Energy and Global Warming News for October 28th: China to focus on promoting electric cars; Africas climate conflicts; EPA urged by Big Oil to delay new ozone standards; Remember renewable energy?

China ‘to focus on promoting electric cars’

Chinese authorities have agreed to promote electric cars to address the country’s intensifying energy and pollution concerns, as auto sales surge, an official said Thursday.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and other government agencies have studied the future of China’s auto industry, Zhu Hongren, the ministry’s spokesman, told reporters.

“The basic consensus is to take electric cars as the main strategic direction for the transformation of China’s auto industry,” Zhu said.

Efforts will be made to develop better batteries, engines and electric control technology with the aim of mass producing electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid cars, he said.

China overtook the United States last year to become the world’s largest auto market in terms of units sold.

Zhu said vehicle sales were expected to hit 17 million units this year, up around 25 percent from a year ago.

But he warned that “high attention should be paid” to energy and environmental limitations and the problem of traffic congestion.

Remember Renewable Energy?

Global warming, energy independence and good 21st-century jobs are three compelling reasons why Washington must do a lot more to promote renewable energy. Congress seemed to get it in 2005 when it directed the Interior Department to approve enough wind, solar and other projects on public land to produce 10,000 megawatts by 2015 “” enough to heat, cool and light five million homes. Not much has happened since.

The George W. Bush administration was fixated on oil and gas exploration. The Obama administration was slow to get going. Until a little over three weeks ago, the Interior Department had approved more than 73,000 oil and gas leases since 2005, but only one offshore wind energy project and not a single solar project.

Things are beginning to turn around. In recent weeks, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved six large-scale solar power projects on public land “” five in California, one in Nevada “” that together will provide enough power for as many as two million homes.

He also gave final approval to the country’s first commercial offshore wind farm, off the coast of Massachusetts. And a group of companies including Google announced plans to build an underwater transmission system to carry wind-generated power from public lands on the Atlantic Coast to Eastern cities.

U.S. Environment Agency Is Urged by Oil Group to Delay New Ozone Standards

The Obama administration should postpone issuing restrictive ozone standards that would cost $10 trillion and more than 7 million jobs, the oil and gas industry- funded American Petroleum Institute said today.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed reducing the U.S. air-quality limit for ozone, a main ingredient in smog, to 60 to 70 parts per billion, from 75 parts per billion under President George W. Bush in 2008. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said tighter standards are “long overdue” and will help lower health risks.

API faulted the agency for revisiting the rules sooner than five years as required by law. Most U.S. counties that monitor for smog would be unable to meet the new limit and a study co- sponsored by API shows the rule would cost $1 trillion a year from 2020 to 2030, said Howard Feldman, the group’s director of regulatory affairs.

The new rule “may be unattainable short of eliminating all of human activity,” Feldman said today on a conference call with reporters. “EPA should hold up on tightening the ozone standard until the next regular five-year review.”

The Obama administration rejected the group’s estimates about costs and said previous predictions from lobbyists have turned out to be exaggerated.

Little Change in Opinions about Global Warming

Views about the existence and causes of global warming have changed little over the past year. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that 59% of adults say there is solid evidence that the earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades. In October 2009, 57% said this.

Roughly a third (34%) say that global warming is occurring mostly because of human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, which also is little changed from last year (36%).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 13–18 among 2,251 adults reached on landlines and cell phones, finds that 32% say global warming is a very serious problem while 31% think it is somewhat serious. A year ago, 35% described global warming as a very serious problem and 30% said it was somewhat serious.

In 2006, far more Americans said there was solid evidence that the average temperature has been rising over the past few decades. In July of that year, 79% believed there was evidence of global warming, and half (50%) said it was mostly caused by human activity. Much of the change in attitudes about global warming occurred between April 2008 and last fall, with the decline coming mostly, though not entirely, among Republicans and independents. (See “Fewer Americans See Solid Evidence of Global Warming,” Oct. 22, 2009).

Clean energy must be part of Florida’s future

Especially in these tough economic times, there is a lot of concern about what happens to the Space Coast when the space shuttle stops flying next year. Many of our neighbors “” including thousands of scientists and technical experts individually with decades of experience “” need a new mission. Here’s one worthy of their talents: building a clean energy future.

This is an especially timely topic because of the elections Nov. 2. Our state is at a crossroads. We can either elect candidates who favor old-fashioned policies and the dirty, diminished energy sources of the past.

Or we can vote for those who believe in exploring the promising new frontier that is one of the world’s fastest-growing economic sectors: clean energy.

Clean energy is poised to become the global economy’s next breakout sector. China has announced plans to invest more than $700 billion in clean energy technologies over the next 10 years. Germany has doubled its renewable-energy jobs since 2004. Tokyo has launched Asia’s first carbon market.

Archaeological Sites Threatened by Rising Seas: Scientists Issue Call to Action

Should global warming cause sea levels to rise as predicted in coming decades, thousands of archaeological sites in coastal areas around the world will be lost to erosion. With no hope of saving all of these sites, archaeologists Torben Rick from the Smithsonian Institution, Leslie Reeder of Southern Methodist University, and Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon have issued a call to action for scientists to assess the sites most at risk.

Writing in the Journal of Coastal Conservation and using California’s Santa Barbara Channel as a case study, the researchers illustrate how quantifiable factors such as historical rates of shoreline change, wave action, coastal slope and shoreline geomorphology can be used to develop a scientifically sound way of measuring the vulnerability of individual archaeological sites. They then propose developing an index of the sites most at risk so informed decisions can be made about how to preserve or salvage them.

Urban development, the researchers point out, also is a significant threat to the loss of archaeological data. Coastlines have long been magnets of human settlement and contain a rich array of ancient archaeological sites, many of which have never been excavated. Urban development is projected to remain high in coastal areas, representing a significant danger to undisturbed sites.

When The Water Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts

For thousands of years, nomadic herdsmen have roamed the harsh, semi-arid lowlands that stretch across 80 percent of Kenya and 60 percent of Ethiopia. Descendants of the oldest tribal societies in the world, they survive thanks to the animals they raise and the crops they grow, their travels determined by the search for water and grazing lands.

These herdsmen have long been accustomed to adapting to a changing environment. But in recent years, they have faced challenges unlike any in living memory: As temperatures in the region have risen and water supplies have dwindled, the pastoralists have had to range more widely in search of suitable water and land. That search has brought tribal groups in Ethiopia and Kenya in increasing conflict, as pastoral communities kill each other over water and grass.

“When the Water Ends,” a 16-minute video produced by Yale Environment 360 in collaboration with MediaStorm, tells the story of this conflict and of the increasingly dire drought conditions facing parts of East Africa. To report this video, Evan Abramson, a 32-year-old photographer and videographer, spent two months in the region early this year, living among the herding communities. He returned with a tale that many climate scientists say will be increasingly common in the 21st century and beyond “” how worsening drought in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere will pit group against group, nation against nation. As one UN official told Abramson, the clashes between Kenyan and Ethiopian pastoralists represent “some of the world’s first climate-change conflicts.”

In California’s Mojave Desert, Solar-Thermal Projects Take Off

By year’s end, regulators are expected to approve a host of solar energy projects in California that could eventually produce as much electricity as several nuclear plants. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, John Woolard, the CEO of the company that has begun construction on the world’s largest solar-thermal project, discusses the promise “” and challenges “” of this green energy boom.

This week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and other dignitaries gathered in the Mojave Desert to officially break ground on BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the first large-scale solar thermal power plant to be built in the United States in nearly two decades.

BrightSource is one of a half-dozen big solar farms, with a combined electricity-generating capacity of 2,829 megawatts, licensed by the California Energy Commission over the past two months. By year’s end, California and federal regulators expect to approve additional projects that will produce a total of 4,143 megawatts. At peak output, that’s the equivalent of several nuclear power plants and more than seven times the solar capacity installed in the United States last year.

The approval of the projects comes after years of environmental review and controversies over the installations’ impact on water, wildlife, and fragile desert landscapes. The power plants licensed so far will cover some 39 square miles of desert land with a variety of new and old solar thermal technologies. Unlike rooftop photovoltaic panels that directly convert sunlight into electricity, solar thermal uses the sun to heat liquids to create steam that drives electricity-generating industrial turbines.

EPA defends planned rules over power concerns

The Obama administration is defending its plans to crack down on industrial pollution after a report from a utility group found proposed regulations may result in tighter U.S. power supplies.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp released a study on Tuesday that found four possible Environmental Protection Agency rules could “accelerate the retirement of a significant number of fossil fuel-fired power plants”.

Utilities may have to replace or make efficiency gains for up to 70 gigawatts, or about 7 percent, of U.S. power generation by 2015, the study said.

The EPA disputed those findings on Wednesday, saying the report by the industry group relied on faulty assumptions.

“By NERC’s own admission, its projections about electricity supply impacts rest on its own fortune-telling about future regulations that have not even been proposed yet,” EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said in a statement.

Gilfillan said the EPA would be “sensitive” on reliability issues as it developed rules.

World Bank to lead economic push on nature protection

The World Bank has launched a global partnership aimed at helping countries include the costs of destroying nature into their national accounts.

Ten nations will take part in the pilot phase, including India and Colombia.

The bank’s president Robert Zoellick said environmental destruction happens partly because governments do not account for the value of nature.

The partnership was launched at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nagoya, Japan.

“We know that human well-being depends on ecosystems and biodiversity,” said Mr Zoellick.

“We also know they’re degrading at an alarming rate.

“One of the causes is our failure to properly value ecosystems and all they do for us — and the solution therefore lies in taking full account of our ecosystem services when countries make policies.”

Norway’s Environment Minister Erik Solheim said re-valuing nature in this way would force business practices to change.

Hopes for treaty rise at UN biodiversity summit

Hopes rose that rich and poor nations would be able to forge a historic treaty to protect the world’s ecosystems after grinding progress was made at a UN summit on Thursday, delegates said.

Representatives of more than 190 countries have been meeting in the central Japanese city of Nagoya for nearly two weeks in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.

With talks due to wind up Friday, delegates said last-minute negotiations among environment ministers had helped bridge key differences between developed and developing countries that had threatened to derail the event.

“Things are unlocking, but there is very little time left,” France’s state secretary for the environment, Chantal Jouanno, told AFP.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, also emerged from talks in the afternoon to post an optimistic message on microblogging website Twitter: “Can we do it? Yes we can. But do the others agree?”

Koch Leaves Federal Cancer Panel as Groups Urge Ethics Probe

Energy magnate David Koch ceded his spot on a National Cancer Institute (NCI) advisory board last month, but green advocates are taking aim at the conservative mega-donor nonetheless by calling for a review of federal ethics policies that allowed him to sit on the panel despite a potential conflict of interest.

Koch Industries Inc., the privately held company run by Koch and his brother Charles, burst onto the political scene this year thanks to multimillion-dollar contributions the duo steered to right-leaning groups that help fuel the tea party movement. But David Koch’s membership on the National Cancer Advisory Board, which advises NCI, became a flashpoint of its own after The New Yorker magazine last month reported that a Koch-owned company lobbied against designating formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen while he sat on the panel.

In a request sent Monday to the Office of Government Ethics, which polices executive-branch conflicts of interest, Greenpeace and Physicians for Social Responsibility asked for a full accounting of any financial disclosures Koch was required to make ahead of his nomination to the advisory board by then-President George W. Bush.

“It is astounding that [advisory board] rules permit the selection of any board members with known bias and direct conflicts of interests to be on the [advisory] board where they can directly influence matters as important as public health policy,” representatives from the two groups wrote.