U.S. Makes Strides on Climate Change

July 19, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

As Grist puts it, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is making progress on climate change. Overall, the country’s carbon emissions fell 1.7 percent last year—in part because of the explosive growth of natural gas and the Great Recession. Looking at energy-related carbon emissions in the last five years, the U.S. has experienced a roughly 6 percent drop. In fact, total greenhouse gas emissions are not expected to reach 2010 levels again until 2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That doesn’t mean everyone is concerned about its progress. Generation X—individuals ranging from 32 to 52—may not be the stereotypical slackers they are often portrayed to be, but most are not extremely worried about climate change, according to a new poll. Only about 20 percent said they were highly concerned, while 42 percent were moderately concerned about climate change. The remaining 37 percent showed less concern or none at all. That said, when looking at the population as a whole, there is a “substantial” increase in the number of Americans concerned with the issue, according to a study comparing various opinion polls.

One technology intended to artificially cool the planet and combat climate change, may actually make climate conditions worse. Four separate climate models used by a group of scientists to test the concept of geoengineering—where an increase in the world’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels was balanced by a “dimming” of the sun—showed undesirable climate effects, including a reduction in global rainfall. One map suggests many of these projects are already under way across the world—with one new field test proposed by Harvard researchers that would combine sulfate particles with water vapor to form aerosols to reflect the sun’s rays. “The time has come to differentiate: some geoengineering techniques are more dangerous than others,” said Victor Smetacek of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. His team recently came out with a study that looks at dumping iron into the sea to bury carbon dioxide for centuries, potentially reducing the impact of climate change.

Temperatures, Drought Threaten Resources

Drought conditions, now gripping much of the country, have led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare natural disasters in more than 1,000 counties in 26 states. Labeled the sixth most severe drought in the United States since record keeping began in 1895, the heat and lack of rain is taking a heavy toll on crops—especially in key corn growing states in the Midwestraising food and fuel prices. A map by the National Climatic Data Center illustrating the subtraction of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration in June attempts to show why. Even if there had been normal precipitation amounts, it would not have been enough to meet potential evapotranspiration demand in most areas, says Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman.

An iceberg twice the size of Manhattan broke off a Greenland glacier this week.  In addition, the Arctic lost in June about 1.1 million square miles of ice, a record. That’s nearly equivalent to the area of Alaska, Florida, Texas and California combined. The rapid retreat of snow and ice has sparked interest in the Arctic’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. Shell already has plans to begin exploratory drilling in the area as early as this summer if permits arrive as projected. Proponents say if Shell finds oil, thousands of jobs could be created, while others voice concern over the possibility of spills and marine pollution. Regardless, the pace of widespread drilling in the region remains uncertain.

Countries Reconsider Nuclear

Following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster a year ago, Germany opted to shut down all of its nuclear plants by 2022. The plan was to expand its current renewable energy portfolio—which makes up about 20 percent of the energy mix—to 35 percent by 2020 and 80 percent in 2050. Those targets may be less likely and could be readjusted if jobs are threatened. “The timeframe and the goals of the energy revolution are intact,” said Economy Minister Philipp Rösler. “But we will have to make adjustments if jobs and our competitiveness should become endangered.”

Meanwhile, Japan, which ordered all nuclear power plants shut down for inspection after Fukushima, will restart a second reactor to handle energy demand. The decision has prompted protests as Japan considers three energy options as it moves forward—reduce nuclear power to zero as soon as it can, decrease it to 15 percent by 2030 or aim for a 20-25 percent share by 2030.

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.


Rio+20 Pushes on with Weak Text, Mixed Predictions

June 21, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Delegates from around the world are meeting in Rio de Janeiro to discuss how to make the planet more sustainable, despite a rapidly growing population. The reprise of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit dubbed “Rio+20” has so far drawn mixed reactions: some call it an “opportunity”; others say it is another step on a long, complicated road to realizing a more sustainable society. William K. Reilly, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and chairman of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Board of Advisors chose to reflect on then and now, noting the two decades since leaders first met in Rio the “concept of sustainable development has evolved from theory to increasingly common practice.” BBC News illustratesjust how much the world has changed since the first Earth Summit.

Late Monday night, negotiators did agree on a draft framework for sustainable development goals. The text is not expected to change much when heads of state convene to discuss it, according to U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern.

As The Washington Post reported, many of the concrete steps needed to move toward a more sustainable future are already being take on by major cities regardless of the outcome at Rio+20. The efforts of these 58 cities will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 248 million tons in 2020. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes energy has a big role and introduced the “Sustainable Energy for All Plan” in Rio, which would end energy poverty by 2030.

Despite what’s happening in Rio, a new poll indicates many Americans believe there’s been an environmental decline in the last 10 years and they are attributing it to human activity.

Japan Sets Sights on Solar Future

As it shifts from nuclear power following the Fukushima radiation disaster, Japan is positioning itself to become the second largest market for solar power. The country introduced incentives for renewable energy that could expand revenue in this area to more than $30 billion by 2016. In the U.K., energy from renewable sources accounted for roughly 12.4 percent of the European Union’s overall consumption, with Estonia recording the largest increase between 2006 and 2010.

Germany, who also opted to move away from nuclear by 2022, is feeling the burden of its decision. Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at Berlin Free University, said, “The way for Germany to compete in the long run is to become the most energy-efficient and resource-efficient market, and to expand on an export market in the process.” If Germany succeeds, Technology Review reported, it could provide a workable blueprint for other industrialized nations.

A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds the prospects for renewable energy, at least in the U.S., to be promising—concluding it could supply 80 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050.


Moratorium Mulled after Defeat of NC Sea Level Rise Bill

The North Carolina House of Representatives this week rejected a Senate bill that would have prohibited policy makers from using projections of accelerated sea level rise for coastal development planning purposes. This may lead lawmakers to enact a moratorium on such predictions pending further study by the state, which could take years. NewScientist breaks down the evidence of sea level rise in the state.

The EPA has turned down a demand by U.S. environmental groups to issue new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, ships and off-road vehicles, saying it “does not have the resources to consider all possible sources of climate change in the near or medium term.” Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday defeated a proposed measure that would have overturned EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, or MATS, a rule aimed at limiting emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants. It will be the first federal standard to regulate toxic emissions from these plants, and is projected to result in coincident greenhouse gas reductions. A recent poll suggests most Americans favor the rule—provided that companies are given enough time to comply.

Public companies in the U.K.—some 1,600 in all—may soon have to divulge all details about the greenhouse gases they emit, according to the Guardian. More companies may face the requirement, beginning as early as April 2013, after the policy is reviewed in 2015.

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.

 


Stakes High as Negotiators Begin Climate Talks in Germany

May 17, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation the next two weeks, returning again June 7. 

Negotiators picked up discussions toward a new global climate treaty in Bonn, Germany this week. The meeting was the first since the 2011 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban where leaders initially agreed to put together a plan that would limit Earth-warming emissions. The stakes for the 10-day meeting are high—negotiators have set goals of building support for funding developing nations to the tune of $100 billion a year by 2020 and of constructing a global, legally binding climate agreement that extends the Kyoto Protocol. While countries agreed in Durban to sign the deal by 2015, U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres insisted milestones should be set in 2012.

So far, the European Union and groups of developing countries are divided over details of how the Kyoto Protocol should be extended. The talks may have inspired Qatar—one of the largest emitters of carbon—to cut its emissions and pay into the Green Climate Fund. Qatar will host the next round of annual climate negotiations in November—the first member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to do so.

One university in Australia is looking at the effects of climate change by creating an atmosphere where CO2 is 40 percent higher than current levels and studying its impact on the environment, humans and other living things. The Aussie researchers predict an average increase of about 3 degrees centigrade, but the first results of the study won’t be available until next year. A new journal article says, depending on the area, as many as 40 percent of mammals migrate too slowly and won’t be able to keep pace with climate shifts expected in the next hundred years.

Japan Faces Summer Test

While Iran and the U.N. nuclear agency discussed Iran’s nuclear program and suspicions Tehran may have tested nuclear arms technology, Japan decided to restart nuclear reactors in one town as others there contemplated how to handle things nuclear-free before the summer’s heat sets in. At least one utility in the country is considering a rate hike to compensate for the impending hot weather, while the Japanese operator of the Fukushima plant posted a $10 billion loss stemming from the meltdown. The town is the first to restart a nuclear reactor since all the nation’s nuclear reactors were shut off following the Fukushima disaster roughly one year ago. According to one newspaper poll, residents there are split on nuclear power.

In the U.S., California also faces threats of summer power shortages due to complications with the San Onofre nuclear plant. And the nuclear reactor being built in Augusta, Ga., will not only be completed behind schedule, but come in at a much higher price—approximately $900 million.

Could cheap natural gas be choking aging nuclear plants? E&E Publishing reported the nuclear industry is questioning whether lower natural gas prices will put pressure on plants, just as cheap gas has done to coal.

EPA Declares ‘Gasland’ Town’s Water Safe

Vermont made history this week by becoming the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the hotly debated natural gas drilling technique that injects a mixture of water and chemicals underground at high pressures to release hard-to-reach oil and natural gas. The ban is not predicted have an immediate effect, however, because the state has no fracking projects under way and no evidence of natural gas reserves.

The news comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested more money to probe the technique. It was just days after the EPA announced water in the town made famous by hydraulic fracturing and the movie “Gasland” was given a clean bill of health. Though water at one home did show elevated levels of methane, the well water was declared safe. The EPA released data for 59 of the 61 wells tested, claiming “the set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give the EPA reason to do further testing.” The finding has residents of the northeastern Pennsylvania town disputing the claim. The lawsuits and tests revolving around the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas have made it difficult for insurers to price risk.

While drilling continues in Pennsylvania—generating about $3.5 billion in 2011—the U.S. Department of Interior recently found roughly two-thirds of land leased by the oil industry goes unused. This equates to roughly 46 million acres both on- and offshore.

Recent cyber attacks aimed at computer networks belonging to U.S. natural gas pipeline companies may have ties to China, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The U.S. and China have agreed to cooperate on cyber security despite China’s implication in the pipeline attacks. As a whole, the energy sector is becoming more vulnerable to these types of attacks, which also struck Iran last month.

Some, however, are looking to other methods for energy generation. One group of researchers in California is trying to harness viruses for energy needs. As Norway opened the world’s largest carbon capture and storage test facility, La Ventosa Mexico—the windy place—inched its way toward earning a title for “the largest growth of wind power projects anywhere in the world.” The Atlantic Wind Connection project, a network of offshore wind farms off the East Coast that could power close to two million homes in the next 10 years, received permission to move forward. The “first-of-its-kind project” would be served by a 380-mile underwater power line running from Virginia to New Jersey.

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.

 


Leaked Documents Describe Plan to Push Climate Change Denial in Schools

February 16, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Leaked documents purportedly from the nonprofit Heartland Institute include efforts to cast doubt on climate science. The site DeSmog Blog received the documents from an anonymous informant calling himself “Heartland Insider.”

The Heartland Institute gave mixed responses to the documents, calling them both “stolen” and “fake,” but only specifically calling one document, titled “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” a “total fake.”

Nonetheless Think Progress confirmed that two of the main projects mentioned in the documents are real, including an effort to develop curricula for K-12 education that would cast doubt on climate science.

New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin said the Heritage Institute is using a double standard in being outraged about this leak, while celebrating the “Climategate” leak of emails from researchers.

Climate researcher Judith Curry of Georgia Tech—who has been branded a “heretic” by her colleagues for raising questions such whether there’s actually a consensus on climate change—said one of the most interesting things about the Heartland Institute is that it has been “so effective with so little funds.”

Last month, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, directed by well-known climate skeptic Bjørn Lomborg, announced it will shut because the Danish government cut its funding.

New Budget to Boost “Clean Sources” of Energy

With the announcement of the Obama administration’s proposed 2013 budget, the President called again for an end to $40 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas companies over the next decade. However The Hill said this is “largely a political statement” because Congress is unlikely to support the end of these tax breaks.

The budget request calls for doubling the share of electricity from “clean sources.” It would increase funding for renewable energy, nuclear power, and technologies to reduce emissions from coal, including a 29 percent increase for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, bringing its budget to $2.33 billion.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulators approved plans for a new nuclear power plant for the first time in 30 years, to be built in Georgia. Work is proceeding, with hopes of having the reactors—a new type never used in the U.S.—running by 2016, but the plant is encountering opposition.

No Guarantees

The proposed U.S. budget includes no money for the U.S. Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, which gave funding to now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.

Despite the uproar about Solyndra, an audit of the loan guarantee program found that the investments were actually safer than Congress had expected. Nonetheless, the audit recommended changes to loan guarantees to improve management and oversight.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warned more recipients of loan guarantees may go bust, but that they have always known there are “inherent risks in backing innovative technologies.”

 Feed-In Tariffs’ Fate

Feed-in tariffs and other subsidies for renewable energy are in turmoil as countries rearrange their systems. The U.K. is changing to a dynamic tariff that adjusts as the cost of solar panels falls, to avoid a bubble in installations and ballooning costs for the program.

Germany is expected to cut its solar feed-in tariff—and some analysts said the cuts could be deeper than expected. Two different proposals from the Ministry of the Environment could both hurt the industry; in retaliation, three German states reportedly said they’d block these measures.

Taiwan is also lowering its solar feed-in tariff, and the U.K. is proposing to do the same for small wind turbines.

The United States has lagged behind Europe and East Asia in implementing feed-in tariffs, but two new places in the U.S. are considering starting such programs: the state of Iowa and the city of Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley.

Weather Trumps Turbines

A headline about a new study in the U.K.’s Daily Mail reading “Wind farms can actually INCREASE climate change…” received a lot of attention, but the Guardian argued the claim has now grown into a myth.

The research did show that wind farms could affect microclimates, and there are reasons to think they could have beneficial effects on crops.

But even if turbines can affect microclimates, a new study suggested powerful hurricanes could topple offshore wind farms planned along the United States’ Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

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.


Big Businesses’ Call for Climate Action: Strong Treaty, More Aid

October 20, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A group of 285 large investors, representing more than $20 trillion in assets, urged world governments to forge a binding treaty at upcoming climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, and said global spending has not been nearly enough to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

The call came from a coalition of four green investment groups—representing the investment arms of banks HSBC and BNP Paribas, as well as of fashion company Hermes and the United Nations Environment Programme—aimed at limiting emissions and taxing them, arguing it will drive innovation, attract investment and create jobs. The call also hailed Australia’s recent move toward a carbon tax, saying it will be a boon for investors.

Meanwhile, another group of more than 175 companies called for Durban attendees to ensure $100 billion in annual climate aid to poor nations, as had been promised earlier.

No Big Bang

But Jos Delbeke, director general for climate action at the European Commission believes the long-running negotiations through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are unlikely to produce a “big bang”—that is, a breakthrough that would lead to the birth of a new climate treaty.

In preparation for the upcoming meeting, Japan has signaled it may step back from its own target of cutting CO2 emissions 25 percent by 2020—and it is bringing it up now to avoid giving the “wrong message to the international community,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Japan, Canada and Russia have said they won’t accept an extension of the Kyoto Protocol unless it binds all major economies—which is not the case under Kyoto—but other governments are seeking a way to extend the treaty even without those three countries.

Yomiuri Shimbun also reported Japan will argue the next legally binding climate agreement should wait until 2015, after the Kyoto Protocol lapses in 2012.

Door Closing

Meanwhile, International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol gave a sneak preview of the upcoming World Energy Outlook report, which will argue that without bold action, “the door may be closing” on limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Meeting the challenge will take about $38 trillion in spending on oil, gas and electricity infrastructure over the next 25 years.

According to a leaked version of the European Union’s Energy Roadmap 2050, in most scenarios—with differing amounts of efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear power—electricity prices will rise until about 2030, and then fall.

Already the high cost of energy is eating into consumers’ disposable income in the U.S., as well as in the U.K., where it is driving inflation up.

As a counter-measure, the U.K. is pursuing “serious intervention” in the energy market to increase competition and transparency, and the country’s Department of Energy and Climate Change hopes a new bill that came into effect on home energy efficiency will help fight rising bills.

Mixed Signals

A New York Times article asked “Where Did Global Warming Go?,” noting the topic has faded from Obama’s speeches and arguing the GOP has made climate change skepticism a requirement for electability.

However, Joseph Romm at Climate Progress pointed a finger at the New York Times and other major media outlets as part of the problem because there has been a major decline in the amount of climate coverage. Others, such as William Y. Brown of the Brookings Institution argued the New York Times piece is wrong to say Americans don’t trust scientists; rather they don’t like being lectured.

Green issues do appeal to voters, according to a study by Stanford University researchers, who found American politicians who took a pro-green stance were more likely to win. More specifically, Democrats who supported green issues won more often, and Republicans who took anti-green stances lost more often than if they kept silent on the topic.

Energy will also be a significant issue for GOP candidates, according to “energy and environment insiders” polled by the National Journal. Especially important, the insiders said, will be linking energy policy with job creation.

Luxury in a Smaller Package

Even in these hard economic times, luxury cars still have a market and automakers are rolling out new models that, while remaining plush and pricey, are shrinking, both in body and engine.

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.


Solar Industry “Darwinism” Weeding Out Weaker Companies

September 8, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which recently filed for bankruptcy, got special treatment from the Obama administration, some have alleged, since the company’s $535 million in federally guaranteed loans had much lower interest rates than those of other green energy companies, according to an investigative report.

The FBI raided Solyndra’s office, although it would not comment on the reason. The company shut without giving notice to its employees and contractors, which many large companies are legally required to do.

However, Lewis Milford of the Clean Energy Group argued critics are inconsistent in highlighting Solyndra’s failure, since there are many examples of failure in government projects—and that a high rate of failure is inevitable in innovative fields. Overall, the Loan Guarantee Program has performed well, and Solyndra’s failure is not a reason to abandon it, Forbes argued.

Solyndra is only one of many solar energy companies around the world struggling recently, due in large part to rising costs of materials and weaker-than-expected demand for panels, which have led to a sharp rise in mergers and acquisitions compared with last year.

Germany has long been a solar powerhouse, but one of its companies—SolarWorld—is also having trouble, and is shutting down factories in Germany and the U.S. and consolidating manufacturing. Another German solar company, Solon, is shutting an Arizona plant and laying off workers.

All this activity “is Darwinism at work in business,” said an executive of manufacturer Abound Solar.

Solar at Scale

Nonetheless, large solar projects are moving ahead. The U.S. has offered a loan guarantee for putting solar panels on military housing, which could double the number of residential rooftop arrays in the country.

With solar panel costs falling, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association said, solar could be competitive with conventional energy within a couple of years in some markets, and across Europe by 2020.

Also, a new projection from the International Energy Agency said in 50 years’ time, solar energy could provide more than half the world’s power.

Spinning up Fresh Debate

Iran joined the list of nuclear countries by connecting its first nuclear power plant to the grid last week, according to the country’s official media.

Also, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran began running upgraded centrifuges. Iran also offered to allow inspectors “full supervision” of its nuclear activities for the next five years, in exchange for lifting sanctions.

Iran has reportedly tested weapons systems, which some experts said cast doubt on Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is limited to producing electricity. But arms expert Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that without proof, it is too soon to jump to the conclusion Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, in discussions at the United Nations, several countries kept pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment until a monitoring deal is worked out.

Storm Brewing Over Clouds

A paper in the journal Remote Sensing has generated a lot of thunder, since the authors argued their study of clouds suggested the climate is not as sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions as had been thought. But many other experts have poked holes in the study, with one arguing the controversial study’s model fails to conserve energy, so it violates a basic principle of physics. The journal’s editor resigned over the controversy.

Energetic Ghost Town

To test out new energy technologies in conditions between the overly controlled confines of the lab and the all-too-messy real world, a company is planning to erect in New Mexico a 20-square-mile, $200-million “ghost town” outfitted with real buildings—but no people.

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.


As Markets Dive, Clean Energy Stocks Hit by “Triple Whammy”

August 11, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The stock market took a beating this week, after the rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. bonds—but clean tech stocks have been falling even faster than the market as a whole.

Shares in clean energy companies have been hit by a “triple whammy”—producing too much capacity for the demand, problems with government debt, and broader risk aversion among investors. As a part of this, clean energy venture capital funding has dropped 44 percent when compared with last year.

Analysts from the global bank HSBC said wind energy stocks are undervalued and their prices could fall more as debt crises in both the United States and European Union stand to cut wind subsidies further. There are more than seven gigawatts of wind projects under construction now—but few planned beyond 2013 because of uncertainty about policies.

Solar stocks were down after many companies reported dismal second-quarter results, as prices on panels fell—but not as fast as the costs of producing them—and as their margins shrank. First Solar, the biggest solar panel manufacturer outside of China, boosted production but suffered a large drop in profits—and their share price. Suntech, the biggest manufacturer, also saw its stock fall, hitting a one-year low.

But some analysts say renewables stocks are bottoming out, and are set to rise again.

Adjusting to No Nukes

Germany decided to phase out nuclear power within 10 years and rely more heavily on renewables, and the country’s utilities are scrambling to adjust. E.ON, the world’s biggest utility in terms of sales, suffered its first-ever quarterly loss and is laying off 11,000 workers as it aims to boost its spending on renewables.

Another utility, RWE, is also selling off assets to cope with poor performance—but is planning to stick with its renewables investments.

Making the Military Green

The U.S. military is the single biggest user of oil in the world, and has been warned by analysts its dependence is a security threat. Now the U.S. Army has formed a new renewables office that may spend $7 billion over the next decade on renewable and alternative energy power.

Although the military has a target of using 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, many installations lack the expertise to move forward quickly enough, said the U.S. Department of Defense, and the new office aims to fill that gap.

Meanwhile, units within the mega-corporations Boeing and Siemens have teamed up to pursue military contracts for smart-grid technologies, which the military could develop and bring down the costs, helping them reach the market later.

Risky Business

With oil prices high and political uncertainty in many oil-exporting countries, the U.S. faces near-record energy security risks, according to a new U.S. Chamber of Commerce report. In 2010, their energy risk index is as high, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and near the record high of 2008. The Chamber predicts the risk level will remain high for another 25 years.

With gloomy economic prospects, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries all agreed oil demand later this year is likely to be less than they had thought.

With Saudi Arabia boosting its production to the highest level in 30 years, oil prices have fallen a bit in recent weeks, but this is largely because of weak economies, the IEA said.

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.


Natural Gas Fracking Under Increasing Pressure

May 12, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” featured dramatic clips of people whose tap water could be set on fire, apparently a side effect of “fracking,” a method of opening up fissures deep underground to unlock natural gas.

A new Duke study backs up these residents’ woes, finding that drinking water near fracking sites had average methane levels 17 times higher than normal. (Natural gas is mainly composed of methane.) The methane in the water wells also had a chemical signature that showed it was from deep underground, where companies are doing fracking.  

Meanwhile, the Obama administration formed a blue ribbon panel to look into fracking safety. France had already put a temporary freeze on drilling into shale gas and oil formations, and now their National Assembly has passed a bill to ban exploration for shale gas or oil

It’s Not Easy Being Green

The summary of a major report on renewable energy from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was leaked earlier in draft form, and has now been published and has generated a lot of discussion. Some touted the study’s findings that by mid-century, renewable energy could power at least 80 percent of projected energy demand, while others pointed out this was based on the most optimistic of the study’s 160 scenarios. So far, only the 25-page summary has been released; details to back up the study’s conclusions will await publication of the full report.

The IPCC report included biomass as a major player in the future of renewable energy. But today’s biofuels can be worse for the climate than conventional fossil fuels, according to another new study, because of the emissions from clearing land, growing crops, and processing the plants to turn them into fuel.

Backing Away from Nuclear

Japan’s prime minister announced the country will abandon plans to expand nuclear power, and it will “start from scratch” on a new energy policy that puts more emphasis on renewables.

As a response to the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactors, Germany temporarily shut down its seven oldest nuclear power plants. The New York Times reports a panel appointed by Chancellor Angela Merkel has recommended closing all of Germany’s nuclear reactors within a decade—reactors that currently provide about one-fifth of the country’s electricity.

In the U.K., the Committee on Climate Change, a group advising the U.K. government, recommended building more nuclear power plants, as well as relying on wind turbines, to meet the country’s greenhouse gas emission goals.

The U.K.’s existing policies won’t meet those goals, according to a new assessment—but a massive new energy bill is wending its way through the U.K. Parliament that aims to boost emissions cuts. The bill now carries an additional measure that aims to seal up the country’s famously drafty homes, by making it illegal for landlords to rent their properties unless they meet energy efficiency standards.

Weather Woes

Swathes of the U.S. South and Midwest have been socked by wild weather this spring. First, the areas suffered 800 tornadoes in April. Now the Mississippi is flooding with the highest levels on record in some regions—and global warming has likely played a role in the flooding, since rainfall in the region has risen 10 to 20 percent over the past century, said meteorologist Jeff Masters. The floods would likely break records along the length of the river if it weren’t for controlled levee breaches that have released water onto spillways and farmland. Perhaps it is time, argues Good, to follow in the footsteps of the Dutch, with their “Room for the River” policy, and give up more ground to rivers to adapt to climate change.

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.


Obama’s Popularity and the Next Election may be Tied to Gas Prices

April 28, 2011

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Whenever prices at the gas pump soar, President Obama’s popularity takes a hit, he suggested at a private fundraising event—and which is backed up by a recent poll. House Speaker John Boehner argued high gas prices could even cost Obama the 2012 election.

Obama argued the long term solution is clean energy, but to try to help in the shorter term, though, the administration launched two new efforts. The Justice Department will conduct a probe into speculation in oil trading, to see if it is inflating oil prices, as Obama has claimed before. Also, a new federal program will aid homeowners in getting loans to pay for improvements that boost energy efficiency. “We’re making it easier for American homeowners to save money by saving energy,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

A “Crazy and Unsustainable” Policy

With the 2012 Presidential elections approaching, some Republican hopefuls have lit into Obama’s approach to energy. To help with high oil prices, last week Donald Trump supports Libyan intervention if the U.S. can take their oil. This week, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty called for opening drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as more offshore wells, while saying  Obama “sat on his hands” regarding drilling in America.

Despite calls to boost domestic fossil fuel production, “it is simply crazy and unsustainable to continue to subsidize the oil-and-gas companies when we need to reduce our deficit and invest elsewhere,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Several major oil-and-gas companies should report significant profit, according to the Associated Press.

Since the 2009 G20 meeting, Obama has been pushing for an end to fossil fuel subsidies around the world. Obama may be gaining traction on this issue, with Speaker Boehner saying oil companies “ought to be paying their fair share” of taxes.

Who Resurrected the Electric Car?

Electric cars have been resurrected, with the maker of the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” to film a follow-up, “Revenge of the Electric Car.”

While electric cars are still a minuscule slice of the auto market, the market continues to shift in larger ways, according to a new report. As the economy has recovered somewhat from the Great Recession, sales of most kinds of cars have risen. But sales of small cars, hybrids, and diesels (which are often fuel efficient) are growing much faster than car sales as a whole. Compared to the first quarter last year, this year sales jumped roughly 25 to 45 percent for various classes of more efficient cars, but rose only 7 percent for SUVs.

Western Water Woes to Deepen

Water supplies in the Western U.S. will only get tighter as climate change worsens, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which billed it as “the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major … river basins,” including the Colorado, Rio Grande and San Joaquin. Flows in these three basins, the government report said, are likely to decline by 8 to 14 percent by 2050—a time frame in which future warming is largely already set by past emissions. In California, however, there’s large uncertainty about the impacts, making planning all the more difficult.

When it comes to moisture-loving fungi, climate change is already changing landscapes. Truffle-hunting dogs have turned up troves of the valuable fungi in Germany, where they were never known to exist before, a new study reports. Although the study was on expensive edible fungi, the findings could have much wider implications. “Without fungi, plants don’t work,” the study leader, a fungal ecologist, told Wired Science. “We know climates are changing and that fungal habitats are shifting. What we’re not certain about are the effects.”

Nuclear Power Protests Mark Chernobyl Anniversary

With progress slow on controlling Japan’s damaged nuclear power plants, farmers from the area protested against nuclear power, and thousands protested in France and Germany against nukes in their countries.

Meanwhile, NRG Energy announced it is pulling the plug on a nuclear power plant it was building in Texas.

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.