Energy and Global Warming News for February 25: Obama: ‘Price on carbon pollution’ key to ‘competitive America’; Projects across US turn landfill gas to energy; World warming unhindered by cold spells — scientists
"Energy and Global Warming News for February 25: Obama: ‘Price on carbon pollution’ key to ‘competitive America’; Projects across US turn landfill gas to energy; World warming unhindered by cold spells — scientists"
President Barack Obama reiterated his support for putting a price on carbon during an address to the Business Roundtable today.
“A competitive America is also an America that finally has a smart energy policy. We know there is no silver bullet here – that to reduce our dependence on oil and the damage caused by climate change, we need more production, more efficiency, and more incentives for clean energy.
“Already, the Recovery Act has allowed us to jumpstart the clean energy industry in America – an investment that will lead to 720,000 clean energy jobs by 2012. To take just one example, the United States used to make less than 2% of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrid cars. By 2015, we’ll have enough capacity to make up to 40% of these batteries.
“We’ve also launched an unprecedented effort to make our homes and businesses more energy efficient. We’ve announced loan guarantees to break ground on America’s first new nuclear plant in nearly three decades. We are supporting three of the largest solar plants in the world. And I’ve said that we’re willing to make tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.
“But to truly transition to a clean energy economy, I’ve also said that we need to put a price on carbon pollution. Many businesses have embraced this approach – including some here today. Still, I am sympathetic to those companies that face significant transition costs, and I want to work with organizations like this to help with those costs and get our policies right.
“What we can’t do is stand still. The only certainty of the status quo is that the price and supply of oil will become increasingly volatile; that the use of fossil fuels will wreak havoc on weather patterns and air quality. But if we decide now that we’re putting a price on this pollution in a few years, it will give businesses the certainty of knowing they have time to plan and transition. This country has to move towards a clean energy economy. That’s where the world is going. And that’s how America will remain competitive and strong in the 21st century.”
The pace of global warming continues unabated, scientists said on Thursday, despite images of Europe crippled by a deep freeze and parts of the United States blasted by blizzards. The bitter cold, with more intense winter weather forecast for March in parts of the United States, have led some to question if global warming has stalled.
Understanding the overall trend is crucial for estimating consumption of energy supplies, such as demand for winter heating oil in the U.S. northeast, and impacts on agricultural production.
“It’s not warming the same everywhere but it is really quite challenging to find places that haven’t warmed in the past 50 years,” veteran Australian climate scientist Neville Nicholls told an online climate science media briefing.
“January, according to satellite (data), was the hottest January we’ve ever seen,” said Nicholls of Monash University’s School of Geography and Environmental Science in Melbourne.
“Last November was the hottest November we’ve ever seen, November-January as a whole is the hottest November-January the world has seen,” he said of the satellite data record since 1979.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in December that 2000-2009 was the hottest decade since records began in 1850, and that 2009 would likely be the fifth warmest year on record. WMO data show that eight out of the 10 hottest years on record have all been since 2000.
Britain’s official forecaster, the UK Met Office, said severe winter freezes like the one this year, one of the coldest winters in the country for nearly 30 years, could become increasingly rare because of the overall warming trend.
Nationwide, the number of landfill gas projects, which convert methane gas emitted from decomposing garbage into power, jumped from 399 in 2005 to 519 last year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. President Obama, who is promoting wind, solar and nuclear power as ways to generate clean energy, has made Recovery Act funds available for the projects.
“There’s certainly an increasing interest in doing these projects,” says Rachel Goldstein, leader of EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, which provides technical help to develop them. She says they are popular because they control energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As garbage decomposes, it creates gas that is half methane, which has 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. Instead of letting the gas escape into the air, these projects collect the gas and treat it so it can be used for electricity or upgraded to pipeline-grade gas. The projects power homes, buildings and vehicles.
President Obama, who is promoting wind, solar and nuclear power as ways to generate clean energy, has made Recovery Act funds available for the projects.
Landfill gas provides constant power and doesn’t “require the sun to shine or the wind to blow,” says Wes Muir, of Waste Management, a Houston-based company that runs 115 of these projects and plans to have 160 to 170 by 2013.
His company worked on a $15.5 million, partly state-funded project in Livermore, Calif., that in November began producing 13,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas each day. Another project last year, which cost $45 million, is generating enough power that the University of New Hampshire has cut its natural gas usage by 80%, he said.
Back in the Pliocene era, between 5 million and 3 million years ago, the average global temperature was about 7°F warmer than it is today, yet atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were about the same. If carbon dioxide were the sole factor in warming, that wouldn’t make any sense. It isn’t, of course; there are several other contributors, including the brightness of the sun and the location of the continents (whose positions dictate, among other things, where ice caps can form) “” but these were all pretty much the same in the Pliocene as well.
So what accounted for the higher global temperature? According to a new paper in Nature, one possible factor is hurricanes. Scientists have long suspected that global warming could make hurricanes more intense somehow, but the new study suggests the effect works both ways: tropical cyclones could help drive up temperatures in response. “We’re suggesting that hurricanes could have created a permanent El Ni±o condition,” says Yale’s Alexey Fedorov, lead author of the study.
The ice shelves in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula appear to be disappearing because of climate change, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey.
“The loss of ice shelves is evidence of the effects of global warming,” says USGS scientist and lead author Jane Ferrigno.
Melting of the West Antarctic part alone of the Antarctic ice sheet would cause a worldwide sea-level rise of approximately 18 feet. According to the report, “the resulting rise in sea level could severely impact the densely populated coastal regions on Earth.”
In the worst-case scenario, the potential sea-level rise if the entire Antarctic ice sheet melts is estimated to be 213 to 240 feet.
“The changes exhibited in the region are widely regarded as among the most profound and unambiguous examples of the effects of global warming yet seen on the planet,” the authors write in the report.
Since 1998, the ice lost from just one of the five ice shelves in the study totals more than 1,500 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Scientists used satellite and aerial photographs and maps dating back to the 1940s as sources for the report. The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of Antarctica.
The report acknowledges that while parts of the Antarctic ice sheet are thickening, on balance, it is probably becoming thinner overall.
The full report, “Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947″”2009″ is available online.
Livermore, home to two major U.S. weapons laboratories, existed as a city of fences and secrets during the Cold War and for years afterward. Now, some of those fences are receding. Both of the city’s weapons labs””Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories””are moving forward on plans to build a campus where government scientists and outside researchers can work together on clean-energy technology.
Dubbed the Livermore Valley Open Campus, the project is set to rise on a roughly 110-acre parcel on the labs’ sprawling property. The new facility is envisioned as a green-technology hub where scientists can apply weapons-making aptitude to other endeavors, such as renewable energy and fuel-efficient vehicles. The initiative is expected to receive financing from both the federal government, which operates the labs, and the private sector.
As part of the project, a new road is being built to connect the planned campus to the main Livermore road. Preliminary construction work has begun, and a comprehensive plan for the campus is expected by October.
“We’ve been hiding behind the fence for too long,” says Bob Carling, director of Sandia’s transportation energy center.
In Livermore, officials hope the new campus will give an economic lift to the city of 84,000 people. To complement the facility, Livermore has set up a regional incubator program involving neighboring towns, universities and businesses. The initiative is expected to create several thousand jobs and bring in an additional $500 million in investment over 10 years, according to city’s economic-development department.
The new initiative””unveiled last summer by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration””has received national attention. President Barack Obama’s new budget proposal this month cited the open campus plan. Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office recently added Livermore’s incubator initiative, dubbed I-Gate, to the list of projects to receive funding under a new major state program.