Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Climate Progress" Aug. 12, 2011

Rick Perry Thinks America Desires Another Rigid, Anti-Science, Ideologue Governor From The Great State of Big Oil

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 09:02 AM PDT

Perry on why he split with Al Gore over climate (12/09): "I certainly got religion. I think he's gone to hell."

Rick Perry, Obama's dream opponent, is a climate hawk's nightmare.

First the dream. It is a mark of how weak the Republican field is that Perry, a candidate who is so ill-suited for beating Barack Obama, is viewed as a savior for the party.

The key point about the 2012 election are that Obama is eminently beatable because he is dreadful at messaging, has a poor economy, and is in an unpopular war with meaningful casualties. The latter two factors are key in the "Bread and Peace" model by political scientist Douglas Hibbs (via Salon)

I'm not saying this simplistic model is determinative, only that anyone who thinks Obama is a lock for reelection isn't paying attention.

What Obama most needs is opponent who gives him an obvious storyline even his team of dreadful communicators can't screw up. Romney the job-killing flip-flopper certainly does.

But what Obama most wants to do is run as the future versus the past (since the present ain't hot for him) and to tie his opponent to the increasingly unpopular Tea Party extremists whom independents correctly blame for the debt ceiling debacle.

Perry is, ironically, the worst of both possible worlds for the GOP. He is easily cast as "George W. Bush The Sequel" because that is what he is: A Rigid, Anti-Science, Ideologue Governor From The Great State of Big Oil. And indeed he is a Tea Party darling for his extremist, wacky statements, such as his talk of Texas secession (for more, see TP's Top 10 Things Texas Gov. Rick Perry Doesn't Want You To Know About Him).

Remember, to win (lose?) in 2000, Bush himself ran originally as a faux caring, moderate "compassionate" conservative, who advocated in public spending on education and regulating greenhouse gases. Sure he was religious, but he had a classic story to tell, the reformed or saved wastrel. But Perry has no such story, he is just the hardcore zealot Bush turned into — on steroids (see, for instance, Prayer as an adaptation strategy: Texas plans to cut budget of agency battling record wildfires). Indeed even moderate Republicans like Joe Scarborough mock him (see TP's Scarborough Mocks Perry: Jesus Said To 'Let People Take Images Of You Praying So They'll Think You're A Holy Man).

If Obama wants to run a story line that his opponent represents the past, the policies that put us in this "mess from Texas," Perry is from central casting.

Don't get me wrong. Obama could lose to Perry, much as he could lose to Romney — but I don't think they will unless the economy gets worse.

For climate hawks, Perry is a nightmare.

Once Gore's presidential Texas campaign chair (in 1988), he now says global warming is "all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight. He even "Prays for the EPA to Stop Environmental Regulations."

As the Politico reports:

Rick Perry's likely entry into the GOP presidential race comes without the green skeletons many of his rivals have tried to shed.

Unlike Mitt Romney, the Texas governor doesn't believe in global warming science. And unlike Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman, there are no viral ads of Perry touting the virtues of bipartisanship as a solution to climate change….

Texas under Perry's watch has also become a thorn in the side of the Obama EPA, with the governor often accusing the administration of unfairly targeting the Lone Star State for political purposes.

Perry's Texas is a lead challenger to the EPA's "endangerment" finding that declares carbon dioxide emissions a public health threat, setting the stage for regulations. And last month, Perry lashed out against the EPA for including Texas in a rule aimed at blocking power plant pollution from drifting across state lines, calling it "another example of heavy-handed and misguided action from Washington, D.C."

… "With a Texan in the race, EPA is going to be right in the middle of the show," said Mike McKenna, a GOP-based energy strategist.

Obama has been lackluster in his EPA. Against Perry, he'd actually have to stand up for clean air, clean water, and a livable climate. Hmm. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

While Perry says Gore has gone to hell because of climate change, the state with the hellish climate is, ironically, Texas. As Grist notes:

But plugging your ears and going "la la la la" doesn't make global warming disappear. Perry's state is getting absolutely hammered by heat and the worst one-year drought in its recorded history. The hot, dry weather in Texas is desiccatingrivers and lakes, devastating farmers and ranchers, and driving wildfires that have burned up millions of acres. In the face of these crises — which are just what you'd expect in a climate-changed world — Perry proposes neither adaptation nor mitigation but rather supplication. He's been praying for rain and calling on other Texans to do the same. So far no luck….

As a Texas Republican, Perry is, of course, a friend of the oil and gas industry. He even stuck by BP during the Gulf of Mexico gusher, saying the well blowout was "an act of God" and insisting that he had "full confidence" in the company's response.

Perry has cozied up to the oil-baron Koch brothers. In June, he flew off secretly to Colorado to speak at an exclusive closed-door meeting convened by the Kochs — even as his state was suffering through some of the worst wildfires in its history. In 2010, the Koch Industries' PAC gave $50,000 to the Texans for Rick Perry PAC.

Perry is big fan of coal too. He tried to speed up approvals and smooth the way for a number of controversial coal-fired power plants proposed for Texas in the mid-00s.

Yes, Texas has pushed wind. But if you want to know the energy future of the U.S. under Rick Perry, you need only look at the eight previous years before Obama took office.

Puerto Rico's Battle Over the Via Verde Natural Gas Pipeline: The Right Choice for the Island's Energy Future?

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 08:10 AM PDT


A partnership between energy developer, EcoElectrica, and the Puerto Rican government seeks to build a massive 93-mile natural gas pipeline that will cut directly through the interior of the U.S. island territory.  The governor's office and the Puerto Rican Power Authority (PREPA) are touting the economic benefits that this massive project will bring to the poverty-stricken island.  While these supposed benefits vary depending on who you are asking — and what side of the argument they are on — one fact remains strikingly clear: an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans on both the island and the mainland oppose this project and are calling for cleaner energy alternatives.  Jorge Madrid and Brennan Alvarez of the Center for American Progress have the story.

Officially named Via Verde (Green Way) by the government, the proposed pipeline has been dubbed Via de la Muerte (Death Route) by its opponents, prompting protests and petitions to stop it.  A recent poll conducted by El Nuevo Dia (one of Puerto Rico's largest news outlets) indicates that 70 percent of citizens oppose the construction of the pipeline, 61 percent are "very worried" about the safety of this project and its impacts, and 56 percent of people are not convinced that the pipeline will achieve its primary goal of reducing the cost of electricity, compared to 27 percent who believe that it will.

Earlier this year, 30,000 Puerto Ricans took to the streets in protest, including a broad coalition of labor groups and community organizations.  The opposition has spread across the Atlantic to Puerto Rican activist groups in New York, and highly popular Puerto Rican Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has elevated this issue, calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to halt this "extremely unpopular" project.

Despite the large public outcry, Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño continues to make a case for the project.  "With Vía Verde we will enter a new energy era that strengthens the competitiveness of our economy and improves the quality of life of our people," Fortuño said, calling the high price of energy the main obstacle to the island's economic and social development.

Just last month Daniel Pagán, an engineer from PREPA, claimed that Via Verde would cut electricity cost by 30 percent, reduce emissions by 60 percent, and generate 4,500 new jobs.  The project is also expected to decrease the island's oil dependence to 12 percent of power generation by 2012, while boosting natural gas usage to 71 percent from its current 15 percent, according to PREPA projections.  Currently, the island produces about 70 percent of its power from imported oil, with the rest split evenly between natural gas and coal.

These claims by PREPA have been refuted by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico, however.  Most notably, data released from a 2011 study that concludes the best case scenario for Vía Verde will provide savings of only one cent per kilowatt-hour. (In its own estimation, PREPA suggests that the savings are in the order of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Still, for an island with an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent, where 48 percent of residents live in poverty, and the average family makes only $17,184 while paying double the U.S. rate for energy, the promise of new jobs and a reduction in energy costs is a welcome.

But the story is much more complex.For one, many Puerto Ricans fear that poor communities, including large populations of senior citizens, will be pushed out of their homes; many are already feeling pressures to sell their properties well below market value to clear a way for the pipeline.  Rep. Gutierrez recently criticized the project on the floor of the U.S. Congress calling it a "$500 million pipeline designed to benefit the richest people in Puerto Rico."

Many Puerto Ricans are also highly concerned about the project's impact on the natural beauty and ecosystem of the island, whose tourism industry employs 60,000 people, attracts 3.9 million tourists yearly, and accounts for 7 percent of the island's total GNP.  Critics of the project also fear potential leakage or explosion – both of which could occur in an area that is prone to flooding and extreme weather.

A petition signed by over 7,000 people notes that the pipeline will cause more than 8 million cubic meters of earth to be displaced, affect multiple bodies of water, lakes, and the fishing industry, as well as permanently impact more than 1,500 acres of forests, and more than 369 acres of wetlands. It will also impact the habitat of 34 endangered species, along with 235 rivers and streams, including a critical conservation zone which produces 25 percent of the water consumed in Puerto Rico.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, many Puerto Ricans do not want their economic development and energy future to be directly tied to the fossil fuel industry. A large and growing coalition of Puerto Ricans favor deployment of renewable energy, and many believe the funds can be better spent deploying renewable energy and efficiency projects.  Others see natural gas as a cleaner alternative to burning oil and coal, but oppose the invasive and volatile nature of the pipeline, and its influence on the long-term energy portfolio of the island.

Professor Dr. Massol-Deya from the University of Puerto Rico points out in a recent presentation to labor leaders, "there are short term values of natural gas, but this pipeline is permanent and sets up the island to burn natural gas for the next 30-40 years…it will produce 70 percent of the energy on the island…it will be one addiction for another."

Julissa Corporan, a life-long resident of the island and operator of Atabey Ecotours, says that residents don't want to be stuck in the fossil fuel economy, "People are educating themselves, and we want renewable energy…we don't want to work in the past, in fossil fuel energy, they don't last forever and we know that."

August 12 News: Heat Wave Reduces Crop Harvests; Senate Democrats Urge White House to Act on Smog Rule

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 07:45 AM PDT


A round-up of recent climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

Smaller Crops Forecast by U.S. After Planting Delays, Heat Wave

Corn, soybean and spring-wheat harvests in the U.S., the world's largest exporter, will be smaller than the government forecast last month after a damaging heat wave that may signal higher costs for food and biofuel.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture cut its corn-crop estimate by 4.1 percent, reduced the soybean forecast by 5.2 percent, and said spring-wheat production will be 5.2 percent below what it predicted in July. The harvests for all three crops would be less than expected by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Parts of the Midwest, the main growing region, were the hottest since 1955 last month. Smaller supplies of corn may increase costs for ethanol refiners such as Poet LLC, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Valero Energy Corp. and meat producers Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc., which buy the grain for feed. The price of corn, the biggest U.S. crop, jumped 68 percent in the past year before today.

White House faces Senate, industry pressure on smog rule

A group of Senate Democrats is pressing the White House to "stand strong" against immense industry pressure to weaken or scuttle smog standards that have been repeatedly delayed.

In a letter to President Obama Thursday, seven Democrats and two independents that caucus with the party express "disappointment" at administration delays in issuing Environmental Protection Agency ozone standards.

The letter urges the administration to issue a standard consistent with the 60 to 70 parts-per-billion level recommended by EPA's formal science advisers.

"We write to express our disappointment at the Administration's continued delay in setting a health-protective ozone air quality standard. We urge you to follow the requirements of the Clean Air Act, the peer-reviewed science, and the federal Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), and set a strong standard as soon as possible," states the letter from senators including Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and other Northeastern members.

Bachmann knocks Pawlenty on cap-and-trade at Iowa debate

Rep. Michele Bachmann wants to tether Tim Pawlenty to his past support for cap-and-trade policies to curb climate change, even though Pawlenty has fled from the position during the GOP presidential campaign.

The two Minnesotans traded blows at Thursday night's GOP debate in Iowa ahead of that state's critical straw poll on Saturday (The Hill's Cameron Joseph has much more from the Iowa debate here).

Bachmann listed Pawlenty's support for cap-and-trade – a policy that has become politically toxic in GOP circles – among several positions he staked out as governor that Bachmann said have made Pawlenty's record consistent with President Obama's views.

"I would say Governor, when you were governor in Minnesota, you implemented cap-and-trade in our state," Bachmann said, while casting herself as a fighter against cap-and-trade and several other Democratic policies.

EPA yanks tree-killing herbicide Imprelis off market

DuPont announced that it is conducting "broad scientific and stewardship reviews" after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pulled its herbicide Imprelis off the market Thursday.

In its Stop Sale, Use, or Removal Order, the EPA said that DuPont had test data that showed its herbicide Imprelis was harmful to Norway spruce, balsam fir and other trees when it was given EPA approval last August.

Despite that test data, DuPont "does not warn or caution about potential damage to trees," the EPA said. There was nothing in the labeling or instructions that indicated that it could hurt certain species of trees, the EPA said.

Conocophillips ups estimate of China oil spill

ConocoPhillips China, a subsidiary of the Houston-based oil company ConocoPhillips , said on Friday that as much as 2,500 barrels of oil and mud leaked from an oilfield in China's northern Bohai Bay.

A recent survey at the C platform of Penglai 19-3 oil field identified more oil-based drilling mud on the sea floor than originally estimated, the company said on its website (www.conocophillips.com.cn), adding that it expected to complete a cleanup by the end of this month.

Last month, ConocoPhillips estimated around 1,500 barrels (240 cubic metres) of oil and oil-based drilling fluids had been released into the sea and that an order to shut down the platforms would result in a temporary output reduction of about 17,000 barrels of oil per day.

USDA announces $100 million for Florida wetland restoration

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack  announced $100 million in financial assistance for Florida wetland restoration today, the largest amount of funding the state has received through the Wetland Restoration Project in a single year.

The funds will go toward acquiring easements from eligible landowners in four Florida counties, Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee — maintaining that land as agriculture and open space. The easements will form a conservation corridor from the Kissimmee River to Everglades National Park, and "assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed," according to a release sent out today.

The effort aims to reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land, and should ultimately lessen the concentration of nutrients reaching Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. Nutrients in Florida waterways are a major problem, and contribute to toxic algae growth and massive fish kills. The Everglades suffers from methylmercury poisoning.

$29.1 million tab from Michigan oil spill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it spent more than $20 million in cleanup operations from an Enbridge oil spill last year in Michigan.

More than a year after an oil spill near Marshall, Mich., the EPA said it was still working on remediation efforts in Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. The EPA said its response prevented the spill from reaching Lake Michigan.

"The EPA has incurred $29.1 million in cleanup costs, which Enbridge will be required to reimburse," the agency said in a statement.

Line 6B of the Lakehead oil pipeline ruptured last July near Marshall, Mich. The EPA said it estimated more than 23,000 barrels of heavy oil from Alberta tar sands spilled from the pipeline.

The nature of oil from tar sand deposits causes some of it to sink to the bottom of the river, where it has soaked about 6 inches of sediment along the river bottom.

The EPA recovered about 18,000 barrels of oil that was on the surface. EPA officials said it was unclear how the remaining oil would affect the environment because there is no other spill with which to compare the Enbridge leak.

Poll: Majority of public opposes mountaintop-removal mining

The majority of the public opposes a controversial mining practice in which companies blow up parts of mountains in order to gain access to valuable coal seams underneath, a new CNN poll says.

The poll, conducted by CNN and Opinion Research Corp., finds that 57 percent of the public is opposed to mountaintop-removal mining. Thirty-six percent of those polled support the practice and 7 percent are neutral, according to CNN.

Mountaintop-removal mining, a technique used in Appalachian coal-mining operations, has come under fire from environmental groups and others, who have raised red flags about its effects on public health and nearby waterways and streams.

At Fox News, Planet Earth Is Sponsored By ExxonMobil

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 06:39 AM PDT

— by Shauna Theel, in a Media Matters cross-post

We noted in June that Fox News' iPad app was sponsored exclusively by ExxonMobil, a corporation known for paying think tanks to obfuscate the scientific consensus on climate change. Now FoxNews.com's "Planet Earth" section is also brought to you by the oil giant:

In fact, FoxNews.com's entire Science & Technology section and their opinion page appear to be sponsored by ExxonMobil; the other sections of their website are not.

Earlier this year, FoxNews.com sought to debunk the fact that Earth has warmed over the past 30 years, as well as the notion that human activity has contributed to the warming with a "Planet Earth" article,  portions of which "are utter nonsense" and "do not make sense" according to climatologists consulted by Media Matters.

Two recent stories that Fox News' Planet Earth section ran on climate change were based around claims pushed by the Heartland Institute's James Taylor and quoted Taylor's views. A post by Taylor, which baselessly claimed a research group "doctors sea level data" to exaggerate climate change, inspired a FoxNews.com article asking, "Is climate change raising sea levels, as Al Gore has argued — or are climate scientists doctoring the data?"

And after a Forbes column by Taylor misinterpreted a climate study and declared that it blows a "gaping hole in global warming alarmism," Fox News' Planet Earth asked "Has a central tenant [sic] of global warming just collapsed?" The article falsely claimed the study showed the "planet isn't heating up" and featured this image and caption:

The Heartland Institute is a libertarian think tank that hosts regular conferences disputing mainstream climate science and received $676,500 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2006, including $90,000 specifically for "General Operating Support — Climate Change."

ExxonMobil pledged in 2008 to stop funding groups "whose positions on climate change could divert attention" from the need to develop secure, clean energy. But Exxon's continued funding of Fox News' ventures seems to contradict this pledge. Fox routinely pushes false claims about climate science, and it has even been the policy of Fox News to question the basic fact that the planet has warmed in recent decades.

— Shuana Theel, Media Matters

Related Climate Progress Post:

Wallace Broecker's Remarkable 1975 Global Warming Prediction

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 04:45 AM PDT

Wallace Broecker's 1975 temperature prediction, adjusted to reflect measured CO2 changes, vs. GISTemp observed global surface temperature changes.

– dana1981, in a Skeptical Science cross-post

Wallace Broecker was among the first climate scientists to use simple climate models to predict future global temperature changes.  His 1975 paper Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming? is widely credited with coining the term "global warming".

In that paper, Broecker modeled the effects of the expected future increase of CO2 due to humans burning fossil fuels, combined with a natural climate cycle which he estimated based on Greeland ice core records, and tweaked to match the observed temperature record at the time — see figure below:

Broecker's global temperature prediction [click to enlarge]

This was a very simple model, excluding the effects of the sun, volcanoes, other greenhouse gases, aerosols, and so forth, which Broecker acknowledged:

"In this report only the interaction of the CO2 effect and natural climatic change is considered.  As other anthropogenic effects are shown to be significant and as means to quantitatively predict their future influence on global temperatures are developed, they can be included in models such as this."

As it turns out, Broecker has been fortunate, because the cooling effects of human aerosol emissions have roughly cancelled out the warming effects of human non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions since 1975, and solar activity has been flat over that period.  So the net effect of the factors which he did not take into account has been close to zero.  However, Broecker was also smart; the dominant effect on temperature since 1975 has been from CO2, as he expected.  It's better to be lucky than good, but it's best to be both.

Broecker anticipated the actual increase in CO2 very closely, predicting 373 ppm in 2000 and 403 ppm in 2010 (actual values were 369 and 390 ppm, respectively).  Broecker also used an equilibrium climate sensitivity of 3°C for doubled CO2; however, his model's transient climate sensitivity worked out to be 2.4°C for doubled CO2.  Current climate models put equilibrium sensitivty at 1.5 times transient sensitivty, so Broecker effectively underestimated the thermal lag of the climate system, and the equilibrium sensitivity in his calculations was approximately equivalent to 3.6°C for doubled CO2 – a bit higher than today's best estimates of 2°C transient sensitivity, 3°C equilibrium sensitivity.

We digitized Broecker's prediction from Figure 1, and compared it to the observed global temperature change since 1975 [see top figure].  We adjusted it slightly to reflect the current atmospheric CO2 concentration (390 ppm) as opposed to his predicted 403 ppm, because we're interested in the accuracy of Broecker's temperature predictions, not his CO2 predictions.

As you can see, Broecker's prediction has matched the net global temperature change quite closely over the past 35 years.  His 'natural cycle' estimate held his prediction below the actual global temperature increase for most of the period, but  as illustrated in Figure 1, he predicted its effects would approach zero after 2000.  Not coincidentally, this is when his prediction most closely matches the observed global temperature.  Broecker overestimated the amount of global warming by 2010 slightly, by a bit less than 0.2°C.  This is probably mainly due to his slight overestimate of climate sensitivity, and potentially due to the increased cooling effects over the past decade.

It's quite remarkable that a prediction made in 1975 using such a simple model of the climate system could so accurately match the observed global temperature change.  It's a testament to the dominant effect of CO2, and the fact that we have had a solid understanding of the fundamental workings of the Earth's climate for many decades.

Nevertheless, those who are "skeptical" that humans are driving global warming, including the few climate scientists in this category, often emphasize and exaggerate what we don't know about how the Earth's climate functions.  In his testimony before US Congress earlier this year, "skeptic" climate scientist John Christy compared the state of climate science research in the 1970s to that today, saying "our ignorance about the climate system is just enormous".

While it's true that there remain some features of the climate system which we still don't fully understand, Broecker's success illustrates that climate scientists have long had a good grasp on the main drivers of the global climate.

While the "skeptics" enjoy criticizing climate scientists, they rarely put their money where their mouths are in terms of making predictions of their own.  We previously examined one of the exceptions – Don Easterbrook, who has been predicting imminent global cooling since approximately 2000.  He stood by that prediction in December 2008, presenting his projections of future global temperature change at the American Geophysical Union annual conference.  Easterbrook's model is even simpler than Broecker's, only taking into account his estimates of past natural climate cycles, assuming they will continue in the future, and effectively presuming that CO2 has no effect on global temperatures (throwing out the centuries-old physics of Tyndall and Arrhenius).  Figure 3 compares Broecker's prediction and two of Easterbrook's to the observed global temperature.

Broecker's 1975 prediction was within 0.2°C of the observed global temperature in 2010, while Easterbrook's, last made in December 2008, were off by 0.3 to 0.5°C.  This illustrates the importance of basing future predictions on solid physical footing, and also shows that climate scientists understand the inner workings of the global climate much better than the "skeptics" would have us believe.  In fact, in the 1970s, climate scientists understood how the Earth's climate works better than many "skeptic" scientists do in 2011!

– dana1981, in a Skeptical Science cross-post

Arctic Ice Thinning 4 Times Faster Than Predicted by IPCC Models, Semi-Stunning M.I.T. Study Finds

Posted: 11 Aug 2011 07:45 PM PDT

According to new research from MIT, the most recent global climate report fails to capture trends in Arctic sea-ice thinning and drift, and in some cases substantially underestimates these trends….

After comparing IPCC models with actual data, [lead author Pierre] Rampal and his collaborators concluded that the forecasts were significantly off: Arctic sea ice is thinning, on average, four times faster than the models say, and it's drifting twice as quickly.

I'm technically on vacation, so I don't have time to respond to every misleading claim or inadequate study.

But it's very safe to say that two-dimensional analyses of sea ice trends — ones that don't model ice thickness and hence ice volume — are going to miss crucial feedbacks and dynamic changes.  That is the central point of this new MIT study, which will be stunning only to those who don't follow either this blog or the recent scientific literature.

Recent statements that we are seeing an "Arctic Death Spiral" focused on volume.  In the words of National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) director Mark Serreze, who is most associated with that phrase:

Serreze (9/10): "There are claims coming from some communities that the Arctic sea ice is recovering, is getting thicker again. That's simply not the case.  It's continuing down in a death spiral.  Every bit of evidence we have says the ice is thinning.  That means there's less energy needed to melt it out than there used to be."

Serreze (7/11):  "The extent [of the ice cover] is going down, but it is also thinning. So a weather pattern that formerly would melt some ice, now gets rid of much more. There will be ups and downs, but we are on track to see an ice-free summer by 2030. It is an overall downward spiral."

This new study, "IPCC climate models do not capture Arctic sea ice drift acceleration: Consequences in terms of projected sea ice thinning and decline," (subs. req'd)  adds to our understanding of  how the two-dimensional models go astray.  Here's an extended excerpt from the news release:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, forecasts an ice-free Arctic summer by the year 2100, among other predictions. But Pierre Rampal, a postdoc in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and colleagues say it may happen several decades earlier.

It's all in the mechanics

Established in 1988 by the United Nations, the IPCC issues reports that represent an average of many findings, and is sometimes criticized for forecasting according to the "lowest common denominator" of climate research. Still, many policymakers put large stock in its predictions, so Rampal says it is important to continuously evaluate and improve their accuracy.

After comparing IPCC models with actual data, Rampal and his collaborators concluded that the forecasts were significantly off: Arctic sea ice is thinning, on average, four times faster than the models say, and it's drifting twice as quickly.

The findings are forthcoming in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans. Co-authors are Jérôme Weiss and Clotilde Dubois of France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Université Joseph Fourier and Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques, respectively, and Jean-Michel Campin, a research scientist in EAPS.

Part of the problem, Rampal says, may be inadequate modeling of mechanical forces acting on and within the ice in the Arctic basin. Thus far, the IPCC models have largely focused on temperature fluctuations, which are one way to lose or gain ice. But according to Rampal, mechanics can be just as important: Forces such as wind and ocean currents batter the ice, causing it to break up. Ice that's in small pieces behaves differently than ice in one large mass, which affects its overall volume and surface area.

"If you make a mistake at this level of the model, you can expect that you are missing something very important," Rampal says.

The seasonal tug of war

Rampal says mechanical forces can play a significant role in winter, when little melting occurs but when strong winds and ocean currents can wreak drastic effects on the ice's shape and movement.

Traditionally, in winter, most of the Arctic Ocean was covered with a thick sheet of ice. But today's winter ice cover is thinner, meaning it breaks up more easily under the influence of winds and currents. It eventually looks like an "ensemble of floes," Rampal says, instead of one large mass. In summer, natural melting due to warmer temperatures opens the door to even more breakup. (Scientists refer to these patches of floes as "pancake ice," because the small circular pieces look like — yes — pancakes on a griddle.)

During both seasons, ice in this state is prone to escaping from the Arctic basin, most commonly through the Fram Strait, a wide swath of ocean between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The smaller the floes, the more likely they are to be lost through the Fram Strait, where they melt on contact with warmer waters to the south.

So, several factors are connected in a positive feedback loop: Thinner ice breaks more easily; smaller chunks of ice drift more quickly; and drifting ice is more prone to export and melting at lower latitude. But Rampal also cites examples of negative feedback loops, which may counteract some of the ice loss. For example, large cracks in winter's ice cover help create new ice, since the extremely cold air in contact with the liquid ocean promotes refreezing, which leads to a sheet with greater surface area than before.

'You'd better start now'

…  Although it's impossible to say for sure when we might see an ice-free Arctic, the IPCC itself has acknowledged that its 2007 report may have painted too rosy a picture. "If you look at the scientific knowledge things do seem to be getting progressively worse," said Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chair, in an interview reported by The New York Times shortly after the report's release. "So you'd better start with the interventions even earlier. Now."

Hear!  Hear!

Romney: "Corporations Are People, My Friend" — Albeit Ones That Don't Require Clean Air or a Livable Climate

Posted: 11 Aug 2011 02:53 PM PDT

GOP Presidential front runner Mitt Romney offered his view of why corporations should not pay higher taxes at a damaging campaign stop in Iowa.  His remarks open a window into his corporatist, pollutocrat worldview.  As Think Progress Justice noted:

Audience members responded angrily to his plans, and Romney frequently responded belligerently to their anger. In one of the most contentious exchanges, Romney defended his belief that we "should consider a higher retirement age" for Social Security and Medicare to preserve tax breaks for corporations:

ROMNEY: There's various ways of [preserving Social Security and Medicare's solvency]. One is we could raise taxes on people. That's not the way . . .

AUDIENCE: Corporations! Corporations!

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

AUDIENCE: No they're not.

ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?

AUDIENCE: It goes into your pocket!

ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings, my friend.

Given the rapidly growing disparity between the wages of CEOs and those of  workers, and the rapidly growing wealth of  the richest 1% versus the rest of us, the fact is that an increasing share of what corporations earn goes to a small number of very rich people.

It  is also true that corporations spend money lobbying and spreading disinformation on climate science and the EPA, to preserve their ability to  poison the planet and destroy a livable climate.

And  that goes to the heart of the fatal flaw in Romney's worldview.  Yes, conservative  politicians,  conservative pundits, and conservative Supreme Court justices believe corporations deserve to have the same rights as people, including virtually no limits on campaign donations.

The problem is that corporations don't require clean air, clean water, and a livable climate.  Indeed,  in the short run, they can profit by destroying those things –  if the real people let them.

Treating corporations as the same as people is the road to ruin for any modern society, as America is witnessing.

Small Hydro Has Strong Bipartisan Support. So Why Can't We Get Our Act Together?

Posted: 11 Aug 2011 12:06 PM PDT

Most people don't realize that we have a lot of hydropower potential left in this country — particularly small hydro.

Amidst all the talk about increasing offshore drilling in the arctic, permitting massive renewable energy projects in remote areas, and building out expensive transmission lines around the country, we often forget about the simple things.

A few years back, I wrote an article asking if the U.S. was on the verge of a small hydropower boom. I'm sad to say that despite the myriad compelling reasons for developing small hydro projects around this country, we're still in the same place we were when I wrote that story.

Why? Because we have a terrible regulatory framework in place.

A 2006 study put together by the Idaho National Laboratory found that we could feasibly develop up to 30,000 MW of small and "low-power" hydro projects (between 10 kilowatts and 30 megawatts) around the country. All of those projects could be run-of-river — meaning they don't require any damming — or could be built on existing dams.

There are over 81,000 dams around the U.S. and only 2,400 of them have any electrical generating capacity. Many of the power-less 78,600 dams are close to existing infrastructure, making it easier to build and maintain a project compared with a centralized wind or solar farm located far away from where the electricity is used.

So while the government has focused heavily on streamlined permitting for centralized, large-scale renewable energy projects, almost nothing has been done for small hydro.

Due to regulatory morass, the U.S. is not a good place for small hydro companies to do business. In order to build even the smallest facilities, a developer must go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, State Environmental Departments, State Historic Preservation Departments, and many more. Each of these agencies is just doing their job — but the cumulative impact weighs down small hydro and makes projects prohibitively expensive.

"The regulatory environment is not friendly at all. It's incredibly difficult and expensive to build these facilities," explains Lori Barg, CEO of Community Hydro, a developer based in Vermont. "It's absurd, really."

Barg says that federal and state permitting can add up to $2,000 per kilowatt for projects under 1 MW. To put that in perspective: solar PV projects around 1 MW are being built today for about $3,000 a kW, including permitting, labor and equipment.

That needs to change. It's an embarrassment that we still haven't fixed this problem.

A bill introduced by Republican Congressman Adrian Smith is a great start. The Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act, which passed quietly out of the House Natural Resources Committee at the beginning of this month, will exempt all projects smaller than 1.5 MW on non-federally owned conduits from FERC licensing requirements.

"This is a great targeted solution for a particular set of hydropower projects that could spark a tremendous increase in facilities under 1 MW," explains Jeff Leahey, director of government affairs for the National Hydropower Association. "If you can take those out of the FERC process and put those at the states, it will significantly reduce costs."

Consistent with the slow-moving process for small hydro, the bill now needs pass through two more committees — the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

On the Senate side, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski recently re-introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act that would streamline permitting of hydro projects on existing dams and create a competitive grant program for developers. It also expands R&D for new hydro technologies.

NHA hopes to find a way to combine both bills and pass something with bi-partisan support this year.

"We keep telling lawmakers that there's tremendous growth potential in the industry. We are far from tapped out. We can access existing infrastructure today and build tens of thousands of megawatts in communities around the country. We consider that low-hanging fruit," explains Leahey.

Harnessing the full potential of small-scale, local hydropower could actually be pretty easy – all possible without having to deploy massive clean-up efforts, making environmental major trade-offs, or facing stiff local opposition. But we have to get our act together on permitting.

Considering all the other major problems Congress is dealing with, this should be a very easy fix.

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