The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

As the United Nations prepares to welcome delegates from across the world to Bonn, Germany, on Monday for the annual Conference of Parties meeting (COP23), the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) has released its yearly “Emissions Gap” report indicating a disparity between the world’s stated ambitions on climate in the Paris Agreement and what actions are actually needed.

The report indicates the present national pledges under the agreement are only one third of the reduction in emissions required by 2030 to meet targets, which aim 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. The pledges by countries, it says, would lead to temperature rises of as much as 3 degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century, but it would make the chance of getting to 4 degrees Celsius or more of warming considerably smaller.

Although the gap between commitments could be large, the report suggests that it is still possible to close it in a cost-effective way. A large portion of reductions come from six specific efforts: solar energy; wind energy; efficient appliances; efficient passenger cars; aforestation; and stopping deforestation.

“These six categories sum up a potential of 18.5 GtCO2e in 2030 (range: 15-22 GtCO2e), making up more than half of the basic potential,” the report says. “Equally important, all these measures can be realised at modest cost, and are predominantly achievable through proven policies.”

What about the U.S.—the second largest emitter—not honoring its Paris Agreement commitment? Even though President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement this summer, the chances are good we can live up to the emissions reductions promised suggests UNEP Director Erik Solheim. “In all likelihood, the United States of America will live up to its Paris commitment, not because of the White House, but because of the private sector,” said  Solheim. “All the big American companies are dedicated to go in the green direction.”

Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach New High in 2016

The carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere rose higher than it’s been in 800,000 years—145 percent of pre-industrial levels, according to a new report. The U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that a strong El Niño event and human activity contributed to the increase of CO2 concentrations—403.3 parts per million last year, up from 400 in 2015.

“Without rapid cuts in COand other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet. COremains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. The laws of physics mean that we face a much hotter, more extreme climate in the future.”

The study uses monitoring by ships, aircraft and weather stations on land to track emissions trends since 1750. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it said, is now increasing 100 times faster than at the end of the last ice age due to population growth, intensive agriculture, deforestation and industrialization.

Measures to mitigate climate change must be taken, the report warns, including work to develop renewable energy and transportation systems.

Studies Assess Cost and Effects of Climate Change

A report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s auditing arm, urges the Trump administration to take climate change risks seriously and begin formulating a response. The office analyzed the financial costs of extreme weather events and wildfires in the United States, finding that these events have cost the government more than $350 billion over the past 10 years.

“The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” indicates the study, which drew on interviews with 26 scientific and economic experts and 30 studies over two years to draw its conclusion. “By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks.”

A separate study by a leading medical journal, The Lancet, focused on the impacts and cost of weather-related disasters and a warming climate.

“Between 2000-2016, there has been a 46 percent increase in the number of weather-related disasters, and 125 million adults aged over 65 were exposed to heat waves,” the journal indicated. “Increasing temperatures have led to around 5.3 percent loss in labor productivity, and economic losses linked to climate-related extreme weather events were estimated at $129 billion in 2016.”

The Lancet study cites a number of ways climate change is already affecting health—heat waves, mass migrations, infectious diseases, economic problems, natural disasters and malnutrition.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hurricane Irma is shaping up to be a potentially catastrophic storm that remains on course to hit Florida by Sunday. Coming immediately after Hurricane Harvey, Irma is increasing attention to the relationship of severe weather events to climate change. Throughout the past few decades, hurricanes in particular have drawn attention to the need to fight climate change, with scientists recognizing that although climate change is not the cause of hurricanes, “a warmer planet will produce bigger and more destructive hurricanes.” What is unclear, however, is when American politicians will conclude that the severity and frequency of big storms requires more action to reduce global warming pollution.

Whatever the political reaction after Harvey and Irma, the storms are making clear their implications for energy infrastructure. The hazard with hurricanes are the associated winds, storm surge and, most of all, rain. Already, energy companies in the state are bracing for the hazards that Hurricane Irma, which registered at a category 5 on Wednesday, could bring.

When Houston providers were hit by Hurricane Harvey last month, they experienced limited power outages thanks to investments—smart meters and a fault location, isolation and service restoration system—made after Hurricane Ike in 2008. Still, oil refineries, chemical plants and shale drilling sites have reported Harvey-triggered flaring, leaks and chemical discharges—releasing more than 1 million pounds of air pollutants in the week after the storm.

Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, noted that the Houston area has a “deep concentration of fuel production in this one area that’s so intensely vulnerable.”

In an op-ed in The Conversation experts Andrew Dessler, Daniel Cohan and Katharine Hayhoe write that “today, wind and solar power prices are now competitive with fossil fuels across Texas. Across the country, these industries already employ far more people than coal mining. Electric cars may soon be as affordable as gasoline ones and be charged in ways that help balance the fluctuations in wind and solar power.” 

And Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich) and Valerie Brader write in The Hill that “as Hurricane Harvey has taught us, making sure our energy resources are safe, secure and plentiful should not be a partisan issue. It’s an issue we can’t afford to wait on.”

“It makes you realize, these megastorms, if you haven’t been hit by one, your worst-case scenario is nowhere near a true worst-case scenario,” said Daniel J. Kelly, the executive director of the New Jersey Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, as he recalled his state’s struggle to respond to Hurricane Sandy.

Trump Announces Picks for NASA, Other Climate-Related Posts

On Tuesday, the Trump administration sent 46 nominations to the Senate for confirmation, among them Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to head up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Bridenstine doesn’t have a background in science—he studied economics, business and psychology at Rice University. Before he became a Republican congressman in 2012 he worked as executive director of the Tulsa Air & Space Museum & Planetarium and served as a Navy combat pilot.

Last year, he sponsored a bill called the American Space Renaissance Act, which proposed broad, ambitious goals for the nation’s space program, including directing NASA to devise a 20-year plan. Although he wants Americans to return to the moon and is an advocate for commercial space flight, NPR reported that Bridenstein expressed skepticism that humans are causing climate change.

Science magazine reported that Democrats in the Senate may question Bridenstine about comments he made in 2013, during his first term in the House, while arguing for additional support for weather research. “Mr. Speaker, global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago,” he said. “Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles.”

Although at the time Bridenstine claimed that any changes in global temperature were linked to natural cycles and not increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from industrial activity, he has since acknowledged that those emissions do play a role in climate change.

But in a 2016 interview with Aerospace America, he suggested that any efforts to lessen the nation’s carbon footprint would be economically detrimental.

“The United States does not have a big enough carbon footprint to make a difference when you’ve got all these other polluters out there,” he said. “So why do we fundamentally want to damage our economy even more when nobody else is willing to do the same thing?”

Six other nominees would, if confirmed, also have a say about climate and energy policy.

  • Timothy Gallaudet, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, is the nominee for Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. He has experience in assessing the national security impacts of climate change.
  • Matthew Z. Leopold, former General Counsel of the Florida Department of Environment Protection and a former attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, is the nominee for Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, General Counsel.
  • William Northey, currently serving his third term as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, is the nominee for Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm Production and Conservation.
  • David Ross, currently serving as the director of the Environmental Protection Unit for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, is the nominee for an Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water.
  • Bruce J. Walker, founder of Modern Energy Insights, Inc., is the nominee for an Assistant Secretary of Energy, Electricity, Delivery and Energy Reliability.
  • Steven E. Winberg, a veteran of Consol Energy and the Batelle Memorial Institute, is the nominee for an Assistant Secretary of Energy, Fossil Energy.

Nuclear Construction Continuing in Georgia as Southeast Utilities Roll Back Plans

Utilities in Georgia are pressing ahead with plans to build two huge nuclear reactors in the next five years—the only nuclear units still under construction nationwide after South Carolina utilities SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper opted to end construction of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station’s two reactors. The proposal calls for completion of the Georgia reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle generating station near Augusta, which is already home to two existing nuclear units built in the 1980s.

“Completing the Vogtle 3 and 4 expansion will enable us to continue delivering clean, safe, affordable and reliable energy to millions of Georgians, both today and in the future,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. “The two new units at Plant Vogtle will be in service for 60 to 80 years and will add another low-cost, carbon-free energy source to our already diverse fuel mix.”

Meanwhile, Duke Energy Florida, Duke Energy Carolinas, and Dominion Virginia Power separately announced plans to rollback efforts to develop additional new reactors— moves that made the future of the United States nuclear industry even more unclear.  Right now, as much as 90 percent of nuclear power could disappear over the next 30 years if existing units retire at 60 years of operation—the current maximum length of operating licenses. A Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions study explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear plants in the Southeast interacts with the regions other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and it proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.

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.

Harvey Shines Light on Issue of Climate Change

On August 31, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas last week, dumping more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city. After drifting back out over the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm, Harvey made a second landfall near the Texas and Louisiana border Wednesday. By the time this extreme storm dissipates, damage is expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

As news coverage documents large swaths of destruction from flooding and high winds, many are asking whether climate change makes storms like Harvey more likely and more severe.

“Climate is not central, but by the same token it is grossly irresponsible to leave climate out of the story, for the simple reason that climate change is, as the U.S. military puts it, a threat multiplier. The storms, the challenges of emergency response, the consequences of poor adaptation—they all predate climate change. But climate change will steadily make them worse,” writes David Roberts in Vox.

Roberts’ words were echoed by said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University.

“The hurricane is a naturally occurring hazard that is exacerbated by climate change, but the actual risk to Houston is a combination of the hazard—rainfall, storm surge and wind, the vulnerability, and the exposure,” said Hayhoe of Houston’s particularly high vulnerability. “It’s a rapidly growing city with vast areas of impervious surfaces. Its infrastructure is crumbling. And it’s difficult for people to get out of harm’s way.”

The Washington Post also points a finger at a warming climate’s effect on storm surge, rainfall, and storm intensity.

Others, like Meteorologist Eric Holthaus, put it more bluntly. He writes in Politico that “Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.”

What’s clear is that like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina before it, Harvey has reopened the debate over the connection between hurricanes and climate change, and promises to increase climate’s resonance in the political debate.

Harvey is also leaving a mark on the infrastructure of the country’s largest oil and gas firms. Forbes offered a reminder that in 2008, refinery utilization dropped from 78 percent before Hurricane Ike and to 67 percent the week of the hurricane. Harvey has already knocked out 11 percent of U.S. refining capacity and a quarter of oil production from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as well as closed ports along the Texas coast. The shutdowns are resulting in a spike in gas prices across the United States.

The environmental fallout—escaping gasoline and releases of hazardous gases from refineries—could worsen.

RGGI States Look to Further Reduce Utility Emissions

Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic governors last week agreed to move forward with an extension of and additional emissions cuts through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a state-driven cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

According to their proposal, the RGGI states―Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont―would cap emissions at some 75 million tons in 2021 and decrease those emissions by 2.25 million tons every year until 2030, resulting in a total decline of 30 percent and leading to an overall reduction of 65 percent of emissions since RGGI began eight years ago. A separate provision would allow for deeper cuts, if not prohibitively costly to states.

The group is also proposing changes to the program’s rules, such as adjusting the emissions cap to remove some excess allowances, allowing states to delay the sale of some emissions allowances if they are too cheap and taking steps to mitigate excess allowances. Starting in 2021, an emissions containment reserve, in which New Hampshire and Maine will not participate, would hold back 10 percent of allowances if the price on carbon credits falls below $6 per ton. After 2021, the emissions containment reserve trigger price would increase by 7 percent annually.

After seeking public comments on the proposal at a hearing in Baltimore on Sept. 25, the RGGI group will conduct additional economic analysis and publish a revised proposal. Each of the nine states must then follow its own statutes to implement the new plan.

“With today’s announcement, the RGGI states are demonstrating our commitment to a strengthened RGGI program that will utilize innovative new mechanisms to secure significant carbon reductions at a reasonable price on into the next decade, working in concert with our competitive energy markets and reliability goals,” said RGGI Chairwoman Katie Dykes.

The RGGI auctions permits for utilities to buy electricity produced at power plants that produce greenhouse gases. RGGI officials say those auctions have raised more than $2.7 billion to invest in cleaner energy since 2009.

Program advocates point to several studies suggesting the program’s success, reported the Boston Globe. One by the Acadia Center in 2016 found that RGGI states reduced emissions by 16 percent more than other states, while growing the region’s economy 3.6 percent more than the rest of the country. At the same time, energy prices in RGGI states fell by an average of 3.4 percent, while electricity rates in other states rose by 7.2 percent.

Inside Climate News reported that although other regions have seen lower carbon emissions courtesy of low-cost natural gas, a study by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Duke University Energy Initiative found the cap-and-trade market was responsible for about half of the region’s post-2009 emissions reductions, which are far greater than those achieved in the rest of the United States.

Tillerson Signals Intent to Remove Climate Envoy Post

In a letter to Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shared his intent to reorganize, shift, or eliminate almost half of the agency’s nearly 70 special envoy positions. Among the positions in question: a high-profile representative on the issue of climate change.

“I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” Tillerson wrote.

Tillerson goes on to say that the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change—in charge of engaging partners and allies around the world on climate change issues—will be removed and that the functions and staff will be moved to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs.

“This will involve realigning 7 positions and $761,000 in support costs within D&CP from the Office of the Secretary to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES),” the letter states.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A draft report on the science of climate change estimates that it is “extremely likely” that more than half of the rise in temperatures over the past four decades has been caused by human activity. This activity, it estimates, is responsible an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010.

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse [heat trapping] gases, are primarily responsible for the observed climate changes,” notes the Climate Science Special Report, which was available on request during a public comment period earlier this year but which received little attention until it was reported on by The New York Times this week. “There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate,” said the report.

Penned by scientists at 13 federal agencies this year, the draft report is a special science section of The National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and it now awaits permission from the Trump administration to officially release the document.

The draft report suggests that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would warm at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) over this century compared with today. More greenhouse emissions will lead to higher temperatures.

The draft study follows reports by The Hill that staffers at a U.S. Department of Agriculture were told earlier this year to avoid the term “climate change” in communications and to use phrases like “weather extremes” instead.

“We won’t change the modeling, just how we talk about it,” Bianca Moebius-Clune, the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s director of soil health, wrote in an e-mail to staff.

On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the United States experienced its second warmest year to date and 10th warmest July on record.

Court Extends Delay on Clean Power Plan; Vacates HFC Rule

In a 2–1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found Tuesday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the authority to enact an Obama-era rule ending the use of hydroflurocarbons (HFCs). The 2015 EPA rule banned 38 individual HFCs or HFC blends in four industrial sectors—aerosols, air conditioning for new cars, retail food refrigeration and foam blowing—under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program (subscription).

A lawsuit—Mexichem Fluor, Inc. v. EPA—challenged EPA’s use of SNAP, saying that HFCs do not deplete the ozone. On Tuesday, the court found that because HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, the EPA could not use section 612 of the Clean Air Act to ban them.

“However much we might sympathize or agree with EPA’s policy objectives, EPA may act only within the boundaries of its statutory authority. Here, EPA exceeded that authority,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court. “Indeed, before 2015, EPA itself maintained that Section 612 did not grant authority to require replacement of non-ozone-depleting substances such as HFCs. EPA’s novel reading of Section 612 is inconsistent with the statute as written. Section 612 does not require (or give EPA authority to require) manufacturers to replace non-ozone depleting substances such as HFCs.”

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit instituted a new 60-day abeyance of the long-running legal battle over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which would require reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. The court order, which also directs the EPA to file status reports every 30 days, reminds the Trump administration of the 2009 endangerment finding, which means the EPA has an “affirmative statutory obligation to regulate greenhouse gases.”

In late April, the court granted an initial delay of the litigation as the White House considers how to replace it.

United States Formally Announces Intention to Withdraw from the Paris Agreement

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told U.S. diplomats to sidestep questions about conditions for the Trump administration to re-engage in the Paris Agreement, according to a diplomatic cable published yesterday by Reuters. But the communication leaves no doubt about President Trump’s intentions: “there are no plans to seek to re-negotiate or amend the text of the Paris Agreement.” Moreover, the August 4 cable instructs diplomats to let other countries know that the United States wants to help them use fossil fuels.

The cable was sent on the day that the United States formally announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement but said that it will continue to participate in international climate change negotiations during the three-year withdrawal process. The earliest date for the United States to completely withdraw from the agreement is November 4, 2020.

President Donald Trump “is open to re-engaging in the Paris Agreement if the United States can identify terms that are more favorable to it, its businesses, its workers, its people, and its taxpayers,” said the State Department memo, which noted the U.S. role in future climate talks.

“The United States will continue to participate in international climate change negotiations and meetings . . . to protect U.S. interests and ensure all future policy options remain open to the administration,” the State Department said. “Such participation will include ongoing negotiations related to guidance for implementing the Paris Agreement.”

A United Nations statement acknowledging receipt of the notice from the United States reiterated Secretary-General António Guterres’ disappointment in the decision.

“It is crucial that the United States remains a leader on climate and sustainable development. Climate change is impacting now,” said Guterres spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

Signatories to the Paris Agreement vowed to keep the worldwide rise in temperatures “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times and to “pursue efforts” to hold the increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius. The U.S. pledge, under former President Barack Obama, was a cut in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Prior to release of the climate policy guidance cable, the Trump administration’s reiteration of plans to depart from the Paris climate deal had raised questions about what “re-engaging” in the deal meant and how U.S. participation in climate talks could play out (subscription). With regard to negotiations, the Trump administration could adopt an obstructionist role by pushing for measures to enable reduction of emissions-cut ambitions. Or it could play a constructivist role by advancing rules for transparency (the United States and China co-chair the working group writing those rules). Other areas in which the Trump administration could exert its influence include emissions reporting requirements, monitoring land-use change and developing market mechanisms.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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.

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.

Fate of the Clean Power Plan Remains Uncertain

On January 5, 2017, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last month, a 24-state coalition led by Texas and West Virginia state attorneys general—leading litigators in the fight against the Clean Power Plan—penned a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump asking him to issue an order to stop working to enforce the rule to reduce emissions from existing power plants. More recently, officials from states and several cities have sent a letter countering this earlier advice, and instead urged Trump to preserve the rule and continue defending it in court.

The Clean Power Plan is presently stayed while a 10-judge panel reviews a legal challenge. A decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rare “en banc” review is expected this year.

“We advocate that you reject misguided advice that the Clean Power Plan be discarded; advice that, if followed, would assuredly lead to more litigation,” the latest letter reads. “Instead, we urge you to support the defense of this critically-important rule and the implementation of its carefully constructed strategies to reduce emissions from the nation’s largest sources.”

If politics or litigation forces the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use other authorities under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a new working paper by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the University of North Carolina’s Center for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Energy says the EPA might consider using the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program.

“The language of the Clean Air Act gives the EPA a lot of flexibility to enact a program for greenhouse gases,” said Christina Reichert, a Nicholas Institute policy counsel who co-authored the paper.

The paper examines the opportunities and challenges associated with regulation of greenhouse gases under the NAAQS program, drawing a comparison with the Clean Power Plan’s approach under a different section of the Clean Air Act. Though a program under NAAQS wouldn’t mirror the Clean Power Plan, it could support many of its key provisions, including trading-ready plans. Although use of the NAAQS program would present challenges—such as permitting small sources—it is feasible, say the paper authors.

Climate Policy and Trump

In December, the Electoral College confirmed the presidency of Donald Trump. With just weeks before his inauguration, ClimateWire took a look back at the Paris Agreement, the Clean Power Plan, and other highlights of climate policy in 2016, and other media outlets contemplated what 2017 holds.

Mongabay’s Mike Gaworecki lays out eight issues to watch, including whether the Trump administration will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. And Nicholas Institute, Harvard, and University of North Carolina researchers outlined six key areas of federal policy and, for each area, identified the issues Trump must address that will shape the future of the electricity sector. This month, we’re awaiting Senate hearings for some of Trump’s environmental picks—Scott Pruitt (presently slated to lead the EPA) and Rex Tillerson (tapped as secretary of state).

Ahead of his senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 11, Rex Tillerson cashed out of his Exxon Mobil CEO post.

Study: Flood Risk Pattern Changing with Warming Climate

According to research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the threat of flooding in the northern half of the United States is growing as the Earth warms.

Using stream gauge data and satellite images, two University of Iowa scientists found that this pattern is likely due to shifting rainfall patterns and the amount of water in the ground. The study’s 2,042 stream gauge readings between 1985 and 2015 showed a measurable increase in the number of flood events in the north over the last 30 years.

“It’s almost like a separation where generally flood risk is increasing in the upper half of the U.S. and decreasing in the lower half,” said study co-author Gabriele Villarini in reference to the finding that satellite data showed groundwater increasing in the north and decreasing in the Southwest and western U.S., regions that are experiencing prolonged droughts. “It’s not a uniform pattern, and we want to understand why we see this difference.”

Although the authors have yet to identify the reasons that some areas are getting more, or less, rainfall than others, they believe that rains may be redistributed as regional climate changes.

The researchers hope that their findings could change communication of changing flood patterns, which typically have been described in terms of stream flow, or the amount of water flowing per unit of time.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

By 2030, half of the energy produced in the state of New York will come from renewables, according to a new policy adopted Monday by the state’s public service commission. The move is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels (80 percent by 2050) and to attract billions in clean energy investment.

“New York has taken bold action to become a national leader in the clean energy economy and is taking concrete, cost-effective steps today to safeguard this state’s environment for decades to come,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “This Clean Energy Standard shows you can generate the power necessary for supporting the modern economy while combatting climate change. Make no mistake, this is a very real threat that continues to grow by the day and I urge all other states to join us in this fight for our very future.”

The plan calls for New York to retain its nuclear reactors—though The Washington Post reports that those facilities don’t count as part of the 50 percent renewables target. According to New York regulators, doing so might cost $965 million over two years but could lead to net benefits of $4 billion due to avoided carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution. While supporters of this provision applaud New York’s effort to retain its emissions-free nuclear generation, opponents are likely to challenge the nuclear subsidies on the grounds they are discriminatory, hurt markets, and intrude on federal authority.

New York is not the first state to announce an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target. In April 2015, California announced it planned to cut those emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels in the same time frame with renewables increases. Like California, New York plans to phase in its renewables increase; 31 percent of its energy is to come from renewables by 2021 and 50 percent by 2030. Those targets are meant to give utilities and clean energy companies time to develop their business models.

The only states with higher renewables standards are Vermont, which set a target of 75 percent renewable power by 2032, and Hawaii, which set a target of 100 percent renewable power by 2045.

White House to Federal Agencies: Consider Climate Change Impacts

In an action with broad implications for thousands of projects, including energy and mineral development on public lands, natural gas import and export facilities, and transportation projects, the Obama administration issued final guidance on how federal agencies should consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts when conducting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (subscription).

“Focused and effective consideration of climate change in NEPA reviews will allow agencies to improve the quality of their decisions,” the guidance states. “Identifying important interactions between a changing climate and the environmental impacts from a proposed action can help Federal agencies and other decision makers identify practicable opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve environmental outcomes, and contribute to safeguarding communities and their infrastructure against the effects of extreme weather events and other climate-related impacts.”

The guidance, the product of a six-year effort by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, advises agencies to quantify projected greenhouse gas emissions of proposed federal actions whenever the necessary methodologies and data are available. It also encourages them to draw on their experience and expertise to determine the appropriate level and extent of quantitative or qualitative analysis required to comply with NEPA and to consider alternatives that would increase the climate-change resilience of the action and affected communities.

“From the public standpoint, we are now going to know what all of our decisions add up to in terms of impacting climate change,” said Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the Council on Environmental Quality. “You can think of all the different federal decisions, and how they all add up. We have numbers where we can actually say, ‘this is a huge decision, given the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of it.’ And that gives the public a chance to really weigh in on decision-making.”

Several media outlets pointed out that because the White House guidance is not a regulation, agencies are not legally bound to follow it.

Clean Power Plan Analysis: National Costs Low, State Costs Varied

Wednesday marked one year since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally rolled out the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Even with the February stay by the U.S. Supreme Court, which halted implementation of the plan pending resolution of legal challenges, some say the plan is having an impact while others are finding more reason to explore the legality of the rule (subscription).

Should the rule survive judicial review, a new paper by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions uses the Nicholas Institute’s Dynamic Integrated Economy/Energy/Emissions Model to evaluate Clean Power Plan impacts on the U.S. generation mix, emissions, and industry costs. It indicates that industry trends are likely to make Clean Power Plan compliance relatively inexpensive, with cost increases of 0.1 to 1.0 percent. But policy costs can vary across states, which might lead to a patchwork of policies that, although in their own best interests, could impose additional costs nationally.

“The answer is not the same for everyone in terms of what’s going to be the least-cost way for a particular state to approach this policy,” said lead author and Nicholas Institute Senior Economist Martin Ross. “Nationally, it would make the most sense to have a broadly coordinated policy where you can take advantage of the usual economic [tools] to spread the cost reductions around and pick up the most cost-effective sources for reducing emissions.”

Similar findings were presented at a conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Because of lower-than-expected natural gas prices, renewable power, and extended federal tax credits for that power, the country as a whole is set to meet the Clean Power Plan’s early goals, reports ClimateWire.

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In March, the Guardian issued an election-related call-out to online readers in the United States, asking them to identify the “one issue that affects your life you wish the presidential candidates were discussing more.” The results are in. Of the 1,385 respondents from all 50 states, one in five expressed discontent about lack of discussion of climate change, an issue described in vivid terms, such as “cataclysmic” and “slow-motion apocalypse.” Respondents expressed greatest concern about sea-level rise and decreasing food and water security.

“Climate change is the common denominator for us all regardless of gender, creed or political affiliation,” said Sarah Owen in a video response to the survey.

Between parties, there’s divide on the topic of climate change. Eleven House Republicans who are trying to change their party’s attitude about climate change and four of five Republican senators with a record of supporting action on it skipped this week’s GOP convention, where delegates approved a party platform that rejected the Paris Agreement, a carbon tax, and other action on climate change and that downplayed use of renewable energy.

“Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue. This is the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it,” reads the platform.

In resisting aggressive climate action, the Republican platform stands in stark contrast to the draft Democratic Party platform, which calls for more regulations and laws to fight climate change.

Just how ambitious the Democratic Party will be in attempting to reduce carbon emissions—particularly, its stance on a carbon tax—remains to be seen. The full platform committee will hammer out details in Orlando on Friday and Saturday.

In an interview with ClimateWire, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing suggested that the U.S. presidential election will have less impact on American efforts to combat climate change than a host of other factors ranging from new technologies and appliance standards to political support for renewable energy tax credits.

Pershing indicted that many U.S. steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including the Paris climate change deal negotiated under President Obama, will survive no matter who wins the White House.

“To me, there’s more likely to be continuity no matter who’s in office,” Pershing said.

Projecting Clean Power Plan Costs, Impacts

The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Assuming the rule survives judicial review and is implemented, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects a reduction of power sector emissions of about 35 percent by 2030.

Assuming the Clean Power plan is upheld, EIA projects emissions outcome and electricity generation mix for multiple state implementation strategies—that is, pursuit of mass-based emissions targets or rate-based emissions targets. EIA projects higher prices if emissions allocations under a mass-based regime are given to generators rather than load-serving entities, but “price effects are similar in the [mass] and CPP rate cases where the average electricity price from 2022 through 2030 in both cases is 2 percent higher than in the No CPP case, and 3 percent higher on average from 2030 through 2040,” analysts wrote.

As the EIA data suggests, utilities and other power producers are likely to be in different positions if the rule moves forward—some will benefit from the rule, and others will face costs to comply, which can lead to monetary transfers among different producers and consumers of electricity. A new policy brief by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions builds on this understanding by exploring the distributional impacts of choosing rate-based and mass-based approaches to comply with the Clean Power Plan. It finds that states adopting a mass-based compliance approach can use allowance allocation to largely control monetary transfers within a state. States adopting a rate-based compliance approach lack this direct control mechanism.

Each state’s system of electricity regulation and any changes in wholesale prices for electricity due to the policy in regional electricity markets will play a major role in determining how cost distribution and potential transfers play out, the authors said.

Study: Warm Water, Not Air, Accelerating Glacier Retreat on Western Antarctic Peninsula

A study published in the journal Science found that ocean warming, rather than atmospheric warming, is the primary cause of retreat of 90 percent of the 674 glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula. Because the peninsula’s glaciers are among the main contributors to sea-level rise, the study suggests that better understanding of how and why they’re changing will increase the accuracy of ice-loss predictions.

“Scientists know that ocean warming is affecting large glaciers elsewhere on the continent, but thought that atmospheric temperatures were the primary cause of all glacier changes on the Peninsula,” said lead author Alison Cook of Swansea University. “We now know that’s not the case.”

The scientists came to that conclusion after linking a distinct pattern of melt from north to south on the peninsula with a pattern of temperatures at mid-ocean depths that mirrored the melt. At the southern end of the western side of the peninsula, they found that a welling up of warm Circumpolar Deep Water wears away the fronts of glaciers. At the northern end of the peninsula, the fronts of glaciers are more stable because they terminate at colder waters that come from a different source.

“Our results are key for making predictions of ice loss in response to ocean warming in this region,”  Cook said. “The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise, and the glaciers here are highly sensitive, so [they] are key indicators of how the ice will respond to future changes.”

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.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Yellowstone National Park, Venice, Jordan’s Wadi Rum, and Easter Island’s Rapa Nui National Park are some of the 31 natural and cultural World Heritage sites in 29 countries that are threatened by climate change according to a new report released by UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Melting glaciers, rising seas, increasing wildfires and harsher droughts could severely diminish the value of protected sites, making them unsuitable for a World Heritage designation, the report says. Climate change could eventually cause some of the sites to lose their status.

Also at risk, according to the report, is local economic development in the areas near world heritage sites. Specifically, the tourism sector is vulnerable to loss and damage to assets and attractions as well as to increasing insurance costs and safety concerns.

“The fastest growing risk to World Heritage, and one of the most under-reported by the countries that are parties to the World Heritage convention, is from climate change,” said Adam Markham, deputy director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He pointed out that climate change brings not only direct impacts but “acts as a ‘risk multiplier,’” compounding local stresses such as urbanization, agricultural expansion and pollution.

In the Galapagos Islands, threats to wildlife from tourism, invasive species and illegal fishing are exacerbated by rising seas and warming and more acidic oceans. At Stonehenge, warmer winters will likely increase numbers of burrowing animals that could undermine archaeological deposits and destabilize stonework.

“Globally, we need to better understand, monitor and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites,” said Mechtild Rössler, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. “As the report’s findings underscore, achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to a level well below 2 degrees Celsius is vitally important to protecting our World Heritage for current and future generations.”

Ocean Current Affecting Temperatures in Antarctica

A new study in the journal Nature Geoscience suggests that ocean currents are slowing the warming effects on Antarctica as Arctic ice melts on the other side of the world. Warm waters in Gulf Stream cool as they flow into the North Atlantic, then sink for centuries before surfacing off the coast of Antarctica.

“With rising carbon dioxide you would expect more warming at both poles, but we only see it at one of the poles, so something else must be going on,” said Kyle Armour, lead author and University of Washington assistant professor. “We show that it’s for really simple reasons, and the ocean currents are the hero here.”

Old, deep water that’s coming up to the surface all around Antarctica—water that hasn’t come into contact with the atmosphere or experienced climate change in hundreds of years—is behind the drastic differences in the continent’s water temperature.

Using drifting floats—known as the Argo array—and climate models, the study authors tracked heat. They found that nearly 68 percent of the heat taken up by the southernmost parts of the Southern Ocean was carried north.

A separate study in the journal Remote Sensing of the Environment also attributes ocean currents, in part, to increasing Antarctica temperatures and sea ice growth. It suggests that the Southern Ocean Circumpolar current prevents warmer water from reaching the continent and that icy winds help the formation of sea ice persist.

Record Renewable Investment by Developing Countries in 2015

For the first time, emerging economies spent more on renewable energy than developed economies, according to the Renewables Global Status report prepared by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). In 2015, developing countries invested $156 billion in renewables—a 19 percent increase from the previous year.

“What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies,” said Christine Lins, REN21’s executive secretary.

By the end of 2015, countries around the world had installed a record annual total of 147 gigawatts of renewable generating capacity—enough to meet 23.7 percent of global electricity demand. China was the leader in renewables investment, followed by the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and India.

 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.

Study: Half a Degree Matters

On April 28, 2016, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Last week more than 150 nations signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now, the first comprehensive analysis of the impacts of that half centigrade difference has been published in the journal Earth System Dynamics. The scientists found the additional 0.5 degrees Celsius would lead to longer heatwaves—“the difference between events at the upper limit of present-day natural variability and a new climate regime”—as well as more severe droughts and, in the tropics, decreased crop yield and the potential demise of all coral reefs. The extra 0.5 degrees Celsius could also mean that global sea levels rise 10 centimeters more by 2100.

“We found significant differences for all the impacts we considered,” says the study’s lead author Carl Schleussner, a scientific advisor at Climate Analytics in Germany.

The researchers analyzed climate models used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, which focused on the projected regional impacts of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius of warming, and considered 11 indicators, including extreme weather events, water availability, crop yields, coral reef degradation and sea-level rise.

They found that projected climate impacts at a 2 degrees Celsius increase are significantly more severe than at a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in some regions. In the Mediterranean, for example, fresh-water availability by 2100 would be some 10 percent lower in a 1.5 degrees Celsius world and 17 percent lower in a 2 degrees Celsius world. In Central America and West Africa, the half-degree difference could reduce maize and wheat yields by twice as much. Tropical regions would bear the brunt of the impacts of an additional half degree of warming, experiencing heat waves at about twice the global rate. Those events could last up to three months at 2 degrees Celsius, compared with two months at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the researchers say.

Tropical coral reefs are particularly sensitive to the half degree increase. By 2100, some reefs might adapt to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, but the larger increase would put nearly all of them at risk of severe degradation from coral bleaching.

EPA Moves Forward with Clean Energy Incentives Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sent a proposal on the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), an optional program included in the Clean Power Plan that rewards states for early investment in certain renewable energy or energy efficiency projects in 2020 and 2021, to the Office of Management and Budget for review. The move is the final step before the CEIP can be formally proposed to the public (subscription).

The EPA released details on the draft CEIP as part of the final Clean Power Plan—the Obama administration’s rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the existing fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants—in August. But, earlier this year, the Supreme Court issued a stay of the Clean Power Plan.

“Many states and tribes have indicated that they plan to move forward voluntarily to work to cut carbon pollution from power plants and have asked the agency to continue providing support and developing tools that may support those efforts, including the CEIP,” the EPA said. “Sending this proposal to OMB for review is a routine step and it is consistent with the Supreme Court stay of the Clean Power Plan.”

Pleasant Weather Affecting Americans’ View of Climate Change

A new study in the journal Nature finds that 80 percent of Americans live in counties where the weather is more pleasant than four decades ago. This mild temperature trend, the study says, is increasingly preferred, lessening many Americans’ concern about climate change.

“Rising temperatures are ominous symptoms of global climate change, but Americans are experiencing them at times of the year when warmer days are welcomed,” said study co-author Patrick J. Egan, an associate professor at New York University’s Wilf Family Department of Politics. He adds that “whereas weather patterns in recent decades have served as a poor source of motivation for Americans to demand a policy response to climate change, public concern may rise once people’s everyday experiences of climate change effects start to become less pleasant.”

Conducted by New York and Duke universities, the study examined each county in every U.S. state from 1974 to 2013—assessing the mildness of winters, rainfall averages, and humidity and heat intensity during summer months. It found that 99 percent of Americans live in places where the average January temperature increased.

“Here in the U.S., when we’re experiencing ice storms, the idea of a 1.5 or 2 degree rise might sound like good news,” said Megan Mullin, associate professor of environmental politics at Duke University. As a result, she said, scientists need to reconsider their messages.

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.