Energy and Global Warming News for July 13: 6,700-page report by world leaders concludes that climate change means “billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilisation will collapse”

A new report may put The Big Question — “How likely is it that Global Warming will destroy human civilization within the next century?” — back on the front pages:

The planet’s future: Climate change ‘will cause civilisation to collapse’

An effort on the scale of the Apollo mission that sent men to the Moon is needed if humanity is to have a fighting chance of surviving the ravages of climate change. The stakes are high, as, without sustainable growth, “billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilisation will collapse”.

This is the stark warning from the biggest single report to look at the future of the planet — obtained by The Independent on Sunday ahead of its official publication next month. Backed by a diverse range of leading organizations such as Unesco, the World Bank, the US army and the Rockefeller Foundation, the 2009 State of the Future report runs to 6,700 pages and draws on contributions from 2,700 experts around the globe. Its findings are described by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, as providing “invaluable insights into the future for the United Nations, its member states, and civil society.”


Still not the worst-case scenario for homo “sapiens” sapiens (see “Lovelock warns climate war could kill nearly all of us, leaving survivors in the Stone Age”). The story notes:

The effects of climate change are worsening — by 2025 there could be three billion people without adequate water as the population rises still further. And massive urbanisation, increased encroachment on animal territory, and concentrated livestock production could trigger new pandemics.

Although government and business leaders are responding more seriously to the global environmental situation, it continues to get worse, according to the report. It calls on governments to work to 10-year plans to tackle growing threats to human survival, targeting particularly the US and China, which need to apply the sort of effort and resources that put men on the Moon.

Right diagnosis, but wrong treatment. The Apollo program was far, far too tiny an effort to serve as an analogy for what global warming requires. Also, it was about developing new non-commercial technology for the government. We need a WWII-scale effort (see “Advice to a young climate blogger: Always use WWII metaphors”) — massive deployment of existing and near-term technology for the public and businesses.

Chinese-American cabinet officials to prod China on climate change

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visit their ancestral homeland this week to press China to join with the United States in stepped-up efforts to fight global warming.

The two Chinese-American cabinet officials arrive in Beijing on Tuesday to talk with senior Chinese leaders and highlight how working together to cut greenhouse gas emissions would benefit both countries and the entire planet.

The trip also sets the stage for a visit by President Barack Obama to China later this year that many environmental experts hope will focus on the need for joint U.S.-China action before a meeting in Copenhagen in December to try to forge a global deal on reducing the emissions….

“The potential is very large and the need is very serious,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, a U.S. think tank. “It’s not one of those things where one side benefits and the other side pays”…

Chu, a Nobel physicist who has devoted years to climate change issues, is expected to make the case for U.S. and Chinese action to rein in rising global temperatures in a speech on Wednesday at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

“We face an unprecedented threat to our very way of life from climate change,” Chu told U.S. senators last week, warning the world could experience a climatic shift as profound as the last Ice Age but in the opposite direction.

Locke, a former governor from the export-oriented state of Washington, is eager to showcase opportunities for China to reduce carbon dioxide emissions using U.S. solar, wind, water and other renewable technology.

“There’s a huge need in China which creates huge market opportunities for our companies. At the same time, there are big challenges,” a Commerce Department official said.

Eastern Aral Sea has shrunk by 80% since 2006: ESA

The eastern lobe of the disaster-struck Aral Sea seems to have shrunk by four-fifths in just three years, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Friday.

It released an overlay of photographs taken by one of its Earth observation satellites, Envisat, on July 1 2006 and July 6 2009.

Once the world’s fourth-largest inland body of water but now a byword for ecological calamity, the Aral Sea has been retreating over the last half-century after rivers that fed it were diverted for Soviet cotton irrigation projects.

India prays for rain as water wars break out

In Bhopal, and across much of northern India, a late monsoon and the driest June for 83 years are exacerbating the effects of a widespread drought and setting neighbour against neighbour in a desperate fight for survival.

India’s vast farming economy is on the verge of crisis. The lack of rain has hit northern areas most, but even in Mumbai, which has experienced heavy rainfall and flooding, authorities were forced to cut the water supply by 30% last week as levels in the lakes serving the city ran perilously low.

Henry Waxman’s book reveals lessons learned

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is this year’s man of the hour. As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he has been at the center of both health care and climate change legislation, in addition to being a political fixture who has kept K Street and Capitol Hill scrambling for three decades.

His new book, “The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works,” written with The Atlantic’s Joshua Green, offers meaty “” though at times self-serving “” advice for people who want to get things done on the Hill.

In climate change debate, all eyes on Sen. Bayh

On top of Sen. Evan Bayh’s desk is a Congressional Research Service chart that color-codes states with the most carbon emissions per capita in varying shades of red.

His home state of Indiana is fire-engine red.

That helps explain why Bayh is becoming “” for lobbyists, greens and even some anxious House Democrats “” the man to watch as the Senate turns to the issue of climate change.

Bayh is among a handful of Democrats who hail from industrial and coal states who are airing big concerns about the idea of creating a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions.

Storing Nuclear Waste Above Ground May Be Most Viable Solution

Storing nuclear waste above ground at atomic power plants for as long as six decades may be the best temporary solution in the U.S. for the dangerous refuse, university researchers say.

Leaving spent fuel on the site after the stations close may be the most viable and “safe, short-term option,” University of Michigan researcher Rodney Ewing and Princeton University’s Frank von Hippel wrote in Science. In the longer term, the U.S. will need several geological dumps, von Hippel said in yesterday’s report.

Radioactive waste, which is dangerous for thousands of years, is stored temporarily near the reactors that generate it in countries including Spain. There is no permanent solution in sight. In U.S., which has about 60,000 tons of spent waste from power plants and weapons and produces an additional 2,000 tons each year, the material is now spread among more than 120 sites in 39 states, according to the Energy Department.

A Turning Point for the Shipping Industry?

A meeting this week in London is expected to determine how quickly the global shipping industry will tackle greenhouse gas emissions from tankers, cargo ships and cruise liners that crisscross the oceans.

What is unclear is if the plan will be robust enough to be accepted as part of a broader United Nations climate pact to be presented in December in Copenhagen.

One problem for the International Maritime Organization, which is overseeing the talks in London, is that developing countries within the organization have said they should not be penalized as heavily as rich nations.

Energy policy ‘too wind focused’

The UK must invest more in nuclear and clean coal energy and put less emphasis on wind power if it wants a secure low-carbon future, business leaders say.

The CBI says government energy policy is “disjointed” and it is urging a “more balanced” energy mix.

The current approach means the UK might miss climate change targets, it added.

The government said putting in place a balanced mix of renewables, new nuclear and cleaner fossil fuels was at the heart of its energy policy.

A Solar Land Rush

The Department of the Interior’s move last month to accelerate development of large-scale solar power plants on federal land in six Western states could give an edge to companies that have already staked lease claims in 24 new “solar energy study areas.”

The initiative covers 670,000 acres overseen by the department’s Bureau of Land Management in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. During the solar land rush of the past two years, scores of developers large and small have sought the best solar sites, and the bureau is currently reviewing 158 lease applications for solar projects covering 1.8 million acres.

Study urged on water demands of next-generation feedstocks

Extensive studies are needed to understand the water needs of biofuel production from cellulosic feedstocks or other next-generation sources, federal auditors said in a preliminary report released yesterday.

The effects of corn-based ethanol production on water quantity and quality are well understood, the Government Accountability Office report says, but less is known about next-generation feedstocks that have not been grown on a commercial scale.

“There is little information on the cumulative water, nutrient and pesticide needs of these crops, and it is not yet known what agricultural practices will actually be used to cultivate these feedstocks on a commercial scale,” the report says.

The Challenge for Green Energy: How To Store Excess Electricity (report)

For decades, “grid parity” has been the Holy Grail for alternative energy. The rap from critics was that technologies like wind and solar could not compete, dollar-for-dollar, with conventional electricity sources, such as coal and nuclear, without large government tax breaks or direct subsidies. But suddenly, with rapid technological advances and growing economies of manufacturing scale, wind power is now nearly at grid parity “” meaning it costs roughly the same to generate electricity from wind as it does from coal. And the days when solar power attains grid parity may be only a half-decade away.

So with grid parity now looming, finding ways to store millions of watts of excess electricity for times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine is the new Holy Grail. And there are signs that this goal “” the day when large-scale energy storage becomes practical and cost-effective “” might be within reach, as well. Some technologies that can store sizeable amounts of intermittent power are already deployed. Others, including at least a few with great promise, lie somewhere over the technological horizon.

Climate Change May Spell Demise Of Key Salt Marsh Constituent

Global warming may exact a toll on salt marshes in New England, but new research shows that one key constituent of marshes may be especially endangered.

Pannes are waterlogged, low-oxygen zones of salt marshes. Despite the stresses associated with global warming, pannes are “plant diversity hotspots,” according to Keryn Gedan, a graduate student and salt marsh expert at Brown University. At least a dozen species of plants known as forbs inhabit these natural depressions, Gedan said. The species include the purple flower-tipped plants Limonium nashii (sea lavender), the edible plant Salicornia europaea (pickleweed) and Triglochin maritima, a popular food for Brent and Canada geese as well as ducks and other migratory waterfowl.