by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), experts said Africa and Asia were likely to be hardest hit by unpredictable rainfall, and urged policymakers and farmers to try to find ways of diversifying sources of water.

The IWMI research estimates that up to 499 million people in Africa and India could benefit from improved agricultural water management.

“Just as modern consumers diversify their financial holdings to reduce risk, smallholder farmers need a wide array of ‘water accounts’ to provide a buffer against climate change impacts,” Matthew McCartney, a hydrologist at IWMI, said in a statement.

“That way, if one water source goes dry, they’ll have others to fall back on.”

The U.N. panel of climate experts has projected more extreme weather such as droughts, floods and heatwaves this century, caused by global warming.

The report said that, despite a great expansion in irrigation in recent decades in Asia, around 66 percent of agriculture there is still dependent on rainfall.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion is even greater at 94 percent, it said. These are the regions where water storage infrastructure is least developed.

Chair of IPCC Review Panel Backs Climate Science Assessment Process, Despite Flaws

On Monday, Harold Shapiro, a former president of and current economics professor at Princeton University, formally presented the United Nations with a report assessing the procedures of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which had come under intense criticism for months, beginning with the so-called “climategate” affair late in 2009 and continuing with the discovery of a few errors in the panel’s most recent report, issued in 2007 (most notably the “glaciergate” misstep in reporting how quickly Himalayan glaciers will melt). Critics also accused the IPCC’s Chairman, Rajendra K. Pachauri, of conflicts of interest related to his financial dealings.

To get an independent assessment of the workings of the climate panel, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. vice president Al Gore in 2007, the U.N. turned to the InterAcademy Council (IAC), made up of representatives from 18 national science academies, which in turn recruited Shapiro to head up an investigative committee. The committee’s mandate: address deficiencies, real and perceived, in the IPCC process.

Yesterday, Shapiro spoke with Climate Central about the report and about the reactions it has received. Here is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

China to Achieve 15% Clean Energy Usage by Adding Hydropower

Zhang Guobao, Director of National Energy Administration, explained the aim of the Chinese government to increase the hydropower energy production to 300 million kilowatts by the year 2015 and to continue with its mission to lessen the emissions from its total domestic production by 40% to 45% by the year 2020. He added, that the government is committed to its assurance given in the Copenhagen meeting last December that it will increase the clean energy use from its 7.8% to 15% by the year 2020. He concluded saying that his organization will take all the required steps to up keep the promise even though it is not a very simple objective to complete.

Zhang, also explained that while the government has plans to speed up its endeavor’s to construct more hydropower projects, it is also planning to make the approval process a little more sterner to protect the endangered environment and precious land resources and more particularly its population that gets displaced when they give their lands for hydropower production.

China’s G-Finance & G-Economy Key to US$ 40 Trillion Market

US companies and policymakers recognize that the green technology market is a US $ 40 Trillion global business opportunity. However, the US is rapidly falling behind China in creating an environmentally sustainable national and global economy. China’s “G-Financing” investments of US $ 1 Trillion in 2010 to 2013 in pollution remediation and energy efficiency reflect that it is the key market in the global “Green Economy” or “G-Economy.”

China’s policymakers understand that serious pollution remediation and energy effeciency policies will create jobs, new businesses and increase business profits and GDP growth. American policy making is currently vexed by the assumptions that pollution remediation and energy effeciency policies that change the status quo will reduce American jobs, business profits, the number of businesses, and GDP growth.

As a result, it is China that must lead in creating the vital new global business and economic advantages required for a successful rapid global warming remediation. China must combine foreign pollution remediation and energy efficiency high technology with China’s huge market, urbanization and infrastructure investments. To do so China must make massive G-Finance investments in and contract with new globally operating joint ventures by foreign companies and Chinese companies that use the most advanced technologies and global economies of scale. That is the only way to quickly and effectively finance the new technologies China requires.

Greenest state behind the waste-to-energy race

Government officials from around the world used to come to this port city to catch a glimpse of the future: Two-story piles of trash would disappear into a furnace and eventually be transformed into electricity to power thousands of homes.

Nowadays, it’s U.S. officials going to Canada, Japan and parts of Western Europe to see the latest advances.

The Long Beach plant, for all its promise when it began operations roughly 20 years ago, still churns out megawatts. But it is a relic, a symbol of how California, one of America’s greenest states, fell behind other countries in the development of trash-to-energy technology.

“I am having a hard time explaining why California is so far behind,” said Eugene Tseng Tseng, a University of California, Los Angeles law professor who spent the last three months leading delegations on overseas tours.

While so-called biorefineries have blossomed abroad, concerns that technique would undermine recycling efforts and create worse air pollution stalled efforts in California. With space for garbage dumps dwindling, proponents of a new breed of the technology hope to win over detractors.

Viewing Poisons at Our National Parks

America’s national parks are heralded as pristine pockets of natural beauty, but that news hasn’t stopped airborne pollutants from accumulating at alarmingly high rates in parks in the West.

Eight years ago, spurred by reports of contaminants found in alpine and polar ecosystems far from where the pollutants originated, National Park Service leaders assembled an interdisciplinary team of researchers drawn from experts at several universities, government agencies and research groups. Their effort was dubbed the Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Project.

The team collected data on contaminants at Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Denali, Gates of the Arctic and Noatak national parks, then determined rates of accumulation and analyzed source and transport routes.

A Burning Debate Over Natural Gas Drilling

“You can’t live like this – it’s so stressful every single day.”

Homeowner Stephanie Hallowich is like many in western Pennsylvania who have watched their once-pristine neighborhood become an industrial site. Sprawling plants with flares that reach high into the night, noxious smells, trucks, and containment ponds with unknown chemicals are among the complaints of people who live in areas where natural gas companies have descended.

Hallowich believes three natural gas-drilling operations bordering her property turned her well-water black, forcing her to purchase a tank of fresh water every month.  The air? Uncertain.

“I’m very afraid, health-wise, for the kids, just because of the exposure to the water and the constant not-knowing what we’re breathing in outside,” she said.  The Hallowich home sits near the center of the Marcellus Shale, an energy-rich geological formation stretching from New York to Tennessee.

The EPA’s new gas-mileage labels are good but not perfect

THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency is asking for comments on its proposed new gas mileage stickers for automobiles — so here’s ours. On the whole, both of the agency’s two suggested alternative stickers represent much-needed improvement over current fuel-economy labeling. They more clearly and brightly inform consumers of exactly how much fuel the various models can be expected to consume, how much greenhouse gases they can be expected to emit and how they perform in comparison to similar models. We especially like the part where the EPA estimates how much gas money the labeled car would save the consumer over an average vehicle.

But we have reservations about the version that awards vehicles letter grades ranging from “A” to “D” based on their fuel economy and emissions. This seems to cross an important line between informing the public — an appropriate role for government — and salesmanship — a dubious mission. A related problem is that the EPA’s proposed letter grades apply to all vehicles regardless of their fuel source. Thus, they would compare apples (electric vehicles, plug-in electric hybrids) to oranges (gas-powered cars and trucks). Nissan’s all-electric Leaf due out later this year, would earn an “A-plus” from the EPA, because it directly emits no carbon dioxide and consumes no gasoline. But the highest grade even the most fuel-efficient gas-powered car could earn is a “B.” And the high grades for electrics may be misleading. Their power would ultimately derive from a utility somewhere, which might be low-carbon nuclear or high-carbon coal. In practice, it’s very hard to sort out this complexity to everyone’s satisfaction.

Germany Extends Nuclear Plants’ Life

The German government has decided to extend the life spans of the country’s 17 nuclear plants while alternative energy sources are developed, a move that is also likely to create windfalls for both power companies and strained government coffers.

The decision comes at a time when several European countries, including Italy and Sweden, are reconsidering long-held policies against nuclear power, not only to develop new sources of energy but also to combat climate change.

New taxes levied on utility companies as part of the deal will be used in part to help develop renewable energy sources, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday. But she said Germany could not afford to get rid of nuclear power as planned because the amount of renewable energy available would not be sufficient to fill the gap.

Nuclear energy is a bridge,” she said.

Under a German law, passed by a previous government in 2002, the last nuclear power plant was to be shut by 2022. That decision, bitterly resented by the nuclear energy companies, was largely supported by the German public, which has a deep aversion to anything nuclear, a sentiment that intensified after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

Australian Greens Seek ‘Fast, Furious’ Climate Steps

The Australian Greens plan “fast and furious” action to establish a climate change committee and impose a price on carbon emissions under a government led by the Labor Party’s Julia Gillard.

“This is the best political opportunity collectively we’ve ever had,” Christine Milne, deputy leader of the Greens Party, said in Sydney today before Gillard won the support needed to form a government. With Labor retaining power, “this committee will be on track fast and furious,” Milne said.

Two independent lawmakers, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, backed Gillard’s minority government after the closest election in 70 years left neither of the main parties with a majority. Gillard, 48, gained support last week from the Greens and agreed in exchange to establish a climate change committee made up of lawmakers and scientists with the aim of setting a penalty for carbon emissions.

The forum’s goal is to determine the best way to introduce a carbon price, not to “decide whether climate change is real,” Milne said. Australia will be able to implement a carbon price with Gillard as prime minister, Milne said. “I would like that as soon as possible.”

U.N. launches website to track climate change aid

The United Nations has launched a website to track whether rich countries are providing help to poor countries on climate change.

The site, located at, lists the amount of money countries have contributed for financing climate change activities in poorer countries. At the Copenhagen summit last year in Denmark, rich countries said they would contribute $30 billion for the 2010-2012 period.

According to the site, five countries have committed money so far: Norway, Great Britain, France, Denmark and the Netherlands. The U.S. is not listed.

The financing is intended to help poorer countries prepared to implement new technologies that would help them reduce carbon emissions. The payments from developed countries to developing countries have been one of the most controversial aspects of international climate talks.

The ways of a warmer world

CLIMATE change is a pretty scary topic, and those who write about it have, for the most part, been happy to play up the scariness. This may be due to noble motives or base ones. Many will have chosen to write about climate change because they think something should be done about it and that if their readers get scared they will be more likely to act. Others may intuit that their readers are likely to be seeking stuff that confirms how right they were to have perceived the dreadfulness of the world in ways lesser people have not. This is the road to “climate porn”, which revels in exaggerated disaster.

It is refreshing, then, to read books which look at the warming to come not as a frightful warning, nor as a fait accompli, but as something to which, at some levels of change, people will have to adapt””and which in some settings they may adapt to rather well. The setting Matthew Kahn is interested in is the city, one of his preoccupations as an economist; Marek Kohn’s is the British Isles.

Mr Kahn suggests that city-dwellers have various advantages in preparing for the changes to come. They live in surroundings which, historically, have favoured innovation, have proved resilient in the face of shocks and between which it is comparatively simple to move when things get too bad. Migration from city to city is easier, when it comes to finding a niche to fill at the far end of the journey, than from country to town.

Bid to suspend California global-warming law gets $1 million from billionaire brothers’ firm

The fight over a November ballot initiative to suspend California’s global warming law has escalated sharply with the Koch brothers, oil billionaires and “tea party” backers, making a million-dollar entry into the fray.

The contribution to the campaign for Proposition 23 came Thursday from a subsidiary of Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries, the nation’s second-largest private company (after the agribusiness giant Cargill). A spokeswoman for the subsidiary, Flint Hills Resources, said the company “may consider additional support.” The Kochs’ company has estimated annual revenues of $100 billion, owns refineries in Alaska, Texas and Minnesota, and controls about 4,000 miles of oil pipelines.

California’s global warming law, known as AB 32, is designed to cut the state’s emission of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the end of this decade. A significant chunk of the reductions would come through regulations aimed at fostering alternative fuels and generating electricity from solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

11 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for September 7th: Marine creatures warn of Antarctic ice sheet instability; IBM working to develop 500-mile battery pack

  1. “CLIMATE change is a pretty scary topic, and those who write about it have, for the most part, been happy to play up the scariness.”

    Play up the scariness?! (Pakistan’s floods of 2010)

  2. Anonymous says:

    You don’t have to look very far to see that battery technology has not followed Moore’s law. If you lift the hood of your automobile you will see a lead-acid battery that has not changed in generations. Sometimes technology seems to bump up against some pretty stubborn limits. For example, I don’t recall any real improvements to longevity of incandescent light bulbs in my lifetime. Oh, and fusion has remained 25 or 30 years away for the last 30 years, nuclear power hasn’t become “too cheap to meter”, photovoltaics certainly don’t follow Moore’s law.

  3. mattlant says:

    More bad news on Alberta Oilsands:

    Oilsands tailing ponds kill 30 times more birds than estimated: study

  4. Bill W says:

    City dwellers may adapt better? Sure, if one assumes the provision of manna from heaven to feed them. Otherwise, where’s the food going to come from?

  5. paulm says:

    Great site…

    Interview with James Hansen

    Our Scariest Energy Risk

    Balancing People, Planet and Profit: The Future of Business Sustainability

  6. Geo-realist says:

    The startling fact, and one this blog seems to skirt over:
    Each and every one of you is using a computer or mobile device that uses energy & plastics, drives a vehicle or uses public transportation that uses energy and plastics to operate, and live in a home that only functions due to energy and plastics. The entire human standard of lving in the ‘modern world’ involves energy and plastics, both iof which are derived from fossil fuels. If you are willing to go back to 19th centry technologies (that guess what?!?! used messier and nastier polluting energies then today’s) then fine.

    But the reality is that renewable energy as we know it with modern technologies cannot replace fossil fuel energy consumption.

    So what is the solution? The “bandaid” at the moment is to use what renewables we can, while fostering a cultural shift to energy efficiency and conservation, both at a home level and at a national level. All the while, research into better renewable, and more importantly clean, energies needs to take national precidence, and stop funding the political machine bandwagon of doomsday climate change.

    [JR: Uhh, you don’t actually read this blog, do you. I do not start over the fact that renewable energy by itself can’t solve this problem. BUT the Internet and IT technology promote both efficiency and dematerialization, and I think when this all shakes out, they will turn out to be more part of the solution then the problem.]

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    Geo-realist #6…

    “But the reality is that renewable energy as we know it with modern technologies cannot replace fossil fuel energy consumption.”

    Might I point you to

    Scientific American, November, 2009.

    “A Plan for a Sustainable Future”

    “How to get all energy from wind, water, and solar power by 2030”

    Jacobson and Delucci present a blueprint for getting almost 100% of the world’s energy needs (electricity, transportation and heat) from renewables.

    They take into account population growth and expected increases in standards of living.

    They show how we can do the job in 20 years.

    (You can read it at your library or purchase a copy on line.)

  8. SecularAnimist says:

    I like IBM’s work on lithium air batteries.

    Cheap high-efficiency distributed photovoltaics plus cheap high-capacity batteries equals a revolution in the way electricity is produced and used — which could well be as far-reaching as the industrial revolution or the IT revolution.

    IBM ought to develop an affordable, mass-producible, compact electric vehicle using industry-standard off-the-shelf components, interfaces and form factors.

    They could call it the IBM Personal Car.

    Then everybody else would clone it, and off we go again.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Huge Windstorm Spawns New Classification: ‘Super Derecho’
    …coming to an open plain near to you. Don’t miss it!

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    In the future corporations will race for the best batteries and make more profits then ever in history. The future is now – the electirc vehicle transportation.

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    The startling fact is that you can have everything and much more with renewable energy generation and most people here try to reach the goal of zero footprint or even negative footprints…