Other stories below: Allergy season comes early this year because of the unusually mild winter, Why gas prices aren’t likely to decide the 2012 election
The warm winter season is giving way to an even warmer early spring, with record temps spreading throughout the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains this week. Records are likely to fall from Minneapolis to Maine and points southward starting today and lasting through at least the end of this week, possibly putting an end to the ski season in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic….
The warm weather is likely to add to the imbalance between warm temperature records and cold temperature records in the U.S. this year. During the month of February, for example, the number of daily warm record-low temperatures outpaced cold records by a stunning ratio of 6 to 1 in the Lower 48.
So far this month, there have already been 805 record-high temperatures in the U.S., and just 176 record-cold high temperatures.
In a long-term trend that has been linked to global climate change, daily record-high temperatures are now outpacing daily record-lows records by an average of 2 to 1, and this imbalance is expected to grow as temperatures continue to warm. According to a 2009 study, if the climate were not warming, this ratio would be expected to be even.
China and the United States are drifting toward a trade war in clean-tech energy.
Next Monday the U.S. Department of Commerce is scheduled to rule on levying countervailing duties against Chinese solar-panel manufacturers. Four U.S. companies recently filed a similar Commerce case alleging dumping by Chinese producers of steel towers for wind turbines. China’s new tariffs against American SUVs were widely seen as retaliation for the solar-panel complaint, with the threat of more Chinese barriers depending in part on the next U.S. steps.
What is to be done? Whether concerned about a destructive trade war or unpredictable climate change, leaders in both countries should now pause to ponder what is written on the back of their iPads and iPhones: “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China.”
What do these words have to do with energy? Plenty. Information technology has long been one of the world’s most dynamic industries, with a stunning array of new-product innovations and equally stunning declines in quality-adjusted prices. It has also long been one of the world’s most globally engaged industries, with elaborate, global-production networks linked via flows of international trade and investment.
There were plenty of reasons to love this year’s “winter that wasn’t,” with its 60- and 70-degree days from November through February. But now it’s payback time — at least for those of us with allergies.
While the spring allergy season normally gets underway toward the end of March or beginning of April, people in the Washington area have already been sniffling, sneezing and suffering with other symptoms for at least a month.
“It really is unusually early for patients to be this miserable,” says Derek Johnson, medical director of the Fairfax Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Clinic. “The mild winter has resulted in very high pollen levels in February and early March, when they’re typically very low or negligible.” In fact, he points out that tree pollen counts on Feb. 23 were 365 grains per cubic meter, compared with a mere 2.88 a year before. He also notes that because it has been so sunny and warm in the past few months, people have spent more time outside, increasing their exposure to such allergens.
This morning’s Washington Post-ABC poll shows that President Obama’s poll numbers are falling in tandem with rising gas prices. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of how he’s handling the situation at the pump. Could gas prices end up swaying the 2012 election after all?
It’s hard to rule anything out, but evidence remains thin that gasoline will be a determining factor in November. While Americans love to grumble about expensive gasoline — and with good reason — political science research suggests that it’s not the main thing that shifts votes. Nate Silver, for one, has found that “there’s not a lot of evidence that oil prices are all that important” a factor in presidential elections. Nor do gasoline prices necessarily dictate the public’s view of the White House: Back during George W. Bush’s presidency, there was a much-linked graph showing his approval ratings climbing and dipping in lockstep with gas prices. But subsequent analysis by political scientist Brendan Nyhan showed that the correlation was just a “statistical artifact.”
On the anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima disaster, NPR’s Christopher Joyce looks at how the country is handling its energy needs. Nukes once provided a third of Japan’s electricity. Now? Almost none. By April, Japan will have shut down its last reactor, most likely for good.
That, in turn, has potentially large implications for climate change. Instead of carbon-free nuclear power, Japan is now burning more imported coal and natural gas. And that means more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. According to an analysis by New Scientist’s Fred Pearce, a permanent shutdown of Japan’s nuclear reactors will boost the country’s annual carbon-dioxide emissions some 5 percent, or 60 million tons per year. And it’s not just Japan. After the reactor meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi last March, Germany decided to shutter eight of its oldest reactors and plans to close the remaining nine by 2022. That, Pearce found, will push up German carbon emissions as much as 6 percent, or 60 million tons per year. So are these countries merely avoiding one disaster by courting another?
What if it is too late to save the climate by cutting greenhouse gas emissions? What if the amount of carbon dioxide already added to the atmosphere by human activity is so great that it is going to produce big temperature changes no matter what, with big shifts in rainfall and in ocean chemistry?
Options remain, according to a new book, “Suck It Up,” by Marc Gunther, a journalist, blogger and speaker who specializes in energy and climate issues.
If it is too late for zero-carbon electricity generation like wind, solar and nuclear to save us, then we should be exploring radical next steps, he writes. Those include tinkering with the atmosphere by injecting tiny droplets that will reflect some of the sun’s energy back into space and scavenging for carbon dioxide in ambient air.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany defended over the weekend her government’s decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 and replace it with renewable energy sources, dismissing critics who said the government would never make the deadline.
Ms. Merkel made the decision nearly a year ago after a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, caused a meltdown at a nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. The accident heightened anxieties about nuclear safety around the world, and set off new soul-searching about the wisdom of relying on nuclear power.
Weeks after the tsunami, Ms. Merkel’s government had already taken the nation’s oldest eight reactors off line; it decided in June that the remaining nine would follow over the next 11 years. But members of the opposition and environmental organizations say the government has not moved quickly enough to meet Germany’s target of drawing 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Last year, the total was 20 percent.