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Oct 222013

Nearly all life on Earth could go extinct due to man-made climate change. That’s the main thrust of a new Internet documentary Last Hours, directed by Leila Conners, who also co-wrote the short film with Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks. The host of RT’s “The Big Picture” talks to Meghan Lopez about the Permian Mass Extinction.

And here is the short film:

Sep 202013

From Green Right Now Reports

The US EPA today released its proposal to restrict carbon emissions from new power plants, a major step toward curbing the greenhouse gases forcing climate change.

Environmentalists, including Al Gore, speaking as founder of the Climate Reality Project, praised the move:

This is a critical achievement for President Barack Obama and his administration. In the face of an intransigent and inactive Congress, the President has made halting the climate crisis a priority. The policies announced today, combined with the rest of the President’s Climate Action Plan, will put us on the path toward solving the climate crisis, but Congress must also soon face the reality of the situation.

Three years ago, Congress failed to put a price on carbon and, in doing so, allowed global warming pollution to continue unabated. We have seen the disturbing consequences that the climate crisis has to offer — from a drought that covered 60% of our nation to Superstorm Sandy which wreaked havoc and cost the taxpayers billions, from wildfires spreading across large areas of the American West to severe flooding in cities all across our country — we have seen what happens when we fail to act. We need a price on carbon. We need it now.

Gore wants a price on carbon pollution, others have called for a carbon tax. Both approaches aim to reduce carbon emissions faster, and both are controversial.

Today’s move by the EPA simply exercises the agency’s regulatory authority to set carbon pollution thresholds, just as it sets limits for other forms of pollution, such as mercury and arsenic emissions. The EPA has not previously set limits on carbon, but the U.S. Supreme Court settled a lawsuit over the issue, confirming that regulating greenhouse gas emissions is within the EPA’s authority.

With the new carbon rule, the EPA takes aims at the biggest single emitter of greenhouse gases, the electricity sector. Power plants running on fossil fuels account for about 33 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide.

GreenHouse Gases graphic EPA

GreenHouse Gas Emissions (Image: EPA)

The carbon limits released today would apply only to new power plants burning coal or natural gas. Still, they are expected to slow emissions by pushing  power producers to install carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants, switch to cleaner-burning natural gas or build more non-polluting renewal energy into their plans.

The new standards will “spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Under the new rules — subject to a 60-day public comment period — new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

Currently, coal-fired plants in the U.S. emit about double that amount of emissions, on average, according to EPA documents, which report that coal-fired generation plants emit about 2,249 lbs/MWh.

In tandem with today’s release,  officials also launched a “broad-based outreach” campaign to help states, non-profits, governments and labor work together to set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

Here’s more information for those who want to file a public comment about this proposal.



Aug 292013

Green Right Now Reports

In his first major policy address since taking over at the Department of Energy, Dr. Ernest J. Moniz sought to explain the administration’s “all of the above” energy plan and answered critics who accuse Obama supporting natural gas development despite concerns that fracking contaminates air and water.

You can see Moniz’  hour-plus full talk Monday at Columbia University here, or read the synopsis of the highlights below.


The topic actually didn’t come up until the end of the address, when the moderator explained that about half of the question cards turned in by the audience dealt with hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a hugely controversial topic in New York and elsewhere where citizens are worried about the effects of intensive fracking operations on community water supplies and local air quality. Residents living near intensively fracked areas have reported problems with well water as well as skin rashes and respiratory issues.

Asked what the role for natural gas should be in the new energy economy, Moniz was clear that it has its place.

“It is a fact that in these last years, the natural gas revolution as they say has been a  major contributor to reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

Moniz Energy Address Aug. 2013 smallAbout half of the progress so far toward reducing overall U.S. carbon emissions under the Obama Administration has been due to the substitution of natural gas for coal in power plants, he continued.

“In my previous life at MIT when we did a study on natural gas, if you asked the question up front — is natural gas a part of the problem or part of the solution for climate change? — we reached the conclusion that yes, that certainly in the near term and potentially for some years  out, this substitution of natural gas for coal combustion, without carbon capture [for coal], would be a major contributor to reducing carbon emissions.”

Down the road if the U.S. is really cracking down on carbon emissions that might change, he said, then “gas itself would have to have carbon capture or it would be too carbon intensive.”

Asked about fracking’s methane gas emissions, which are greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, Moniz noted that these could be captured and put to use, and that an Obama-decreed task force of multiple federal agencies would be looking at the problem of methane gas leakage from hydraulic fracturing.

The “War on Coal”  

The administration has had to walk a fine line on fossil fuels, on the one hand supporting natural gas for reducing carbon emissions by replacing coal (and also cracking down on pollution from coal-fired power plants) and on the other hand, arguing that it has not launched a “war on coal.”

Moniz stayed on the tight rope.

Directing the EPA to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants was Obama ‘s best open route to bring down the carbon emissions that are driving climate change, he said.

“It is the most significant step the president can take with executive action, absent legislative action, but the charges of it being a  ’war on coal’ is a misunderstanding or a misstatement of what is being called the all-of-the-above approach to US energy.”

The All-of-the-Above Energy Plan

In addition to addressing criticism from the right that the administration has started a war on coal, Moniz addressed critics on the left who quibble that Obama’s oft-described “all of the above” energy plan is soft on fossil fuels.

“The idea is that ‘allof the above’ means we will invest in the technology, research and demonstration so that all of our energy sources can be enabled as market place competitors in a low carbon energy world.”

“That’s what we mean by all of the above”

But while fossil fuels are included in the “all of the above” vision, it’s a plan that still begins with the core goal of reducing carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels, he said.

Moniz also suggested that in a nation dependent on transportation, which is largely dependent upon oil, would be foolish not to challenge the fossil fuel industry to come up with its own lower carbon solutions.

U.S. policymakers, he said, must be “pragmatic” and “practical”.

On Climate Change

“I’m not here to debate what’s not debatable. The evidence is  overwhelming, the science is clear, certainly clear for the level that one  needs for policy making in terms of the real and urgent threat of climate change. . . .”

“Prudence demands strong commonsense near term policy actions to minimize the risks of global warming and that’s what the president’s  Climate Action plan does in the absence of legislative remedies.”

On Renewables

Moniz waxed hopeful, and sounded most passionate, discussing green energy technologies.

U.S. wind power, he noted, had tripled in capacity since 2008, accounting for 44 percent of new electricity capacity in 2012 and dropping in price to a “levelized” 6 cents per kilowatt.

Solar PV modules, he said, cost about 1 percent of what they did 30 years ago and utility-scale solar is creating a disruptive, but positive force on the grid.

LED lights have advanced with lightning speed and offer a lifetime savings of $100 for every incandescent 60 watt bulb they replace.

“The future,” Moniz said, “may not always be 10 years away.”

Jul 122013
Rising Temps, Shrinking Snowpack Fuel Western Wildfires (via Climate Central)

By Alyson Kenward Follow @alysonkenward Wildfire trends in the West are clear: there are more large fires burning now than at any time in the past 40 years and the total area burned each year has also increased. To explore these trends, Climate Central…

Continue reading »

May 132013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

So now we’re at 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere — or 399.89, according to a revision of last week’s reading.

Either way, we’ve reached a level  higher than any previously experienced by human beings.

We hit that landmark, or near landmark, this past week at the weather observatory in Mauna Loa, which records daily CO2 concentrations in the air.

This is a threshold worthy of our attention because scientists believe our upper comfort zone may be only 450 ppm. Considering how fast we moved from 350 ppm (last seen around 1990), considered a safe level for humans, to 400 ppm, we’re clearly on a crash course toward massive change. (See graph.)

The Keeling Curve

CO2 levels are rising super fast, after centuries of stability, caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels.

And still, I can imagine some people responding to this news with a blank stare; a so-what attitude.

They haven’t got the time to think about it and they’re not certain they need to, because frankly, their corner of the world doesn’t look all that different. Some may have been persuaded to ignore or even ridicule the problem by the mocking pseudo scientists working 24/7 on behalf of the oil and coal industries to minimize and discredit climate science.

Others may shove climate change out of their vision, because they’ve simply got oppressive financial/family/medical problems. (And their corner of the world doesn’t look all that different.)

Even people who are directly affected by climate change — they’ve lived through extreme drought, or Hurricane Sandy or suffered worsening  asthma as ragweed proliferates in a carbon-rich atmosphere — may still fail to see the urgency. They chalk up super storms, ice melts and rising oceans to weather aberrations. They think someone at MIT will solve Planet Earth’s luge slide toward disaster.

Arctic as of Sept. 16, 2012 PROMO

The North Polar Ice Cap shrunk to its smallest point ever on Sept. 16, 2012. The red line shows the average area it used to cover in September from 1979 to 2000.

Others may look critically at the alarming rise in greenhouse gases (it’s methane too) and just hit brain freeze — 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide pollution. Isn’t that still highly diluted? Who knows. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Of course that’s not what our shrinking Arctic ice cap is saying. It’s lost about half its volume since 2004.

I can understand all these s0-so reactions to the 400 ppm news. Climate change is hard to see, unless you’re living near a vanishing glacier or on a Pacific Ocean island that’s being subsumed. It’s an unparalleled, gargantuan threat. It looms over everything. That’s hard to wrap your head around.

But we have to try.

I propose that we start right now to think about climate change as a giant, lurking monster, sort of like in Alien (we’re the crew). Even better, we should visual it as the scariest possible thing. I come up with this: a phalanx of missiles with nuclear warheads aimed at our cities and towns. Picture these missiles coming from wherever you want. They could be on the moon. (The Soviet Union’s been dissolved.) But your town is in range. In fact, it’s in the bulls-eye.

Nuclear Bomb Cloud over Nagasaki Japan, Wikimedia

Sorry to have to bring it up, but this is the atomic bomb cloud over Nagasaki, Japan. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This should work well for Americans, because we’re generally energized by arms debates, large and small. And there’s a microcosm of this scenario called North Korea vs. the world.

Now, every time you hear that this invisible carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen, picture a new bank of missiles being added to those already in place. The missile field is large, like the size of Rhode Island or Kardashian’s collective egos.

This vision of annihilation might help you see climate change as something concrete and ominous. Sorry, we can’t personalize it with a Soviet dictator; in this case, we are all pulling the strings: Your SUV, your neighbor’s gas well, the friendly local coal-fired power plant, all those cook stoves in the developing world, Wall Street with it’s relentless drive for profits and everyone you know who eats meat three times a day. We all carry a share of the blame.

Now let’s step this vision up a notch, because climate change is really worse than the nuclear missile threat, in a key way. Missiles can be disarmed, and so can climate change, but only up to a point.

At a certain point in time, our homegrown climate change missiles cannot be disengaged. After certain tipping points (if you believe the scientists) a timer starts ticking. In a sense, it is already ticking. But we’re talking about the point of no return. When that final timer begins, we are doomed.  And as we focus in on this possibility, remember, try to remember that this is not a TV show. Castle will not figure out the password in the 11th Hour (a film we should all see by the way, though like an increasing number of DiCaprio flicks, it’s not uplifting).

Earth will be on an irretrievable course,  ready to shake of current life forms and hit restart.

But let’s not dwell on it.

There’s one other aspect we need to consider to round out our scenario. We need to envision the run-up to the end of the planet as a world of miseries. This is not the rapture we’re headed for, or even a mercifully swift guillotine. This will likely be a painful life sentence, marked by shortages of vital goods, disease and possibly mass migrations. (OK, we don’t know for sure, but do we want to take the risk?)

The Maldives, to say it's vulnerable to sea level rise doesn't even cover it. (Photo -The Island President, a film.)

To say the Maldives is vulnerable to sea level rise is an understatement. (Photo: The Island President.)

We see the changes starting — unfortunately they’re too scattered to raise our radar — as sea levels climb, forest fires accelerate, flooding deluges cities and drought saps arable land.

Florida, predicted sea level rise.

In the US, a 1 meter sea level rise — now considered a conservative prediction for the end of this century — would swallow big swaths of populated Florida and play havoc with fresh drinking water, probably even before those invasive pythons eat up the Everglades.

In some places, like the tar sands region of Canada, there are big, ugly glimpses of how we’re failing to cherish and save our planet, which would nurture us if she weren’t under attack.

To keep it web-friendly, here’s a short list of what’s ahead:

1 -Water shortages caused by increasing contamination of freshwater by industry and loss of freshwater to the ocean as ice sheets melt.

2 – Food shortages, triggered by drought, overpopulation and the dumb reliance on fragile monocultures (corn).

3 – Carbon-rich air that creates higher pollen counts, exacerbating asthma and allergies.

4 – Acidic oceans that can no longer support fisheries.

5 – Super storms fueled by water ocean and air temperatures that wipe out coastal cities.

6 – The loss of glaciers that provide water for millions.

7 -Persistent drought in previously arable regions.

8 — Spreading tropical diseases, like malaria and dengue fever.

Now let’s ask why. Is most of this mainly happening because we cannot figure out a way to move off of fossil fuels?


When they read this is the history books (if they’re around to read history books) they won’t believe it.

Solar panels on Walmart in Calif.

The solution is at hand. It’s even on Walmart, like this solar rooftop in California. (Photo: Walmart)

Of course, it’s not quite that simple — there are many accessories to the crime — deforestation, overfishing, overpopulation and landfills leaking methane.

But it is almost that simple. If we just could move away from fossil fuels, we could save the planet. Most experts agree that we’ve got the technology to do that today. We could do that! How the next phase of human history would shape up is the subject of much debate. Would we be as mobile? Would we need to live in smaller houses? Would we ride fast trains (they do in China). Would we eat 500 varieties of genetically modified snack foods or join food cooperatives and grow heirloom tomatoes and wheat in our backyards? The exact facets of our new Oz are yet to be crafted.

The man behind the green curtain...

Who’s pulling the strings? We are.

But again, experts tell us that a sustainable, clean economy is completely possibly and would provide us with decent lives that would still be far more advanced than those of our ancestors who lived without fossil fuels.

First, we need to secure that future by stopping the greenhouse gas pollution and revving up a new economy based on clean energy.

We could do it. Just like we disarmed so many of those intercontinental missiles aimed at the US and the Soviet Union by each other.

In the late 1960s, the US had more than 30,000 nuclear warheads actively deployed. Today that number is a whittled down 2150. Some believe that’s still too many.

But we didn’t say facing down climate change would be easy.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Mar 202013

Andrew Winston

For anyone who doesn’t want to reduce carbon emissions, China seems like a great scapegoat. The defenders of the status quo argue that U.S. companies will be at a disadvantage if we tax carbon or invest in clean energy because “China’s not doing anything.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio recently offered up a perfect example of this idea: “There are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are — China, India, all these countries that are still growing. They’re not going to stop doing what they’re doing.” And New York Times op-ed writer Joe Nocera used the China Defense last week in his latest pro-fossil-fuels piece: “the Chinese are far more concerned with economic growth than climate change.”

But there are three little problems with this logic:

1) It’s not true.

China recently demolished this fallacy when leaders announced they would implement a carbon tax. And when the new Premier spoke on Sunday, he belied Nocera’s assertion with a speech that, in the Times words, “laid out a vision of a more equitable society in which environmental protection trumps unbridled growth.” These policy shifts are a very big deal for all 7 billion of us sharing the climate. And it’s just the latest in a series of Chinese commitments, which include the following:

  • July 2010: 5 trillion yuan, or $800 billion, alternative energy plan over 10 years (this is like the part of the U.S. stimulus plan that funded clean tech, but times 10).
  • August 2012: $372 billion to cut pollution and energy use.
  • August 2012: 40% increase in solar target (21 gigawatts by 2015).

Is China still growing and emitting more carbon? Of course. Is it planning to build another 363 coal plants? Yes. So the world is not black and white. But even with lots of coal and oil investment, there’s no way you can say China is doing nothing on clean tech.

Beijing pollution, iStock_000005196938XSmall-thumb

Pollution in Beijing. (Photo: iStock)

2) Science doesn’t care.

The math and physics of climate change are getting clearer by the day. As those tree-huggers at McKinsey and PwC UK have calculated, we need to decarbonize at a rapid rate — about 5 percent less carbon per dollar of GDP every year until 2050. This has to happen no matter who goes “first,” and is basically the argument put forth by Grist writer David Roberts recently. We have to try, no matter what anyone else is doing. And, by the way, the impacts of doing nothing will keep growing — Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing drought in the Midwest are just the beginning. The costs of inaction are rising, which brings me to…

3) We should want to go clean anyway.

One of Sen. Rubio’s other comments, the most common specious argument against acting on climate change, was that restricting carbon would “devastate” the economy. This is, to borrow a phrase, malarkey.

Even putting aside the literally trillions available through energy efficiency, there’s a vast upside from creating new industries. According to the bank HSBC, the clean economy will be a multi-trillion dollar market soon. After all, we’re reinventing the world’s largest industries: energy, transportation, and buildings. Most other major economies get this and are investing heavily in the clean economy. But no country has gone as fast as China, which has grown its share of solar manufacturing to 50% in avery short time (with nearly as impressive a performance in wind).

I could keep going with counterarguments — like shouldn’t we lead because we’re, well, leaders? But even if science doesn’t care and the whole “China isn’t doing it” argument is a lie, I’m partial to number 3: We make money doing it and it’s good for us. That’s enough for me.

(Andrew Winston is a green blogger, focusing on businesses. The majority of this post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

Jun 052012

From Yale 360

Power plants subject to a regional cap-and-trade program in the northeastern U.S. known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 23 percent during the first three years of the program, the group says.

According to a RGGI report, 206 of 211 power plants participating in the program met their compliance obligations from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2011, the first three-year control period of the program. During that time, the average annual CO2 emissions were 126 million tons, a 23-percent decline compared with the previous three-year period.

Emissions for the 2009-2011 period were about 33 percent below RGGI’s annual pollution cap of 188 million tons, which was due to a shift from coal to natural gas, the economic recession, and energy efficiency programs. The RGGI regime requires major power plants to buy allowances at auction for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Companies that emit lower emissions can sell their unused allowances to other companies. Program participants include the six New England states and New York, Delaware, and Maryland.

Jan 252012

Green Right Now Reports

Warmer than average global surface temperatures in 2011 added up to make the year the 9th warmest on record, or since 1880, when modern record-keeping began, according to NASA.

The finding, according to NASA scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), confirms that the Earth’s temperatures are warming overall, with 9 of the 10 warmest years occurring since 2000. The only 20th Century year in the top ten was 1998. (2005 and 2010 tied for the hottest year(s) on record.)

“We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting,” said GISS Director James E. Hansen. “So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record.”

The rise in temperatures can be attributed to increasing greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, industry and vehicles, according to NASA. These emissions trap heat as they accumulate in the atmosphere, or as the scientists put it:

Higher temperatures today are largely sustained by increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. These gases absorb infrared radiation emitted by Earth and release that energy into the atmosphere rather than allowing it to escape to space. As their atmospheric concentration has increased, the amount of energy “trapped” by these gases has led to higher temperatures.

The carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was about 285 parts per million in 1880, when the GISS global temperature record begins. By 1960, the average concentration had risen to about 315 parts per million. Today it exceeds 390 parts per million and continues to rise at an accelerating pace.

The GISS temperature analysis was compiled from weather data from more than 1,000 meteorological stations around the world. Those include satellite observations of sea surface temperature and Antarctic research station measurements. A computer program is used to calculate the difference between surface temperature in a given month and the average temperature for the same place during 1951 to 1980, which serves as a three-decade baseline for the analysis.

The GISS group notes that their conclusions are “very close” to analyses by the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

The trend has no end in sight, says Hansen, who expects record-breaking global average temperature in the next two to three years because solar activity is increasing and the next El Niño will raise tropical Pacific temperatures.

“It’s always dangerous to make predictions about El Niño, but it’s safe to say we’ll see one in the next three years,” Hansen said. “It won’t take a very strong El Niño to push temperatures above 2010.”

Oct 282011

From Green Right Now Reports

The European Commission may rate oil from Canadian tar sands as more polluting based on studies that show it has a higher carbon footprint than standard crude oil, according to a report from Reuters.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told a gathering in Brussels on Thursday that it is a matter of scientific fact that “oil sands are more CO2-polluting than other kinds of fuel.”

Tar sands mine in Canada, J Henry Fair

“And therefore we say it should have a specific value. It’s nothing targeted against this particular fuel. We are doing that with all our different biofuels. It’s the same methodology that we are applying for different things in the same directive,” she said.

A fuel quality directive in Europe assigns greenhouse gas emissions values to transportation fuels. The rankings propose to give oil from tar sands a rating of 107 grams of carbon per megajoule, compared with 87.5 grams for conventionally drilled crude oil. Some types of fuel, like liquid coal would get an even higher, or worse, greenhouse rating than the tar sands crude.

The idea is to help users chose the most environmentally friendly type of transportation fuel.

Canada, which holds the world’s largest stores of tar sands, has fought the rating, and has received some support from Great Britain.

Canada plans to greatly expand its tar sands exports with the help of the proposed, controversial 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline that would cross the U.S., from mines in Alberta to refineries in Texas. Keystone has received an initial favorable report from the U.S. State Department, but is awaiting final approval or denial from the Obama Administration.

Nebraska’s legislature has been called into a special session in November to possibly re-route the pipeline around the Sandhills region where the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest in the nation, is close to the surface and more at risk should an oil spill occur.

Keystone XL has become controversial because scientists and environmentalists believe it will contribute to an acceleration of carbon pollution that would exacerbate climate change, and also because it threatens land and water supplies in the U.S..

A precursor pipeline, constructed by the same operator, has leaked several times since its completion in 2010.

“Canada’s plans for tar sands will put the world on track for 6 degrees of warming, way past the globally accepted limit of 2 degrees,” Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace told Reuters.

“Six degrees would be game over.”

Apr 122011

From Green Right Now Reports

A Cornell review of natural gas extraction methods reveals that ‘fracking’ gas from the Marcellus Shale region of New York and Pennsylvania could release dangerous amounts of methane gas, causing more damage to the atmosphere per pound than even carbon dioxide.

Natural gas, which burns cleaner (producing less carbon dioxide) than gasoline, diesel fuel and coal has been touted as a greener “bridge fuel” that could power cars and replace coal in power plants. Tailpipe emissions from natural gas-powered vehicles emit few greenhouse gases.

But Cornell ecologist Robert Howarth warns that the natural gas extraction or drilling process releases dangerous amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. The methane leakage is the worse when the gas is accessed by the hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ methods that have become popular with the industry. Fracking is a way of teasing out deeply embedded gas deposits using high pressure water injections in wells that run both vertically and horizontally through shale deposits.

Natural gas, in fact, is mostly methane, and pound for pound has 105 times more warming impact than carbon dioxide, says Howarth, in a statement on the Cornell study, which is being published in the May issue of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change Letters.

Even small leaks from gas wells can be damaging, Howarth says, because as much as 8 percent of the methane in shale gas leaks into the air during the lifetime of a hydraulic shale gas well. The leakage can be double that of a conventional gas well.

“The take-home message of our study is that … shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil,” Howarth said. “We are not advocating for more coal or oil, but rather to move to a truly green, renewable future as quickly as possible. We need to look at the true environmental consequences of shale gas.”

Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology, Tony Ingraffea, professor of engineering, and Renee Santoro, a research technician in ecology and evolutionary biology, analyzed data from published sources, industry reports and the Environmental Protection Agency to compile their study.

They compared estimated emissions for shale gas, conventional gas, coal (surface-mined and deep-mined) and diesel oil, taking into account direct emissions of CO2 during combustion, indirect emissions of CO2 necessary to develop and use the energy source and methane emissions, which were converted to equivalent value of CO2 for global warming potential, according to a Cornell University statement on the study.

Feb 092011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Clashing over climate change and clean energy bubbled anew in Washington today as Congressional conservatives who want to restrict or remove the EPA’s authority to control carbon air pollution presided over hearings on the issue.

EPA Director Lisa Jackson

Those who want to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, say that the EPA’s plans will drive up the cost of energy in America. They also argue that the agency does not have the authority to regulate emissions from coal plants, oil refineries and tailpipes, unless and until Congress directs and defines such regulation.

Defenders of the EPA counter that a core function of the agency under the Clean Air Act is to patrol air pollution, and that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA must take responsibility for setting standards for greenhouse gases.

Today, EPA Director Lisa Jackson made the case herself for the EPA to control the carbon pollution that scientists blame for causing rapid global climate change, when she testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power at the first hearing on the proposed Energy Tax Prevention Act.

Jackson said the bill would hinder America technologically by removing plans already underway for cleaner-operating utility plants, the first set of businesses to be regulated for greenhouse gases. The bill also would slow progress toward cleaner, more fuel efficient transportation — keeping the U.S. tethered to oil, she said.

Drafted by climate skeptics in the House of Representatives, the Energy Tax Prevention Act would stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases for utilities, power plants or any other other businesses.

The Act’s author and head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton, (R-Michigan) said at Wednesday’s hearings that carbon dioxide is “the unavoidable byproduct of using the coal, oil, and natural gas that provides this nation with 85 percent of its energy.”

“These fossil fuels are such an important part of our energy mix because they are often the most affordable choice,” Upton said.  “EPA regulators seek to take away that choice by making the use of these fuels prohibitively expensive.”

The U.S., Upton said, should follow China’s lead of not regulating fossil fuels to keep energy and manufacturing cheap.

Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky), also sounded a warning about putting penalties on  carbon pollution, saying that the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases amounts to a “war on coal.”

Ms. Jackson testified that the EPA’s regulation of air pollution saves Americans from respiratory illness, bronchitis, asthma and lost work time, and that scientists have compiled a “strong, credible body of evidence” showing that greenhouse gases threaten human health.

“Chairman Upton’s bill would, in its own words, repeal that scientific finding.  Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question– that would become part of this Committee’s legacy,” Jackson said.

Below are Ms. Jackson’s prepared remarks (Upton’s can be found here):

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify about Chairman Upton’s draft bill to eliminate portions of the Clean Air Act, the landmark law that all American children and adults rely on to protect them from harmful air pollution.

The bill appears to be part of a broader effort in this Congress to delay, weaken, or eliminate Clean Air Act protections of the American public. I respectfully ask the members of this Committee to keep in mind that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saves millions of American children and adults from the debilitating and expensive illnesses that occur when smokestacks and tailpipes release unrestricted amounts of harmful pollution into the air we breathe.

Last year alone, EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saved more than 160,000 American lives; avoided more than 100,000 hospital visits; prevented millions of cases of respiratory illness, including bronchitis and asthma; enhanced American productivity by preventing millions of lost workdays; and kept American kids healthy and in school.

EPA’s implementation of the Act also has contributed to dynamic growth in the U.S. environmental technologies industry and its workforce.  In 2008, that industry generated nearly 300 billion dollars in revenues and 44 billion dollars in exports.

Yesterday, the University of Massachusetts and Ceres released an analysis finding that two of the updated Clean Air Act standards EPA is preparing to establish for mercury, soot, smog, and other harmful air pollutants from power plants will create nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Supreme Court concluded in 2007 that the Clean Air Act’s definition of air pollutant includes greenhouse gas emissions.  The Court rejected the EPA Administrator’s refusal to determine whether that pollution endangers Americans’ health and welfare.

Based on the best peer-reviewed science, EPA found in 2009 that manmade greenhouse gas emissions do threaten the health and welfare of the American people.

EPA is not alone in reaching that conclusion.  The National Academy of Sciences has stated that there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that the climate is changing and that the changes are caused in large part by human activities.  Eighteen of America’s leading scientific societies have written that multiple lines of evidence show humans are changing the climate, that contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science, and that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and the environment.

Chairman Upton’s bill would, in its own words, repeal that scientific finding.  Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question– that would become part of this Committee’s legacy.

Last April, EPA and the Department of Transportation completed harmonized standards under the Clean Air Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act to decrease the oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of Model Year 2012 through 2016 cars and light trucks sold in the U.S.

Chairman Upton’s bill would block President Obama’s plan to follow up with Clean Air Act standards for cars and light trucks of Model Years 2017 through 2025.  Removing the Clean Air Act from the equation would forfeit pollution reductions and oil savings on a massive scale, increasing America’s debilitating oil dependence.

EPA and many of its state partners have now begun implementing safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution from the largest facilities when they are built or expanded.  A collection of eleven electric power companies called EPA’s action a reasonable approach focusing on improving the energy efficiency of new power plants and large industrial facilities.

And EPA has announced a schedule to establish uniform Clean Air Act performance standards for limiting carbon pollution at America’s power plants and oil refineries.  Those standards will be developed with extensive stakeholder input, including from industry.  They will reflect careful consideration of costs and will incorporate compliance flexibility.

Chairman Upton’s bill would block that reasonable approach.  The Small Business Majority and the Main Street Alliance have pointed out that such blocking action would have negative implications for many businesses, large and small, that have enacted new practices to reduce their carbon footprint as part of their business models.  They also write that it would hamper the growth of the clean energy sector of the U.S. economy, a sector that a majority of small business owners view as essential to their ability to compete.

Chairman Upton’s bill would have additional negative impacts that its drafters might not have intended.  For example, it would prohibit EPA from taking further actions to implement the Renewable Fuels Program, which promotes the domestic production of advanced bio-fuels.

I hope this information has been helpful to the Committee, and I look forward to your questions.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jan 172011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Sadly, as the threat of climate change worsens, U.S. lawmakers move further away from practical solutions.

Last week, NASA reported that 2010 was the second hottest year on record, capping the warmest decade in modern times. Climate change continues, despite our currently frozen fingers as we clear the windshield of ice and snow (these big snowstorms in fact could be part of the pattern of climate change’s more erratic and severe storm systems).

That temperatures continue their upward march is no surprise to climate scientists who’ve measured the atmospheric carbon dioxide that’s a key creator of the greenhouse effect here on Earth. Atmospheric CO2 once measured around 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution. Now, after 160 years of  burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale, we’re at about 390 ppm, well above the comfort zone of 350 ppm and on our way to levels that could be terribly unhealthy for humans. Scientists have set an upper limit of 450 ppm of CO2, above which is a vast unknown and below which, are likely a series of tipping points that could render the whole discussion moot.

Meanwhile, our U.S. Congress stands poised to -  ignore the problem. Rep. Ralph Hall, (R-Texas), who will be heading up the House Science and Technology committee for the next few years has said he’s not a “climate denier.” But he’s wants to investigate “the quality of climate science” and has delegated this task to James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who could fairly be described as a denier. (Sensenbrenner once called a multi-agency federal report on climate change “part of an international fraud.”

While Hall and Sensenbrenner dig for climate science missteps – and surely they’ll find something because researchers are human  – the legions of scientists around the world who concur that climate change is a real, imminent and world-altering threat will be working in the trenches. They’ll be delivering more information about melting glaciers, ice caps, rising seas, desertification, deforestation, permafrost warming and saltwater intrusion into fresh water aquifers — all news that too many policy makers have found convenient to ignore.

But climate change is one issue than cannot afford a lot of policy lag time. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the more tipping points we’ll pass, putting human survival at risk. Already, the carbon we’ve emitted will be with us for decades, according to climate scientists, who are the best prognosticators we have.

Where’s the hope? We can all do our part by reducing our energy consumption, driving less, telecommuting, switching to green power in our homes, planting trees, saving forests by using recycled paper, consuming less energy-intensive foods like meat, supporting local food networks, turning off electricity gobblers, line drying clothes. These many small acts can add up.

And still, we’ll need more solutions.

This week, following an article in Science magazine predicting unabated carbon emissions this century could force a temperature increase of 16 degrees Celsius, the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) issued a plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions quickly. It highlights the work of a team of scientists composed of Nobel Laureate Mario Molina and several colleagues.

In a peer-reviewed journal in 2009, these scientists proposed an end run around the U.S. stalemate on controlling carbon emissions by taking steps to reduce the 40 to 50 percent of global warming emissions that come from other sources.

This 2009 research may be just the antidote we need in 2011.

The team’s original paper “Reducing abrupt climate change risk using the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions” proposes “fast action” changes to avert disaster. These changes, which could reduce global warming effects include:

  • Amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with high global warming potential. These “super greenhouse gases” used in refrigeration and making insulating foams are less pervasive than carbon pollution but highly damaging to the atmosphere. Phasing out HFCs would only cost about 10 to 20 cents per ton of pollution, according to the IGSD. (HFCs are already being replaced by natural refrigerants; the scientists propose accelerating that change.)
  • Reduce emissions of black carbon particles and “precursor gases” that lead to ozone formation in the lower atmosphere. Black soot from coal cook stoves — widely used in Asia — contributes the the greenhouse effect, and speeds melting in the Himalayas and other snowy areas by darkening snow, reducing its reflectivity. Agricultural   burning also exacerbates the greenhouse effect. Solutions are ready, and include low-emissions stoves and changing agricultural practices.
  • Use biochar to increase biosequestration. Biochar is produced when biomass is burned using little oxygen. Turning biomasss into biochar has been widely hailed as a way to produce energy while sequestering or capturing carbon at the same time.  Molina’s team notes that this technology is already available.

The scientists proposed these steps as complementary to reducing carbon emissions from the usual oil and coal-burning suspects – coal plants, and gasoline and diesel engines.

The Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, which has launched a “fast action” climate mitigation campaign sees these ideas as potentially life-saving because they can be put into play quickly through existing arrangements like the Montreal Protocol. Reducing HFCs, the Institute reports, can have a profound effect because they have up to 11,000 times the effect of CO2.

“The fast-action approach recognizes the need for speed to slow climate change,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in a statement. “We can start immediately, and cut non-CO2 pollutants using existing technologies and existing laws and institutions.

Fighting global warming will require a lot of strategies. Let’s hope some of these fast actions can be launched, even as Congress remains stuck, frittering away our time and money on petty diversions like grilling climate scientists.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network