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New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360

New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360.

24 MAR 2014: ANALYSIS

The draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the world faces serious risks from warming and that the poor are especially vulnerable. But it avoids the kinds of specific forecasts that have sparked controversy in the past.

by fred pearce

Batten down the hatches; fill the grain stores; raise the flood defenses. We cannot know exactly what is coming, but it will probably be nasty, the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn next week. Global warming will cause wars, displace millions of people, and do trillion-dollar damage to the global economy.

But careful readers will note a new tone to its discussion of these issues that is markedly different from past efforts. It is more humble about what scientists can predict in advance, and far more interested in how societies can make themselves resilient. It also places climate risks much more

IPCC cautious predictions

Rob Elliott/AFP/Getty Images
The draft IPCC report cites sea level rise and storm surges among eight “key risks.”

firmly than before among a host of other problems faced by society, especially by the poor. That tone will annoy some for taking the edge off past warnings, but gratify others for providing a healthy dose of realism.

The study, the result of a five-year review of published papers, is from the IPCC’s scientists working on the impacts of climate change. It complements an IPCC study late last year on the planetary science and will be followed next month by another that will focus on what we should do about it.

A leak of the final draft prepared by scientists at the end of October 2013 is circulating. It is not the final version, which will be a summary for policymakers that will be released on March 31, though there is unlikely to be much change. And, since government delegates at international talks in Japan this week will scrutinize the final draft before signing off

Hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts have often proved wrong.

for publication, what we have is effectively “the scientists’ cut.”

Past impacts reports from the IPCC were based around attempts to produce detailed forecasts of local climate in future decades and somewhat mechanistic assessments of what this would mean for society. But the new report is much more wary, especially of putting numbers on likely changes. Many previously firm-sounding forecasts have disappeared since the last major IPCC climate-impacts report in 2007, such as spreading droughts and crop losses in Africa and more violent hurricanes in the Atlantic.

The reason for avoiding precise forecasts is twofold. First, overly precise predictions got the authors of the 2007 report into trouble. The most famous faux pas was the claim that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035, when 2350 is a more likely date. But there were other unsubstantiated forecasts, such as that “projected reductions in [crop] yield in some countries [in Africa] could be as much as 50% by 2020” — a misinterpretation of a paper, which was not peer-reviewed, that looked at rain-fed agriculture in just three North African countries.

The hundreds of authors of the draft report have been silent for some time, following IPCC rules by refusing to discuss their draft with journalists. But their chairman, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California, told me soon after taking on the job in 2009 that he recognized serious mistakes had been made last time and that he was “committed to sufficient checking and cross-checking to ensure a truly error-free product next time.”

Another reason for the more measured tone is that hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts than seven years ago have often proved wrong. For parts of the world, model forecasts of regional climate change are diverging rather than converging. The more we know, it seems, the less we know for sure.

Caution is the watchword. Take the treatment of Africa. Last time, the chapter on that continent began with a declaration that up to a quarter of a billion Africans “are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due

The draft report lays out eight ‘key risks,’ including sea level rise and storm surges that could affect hundreds of millions.

to climate change.” This time, the leaked draft states simply that while “a reduction in precipitation is likely over North Africa … projected rainfall change over sub-Saharan Africa is uncertain.”

The draft agrees that “climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability in Africa” and will “very likely” reduce cereal crop productivity. But this time the discussion is not about how big or small those reductions might be, but on how African farmers might cope with less water, through terracing and agroforestry for instance.

Asia has fallen into a similar forecasting limbo. Last time, the IPCC warned that there would be less water in most Asian river basins and up to a billion people could experience “increased water stress” as early as the 2020s. This time, “there is low confidence in future precipitation projections at a subregional level and thus in future freshwater availability in most parts of Asia.” Last time the IPCC predicted “an increase of 10 to 20% in tropical cyclone intensities” in Asia. This time it reports “low confidence in region-specific projections of [cyclone] frequency and intensity.”

Some certainties do remain. The leaked draft suggests growing agreement among climate modelers that Scandinavia and much of Canada will see more precipitation and that the southwestern U.S., southern Australia, the Middle East, southern Europe, and North Africa can expect more droughts and emptier rivers.

Southern Europe looks set to fry, with crops shriveling in the fields, reservoirs emptying, deserts spreading, tourists staying away, and demand for air conditioning going through the roof. Even its vineyards will suffer, though a reference in a March 2013 draft to Venice being “lost forever” beneath the waves has since been removed.

Globally, the draft report lays out eight “key risks”: sea level rise and storm surges in coastal areas that could affect “hundreds of millions… by 2100”; food insecurity for the poor from warming and drought; inland flooding of cities; loss of access to water for drinking and irrigation; breakdown of infrastructure due to extreme events; loss of fisheries, due to a “global redistribution of maximum catch potential”; loss of terrestrial ecosystems such as

The idea that climate change is of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world has been rooted out.

“forest dieback … in the next one to three decades”; and extreme heat, especially for the poor in cities.

But it asks us to be grown-up about the uncertainties involved in what plays out when. “Responding to climate-related risks involves making decisions and taking actions in the face of continuing uncertainty about the extent of climate change and the severity of impacts in a changing world,” the draft report says. Or as Field put it to journalists in 2010: “Most people spend their lives making decisions under uncertainty, and that’s what dealing effectively with climate change demands — the same kind of decisions you make when you decide to buckle your seatbelt.”

The 2007 report was almost all about the impacts of climate change. Most of this report, and in particular most of the summary for policymakers, is about resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change.

Central to that new take is setting climate change in a context of other risks, uncertainties and mega-trends such as poverty and social inequality, urbanization, and the globalization of food systems. What some call “climate exceptionalism” — the idea that climate change is something of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world — has been rooted out. Here climate change is painted as pervasive, since nobody can avoid it wholly, but as usually only one among many pressures, especially on the poor.

“Climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden to people living in poverty, acting as a threat multiplier,” it says. “Vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause.” Even for someone living on a sand spit in coastal Bangladesh, at constant risk of being washed away by rising tides and

On food security, the report is markedly more gloomy than the previous assessment in 2007.

superstorms, the country’s pervasive land inequality may be a bigger threat.

Thus climate will exacerbate and amplify pre-existing problems. The report notes how a drought in Australia in 2007 sent global food prices soaring in 2008. But it cannot answer whether we should blame climate change or a dysfunctional food system.

Food security is, nonetheless, one area where the report is markedly more gloomy that its immediate predecessor. The 2007 assessment argued that increases in crop yields in mid-latitudes could offset losses in hotter climates, at least for the next few decades. “Globally,” it said, “the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3 degrees C.” But that optimism has faded. The leaked draft forecasts that “local temperature increases of 1 degrees C or more… are projected to negatively impact yields.”

Average yields of major grains could fall by up to 2 percent a decade from here until the end of the century, it predicts. With demand for food crops likely to rise by 14 percent a decade, that sounds a daunting prospect — though it also suggests that climate change is only a small element in the emerging 21st century crisis over global food security.

Some nightmare scenarios are robustly defused. Past IPCC reports have warned that there might be as many as 50 million “climate refugees” around the world, who will flee drought, rising tides and spreading deserts. This report is set to dismiss that idea. “The current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather,” the draft

MORE FROM YALE e360

Has the U.N. Climate Panel
Now Outlived Its Usefulness?

sea level rise

Some scientists are saying the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is overly conservative and fails to mention some of the most worrisome possible scenarios. The panel, they contend, is no longer fulfilling its mission of informing policy makers of the risks of global warming.
READ MORE

says. “Predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.” It also points out that migration is a good “coping strategy,” often to be encouraged rather than feared.

The report may irritate politicians in poor countries who look to blame climate change caused by the rich world for the ills of their people and want to demand reparations. But it may also dismay those who want to cite other factors to “prove” that climate change is never to blame. The world is more complicated, the scientists who prepared the draft conclude. The lesson of their report is that climate change will be implicated in a vast array of global ills, but it will rarely be the sole cause.

Climate change skeptics may want to characterize the report as debunking what they regard as the scaremongering of past reports. They may latch onto statements such as that “for most economic sectors,” factors such as changing demography, technology, lifestyles, and governance “will be large relative to the impacts of climate change.” And the report is, on the face of it, more optimistic than the famous review of the economics of climate change by Britain’s Nicholas Stern in 2006.

Stern put the likely cost to the global economy of warming this century at 5-20 percent of GDP. The new IPCC draft says that a global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels may lead to a global loss of income of between 0.2 and 2 percent.

But if Americans think this puts them in a good position, they are wrong. While the report is silent on whether there might be more or stronger hurricanes hitting North America from the Atlantic (and “Katrina aside,” saw no trend in U.S. hurricane deaths since 1970), it states that “much of North American infrastructure is currently vulnerable to extreme weather events.”

The message is clear. We may not be able to make hard and fast predictions, but prudency requires that we prepare for the worst.

Northeasterners turn to burning wood for power | The Daily Caller

Northeasterners turn to burning wood for power | The Daily Caller.

Americans living in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S. are increasingly turning to a source of heat favored by humans for thousands of years: wood.

More and more people are using wood as their main source of heat as opposed to heating oil and kerosene.

The Energy Information Administration reports that, “All nine states in the New England and the Middle Atlantic Census divisions saw at least a 50% jump from 2005 to 2012 in the number of households that rely on wood as the main heating source.”

Those who switched to wood burning were spared high fuel oil and kerosene prices during this year’s harsh winter.

About 2.5 million households across the country now use wood as the main source of heat in their homes, up from 1.9 million households in 2005. And another 9 million households burn wood as a secondary fuel source for heating.

Millions of families faced skyrocketing energy prices as record low temperatures and snowfall hit much of the country. The U.S.’s constrained pipeline system could not keep up with the demand for propane and natural gas, causing prices to surge and utilities to burn oil and coal for power.

Midwesterners are expected to pay 54 percent more this winter on propane than last,reports EIA, and Northeasterners are expected to spend 7 percent more. Those who live in areas fueled by natural gas will pay 10 percent more this year and five percent more for electricity.

“Cold temperatures have continued to tighten heating oil supplies and helped drive up retail prices,” according to EIA. “Weekly U.S. residential heating oil prices increased by $0.20/gal during January and have averaged near $4.24/gal since the beginning of February.”

But EIA adds that heating oil prices will probably average about one percent lower this winter than last because of lower crude oil prices. Though natural gas spot prices hit record levels during periods of extreme cold.

But what this winter’s severe price swings demonstrate is the danger of over-reliance on one fuel source, says the coal industry. While low-priced natural gas is a good source of fuel overall, gas-fired plants have trouble operating in cold weather — which coal plants have make up.

This winter, gas-fired power plants failed due to cold weather and federal regulations that make it nearly impossible to burn coal.

“This year’s historically cold winter has served as a crystal ball into our future, revealing the energy cost and electric reliability threats posed by the Obama Administration’s overreliance on a more narrow fuel source portfolio that excludes the use of coal,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

If the Northeast’s natural gas infrastructure is not improved and prices remain volatile during the winter, it might not be such a bad idea to burn wood for heat. But even that may become harder thanks to federal environmental regulators.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its wood stove emissions standards that would effectively ban The EPA’s new action bans 80 percent of the wood-burning stoves in America, “the oldest heating method known to mankind and mainstay of rural homes and many of our nation’s poorest residents,” reports Forbes.

EIA notes that: “Most households still burn split logs, although wood pellet use has risen in recent years. And while households in higher income brackets are more likely to use wood, those at lower income levels who burn wood consume more on average.”

Follow Michael on Twitter and Facebook

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

Northeasterners turn to burning wood for power | The Daily Caller

Northeasterners turn to burning wood for power | The Daily Caller.

Americans living in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S. are increasingly turning to a source of heat favored by humans for thousands of years: wood.

More and more people are using wood as their main source of heat as opposed to heating oil and kerosene.

The Energy Information Administration reports that, “All nine states in the New England and the Middle Atlantic Census divisions saw at least a 50% jump from 2005 to 2012 in the number of households that rely on wood as the main heating source.”

Those who switched to wood burning were spared high fuel oil and kerosene prices during this year’s harsh winter.

About 2.5 million households across the country now use wood as the main source of heat in their homes, up from 1.9 million households in 2005. And another 9 million households burn wood as a secondary fuel source for heating.

Millions of families faced skyrocketing energy prices as record low temperatures and snowfall hit much of the country. The U.S.’s constrained pipeline system could not keep up with the demand for propane and natural gas, causing prices to surge and utilities to burn oil and coal for power.

Midwesterners are expected to pay 54 percent more this winter on propane than last,reports EIA, and Northeasterners are expected to spend 7 percent more. Those who live in areas fueled by natural gas will pay 10 percent more this year and five percent more for electricity.

“Cold temperatures have continued to tighten heating oil supplies and helped drive up retail prices,” according to EIA. “Weekly U.S. residential heating oil prices increased by $0.20/gal during January and have averaged near $4.24/gal since the beginning of February.”

But EIA adds that heating oil prices will probably average about one percent lower this winter than last because of lower crude oil prices. Though natural gas spot prices hit record levels during periods of extreme cold.

But what this winter’s severe price swings demonstrate is the danger of over-reliance on one fuel source, says the coal industry. While low-priced natural gas is a good source of fuel overall, gas-fired plants have trouble operating in cold weather — which coal plants have make up.

This winter, gas-fired power plants failed due to cold weather and federal regulations that make it nearly impossible to burn coal.

“This year’s historically cold winter has served as a crystal ball into our future, revealing the energy cost and electric reliability threats posed by the Obama Administration’s overreliance on a more narrow fuel source portfolio that excludes the use of coal,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

If the Northeast’s natural gas infrastructure is not improved and prices remain volatile during the winter, it might not be such a bad idea to burn wood for heat. But even that may become harder thanks to federal environmental regulators.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its wood stove emissions standards that would effectively ban The EPA’s new action bans 80 percent of the wood-burning stoves in America, “the oldest heating method known to mankind and mainstay of rural homes and many of our nation’s poorest residents,” reports Forbes.

EIA notes that: “Most households still burn split logs, although wood pellet use has risen in recent years. And while households in higher income brackets are more likely to use wood, those at lower income levels who burn wood consume more on average.”

Follow Michael on Twitter and Facebook

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

Study: 2ºC Warming Is Enough To Seriously Hurt Crop Yields

Study: 2ºC Warming Is Enough To Seriously Hurt Crop Yields.

by Ari Phillips, originally published by Climate Progress  | TODAY

 shutterstock_154305545

As farmers sow this year’s crops, they may be distracted by the fact that by the 2030s — just over 15 years from now — crop yields in temperate and tropical regions will suffer significantly due to climate change.
Published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, a paper found that without adaptation, losses in wheat, rice, and maize production can be expected with just 2°C of warming. The study will sharpen the already-alarming findings of the Working Group II section of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, to be published at the end of March. Working Group II focuses on the environmental, economic and social impacts climate change will have and what level of vulnerability different ecological and socio-economic sectors will be subject to.
The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report, in 2007, found that regions with temperate climates like Europe and North America would hold up to a couple degrees of warming without a discernible effect on crop yields. Some studies even thought the increase in temperatures could boost production. However the new study, which pulled from the largest dataset to date on crop resources — more than double the number available in 2007 — found that crops will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected.
“As more data have become available, we’ve seen a shift in consensus, telling us that the impacts of climate change in temperate regions will happen sooner rather than later,” Professor Andy Challinor, from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place –- with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic. Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years.”
According to the study, starting in the 2030s crop yields will experience an increasingly negative impact with decreases of over 25 percent becoming more common by the second half of the century. Climate change is already of high concern to those working in agriculture as changes in weather, land quality, and water availability reflect across the sector. Food prices for staple crops such as wheat and corn are high this year as global productionstruggles to keep pace with rising demand. Crop prices are subject to very localized impacts, and the crisis in Ukraine has caused corn and wheat prices to spike as the country is a top-ten exporter of both crops. Climate change will only act to amplify the precarious nature of the industry.
Another recent study found that climate change’s average effect on crop prices by 2050 will be a 20 percent increase, with some prices not changing at all while others rise over 60 percent depending on the region.
In California, where a record-breaking drought is an indicator of the hotter, drier norms that climate change is bringing to the region, nearly 500,000 acres of cropland — about 12 percent of last year’s acreage — could be cut back this year, causing billions of dollars of economic damage. Prices of vegetables like artichokes, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower could rise as much as 10 percent.
California produces around 80 percent of the world’s almonds, with production more than doubling from 912 million pounds in 2006 to 1.88 billion last year. With global demand booming for almonds, especially in Asia, the California drought is likely to have a negative impact on prices of almonds around the world. While almond trees are not ideal for California’s already-dry climate and require significant irrigation, the industry has taken root and will be forced to adapt to whatever growing conditions the future holds.
Dry wheat image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

The Radio Ecoshock Show: California Drought: Is this the big one?

The Radio Ecoshock Show: California Drought: Is this the big one?.

RADIO ECOSHOCK SPECIAL ON CALIFORNIA DROUGHT Despite recent rains, California’s reservoirs are near empty, snow-pack light, and groundwater depleted. Four experts on a drought that really started in 2006, impacts on economy, food, farming, and nature. Guests: Dr. Peter Gleick, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, David Schroeder, Dr. Reagan Waskom

http://tinyurl.com/lrqaxqe

THE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT IS NOT OVER!

Rainstorms finally arrived in California, after a 14 month drought with no significant rain. But the big reservoirs are still pitifully low, and snow pack is less than a quarter of normal. Hundreds of thousands of acres will not be planted, and food bills will likely go up in North America, and possibly around the world.

This is the Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, as a case study of what we can expect in many parts of the Earth. I’ve lined up 4 experts all with something new for you.

Dr. Peter Gleick is a climate and water specialist who has been warning this could happen for years.

Dr. Reagan Waskom is another water and agriculture expert from Colorado.

We connect with boots-on-the ground water conservation specialist David Schroeder in Montclair, right on the edge of thirsty Los Angeles.

Finally, we get back to the big picture, as Professor Jay Famiglietti at University of California Irvine warns of depletion of the ground water under one of the world’s biggest food producing areas. That’s a trend all over the world, as we race toward peak water.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

PETER GLEICK: Is the drought climate change?

Our first guest is Dr. Peter Gleick. He’s president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, one of the world’s leading independent think tanks on water issues. Peter is also a scientist known around the world.

Peter introduced the term “Bellwether Drought” for this event. We know climate change threatens the water cycle. Scientists believe the wet areas (like the UK!) will get wetter, and the dry areas like California, will get dryer. So the dice are loaded for more droughts to occur in this major food producing area.

Dr. Gleick points out we could say this drought started in at least 2006. There have been several drier-than-normal years since then. Scientists have found records showing California has experienced droughts lasting more than a hundred years in the past, in the 1100’s for example.

So we may be asking if human-induced climate change has triggered this drought cycle. The causes of regional weather events are complex. We have ocean currents, natural cycles like El Nino and El Nina, and changes to the Jet Stream. All of those, especially the Jet Stream (as shown by the work of Jennifer Francis et al at Rutgers) can be influenced by climate change.

It’s a Bellwether event because whether or not we can nail down direct causation by climate disruption – it’s a sure test of what is likely during the coming decades. As in Australia, it is possible Euro-humans arrived in California during a cyclical wet spell that was bound to end. But have we hastened that process?

I also talk with Peter about desalination, it’s promises and obstacles. A new desalination plant has been build to feed the San Diego water system. But really, it’s so energy intensive and expensive that desalination cannot save the whole California agricultural system.

Peter Gleick is an influential scientist in many places. He talks about the global work his institute is involved in, and it’s heavy-duty stuff. It’s cool he Tweeted this program link out to his 11,000 plus followers.

You can download or listen to this 18 minute interview with Dr. Peter Gleick inCD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DR. JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Looking at the drought from space.

When the rains don’t fall in California, every one checks their wallet for rising food prices. But rain or not, cities and farmers are pumping out California groundwater at an alarming rate. Thanks to new satellite science, now we know how much of that unseen wealth has been depleted. It’s a problem for farmers and all humans all over the world, as we grab water stored over the ages, to keep us alive right now. At some point, the water runs out.

Dr. Jay Famiglietti is a Professor of Earth System Science, and Director of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine. He’s an expert’s expert.

When the federal government, and state agencies cut off water supplies, as they did just this past month, farmers don’t just roll over and die. All those who can start pumping up groundwater furiously. They’ve been doing that for decades, always at an increasing level. You may think ground water gets replenished with rains, but some of it was captured and contained over millions of years. When I have a glass of water in my village, that water is 100,000 years old.

So just like oil, ground water is a limited resource. When you run out, that’s it.

Amazing to tell, scientists can measure the rate of groundwater depletion in California from space. The twin GRACE satellites have shown the loss of mass in Greenland as the glaciers melt. Now scientists at the University of California Irvine report that California is setting new records for groundwater loss. The state is literally getting lighter.

Find out about the GRACE satellites here. Oh, and by the way, one of their top stories is the discovery that climate change is causing the Earth’s poles to migrate. Don’t believe that? Read about it here.

One result is the land starts to sink, once the water below is removed. That’s serious in the Sacramento delta, where so much of North America’s fruits and vegetables are grown. Once it goes too low, a rush of salt water, say from a storm surge, can take thousands and thousands of prime acres out of production.

Jay Familietti describes what we know. He says the average of prediction of when California will run out of groundwater at current rates is 60 years from now. After that, the glory days of big populations and big cities may be done. Some experts say it will come sooner than that.

That same story is being repeated, even worse, in countries like China and India. India is pumping out the water tables at an alarming rate. In both countries, as thousands of wells go dry, they drill deeper, and burn even more energy with bigger pumps, just to keep up. Some places are already out of water, and out of production.

Keep this story in mind as you build the big picture: peak groundwater. It’s coming.

By the way, I ask Dr. Famiglietti what happens to all the water we pump out for our fields and cities. Some of it goes into the ocean, to become salt water. The warmer atmosphere can hold 4% more water vapor already, since 1970, and that’s a huge amount. Other water ends up falling in those places that are already wet.

Don’t miss this 12 minute interview with Jay Famiglietti. It’s short but powerful. Listen or download in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Read a key article by Dr. Famiglietti “Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?“. And check out his LA Times Op-Ed from 2013, “California’s water house of cards“.

DR. REAGAN WASKOM – Feeding the western food supply

I was referred to Dr. Waskom by Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute. Even though Waskom is the University of Colorado in Fort Collins, he’s one of the country’s wisemen when it comes to water supplies and our food system.

Reagan Waskom is the Director of the Colorado Water Institute, and Chair of the Colorado State University Water Center.

It turns out Colorado supplies much of the water to Southern California. We are not talking about the big food production areas, but more the heavy populations in places like Los Anglees. So what happens in Colorado matters a lot to California.

The good news is there is a heavy snow pack this year in Colorado. How useful that is depends on how fast the snow melt is, among other factors.

I ask Dr. Waskom what happens if California really is in a long-term drought. Could we replace all that food with farming somewhere else in the country?

Dr. Waskom has also been studying the big use of water by the fracking industry. We touch on that.

My final question is more personal: “You’ve taught a lot of students, and graduate students. Do you think young people are more disconnected from natural reality than when you were growing up?”

I learned a lot just talking with the man. You probably will too. Download this 17 minute interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DAVID SCHROEDER on the ground outside of LA

I wanted to get you some reporting from right on the ground in southern California. Acting on a tip from a Radio Ecoshock listener, we’ve reached David Schroeder. He’s a Water Conservation Specialist with the Chino Basin Water District. That’s based in Montclair California, right on the edge of one of America’s biggest cities, Los Angeles.

We talk about where water for southern California comes from, and what to do when it doesn’t. Dave specializes in getting the public involved in tearing up grass to install natural vegetation, to use less water in the home, and so on. There isn’t much farming left in the south of the state. Now the challenge is huge cities and endless suburbs.

Dave lives in the mountains that used to be white with snow in winter, when I lived in L.A. many moons ago. No snow there this year he reports. That’s not good news for the coming fire season, for anything.

Download/listen to this 10 minute interview with David Schroeder in CD Quality

WRAP UP

That wraps up my Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, 2014. I hope you learned, as I did, about where our water comes from, where it’s going, and the dangerous tightrope we walk trying to feed a growing world population during climate disruption.

Radio Ecoshock is provided free to more than 75 non-profit radio stations. I depend on your financial help to keep going. Find ways to support this program in this blog, and at the show archive and web site, ecoshock.org

I’m Alex Smith. As always, thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Posted by at 5:37 PM

Natural Gas, Keystone XL Pipeline Won't Save the U.S. Economy | New Republic

Natural Gas, Keystone XL Pipeline Won’t Save the U.S. Economy | New Republic.

Economist Kenneth Boulding famously said, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” But it’s not just economists who believe that anymore. Such ideas are still widely accepted by thought leaders, journalists, and politicians who, together, form a strong consensus that the U.S. recovery should be bolstered by natural gas exploration and production. The McKinsey Global Institute claims in a recent report that a natural gas boom is one of the most important “game changer” ideas for U.S. economic growth, while The Economist writes, “Become a champion of a global fracking revolution, Mr. Obama, and the world could look on America very differently.” And in his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said “I’ll cut red tape” for factories that use natural gas, and that “Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.”

But the belief that natural gas can be a “bridge fuel,” allowing us to grow rapidly in the age of global warming, is fit for a madman.

The current consensus is that if global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the consequences would be catastrophic (the Arctic melt would raise sea levels by tens of meters). So scientists have proposed a “carbon budget”: the total amount of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere without raising temperatures by 2 degrees. Using a conservative carbon budget of 450 parts per million—which has been endorsed by the International Energy Agency and Britain’s Stern Review—economists Humberto Llavador, John Roemer, and Joaquim Silvestre have thrown cold water on the idea that natural gas is our nation’s economic savior. In a forthcoming paper, they argue that given that budget, the world’s two largest CO2 emitters, the U.S. and China, must keep GDP growth within the threshold of 1 percent and 2.8 percent of GDP per year, respectively, for the next 75 years.

These results may sound surprising, but they are in line with a growing body of research on stranded carbon assets, which are assets such as fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) that will lose their value well before they’re expected to. This can happen as a result of, say, market disruption (rapid advances in green technology like wind and solar polar or divestment) or government regulation (a carbon tax or stricter fuel economy standards). That latter is more likely because, even now, we have found way more fossil fuels than we could possibly burn without inviting long-term environmental disaster.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s carbon-budget model, widely considered the most reliable, puts the budget for 2012-2100 at between 886 and 1119 gigatons of CO2. Total known fossil fuel reserves in the world, if burned, would add 2860 gigatons of CO2 to the atmosphere. Thus, simple math indicates that almost two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned if global temperatures are to remain habitable. And these are optimistic estimates. James Hansen of the Columbia Earth Institute and other leading scientists and economists argue that all extraction of coal and other unconventional fossil fuels, like the Canadian Tar Sands, must cease immediately and the extraction of conventional fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas, must be significantly pared down.

Projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and other attempts to revive the U.S. economy based on fossil-fuel extraction are the equivalent of running up billions in debt and then running off to borrow more. The international community is already blowing through its carbon budget; the IPCC predicts that given “business as usual,” we’ll burn 1,000 gigatons of CO2 between 2012 and 2033, depleting the more conservative budget entirely and nearing the upper bound. We’ve already seen the consequences of temperatures growing by less than one degree Celsius, yet we’re on track to see themrise by more than six degrees by 2100. Our current trajectory tempts ecological and economic collapse, and yet, many are arguing that we accelerate the process.

Part of the problem is that our measure of growth, GDP, does not take into account the costs or sustainability of growth. One billion dollars of growth in the production of solar energy is not the same as $1 billion produced by coal in terms of ecological harm and sustainability, but GDP counts them equally. Instead we should measure progress using more extensive metrics like the Genuine Progress Indicator, which factors the impact of greenhouse gas emissions into its calculations. Further, we should institute a carbon tax, preferably an international one. Some companies currently price carbon internally—meaning that they put a price on the carbon produced by their projects, and subtract that from any expected returns—but do so at widely varying rates. A Carbon Disclosure Project study finds that nine of the largest energy companies in the United States internally price carbon dioxide emissions, at a cost ranging from $15 per ton (Devon) to $60 per ton (ExxonMobil). Governments should consider the social and environmental cost of carbon dioxide when they are making infrastructure and research investments, regulating extractive industries like fracking and offering tax incentives. Against the EPA’s recommendation, the State Department decided not to consider the social cost of carbon in its analysis of the Keystone pipeline.

The State Department also didn’t consider the very likely possibility that the pipeline will become a stranded asset. We can only hope it will—because that would mean we’ve finally learned that if we don’t live within our carbon budget, the long-term ecological and economic harm caused by our relentless extraction and burning of fossil fuels will obviate any short-term benefits to the economy. If we build our recovery on natural resources that need to remain underground to keep global temperatures stable, then we’ll be like the foolish builder in the Gospel of Matthew “who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Lew Daly is the director of policy and research at Demos. Sean McElwee is a researcher at Demos.

Natural Gas, Keystone XL Pipeline Won’t Save the U.S. Economy | New Republic

Natural Gas, Keystone XL Pipeline Won’t Save the U.S. Economy | New Republic.

Economist Kenneth Boulding famously said, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” But it’s not just economists who believe that anymore. Such ideas are still widely accepted by thought leaders, journalists, and politicians who, together, form a strong consensus that the U.S. recovery should be bolstered by natural gas exploration and production. The McKinsey Global Institute claims in a recent report that a natural gas boom is one of the most important “game changer” ideas for U.S. economic growth, while The Economist writes, “Become a champion of a global fracking revolution, Mr. Obama, and the world could look on America very differently.” And in his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said “I’ll cut red tape” for factories that use natural gas, and that “Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.”

But the belief that natural gas can be a “bridge fuel,” allowing us to grow rapidly in the age of global warming, is fit for a madman.

The current consensus is that if global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the consequences would be catastrophic (the Arctic melt would raise sea levels by tens of meters). So scientists have proposed a “carbon budget”: the total amount of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere without raising temperatures by 2 degrees. Using a conservative carbon budget of 450 parts per million—which has been endorsed by the International Energy Agency and Britain’s Stern Review—economists Humberto Llavador, John Roemer, and Joaquim Silvestre have thrown cold water on the idea that natural gas is our nation’s economic savior. In a forthcoming paper, they argue that given that budget, the world’s two largest CO2 emitters, the U.S. and China, must keep GDP growth within the threshold of 1 percent and 2.8 percent of GDP per year, respectively, for the next 75 years.

These results may sound surprising, but they are in line with a growing body of research on stranded carbon assets, which are assets such as fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) that will lose their value well before they’re expected to. This can happen as a result of, say, market disruption (rapid advances in green technology like wind and solar polar or divestment) or government regulation (a carbon tax or stricter fuel economy standards). That latter is more likely because, even now, we have found way more fossil fuels than we could possibly burn without inviting long-term environmental disaster.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s carbon-budget model, widely considered the most reliable, puts the budget for 2012-2100 at between 886 and 1119 gigatons of CO2. Total known fossil fuel reserves in the world, if burned, would add 2860 gigatons of CO2 to the atmosphere. Thus, simple math indicates that almost two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned if global temperatures are to remain habitable. And these are optimistic estimates. James Hansen of the Columbia Earth Institute and other leading scientists and economists argue that all extraction of coal and other unconventional fossil fuels, like the Canadian Tar Sands, must cease immediately and the extraction of conventional fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas, must be significantly pared down.

Projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and other attempts to revive the U.S. economy based on fossil-fuel extraction are the equivalent of running up billions in debt and then running off to borrow more. The international community is already blowing through its carbon budget; the IPCC predicts that given “business as usual,” we’ll burn 1,000 gigatons of CO2 between 2012 and 2033, depleting the more conservative budget entirely and nearing the upper bound. We’ve already seen the consequences of temperatures growing by less than one degree Celsius, yet we’re on track to see themrise by more than six degrees by 2100. Our current trajectory tempts ecological and economic collapse, and yet, many are arguing that we accelerate the process.

Part of the problem is that our measure of growth, GDP, does not take into account the costs or sustainability of growth. One billion dollars of growth in the production of solar energy is not the same as $1 billion produced by coal in terms of ecological harm and sustainability, but GDP counts them equally. Instead we should measure progress using more extensive metrics like the Genuine Progress Indicator, which factors the impact of greenhouse gas emissions into its calculations. Further, we should institute a carbon tax, preferably an international one. Some companies currently price carbon internally—meaning that they put a price on the carbon produced by their projects, and subtract that from any expected returns—but do so at widely varying rates. A Carbon Disclosure Project study finds that nine of the largest energy companies in the United States internally price carbon dioxide emissions, at a cost ranging from $15 per ton (Devon) to $60 per ton (ExxonMobil). Governments should consider the social and environmental cost of carbon dioxide when they are making infrastructure and research investments, regulating extractive industries like fracking and offering tax incentives. Against the EPA’s recommendation, the State Department decided not to consider the social cost of carbon in its analysis of the Keystone pipeline.

The State Department also didn’t consider the very likely possibility that the pipeline will become a stranded asset. We can only hope it will—because that would mean we’ve finally learned that if we don’t live within our carbon budget, the long-term ecological and economic harm caused by our relentless extraction and burning of fossil fuels will obviate any short-term benefits to the economy. If we build our recovery on natural resources that need to remain underground to keep global temperatures stable, then we’ll be like the foolish builder in the Gospel of Matthew “who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Lew Daly is the director of policy and research at Demos. Sean McElwee is a researcher at Demos.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It’s our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We’re expecting to hear the same conclusion that we’ve heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

The API has also worked hard to convince lawmakers that voters overwhelmingly back the pipeline (despite a groundswell of grassroots organizing that has led to the project’s declining popularity).

This summer, Mr. Gerard’s group launched a massive ad campaign — featuringformer Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — that was timed to be seen by lawmakers in Washington D.C. and when they headed back to their home states for recess. API has also funded astroturf campaigns (exposed by leaked documents), cited questionable job creation numbers, and drawn fire from media watchdogs for playing fast and loose with the facts.

The industry’s influence over Obama’s administration on Keystone XL has at times been downright scandalous. Obama’s State Department hired an API member, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM), to evaluate the Keystone XL pipeline’s potential environmental impact.

In a blockbuster investigative reportMother Jones revealed that ERM’s Keystone experts previously worked for TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone project, along with other oil and gas companies poised to profit from the pipeline’s construction. When the report was released publicly by the State Department, reporter Andy Kroll had noticed something especially odd: the biographies of each expert had been redacted, suggesting that the State Department may have known of those potential conflicts and attempted to hide that fact.

The State Department’s inspector general promised to investigate the conflict of interest allegations, but the results of those investigations are still not public.

The API has tended to strongly favor Republicans over Democrats in its campaign contributions, but over the past several years, the Obama administration hasreached out to the oil and gas industry group, soliciting its views. Nonetheless, Mr. Gerard remained unsatisfied. “At least they’re listening,” he told Oil and Gas Journal in 2012. “But they’re not following every one of our recommendations.”

If this past week is any indication, that might be starting to shift.

After Obama’s State of the Union address, Mr. Gerard was quick to applaud the President’s description of natural gas — which emits a little more than half as much carbon dioxide when burned as coal, but whose total climate impacts could actually be worse than coal once methane emissions are tallied — saying that the President was evolving.

“This year he gave a full-throated endorsement to natural gas,” Mr. Gerard told theWall Street Journal. “Next year, he’ll be giving a full-throated endorsement to U.S. oil production.”

“His words are going in the right direction for us,” Mr. Gerard added.

The API has emerged as a significant influence over the Obama administration, and its inherently flawed all-of-the-above vision for our energy future.

The reason Keystone XL matters so much is not just as its symbolic importance as the fact that it would reflect a major long-term commitment to continued fossil fuel extraction — at a moment when climate experts are saying we must takeimmediate and drastic action and leave two-thirds of known fossil reserves in the ground.

In his State of the Union, Mr. Obama talked up benefits of oil and gas and thengave mention to renewables like wind and solar, but he showed no awareness that a long-term commitment to fossil fuels is in direct tension with furthering renewable energy.

“If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy,” the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said. “We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time.”

For its part, the API’s stance on climate has long been one of obfuscation. A 1998 API “Communications Action Plan” reads: “Victory will be achieved when … citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.'”

Jack Gerard has argued that fracking represents a benefit for the environment,citing the fact that carbon emissions have dropped since the shale boom began.

Not only does this ignore the role that the recession has played in reducing energy consumption, but it also ignores the effects of another key greenhouse gas: methane. There is strong evidence that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry could make natural gas even worse than burning coal, in terms of its overall climate impact.

And, there are signs that the reductions cited by Mr. Gerard are already over. Earlier this month, the EIA announced that CO2 emissions rose 2 percent in 2013, reversing earlier declines.

Of course, if Keystone XL is ultimately approved, carbon emissions can be expected to spike. The pipeline will carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day. Opening Keystone would emit as much CO2 into the atmosphere as opening six new coal-fired power plants, the Pembina Institute estimated.

“This is a large source of carbon that’s going to be unleashed,” Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation told The New York Times after the State Department’s Keystone report was released. “We’re headed in a terribly wrong direction with this project, and I don’t see how that large increase in carbon is going to be offset.”

But if you ask Jack Gerard, there’s nothing to worry about. “This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment,” he said in a statement. “This long-awaited project should now be swiftly approved.”

Photo Credit: Oil and Gas Well, via Shutterstock.

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