In an interview last week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt said that the United States should “exit” the Paris Agreement—the first time such a high-ranking Trump administration official has so explicitly rejected the global accord to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Pruitt also vowed that the EPA would “roll back” the Clean Power Plan, a key component of former Obama administration’s plan to meet the U.S. pledge under the Paris Agreement, which calls for an emissions reduction of 26–28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
“Paris is something we need to look at closely,” Pruitt said. “It’s something we need to exit in my opinion. It’s a bad deal for America It’s an ‘America second, third or fourth’ kind of approach.”
Pruitt said that he would not risk U.S. jobs to comply with the agreement, the subject of a battle within the Trump administration—one that President Donald Trump’s most senior advisers are expected to resolve in the next few weeks (subscription).
Pruitt said that complying with the Paris Agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe and China and India. They are polluting far more than we are. We’re at pre-1994 levels with respect to our CO2 emissions.”
In total, only China emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, according to tracking data released by the World Resources Institute last week. Those data show that emissions from India and from the European Union are, respectively, one-half and two-thirds emissions from the United States. Moreover, on a per capita basis, the United States in 2015 produced two times more carbon dioxide emissions than China and eight times more than India.
How the Trump administration could actually exit the Paris Agreement, as Pruitt suggested, remains unclear. Under the agreement’s terms, it takes three years for a party to withdraw, followed by a one-year waiting period.
Pruitt followed up his interview with a proclamation of a new era of environmental deregulation in a speech at a coal mine fined for contaminating local waterways with toxic materials. There he said the EPA’s new “back to basics” agenda would give oversight of clean air and water to individual states and would bolster jobs in fossil fuel industries.
Study: Meeting Paris Agreement Goal Means World Has One Decade to Peak Emissions
The latest research establishing a timeline for phasing down fossil fuel consumption to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius—the more stringent of the two Paris Agreement temperature goals—finds that global carbon dioxide emissions need to peak within 10 years (subscription).
Net emissions could peak by 2022, the study in the journal Nature Communications shows, under a “high-renewable” scenario in which wind, solar and bioenergy increase by some 5 percent annually.
Overall, the analysis produced by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) suggests that, by 2100, fossil fuel consumption must likely be reduced to less than a quarter of primary energy supply. But if carbon-capture-and-storage technology coupled with bioenergy production is found to be unfeasible, uneconomical or too burdensome on ecosystems, the analysis suggests that the world may have to rely heavily on nascent “negative emissions” technology.
The authors did note one other opportunity to rein in emissions, suggesting that land use and agriculture might absorb more carbon dioxide than their model considered.
“The study shows that the combined energy and land-use system should deliver zero net anthropogenic emissions well before 2040 in order to assure the attainability of a 1.5°C target by 2100,” said Michael Obersteiner, IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program director and study coauthor.
The study is one of the first published results from the newly developed—and freely available—FeliX model, a system dynamics model of social, economic, and environmental Earth systems and their interdependencies.
“Compared to other climate and integrated assessment models, the FeliX model is less detailed, but it provides a unique systemic view of the whole carbon cycle, which is vital to our understanding of future climate change and energy,” said Obersteiner.
The day after the IIASA study was published, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration released data showing that March ranked as the second hottest on record for the planet. It followed the second hottest February and third hottest January on record.
Energy Department Orders Grid Study
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered a 60-day study of the U.S. power grid to determine whether policies that favor wind and solar energy—including a recently renewed production tax credit that helps offset the cost of wind and solar installations and, in some states, renewable power mandates—are speeding the decline of baseload coal and nuclear power plants and potentially hampering grid reliability.
In an April 14 memo to his chief of staff, Perry wrote that grid experts have “highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation’s electric generation mix and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience.”
The memo orders consideration of “the extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants,” among other things.
Travis Fisher, a senior advisor in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has been tapped to head the study. Greenwire reported that Fisher has made several public statements through interviews, op-eds and blog posts in which he warned that federal regulations, the wind production tax credit and state renewable mandates were threatening grid reliability.
Electricity regulators are already examining how state policies might be affecting regional electricity markets and grid reliability, reports Bloomberg. Next month the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will hold a technical conference to consider state and federal jurisdictional battles over electricity markets, along with state programs that direct credits to renewable energy and zero-emission power.
In laying out her vision for the conference, FERC’s acting chair, Cheryl LaFleur, said that she hopes for a negotiated solution to wholesale power market issues.
“As I see it, there are three potential outcomes that we could achieve here, and the first is some kind of negotiated or planned solution—in my mind, the best option for stakeholders in different regions,” said LaFleur, who also mentioned litigation and re-regulation.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Last week, California’s Cap-and-Trade Program to reduce carbon emissions was handed a victory when a state appeals court ruled that program’s auction of emissions permits does not constitute an illegal tax because the program is voluntary and the emissions permits have value. In a 2–1 vote, the Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District upheld the cornerstone piece of California’s climate change policy, siding with the program’s operator, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), by finding that the auction revenues are more akin to regulatory fees than a tax. The court ruled against the California Chamber of Commerce, a tomato processor, and the National Association of Manufacturers, all of whom alleged that CARB lacked legislative authority to create the auctions and that the emissions allowances amounted to a tax that would have required a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
California created the Cap-and-Trade Program as part of its program to meet its targets of reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The program requires factories, power plants, and other companies to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases. By putting a cap on carbon emissions and by creating a market for emissions permits, which covered entities can bank and sell if they don’t need them, the program aims to encourage pollution reduction at the least possible cost. Specifically, it allows businesses to determine whether their most cost-effective compliance option is to reduce their emissions or to pay to pollute, a flexibility that figured in the appeals court decision.
“Reducing emissions reduces air pollution, and no entity has a vested right to pollute,” the court wrote. “The purchase of allowances is a voluntary decision driven by business judgments as to whether it is more beneficial to the company to make the purchase than to reduce emissions.”
The court decision frees California to continue holding auctions through 2020 but does not eliminate all the uncertainty that has dampened demand for permits and reduced state revenues that have been used for programs linked to emissions reductions. Although the decision immediately gave carbon markets a boost, an oversupply of permits has kept them inexpensive at roughly $12.50 or $13.50 a metric ton. Experts say that price needs to reach $30 to $40 to properly incentivize new pollution control investments.
Whether emissions permits in a cap-and-trade system should be given away or sold by the government has long been debated by scholars, reports Inside Climate News. California companies had wanted permits to be handed out for free, but California chose to auction them and to use the revenue to help finance spending on energy efficiency and other parts of its climate agenda.
State lawmakers are presently debating whether to extend the Cap-and-Trade Program past 2020 to eliminate any additional uncertainty about the program.
U.S. Power Sector Shrinks Carbon Footprint in Record-Breaking Way
A continuing drop in coal use, along with relatively mild winter temperatures, drove a second consecutive year of reductions in U.S. power sector carbon dioxide emissions, according to figures released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Monday. The EIA reported that those emissions dropped 1.7 percent, compared with the previous year. That reduction was largely attributed to an 8.6 percent drop in coal-related emissions, which was offset by increases in emissions from oil (1.1 percent) and natural gas (0.9 percent). Those figures added up to a record-breaking decrease in the power sector’s carbon intensity, a measure that relates carbon emissions to economic output.
“Overall, the data indicate about a 5 percent decline in the carbon intensity of the power sector, a rate that was also realized in 2015,” the EIA said. “Since 1973, no two consecutive years have seen a decline of this magnitude, and only one other year (2009) has seen a similar decline.”
“These recent decreases are consistent with a decade-long trend, with energy-related CO2 emissions 14 percent below the 2005 level in 2016,” the EIA added.
Whether the trend will continue will depend on several factors. Climate Central reports that utilities’ increasing switch from coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas is not a panacea for climate change, because extraction processes for natural gas emit methane, a greenhouse gas 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 100 years. Moreover, it’s unclear how the Trump administration’s push for fossil fuels development will play out. It may only delay the closure of coal-fired power plants slated for retirement if natural gas prices remain low. But carbon emissions could begin to rise again in the United States if demand for electricity and gasoline increases and if the average fuel economy of new vehicles does not increase.
The EIA reported that the only U.S. sector in which carbon emissions increased last year was transportation. Emissions directly from motor gasoline increased 1.8 percent. Notably, overall transportation sector emissions were higher than power sector emissions, a trend the EIA expects to continue until at least 2040.
Gorsuch Sworn in as Supreme Court Justice
After being confirmed Friday by a 54-to-45 vote—following Republicans’ invocation of the so-called nuclear option, which lowered the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote—Colorado appeals court judge Neil M. Gorsuch took his oaths to be the Supreme Court’s 113th justice Monday. Gorsuch breaks the court’s perceived 4-4 ideological split since the February 2016 death of conservative stalwart Justice Antonin Scalia.
During his federal appeal court tenure, Gorsuch mirrored Scalia’s originalist approach to the law, interpreting the Constitution according to the meaning understood by its drafters. But he could envision his job in more “muscular” terms than his predecessor, according to The Economist. Of particular importance to climate policy is Gorsuch’s evident skepticism of the Chevron deference, whereby judges defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of federal laws when the law is ambiguous. The Chevron deference, as a principle, stems from a decision in a 1984 case that Chevron brought against the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its reading of the Clean Air Act. In last year’s Gutierrez-Brizuela v Lynch, notes The Economist, Gorsuch called into question the Chevron principle, writing that it allows agencies to “swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power” and that it “concentrate[s] federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the constitution of the framers’ design.” He suggested that it might be time to fundamentally rethink the Chevron principle.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
An internal budget draft shows how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes to meet Trump’s FY2018 Budget submission to Congress, which reduces EPA spending 31 percent.
The memo repeatedly portrays climate as outside the EPA’s core statutory requirements. It focuses instead on funding “core legal requirements,” scrapping 56 programs dealing with scientific research, climate change and education while sending other functions to state and local governments. One of those proposed cuts is to the program responsible for producing new car fuel economy labels and certifying that new vehicles, engines and fuels conform to clean air standards. Dubbed the Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certification program, it helped to uncover Volkswagen AG’s emissions cheating.
The agency’s budget also proposes to lay off 25 percent of EPA employees.
Asked about the budget in an interview with Fox News, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that the agency expects states to assume a greater role in environmental protection.
“Over the last several years, there has been a lack of commitment to state partnership,” said Pruitt, adding that would change under his tenure (subscription).
But as Greenwire points out, much of that partnership is fueled by federal dollars, and Trump’s proposed EPA budget cuts, if implemented, could undermine Pruitt’s pledge to state environmental regulators.
Sent March 21 by Acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom, the draft budget was addressed to the heads of EPA departments. They are supposed to provide feedback and explain how they would make the cuts but still fulfill statutory requirements. John Konkus, an EPA spokesperson, said that the agency is “working towards implementing the president’s budget based on the framework provided by his blueprint,” offering little else about the review process surrounding the draft.
Trump’s official budget is scheduled to go before Congress in mid-May.
Following Executive Order, Climate Rule Notices Published in Federal Register
President Donald Trump may not be finished issuing executive orders related to environment and energy, according to Mike McKenna, the former head of the Department of Energy transition team and founder of MWR Strategies.
“I don’t think we’re quite done with the executive orders,” said McKenna, speaking at the Energy Bar Association’s annual meeting in Washington (subscription). He noted that “offshore energy development” and “probably something clarifying where we are going with [the] Antiquities [Act]” could be next.
Last week, Trump signed a long anticipated executive order promoting fossil fuel extraction, greatly diminishing the role climate change plays in U.S. government decision making, and directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel fired power plants.
On Tuesday, notices announcing the review of Clean Power Plan as well as performance standards for new fossil-fuel fired power plants and oil and gas facilities were published in the Federal Register. That step is the first in the rulemaking process to amend or rescind the rules. The EPA also withdrew its proposed rules for a federal plan to implement the Clean Power Plan. Those rules would have provided a template for states setting up their own regulations to meet the plan’s emissions reductions targets.
After Trump Executive Order, Others Seek to Provide Climate Leadership
President Donald Trump’s March 28 executive order formalizing his commitment to “unwind science-based climate action in the United States” would “relegate the United States to the bottom of the global climate action league,” according to a report released by Climate Action Tracker), a research coalition that rates all major nations on their pledges under the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at holding the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and at pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report finds that the order sets the United States on a trajectory to fall well short of its Paris Agreement commitment for 2025: instead of the 13 percent decrease from 2014 levels needed to meet that commitment, U.S. emissions in 2025 and 2030 would be roughly similar to today’s levels. But the report also finds that market pressures will continue the global clean energy transition.
Reacting to Trump’s executive order, which did not address the Paris Agreement, many nations acknowledged a vast investment shift from fossil fuels to clean energy and, notably, China, one of the world’s largest emitters, reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement.
All countries should “move with the times,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang. “No matter how other countries’ policies on climate change, as a responsible large developing country China’s resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change.”
Within the United States, Trump’s order elicited a similar sentiment by some cities and states.
“Climate change is both the greatest single threat we face, and our greatest economic opportunity for our nation,” the mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Houston and 72 other cities wrote in an open letter to the president. “That is why we affirm our cities’ commitments to taking every action possible to achieve the principles and goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, and to engage states, businesses and other sectors to join us.”
The Democratic governors of California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Washington, along with five mayors in those states, said in a statement that they would continue to lower carbon emissions despite conflicting policy from the Trump administration.
“Our commitment to limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius remains,” said the group. The signatories are members of the Under2 Coalition, a group of 167 cities, states and countries committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 2 tons per capita, or 80–95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
President Donald Trump signed a long anticipated executive order greatly diminishing the role climate change plays in U.S. government decision making by directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel fired power plants.
The order directs each executive department and agency in the federal government to identify regulations, rules, policies, and guidance documents that slow or stop domestic energy production. In addition, the order also calls to review use the “social cost of carbon,” a metric for weighing the potential economic damage from climate change. Effective immediately, it instructs federal officials to use the 2003 Office of Management and Budget guidance “when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, including with respect to the consideration of domestic versus international impacts and the consideration of appropriate discount rates, agencies shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law.”
Regulations affecting methane leaks at oil and gas production facilities and hydraulic fracturing will all be reviewed, and a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands will be eliminated.
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” said Trump. “I made them this promise. We will put our miners back to work.”
Coal’s share of the electric sector dwindled in the last decade to some 32 percent last year, according to The Associated Press, while gas and renewables have made gains as hundreds of coal-burning power plants have been retired or are on schedule to retire soon.
Low natural gas prices are, in large part, responsible for those retirements, making it unlikely that rolling back the Clean Power Plan will bring back coal jobs. Given the way market forces—rather than regulations—have hurt the coal industry and reduced employment Trump should “temper his expectations,” said Robert Murray, the founder and CEO of Murray Energy.
“[Utilities] are not going to flip a dime and say now it’s time to start building a whole bunch of coal plants because there’s a Trump administration,” said Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Scientists Propose “Carbon Law”; Human Fingerprint Evident in Extreme Weather Events
An article published in Science says that “alarming inconsistencies” remain between the Paris Agreement’s science-based targets and national commitments. To harness the dynamics associated with disruption, innovation, and nonlinear change in human behavior and to calibrate for “political short-termism,” the authors propose that the decarbonization challenge be framed as a global decadal roadmap based on a “carbon law” of halving carbon dioxide emissions every decade.
Inspired by Moore’s Law, which predicted steady advances in computing power, the carbon law, say the researchers, is a flexible way to think about reducing carbon emissions because it can be applied across borders and economic sectors and at both regional and global scales.
It would require fossil-fuel emissions to peak by 2020 and to fall to zero by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The idea is to reduce the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget to stay below 2 degrees Celsius by making the greatest efforts to reduce emissions now rather than later.
The researchers call for a ramping up of technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, a rapid reduction of emissions from agriculture and deforestation, and a doubling of renewables in the energy sector every five to seven years.
“We are already at the start of this trajectory,” said lead author Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. “In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace, fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050.”
By 2020, according to the roadmap outlined by authors, the world would implement “no-brainer” policies, including ending fossil-fuel subsidies, putting a $50 per ton price on carbon emissions, and cracking down on energy efficiency. Both coal and polluting vehicles would have to be phased out, and new clean technology, including superconducting electricity grids, would have to be developed.
In the 2030s, coal use would end in the energy sector and in the 2040s oil use would end. By 2050, the carbon price would have risen to $400 per ton.
A study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports suggests human-caused global warming is changing the behavior of planetary waves such as the jet stream in a way that intensifies droughts, wildfires and floods (subscription).
“We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events,” said Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the study.
Authors used computer simulations, historical temperature data going back as far as 1880 and roughly 50 climate models to explore a series of unusual and deadly weather events, which they connect with an increase in the stalling of the jet stream, a phenomenon that occurs with a decreased temperature difference between the Arctic and tropical air streams. Conditions that favor that phenomenon have increased nearly 70 percent since the start of the industrial age—and most of that change has occurred in the past four decades, according to the study.
“The more frequent persistent and meandering jetstream states seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, which makes it even more relevant,” said co-author Dim Coumou from the Department of Water and Climate Risk at VU University in Amsterdam. “Such non-linear responses of the Earth system to human-made warming should be avoided. We can limit the risks associated with increases in weather extremes if we limit greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Keystone Pipeline Application Approved
President Donald Trump continued to tout restoration of American jobs with his approval of a Canadian firm’s application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, linking existing pipelines to carry oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s a great day for American jobs, a historic day for North America and energy independence,” said Trump Friday. “This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families, and very significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
The Obama administration had cited environmental concerns in rejecting the Keystone permit in 2015. In the 30-page explanation that the State Department gave for its presidential permit, signed by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr., it said it relied on yet earlier environmental studies into the pipeline’s possible environmental effects. The only new material in the permit is communications from TransCanada.
“In making his determination that issuance of this permit would serve the national interest, the Under Secretary considered a range of factors, including but not limited to foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy,” a statement on the U.S. Department of State website reads.
President Donald Trump is not considering a national carbon tax proposal that a group of Republicans discussed in February. A White House official told GreenWire in an e-mail that although the group of Republican leaders visited the White House to discuss their proposal that “the Trump Administration is not considering a carbon tax.”
The plan had called for an increase in the cost of fossil fuels to bring down consumption—suggesting a tax of $40 a ton that would increase steadily over time. Tax proceeds, they state, would be redistributed to consumers on a quarterly basis in what they call “carbon dividends” that could be approximately $2,000 annually for a family of four.
The Hill reports that White House advisors, along with National Economic Council (NEC) Director Gary Cohn, met with the group led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
“Part of the NEC’s responsibility in coordinating economic policy for the president is to listen to a range of viewpoints on various issues,” said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman. “The Trump administration is not considering a carbon tax.”
Nominee for Supreme Court Sheds Little Light on How He Would Weigh Environmental Issues
The Senate hearing began this week for Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant in February 2016 by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. How Gorsuch may weigh environmental issues is difficult to discern due to his slender case record on energy and climate topics.
“His record is kind of skimpy,” said Peter McGrath, a member of the Moore & VanAllen law firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s hard to predict where he might rule.”
His third day of Senate testimony has revealed little about how Gorsuch might consider specific issues. He repeatedly said that it is his duty to “apply the law impartially.”
He has been skeptical of a judicial doctrine whereby government agencies’ interpretation of ambiguous statutes prevails unless it is unreasonable—the so-called Chevron deference. Chevron has become the basis of the legal argument for many environmental cases since the 1980s. But according to a concurring opinion Gorsuch wrote last year, the doctrine empowers bureaucrats to “swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power” and to “concentrate federal power” in a way with which the framers of the Constitution would have disagreed.
On day two of his Senate hearing, Gorsuch may have partly clarified his stance on the legal doctrine.
“Scientists, biologists, chemists—the experts get great deference from the courts,” Gorsuch said. “The only question is who decides what the law is.”
The hearing for Gorsuch is expected to continue through Thursday and possibly into Friday. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said the plan is for the full Senate to vote on Gorsuch by Easter.
Complex Picture of Carbon Emissions Emerges; Record Temps Continue
Thanks to a combination of stricter emissions regulations, a decline in the use of coal, cheaper natural gas and a rise in clean energy, climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions—totaling 32.1 metric gigatons in 2016—have remained flat for the third consecutive year despite 3.1 percent growth in the global economy over the same period, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced on Monday. The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3 percent, while the economy grew 1.6 percent. Carbon dioxide output also declined 1 percent in China, where the economy grew by more than 6 percent, showing that the world’s two largest energy users and carbon emitters may be able to balance economic growth with emissions reductions. The decreases offset increases in most of the rest of world.
“These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter.”
In 2016, renewables, particularly hydro, supplied more than half the growth in global electricity demand. The overall increase in the world’s nuclear net capacity last year was the highest since 1993, with new reactors becoming operational in China, the United States, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan. And coal demand fell worldwide but particularly in the United States, where it was down 11 percent in 2016 and where, for the first time, more electricity was generated from natural gas than from coal.
Although positive for air pollution, the emissions pause, said the IEA, is insufficient to keep global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius, the cutoff that scientists say helps us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Transparent, predictable policies are needed worldwide to ensure temperatures do not rise above 2 degrees Celsius.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday announced that last month’s average global temperature was 1.76 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average of 53.9 degrees Fahrenheit, making February 2017 the second warmest, behind last February, in 137 years of record keeping.
On the heels of this announcement, the annual State of the Global Climate report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also showed that 2016 was the warmest year on record. The El Niño weather phenomenon contributed 0.1 to 0.2 degrees to the longer-term warming driven by carbon dioxide emissions.
“The year 2016 was the warmest on record—a remarkable 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 degrees Celsius above the previous record set in 2015,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. “This increase in global temperatures is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system. Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year.”
According to WMO, provisional data also indicates that there has been no easing in the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide despite the fading of 2016’s strong El Niño conditions, a phenomenon in the Pacific that increases global temperatures and affects weather patterns.
“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system,” said David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme. “We are now in truly uncharted territory.”
President Donald Trump announced in Detroit Wednesday that standards requiring automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 will be reviewed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the standards as a single program alongside the Department of Transportation’s fuel economy rules, popularly known as Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards. They were put in place by the Obama administration not only to eliminate atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide but also to save a projected 12 billion barrels of oil.
Last year, the Obama administration speedily conducted a midterm review of whether the stricter 2022-2025 targets would be achievable. The review, which was required to be complete by 2018, found that the industry could easily meet the stricter standards.
“Today I am announcing we are going to cancel that executive action,” said Trump. “We are going to restore the originally scheduled midterm review and we are going to ensure any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories. We’re going to be fair.”
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt added that the standards “are costly for automakers and the American people,” noting that the EPA will work with the Department of Transportation “to take a fresh look to determine if this approach is realistic.”
Rolling back the standards will take more than a year of legal and regulatory reviews by the EPA and the Department of Transportation, The New York Times reports.
Trump did not take steps Wednesday to revoke a waiver that allows California and a dozen other states to enforce emissions standards more stringent than those of the EPA, Reuters reports. If those regulations remain intact, automakers will still be compelled to produce more fuel-efficient cars regardless of any changes at the federal level.
Pruitt: Let Congress Figure Out If the EPA Should Regulate Carbon Dioxide
In the same CNBC interview in which he doubted the contribution of carbon dioxide to global warming, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt said Congress, not his own agency, should decide whether the EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gases.
“Nowhere in the equation has Congress spoken,” said Pruitt. “The legislative branch has not addressed this issue at all. It’s a very fundamental question to say, ‘Are the tools in the toolbox available to the EPA to address this issue of CO2, as the court had recognized in 2007, with it being a pollutant?’”
The comment appeared to be a reference to Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act. That ruling prompted the EPA to promulgate the first-ever greenhouse gas regulations for motor vehicles.
Taking a legislative approach, reports ClimateWire, would get around a protracted rulemaking process and legal challenges that might beset efforts to rewrite federal regulations addressing climate change (subscription). Congress could instead simply change the definition of an air pollutant to exclude carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, putting into question a range of federal regulations from the Clean Power Plan to fuel economy standards.
That’s the intent of the Stopping EPA Overreach Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives introduced last week. H.R. 637 would amend the Clean Air Act so that the term ‘air pollutant’ does not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride.
The proposal would nullify the EPA’s regulation of carbon pollution, stating that “no federal agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under current law” and “no attempt to regulate greenhouse gases should be undertaken without further Congressional action.”
The bill would also repeal the Clean Power Plan and a rule setting methane emission standards for oil and gas operations. If it were to become law, legal recourse would be unlikely because the Clean Air Act would be explicitly rewritten.
Trump Unveils $1.1 Trillion Budget; Signs Another Executive Order
President Donald Trump unveiled his 2018 discretionary spending budget proposal Thursday, one that reduces many federal agency budgets. The largest cut of 31 percent is to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The move will result in the loss of 3,200 positions, or more than 20 percent of the EPA’s workforce, and terminates more than 50 EPA programs. It defunds the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide from existing fossil-fuel-fired power plants, and the Energy Star Program, which identifies and promotes energy efficiency in products.
“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So, I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “The president wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach, and the budget reflects that.”
The budget is only an outline, as Congress has the authority to set government spending levels and appropriate money.
Stating that he couldn’t “in good conscience be supportive” of the Trump administration’s major cuts to the EPA budget, Mustafa Ali stepped down as head of the EPA’s environmental justice office, which he helped found in 1992 to alleviate the impact of air, water and industrial pollution on poverty-stricken areas.
In a lengthy letter, Ali urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt not to kill the agency’s programs as Pruitt prepares to dismantle many in response to the Trump administration’s 2018 budget blueprint.
Setting the stage for the historic downsizing of federal agencies and the federal workforce in the budget proposal was an executive order signed Monday that requires government agencies to make themselves lean. The new White House review effort, the Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch, could identify additional areas for cuts within the EPA and the Department of Energy and Department of the Interior.
“Today there is duplication and redundancy everywhere,” said Trump. “This order requires a thorough examination of every executive department and agency to see where money is being wasted, how services can be improved and whether programs are truly serving American citizens.”
The order directs Mulvaney to “propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies … components of agencies and agency programs,” according to the White House. Agency heads have 180 days to submit a reorganization plan.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to dismantle Obama-era climate rules, including the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel fired power plants. Originally expected this week, GreenWire reports that according to a White House official the order “may be pushed beyond this week.”
It was unclear until now if the Trump administration would “repeal and replace” the Clean Power Plan, or just set upon a path to undo it, but the executive order will only call for the withdrawal of the regulation, according to sources (subscription). It could also instruct the Justice Department to effectively withdraw its legal defense of the climate rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Like other executive orders recently signed by the president, this one would not, by itself, roll back the Clean Power Plan. Altering a final rule, like the Clean Power Plan, isn’t as simple as the stroke of a pen. It will likely require the EPA to undertake a new rulemaking process, including public notice and comment that could last a few years.
Unless Congress amends the Clean Air Act or the Supreme Court reverses prior opinions, the EPA retains its authority—and a legal obligation—to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The question then becomes which Clean Air Act program is appropriate for the EPA to fulfill its legal obligation—the authority that underpins the Clean Power Plan or another provision of the Clean Air Act—and how the Trump administration believes that authority should be deployed in its discretion.
And while members of the Trump administration remain split on whether to follow through with campaign promises to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the European Union (EU) pledged to “reinvigorate EU climate diplomacy … taking into account the latest developments and changing geopolitical landscape.” The EU may be looking to Canada to help ensure the agreement is implemented.
Oil and Gas Industry No Longer Required to Report Methane Emissions
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt withdrew an Information Collection Request order issued by the Obama administration in November requiring the oil and gas industry to report information about their equipment and operations in an effort to rein in leaks of methane. The order, which took effect immediately, was the EPA’s first step to regulate methane emissions from the sector.
In November, the EPA sent letters to more than 15,000 owners and operators in the oil and gas industry requiring them to provide information on the numbers and types of equipment at onshore oil and gas production facilities, as well as information on methane emissions at the sites.
A letter sent to the EPA by the attorney generals of Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia expressed concern with the requirement, prompting the withdrawal.
“By taking this step, EPA is signaling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states,” Pruitt said. “Today’s action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry.”
Senate Approves Rick Perry as Energy Secretary, Ryan Zinke as Interior Lead
Last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed two department heads who will have considerable influence on how the country approaches energy issues from funding of advanced energy projects to use of public lands for oil and gas extraction.
In a 62–37 vote, Rick Perry was confirmed as head of the U.S. Department of Energy, the agency he vowed to eliminate during his failed 2012 presidential bid and at the helm of which he faces tough issues related to regulatory reach, efforts to mitigate climate change, and potentially deep cuts in agency staffing and spending. He now is responsible for maintenance of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and 17 national laboratories that conduct research into energy technologies that could help fight climate change, a phenomenon he has questioned. During his confirmation hearings he acknowledged that human activity has contributed to warming, a sharp pivot from the global cooling cover up he advanced in his 2010 book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington.
As governor of Texas, Perry presided over big increases in his state’s wind power and shale oil drilling. During his Senate confirmation hearing, he said he would seek to develop American energy in all forms—oil, gas, nuclear, and renewable—and that he would rely on federal scientists to pursue “sound science.”
He replaces Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who led technical negotiations in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and successor of Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
By a vote of 68 to 31, former Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke was confirmed as secretary of the Department of the Interior, where he assumes oversight of 500 million acres of public land, including 59 national parks. Zinke, who has questioned climate science and expressed support for expanding mining and oil and gas development on public land, will now head up the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
During Senate committee hearings on his nomination last month, Zinke said one of his first priorities would be to fix deteriorating infrastructure at parks under the National Park Service. But he gave little clue about how he would act on other issues as head of the department whose agencies decide how resources such as coal are managed and which animals are eligible for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
He did say that federal land should be managed under a multiple-use model that allows hiking, hunting, fishing and camping along with timber harvesting, coal mining and oil and natural gas drilling.
Meanwhile, one of Trump’s confirmed cabinet members, Scott Pruitt, who was approved by the Senate last month and sworn in as EPA administrator,
In his first address to Congress Tuesday night, President Donald Trump touted accomplishments since taking office in January—including withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ordering construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and nominating conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Crime, immigration, trade and health care dominated the speech, with little focus on energy and climate issues.
What Trump did make clear is his direction on regulation and infrastructure. Trump’s comments on Tuesday, ClimateWire reports, reaffirmed his desire to help coal miners and the idea that his policies are based largely on rolling back environmental regulations. Reuters reports that according to an unnamed White House official, Trump could lift a federal coal mining ban and an initiative forcing states to cut carbon emissions, in an executive order as soon as next week.
“We have undertaken an historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations, creating a deregulation task force inside of every government agency,” Trump said. “And we’re imposing a new rule which mandates that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. We’re going to stop the regulations that threaten the future and livelihood of our great coal miners.”
Although Trump vowed “to promote clean air and clear water” in his speech to Congress, the same day he issued an executive order for reexamination of the Waters of the U.S. rule. Written by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers and finalized in May 2015, the rule was meant to clarify the reach of federal regulators over wetlands and waterways under the Clean Water Act (subscription). The order directs the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin a formal rule review, the first step in what legal experts say is a lengthy process to rewrite or repeal the rule—a process that could take longer than one presidential term.
EPA Cuts Signaled in Trump’s Proposed Budget
President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal, sent to government agencies on Monday, would increase defense and security spending by $54 billion and strip roughly the same amount from non-defense programs, with some large cuts to come from the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA).
A source told CNN that the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fueled power plants, is facing potential elimination, along with other regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They include 14 EPA partnership programs to reduce those emissions and Global Change Research, a program funded by several agencies, including the EPA, which reports humans’ impact on the planet.
Although the EPA is a perennial target for budget cuts for some conservatives in Congress, the purported cut, which would amount to about $2 billion from the EPA’s annual budget of about $8.1 billion, is not a certainty. Approximately half the EPA’s annual budget goes to popular state-level programs, like converting abandoned industrial sites into public facilities, and most of the EPA’s federal office spending goes to funding programs that are required by existing laws.
Just four days beforehand at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said those who want to eliminate the department are “justified” in their beliefs.
“I think it’s justified,” said Pruitt. “I think people across this country look at the EPA much like they look at the IRS. I hope to be able to change that.”
Pruitt, who fought two cases that led to courts freezing the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule, also told conference attendees that he would “restore federalism” by giving states a greater say in air and water protection and ensure that “regulations are reined in.” He demurred on the issue of the EPA’s cross-state pollution work, but said the EPA “can’t just make it up” when it decides rules to address climate change, adding that it is “hard to measure with precision” the impact of human activity on the changing climate.
California Acts to Keep Its Environmental Standards
Last Thursday, lawmakers in California introduced three bills—the “Preserve California” package—that made it clear that they want to continue the state’s stringent environmental and climate change policies. The attempt to insulate the state from potential rollbacks in federal environmental regulations and public health protections could set up a battle with the Trump administration and Congress.
“We’re not going to let this administration or any other undermine our progress,” said California Senate Leader Kevin de Leon. “Washington may choose to double down on dirty energy, but California will not follow.”
One of the three bills, SB49, would make current federal clean air, clean water, endangered species and workers’ safety standards enforceable under state law, even if the Trump administration weakens federal standards. With respect to air standards, it would require local air districts to comply with federal rules for new stationary pollution sources in place as of January 1, 2016, or January 1, 2017, “whichever is more stringent.”
California has been relying on federal waivers from the Clean Air Act to set its own, stricter, clean air standards, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could theoretically rescind those waivers or refuse to renew them.
SB50 establishes a new state policy to discourage transfers of federal lands to private developers for resource extraction and directs the State Lands Commission, which oversees many of the federal lands in California, to give the state right of first refusal of any federal lands proposed for transfers to other parties. The state would review any transactions involving federal lands in California to ensure those lands are protected, by state action if necessary.
SB51 would extend whistle-blower protections to federal lawyers, engineers and scientists who are working in California and would direct state environmental and public health agencies to preserve data, even if federal authorities order it to be censored or destroyed.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt filed 14 lawsuits challenging EPA regulations, including limits on carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Many of the cases are pending in the courts, creating “serious conflicts of interest,” said Delaware Senator Tom Carver the day before the vote. On Tuesday, Oklahoma asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to replace Pruitt in the Clean Power Plan lawsuit with the state’s new attorney general.
In his first speech to EPA staff on Tuesday, Pruitt said, “I believe that we as an agency, and we as a nation, can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment. We don’t have to choose between the two.”
He steered clear of specifics about the Trump administration’s energy policies, instead hinting at some agency reforms, saying that the agency has a responsibility to “avoid abuses that occur sometimes” in rulemaking, and he stressed the importance of following the “rule of law” and in partnering with states.
“I seek to ensure that we engender the trust of those at the state level,” he said (subscription).
Those comments echoed Pruitt’s first interview as EPA administrator, in which he told the Wall Street Journal that he intends to restore power to states, that environmental laws were not meant to be a “one-size-fits-all model,” and that “the state departments of environmental quality have an enormous role to play” as well as suggested that the public has trust issues with the EPA’s procedure for producing studies and cost-benefit analyses.
“The citizens just don’t trust that EPA is honest with these numbers,” he said. “Let’s get real, objective data, not just do modeling. Let’s vigorously publish and peer-review science. Let’s do honest cost-benefit work. We need to restore the trust.”
During the interview, Pruitt appeared to contradict his confirmation hearing testimony by questioning EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, saying that “the courts have seriously called into question the legality” of both the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States Rule, which clarifies the EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. Both rules may be targets of future executive actions. Although the order may not cancel the Clean Power Plan outright, it would mark the first step in weakening the Obama-era climate rule.
The Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts vs. EPA that the EPA possesses authority to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act—an authority that the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s panel on the environment is looking to roll back (subscription).
Senate Democrats had sought to delay Pruitt’s Senate confirmation vote, saying lawmakers could afford to wait a few days to learn more about Pruitt’s ties to the oil and gas industry, a reference to an Oklahoma judge’s ruling, that required Pruitt to hand over nearly 3,000 e-mails related to his communications with the industry, the subject of a public records lawsuit. The Center for Media and Democracy published those e-mails yesterday, two years after Pruitt initially refused to release them. The e-mails share close ties to the oil and gas industry. AP detailed a few of the ways in which those e-mails show how Pruitt and his staff coordinated their legal strategy with oil and gas industry executives and advocacy groups funded by those profiting from fossil fuels to fight federal efforts to curb carbon emissions.
Study Examines Spill Risk of Hydraulically Fractured Wells
A new analysis led by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, which appeared Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, concludes that making states spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills at hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells.
“… Reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis,” said Lauren Patterson, policy associate at the Nicholas Institute and the study’s lead author. “Given the rapid recent development of unconventional oil and gas development, data are scarce on both how often spills happen, where in the process they occur, and what caused them.”
“The presence of a spill,” she added, “does not mean an adverse impact; many spills were small or contained. The data on containment and potential impacts varied between states and over time, making it difficult to do more than report on the number of spills.”
It identifies 6,648 spills reported across Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania during a 10-year period (2005 and 2014). The work also shows that the range of requirements makes it impossible to compare states or come up with a comprehensive national picture. For example, Colorado and New Mexico require spills of more than 210 gallons to be reported to the state, whereas North Dakota calls for any spill of more than 42 gallons to be documented.
Making this state-level data more uniform could help regulators and industry reduce future spills.
“Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health,” said Kate Konschnik, co-author on the paper from Harvard Law School’s Environmental Policy Initiative. “Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available—and in an accessible format—for industry, states and the research community.”
Singapore Commits, States Consider Carbon Tax
A proposed carbon tax by a group of Republican lawmakers—the Climate Leadership Council—hasn’t made much headway with Congress since its introduction earlier this month, but others are starting to think about the concept.
State lawmakers in California are debating whether to extend the current cap-and-trade system beyond 2020, or replace it with a carbon tax—or cap and tax. Like the cap-and-trade system, this alternative strategy would place a cap on emissions that would decline each year, but it would also tax all emissions at the EPA-set social cost of carbon, or $50 per ton in 2030. And, ClimateWire reports, Washington state has proposed a $25-per-ton carbon tax to bolster the state budget. A second proposal to impose a $15-per-ton tax is also on that state’s legislative agenda (subscription).
“The most economically efficient and fair way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to set a carbon tax, so that emitters will take the necessary actions,” said Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. “Singapore is vulnerable to rises in sea level due to climate change. Together with the international community, we have to play our part to protect our living environment.”
The Congressional Review Act was used to repeal a rule that forced energy companies on the U.S. stock exchanges to disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments in an effort to fight corruption in resource-rich countries. President Donald Trump signed legislation to scrap the rule, implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, on Tuesday.
The repeal of the Obama-era rule was made possible through the rarely used Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress a small window to scuttle regulations before they take effect with a simple majority vote and blocks regulators from writing similar rules in the future unless Congress authorizes them through subsequent legislation. Given the infrequency with which the Congressional Review Act has been used, however, legal uncertainty hangs over how the government approaches a statutorily required regulation that is overturned through the Congressional Review Act. Before Trump took office, the Congressional Review Act had been used only once, in 2001, to overturn a Clinton administration ergonomics rule.
So far, the House has moved to repeal eight other rules, including a rule restricting coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and one curtailing methane waste from oil and gas drilling on public lands. The Senate could consider the latter, H. J. Res. 36, which would rescind the Bureau of Land Management’s Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation rule, this week. Also this week, Trump could sign a separate resolution scrapping the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule, enacted to protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Monday for six of Trump’s cabinet nominees, allowing them to come before the full Senate for a vote. Trump’s environment-focused nominees—Ryan Zinke (U.S. Department of the Interior) and Rick Perry (U.S. Department of Energy), are presently on hold. Some reports say Zinke’s confirmation may not be until March.
Although a Senate vote for Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was expected this week, Senate Democrats requested Scott Pruitt’s vote be delayed due to a pending court case regarding e-mail records. There is no indication at this point that the vote will be delayed, however.
“These records are needed for the Senate to evaluate Mr. Pruitt’s suitability to serve in the position for which he has been nominated,” the Democrats wrote.
Sea Ice Continues to Shrink at Both Poles; Study Examines Method to Refreeze
Sea ice at the north and south poles continues to reach record low levels. In Antarctica, sea ice has shrunk to its lowest level since record keeping began in 1979—contracting to 2.287 million square kilometers. The average between 1981 and 2010 was more than 3 million square kilometers.
“No one knows for sure what will happen, as there might be a rebounding from the very large decreases last year, or there might be a continuation of those decreases,” said Claire Parkinson, a NASA sea ice researcher. “Whichever way it turns out, the added information will probably help scientists to get a better handle on the likely causes.”
A new study published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that it may be possible to refreeze ice in the Arctic, building back up record-low ice levels.
“This loss of sea ice represents one of the most severe positive feedbacks in the climate system, as sunlight that would otherwise be reflected by sea ice is absorbed by open ocean,” authors write. “It is unlikely that CO2 levels and mean temperatures can be decreased in time to prevent this loss, so restoring sea ice artificially is imperative.”
The authors examine a means for increasing sea ice production using wind power to pump water from the ocean and spray it on the surface during Arctic winters. Because the mean annual thickness of Arctic ice is approximately 1.5 meters, the authors say, this plan could increase the thickness of the ice by about 70 percent over the course of a winter—enough to counteract the 0.58 meters lost each year due to the changing climate.
“Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” said Arizona State University’s Steven Desch, an author of the plan to use 10 million wind-powered pumps.
Human Activities Dwarf Natural Forces When It Comes to Climate Change Impacts
Two researchers who examined the Earth as a single complex system say they have captured in a one equation the impact of human activities. Those activities, specifically, the emission of greenhouse gases, are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces.
The study, published in the journal The Anthropocene Review, represents that exceptional rapid rate of change in an “Anthropocene equation.”
Explaining the equation in New Scientist, co-author Owen Gaffney of the University of Stockholm said it was developed “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system . . . For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others.”
“In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now,” Gaffney added. “All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact.”
Gaffney said that although complex interactions between the Earth’s core and the biosphere had rendered Earth relatively stable over millions of years, human societies would be unlikely to fare so well. The research concluded that failure to reduce anthropological climate change could “trigger societal collapse.”