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Energy and Global Warming News for January 19: Even plants may not like a warmer world

Even Plants May Not Like a Warmer World

Most of the fallout from climate change is likely to be disruptive, to put it mildly. It’s hard to put a positive spin on rising seas, increased drought and wildfires, shrinking water supplies and more acidic oceans. For the plants that form the very foundation of the food chain, though, an argument can be made that both global warming itself and the rising carbon dioxide levels that cause it are actually a good thing. CO2, after all, is essential for the photosynthesis that most plants depend on for nourishment. And as winters get milder and shorter, plants will have longer growing seasons. More food plus more time to eat it seems like a recipe for very happy vegetables.

But the story is a lot more complicated than that. “There’s a big range of very powerful interactions in nature,” says Chris Field, director of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University. “It’s very risky to make strong projections based on single-factor explanations.”

The latest evidence for that assertion comes in a study just published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, in which Finnish researchers looked at how the northern forests will respond as the growing season gets longer. In the current climate, says lead author Anna Kuparinen, of the University of Helsinki, pine and birch trees in the northernmost parts of Europe are stunted, in part because they have less time to grow each year than their more southerly counterparts. They’ve also evolved mechanisms that protect them from the harshest cold. “They actually stop growing before the frost comes,” says Kuparinen.

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If the frost starts coming later, though, she says, they can’t un-evolve overnight. “The current forests won’t immediately start growing taller and stronger,” she says. Eventually, the evolutionary process will catch up, as new seedlings without the frost response take over. “In principle, however,” says Kuparinen, “this process will take a long time. The rate of evolution is slower than the rate at which climate will change.” The forests would thus get no benefit, remaining stunted until seedlings without early dormancy genes can take root and take over.

And this is only the latest in a long line of modeling studies and experiments that show how complicated the climate-vegetation connection can be.

World leaders make new call for clean energy commitments

World leaders raised a fresh alarm on global warming Monday, urging international action to increase use of clean energy at a four-day forum that opened in the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi.

“If we don?t act now, our coral reefs and rainforests will die, desert countries will become unbearably hot and low lying countries like the Maldives, will slip beneath the rising seas,” said the president of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed.

“Tackling climate change is not like dealing with other global issues, such as trade or disarmament. We do not have the luxury of time to meet, year after year, in endless negotiations,” the leader of the low-lying Indian Ocean nation told participants at the World Future Energy Summit.

‘No Basis’ for Excluding Climate Impacts From NEPA Reviews, CEQ Says

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has found “no basis” for excluding greenhouse gas emissions from National Environmental Policy Act reviews.

Responding to inquiries from Republican lawmakers, CEQ Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said NEPA “cannot be used to regulate greenhouse gas emissions” and that the Obama administration remains committed to energy and climate legislation to address those broader issues.

“Nonetheless, NEPA compels Federal agencies to consider environmental effects before undertaking significant actions or policies,” Sutley wrote in a letter to the lawmakers late last month. “CEQ sees no basis for excluding greenhouse gas emissions from that consideration.”

Wal-Mart completes a megawatt solar project in Apple Valley

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. keeps moving ahead with its plan to shift its power supply to renewable energy with the completion of its largest solar-power project yet.

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart completed three other solar projects in Paramount, Baldwin Park and San Bernardino.

This time, the mega-corporation has wrapped up the installation of more than 5,300 solar panels across nearly 7 acres at its Apple Valley distribution center. The setup will generate 1 megawatt of power, the equivalent of the supply needed by 175 homes.

The company’s solar initiative was first announced in May 2007 and expanded in April 2009 to aim for 10 to 20 solar facilities in California over 18 months. A month later, in May, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge blocked the discount retailer’s plan for a Yucca Valley supercenter, in part because Wal-Mart’s proposal did not include solar-power provisions.

Cap-and-Trade Proceeds for Residents?

A California family of four could receive more than $1,000 every year if aproposal floated by state officials is approved.

The recommendation, adopted by the state Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee last week, would send money from the state’s new cap-and-trade program back to residents.

But the group could not decide if the money should be distributed in checks, tax breaks or tax abatements.

The system would help the state meet its ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

Under California’s cap-and-trade system, which begins in 2012, polluters would buy carbon allowances at auction. Polluters would have a cap, or limit, on the amount of greenhouse gases they emit every year. If a company wanted to emit more, it would have to buy an allowance inthe auction.

The state projects it will earn from $2 billion to $22 billion annually from 2012 to 2020.

Europe’s Growing Offshore Wind Capacity

Europe’s fledgling offshore wind industry will grow this year by 1,000 megawatts, or 75 percent, the European Wind Energy Association forecast in a report Monday.

That compares with a 54 percent growth rate in 2009, when nearly 199 turbines and 577 megawatts of offshore wind were installed.

India to have 6,000 MW solar power by 2017: Ramesh

Promising action that will help curb India’s dependence on coal, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh, said India will have at least 6,000 MW of installed solar power capacity by 2017, bulk of which will be put up by the private sector.

Ramesh said the Jawarharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, launched in the national capital last week, has planned 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2022 and intends to drive down costs through a rapid scale-up of capacity.

“In the next two years, we are not going to see huge amounts of capacity but by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan (2017), I expect to see at least 5,000–6,000 MW of capacity,” Ramesh told reporters on the sidelines of a conference here yesterday.

This is higher than the target of 4,000 MW of solar power by 2017 envisaged in the solar mission document.

Group aims to gain support for wind energy hub

Political and business leaders announced Friday the formation of a group to promote building a wind energy farm off the coast and to attract businesses to supply what members hope will be an emerging green industry.

Members of the new group, the Virginia Offshore Wind Coalition, said they want to make Hampton Roads and Virginia a national wind energy hub.

“This is an immense opportunity,” said Josh Prueher, vice chairman of the coalition and president of Earl Energy, a Portsmouth renewable energy firm that’s part of Earl Industries, a ship repair company.

He estimated the industry could create 10,000 jobs and be worth $80 billion to the region.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms said he wants Hampton Roads to be the “Silicon Valley” of wind energy.

China to tackle climate change challenges to agriculture

As climate change poses a great challgenge to China’s agricultural sector, the government and farmers should tackle it in a scientific and systematic way, Chinese Vice Minister of Agriculture Niu Dun said in an interview with Xinhua.

Climate change has posed great threats to the traditional farming sector, and extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, hailstorm, tropical storms, have ruined harvests far more often than before, Niu said.

He was in Berlin to attend the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, held during the 75th International Green Week in Berlin, the world’s largest agricultural and food fair.

“The destructive power of climate change has reminded us of theneed to view the issue with a multi-dimensional perspective,” he said. “We should tackle the challenges by renewing the agricultural system and continuously developing the country’s economy.”

The Chinese government would help farmers, herdsmen and fishermen create a sustainable mode of production by applying new technologies with lower costs and lower emissions, Niu said.

“The government will intensify investment of agricultural infrastructure and projects and impart more scientific knowledge and climate-friendly concepts to farmers,” the vice-minister said.