Energy and Global Warming News for June 15th: Coal port built to withstand rising sea levels, Lifestyle melts away with Uganda peak snow cap

If you look up irony in the dictionary….

This new Australian port, which is built in an area vulnerable to rising sea levels, is to export coal that will contribute to climate change.

Coal group coy about port exposure to rising seas

A new coal port that will cement Newcastle’s place as the largest coal exporter in the world is quietly being built up by several metres, apparently in preparation for the rising sea levels brought about by climate change.


The new coal loader is being constructed on a low-lying island on the Hunter River, fringed with tidal mangrove swamps, in an area vulnerable to higher seas, storm surges and coastal erosion.

A landmark aerial survey of Newcastle and Wyong, undertaken by the State Government and the CSIRO, found large tracts of land, including hundreds of houses, were at risk of inundation with seas expected to rise by up to 90 centimetres by the end of the century, prompting the Government to issue new planning guidelines to coastal councils earlier this year.

But the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group, the collection of six mining companies funding the $900 million new port, has refused to say whether rising sea levels figured in its plans. A spokesman for the group said parts of the site were two to three metres above sea level and the area was being further buttressed by 3 million cubic metres of sediment dredged up from the south arm of the Hunter River….

“This material has added two to three metres in average height to the site, well above the areas of concern outlined in the [NSW Government] report,” a spokesman, Chris Ford, said.

But the company remains coy about whether the site had been built up because of climate change concerns. It is a sensitive question because the coal exported from the port would make a measurable contribution to climate change.

“Coy.” Hmm. Major coal company compared in Australian media to a 16-year-old girl. Does the company remain “coy” about its role in destroying a livable climate for the country’s citizens (see “Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in” and “Australia today offers horrific glimpse of U.S. Southwest, much of planet, post-2040, if we don’t slash emissions soon”)? When do these companies come of age and not act like some teenager who thinks she’s going to live forever? When does the Australian government act like a responsible parent?

It is set to handle up to 66 million tonnes of coal each year, which the NSW Department of Planning estimates would release 174 million tonnes of greenhouse gas when burnt in overseas power stations. This would raise the world’s carbon dioxide emissions by 0.5 per cent, the equivalent of boosting Australia’s entire domestic carbon emissions by a third.

Climate change was the main focus of the bulk of 736 public submissions to an expert panel convened by the state Planning Department in 2006 to assess the port’s environmental impact.

“When people were addressing the expert panel, a lot of them raised what we saw as the irony of a project that was making a contribution to climate change but was also in an area that we knew was very vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” said Georgina Woods, a spokeswoman for the local environment group Rising Tide.

The Director-General’s environmental assessment report noted some of these concerns, but concluded that they were not sufficient to stop construction going ahead. “A refusal of the subject application will not address or ameliorate global warming impacts, but will prevent the economic benefits of the project from being realised,” the 2007 report concluded.

This isn’t ironic — it is tragic, and doubly so because Australia is probably more vulnerable to human caused climate change than any other habited continent in the world.

Lifestyle melts away with Uganda peak snow cap

In 1906, Mount Speke, one the highest peaks of Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains was covered with 217 hectares (536 acres) of ice, according to the Climate Change Unit at Uganda’s ministry of water and environment. In 2006, only 18.5 hectares remained.

Satellite images taken in 1987 and again in 2005 show that much of the thaw has occurred over the past two decades.

“¦For the people of Bundibugyo who rely on agriculture to survive, temperature increases have changed their lives dramatically.

Microbes Found That Eat Hydrocarbons, And Leave Behind Non-toxic Residue

Bioremediation of industrial sites and petrochemical spillages often involves finding microbes that can gorge themselves on the toxic chemicals. This leaves behind a non-toxic residue or mineralized material. Writing in the International Journal of Environment and Pollution, researchers in China describe studies of a new microbe that can digest hydrocarbons.

Hong-Qi Wang and Yan-Jun Chen College of Water Sciences, Beijing Normal University, working with Bo-Ya Qin of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of China, have investigated the activity of enzymes from the bacterium Bacillus cereus DQ01, which can digest the hydrocarbon n-hexadecane. The bacterium was initially isolated from the Daqing oil field in North East China where it had evolved the ability to metabolize this chemical.

Markey denies GOP’s charge of witness intimidation

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) denied Friday that he sought to intimidate the CEO of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. by sending a letter to federal regulators the same day he was scheduled to testify on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s climate change bill.

At issue is a letter Markey, chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last Tuesday that included two specific questions about business dealings of MidAmerican.

EU, US criticised for low profile in Bonn climate talks

The EU and the US took a backseat at the negotiating table during the second round of global climate talks in Bonn, while Japan shocked developing countries by announcing a “shameful” emissions reduction target.

As the two-week talks drew to a close on Friday (12 June), the negotiating text had swelled to hundreds of pages as all parties raced to add their amendments. There was, however, no movement towards agreement on financing for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries, recognised as a prerequisite for any agreement in Copenhagen next December.

The European Union was criticised for sending the wrong signals, as EU finance ministers at their meeting on 9 June did not put forward any concrete figures but merely agreed on criteria for how developed nations should share the burden of future funding (EurActiv 09/06/09). The US was equally criticised for a lack of leadership.

Bills to protect Oregon environment derailed by finances

Even with a Democratic majority and support from the governor, environmental legislation this session couldn’t contend with the state’s economic woes.

A carbon cap-and-trade bill, Senate Bill 80, the core of the governor’s climate-change legislation, has been amended so many times that the original backers are urging legislators to abandon it.

Most of the rest of the climate change and clean energy bills died in committee.

“¦Now instead of pushing a renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction agenda, environmentalists find themselves fighting threats to those initiatives or laws passed in 2007.

Solar Plane Aims for 36-Hour Flight

A prototype of the Solar Impulse, an aircraft powered entirely by the sun, is expected to be unveiled on June 26 at an airfield near Zurich in Switzerland.

One of the plane’s most noteworthy features is a giant wingspan measuring 63 meters (about 207 feet), or roughly that of a large commercial passenger aircraft. That design is aimed in large part at maximizing surface area in order to make it possible to attach 11,628 solar cells.

The plane will carry four 100 kilogram lithium batteries each powering a propeller engine. But the overall weight of the plane is 1,600 kilograms (3,527 pounds), or about that of a car.

The first test flight will be toward the end this year, according to Andr© Borschberg, the chief executive of the project. The batteries of the aircraft will be charged the day before the missions using the solar cells on the wings so it can take-off, fly, and land using no external power sources, according to Mr. Borschberg.

Oysters in deep trouble: Is Pacific Ocean’s chemistry killing sea life?

In 2005, when most of the millions of Pacific oysters in this tree-lined estuary failed to reproduce, Washington’s shellfish growers largely shrugged it off.

In a region that provides one-sixth of the nation’s oysters “” the epicenter of the West Coast’s $111 million oyster industry “” everyone knows nature can be fickle.

But then the failure was repeated in 2006, 2007 and 2008. It spread to an Oregon hatchery that supplies baby oysters to shellfish nurseries from Puget Sound to Los Angeles. Eighty percent of that hatchery’s oyster larvae died, too.

Now, as the oyster industry heads into the fifth summer of its most unnerving crisis in decades, scientists are pondering a disturbing theory. They suspect water that rises from deep in the Pacific Ocean “” icy seawater that surges into Willapa Bay and gets pumped into seaside hatcheries “” may be corrosive enough to kill baby oysters.

If true, that could mean shifts in ocean chemistry associated with carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels may be impairing sea life faster and more dramatically than expected.