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Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Biggest Energy and Climate Stories of 2015

Another recap of some great advancements in 2015.  We will do more a more in depth look soon at these milestones on our weekly radio shows.

For now, enjoy.

The Biggest Energy and Climate Stories of 2015

The success of the Paris international climate talks in December was easily the biggest story of 2015, but the U.S. saw a year full of climate and energy milestones. Here are five of the biggest:

Clean Power Plan is Finalized

A coal-fired power plant in Washington State.

The Obama administration’s most sweeping climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, is meant to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants — the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change. After more than a year of public wrangling over its details, the Clean Power Plan took effect in October when it was published in the federal register.

The plan is likely to be the policy that does the most to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. over the next decade as it pushes utilities to continue their switch from coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fueled power plants and renewables. Combined with energy efficiency measures, the Clean Power Plan’s goal is to slash greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Keystone XL Pipeline Dies

The Obama administration received pressure from both scientists and activists to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from being built on U.S. soil. 

Other than melting glaciers and extreme weather, few issues have symbolized the fight over climate change more than the proposed $8 billion 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have carried more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil daily from Alberta to Texas. In November, citing mainly climate concerns, the Obama administration denied the pipeline’s builder, TransCanada, a permit to build the international pipeline on U.S. soil.

Keystone XL became a symbol of the fight over climate change and greenhouse gas emissions because of the tar sands crude oil it would have carried — a thick tar-like substance called bitumen that is much more carbon-laden and energy intensive to produce than most other crude oil. Critics worried that if Keystone XL was approved by the Obama administration, it may have undermined American leadership at the Paris climate talks and signaled that the U.S. was not taking climate change seriously.

Keystone XL may have become less relevant over time, anyway. TransCanada has begun using trains and other pipelines to transport its bitumen to refineries and crashing oil prices have thrown the future of the Canadian tar sands into question. In the end, though, climate change was the main reason the Obama administration cited for its demise.

Offshore Wind Emerges in U.S.

An offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom.

There is enough space to build wind turbines in the waters off U.S. coastlines to nearly quadruple the total U.S. electric power generating capacity. But unlike Europe, where more than 2,300 wind turbines twirl off the shores of 11 countries, not a single megawatt of wind power is being produced off U.S. coasts today — a huge missed opportunity for America, scientists say.

That began to change in 2015. Construction began during the summer on America’s first offshore wind farm — the 30 megawatt, five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. Even though Europe has shown offshore wind can be successful, the Block Island project may prove that it can work in the U.S. and become a step toward meeting the Obama administration’s goal of generating 20,000 megawatts of renewable power on federally controlled lands and waters by 2020.

Solar Power Booms

A solar power matrix.

If it seems like more and more solar panels are appearing on rooftops and solar farms, that’s because they are. Solar power, both rooftop and utility-scale, continued its boom in 2015 as panels became more efficient and solar panel prices continued to fall.

By the start of 2015, solar power sector employment had nearly doubled to 174,000 workers as more and more utilities and homeowners installed solar panels to take advantage of the low costs.

Since the late 1970s, the cost of a solar panel has fallen 99 percent. Just in the past five years, the cost of a utility-scale photovoltaic power project has dropped to $1.68 per watt from $3.80 per watt in 2010, translating to about 6 cents per kilowatt hour today, Mike Carr, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, said.

Hawaii Sets 100 Percent Renewable Goal

Honolulu, Hawaii.

Most states get some of their electricity from renewables, but no state gets all of its power from the wind and the sun. (Fossil fuels are the main fuel for power plants nationwide.) In June, Hawaii became the first state in the U.S. to set a goal of getting all of its electricity from the wind, sun and other zero-carbon sources.

The Aloha State has until 2045 to figure out how to go 100 percent renewable. It’s joining other states focusing heavily on renewables, such as California and New York, and leading the rest of the country in innovation in low-carbon electricity.

Hawaii is being driven to renewables mainly by cost and not climate change, though. The island chains’ isolation requires it to generate power using imported crude oil, which gives it the highest electricity costs in the nation. Those costs have prompted residents to generate their own electricity using solar power.

Whatever Hawaii’s motivation, its renewables goal set in 2015 makes it the top state to watch in the coming years for renewables development.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Good news from our friends at Sierra Club.  Protecting our natural capitol has become critical than ever.  Man does not need to destroy more virgin land to expand or meet our current economic demands.  In fact we can meet our quality of life needs AND remediate our past ecological destruction.
Glad to share this with you.  From listening to us, you know renewable energy is going to be a friendly tenant to the CA sands as we take advantage of the winds and sun blazing our deserts.
Great news! President Obama has just protected over 1.8 million acres of California desert!
The Mojave Trails National Monument's vast open spaces include ancient trade routes of indigenous Americans as well as historic Route 66, and essential habitat for desert tortoise and bighorn sheep linking two national parks. 
Sand to Snow, rising from the Sonoran desert floor to Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California's highest peak, is a botanically rich tapestry of ecosystems and cultural sites. 
The Castle Mountains include some of the region's finest Joshua tree, pinyon pine and juniper forests. Now, these lands are protected for generations to come.
Thanks to thousands of activists like you, President Obama and his administration heard loud and clear that these wild places deserved to be permanently protected. 
Now the California desert -- one of the most unique places in the country, thanks to its starkly beautiful scenery, Native American petroglyphs, and multicultural history -- is permanently protected.
Thanks for helping to protect one of America's last great frontiers.

Why climate was the story of 2015

Nice summary of stories that we are using to look back on events in 2015.

The two degrees of separation leaves us in some perilous places.  How much faith do we have, as an example, that the US will leave 95% of coals reserves unburned?

Why climate was the story of 2015

(CNN)CNN's John Sutter is an award-winning columnist who made climate change his focus in 2015 with the creation of the network's "2 degrees" project. He asked viewers and readers what climate-related topics they wanted him to cover -- and then he traveled the globe to deliver eye-opening stories. His work culminated in December's climate change summit COP21 in Paris.

People living on the front lines of climate change -- from Uganda, Marshall Islands, Alaska, Colorado, Peru, Iran -- share their stories with CNN's John Sutter, who then makes a case for stopping climate change, on their behalf.
2015: At last, we talked race

CNN's John Sutter visits Denmark, exploring how this country is on track to completely ditch fossil fuels by 2050. He argues the rest of the world needs to adopt the country's zeal for renewable energy technologies and introduce policies that put a price on carbon pollution.
2015: Stories of American extremes

If the world is going to meet the 2 degrees goal for climate change, the United States must leave 95% of existing U.S. coal reserves unburned and in the ground. CNN's John Sutter visits the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, which is an island of prairie in a sea of coal mining. It's part of the Powder River Basin, which produces 40% of U.S. coal. But this reservation has stood up to development, at a cost.

marshall islands two degrees cnn john sutter
It's one of the clearest injustices of climate change: The Marshall Islands likely won't exist if we warm the planet 2 degrees. CNN's John Sutter traveled to the remote Pacific to learn what it's like to try to process that doomsday forecast -- and why some people already are making the painful decision to leave.

COP21 Explainer - John Sutter_00004503
What will it really take to stop global warming short of 2 degrees Celsius? CNN and Climate Central partner to create an online quiz to let readers figure out how they can help meet this goal -- and avoid disaster.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Boxed Water Donates to Flint, MI Residents Amid Water Crisis

One of the really good stories coming out of the Flint, Michigan debacle.  We hope to have the boxed water company on an upcoming show.

Before then, though, we will be interviewing people from Flint who can give us more insight into this colossal failure.  Shameful that much of the blame lies on the doorstep of local government who decided to change sources of water to save money and failed miserably to safeguard that source.  This is an environmental and economic disaster that fails in unimaginable  ways.

Yet, we know the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey loved to say, will be a correction, remediation and success of people, technology and GOOD economics restoring safe water supplies to this city.  We know, too, we will learn many valuable lessons from Flint's incredibly poor management of their most critical resource--water, of course--and will seek, from here, to safeguard supplier in many other vulnerable cities with archaic,decaying infrastructure.   

As residents of Flint are still wrestling with contaminated water, local companies are stepping-up to help their fellow neighbors.  One company we want to showcase who is doing their part in Flint it Boxed Water, an eco-friendly packaged water company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, they announced this week that it will be donating to the local Flint, Michigan, residents to provide relief and support for the ongoing water crisis in the city.

Boxed Water will deliver water to local Flint organizations starting on Monday, February 1. The Boxed Water donation project will start with an initial shipment of 11,520 units and further donations throughout the month of February.

"We feel for the local community and those impacted by the Flint water crisis, and as a Michigan based water company, we strongly believe it's our responsibility to help the community during this time," commented David Lee, Chief Operating Officer for Boxed Water. "We encourage everyone involved to continue donations and continue volunteering time and energy to raise awareness for this issue and to help those in need during this time."

Boxed Water is a sustainable packaged-water company that enables socially conscious consumption by re-thinking the way water is sold, shipped and consumed. Founded in 2009, Boxed Water is an alternative to bottled water that is built on three principles: sustainability, efficiency and philanthropy. Each carton is recyclable and made using renewable paper from well-managed forests. Boxed Water has also reduced its carbon footprint and increased efficiency by shipping its cartons flat to its plants to be filled. 

Once filled, its square-shape reduces shipping waste versus round bottles, reducing the number of trucks needed to transport the product.  One percent of Boxed Water's annual sales support reforestation and water relief through partnerships with The National Forest Foundation and The company currently has offices in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Los Angeles, and is currently produced and filled in Holland, Mich. and Lindon, Utah.

- See more at:

Italy, Dirty Air at Record Levels, Is Putting Limits on Traffic

We know the Pope is not going to like this.  Reading the caption and headlines, you start to feel bad for the police sitting in the middle of the heavy air squalor directing traffic.

Interesting some of the short-term fixes they have used, including beefing up use of mass transit through discounts for all day riding.  Other cities, like London, have long used levies and regulations to cut traffic in their urban centers.  Toronto has refused to re-permit parking lots in town as those lots came up on renewals, thereby eradicating space for cars and forcing people to use mass transient.

Of course, all that works well if you have a good rail/bus system in place.  In Providence, we do not.  Then what?

A long-term fix is to move people closer to work, expand mixed-use communities, improve mass transient systems and switch car and buses to clean sources of fuels.  We hope Italy and the rest of Europe does not end up looking like Beijing in which you live life through a mask, if you come out at all.

Italy, Dirty Air at Record Levels, Is Putting Limits on Traffic

A police officer directing traffic in Rome on Thursday. Car traffic in the city will be limited next Monday and Tuesday in the early morning and late afternoon.                                    

SIENA, Italy — The air in Milan has gotten so dirty that cars and motorcycles will be banned from city streets for several periods next week to reduce emissions, and Rome is also restricting traffic to fight pollution.
An unusually long period of stable weather with little rain or wind has driven air pollution levels to record highs in Italy and prompted emergency measures in a number of cities.
That has happened before, especially in Milan, which is in a valley and is prone to weather conditions that trap air pollution close to the ground. Even so, the city government’s decision on Wednesday to restrict traffic between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for three days next week made headlines and raised health concerns.
In Rome, the special commissioner who is acting as mayor said Thursday that car traffic in the city would once again be limited next Monday and Tuesday in the early morning and late afternoon, based on the last digits of license plate numbers, while single-ride tickets on the city’s transit system would become passes valid all day. The city has resorted to similar steps several times this fall, including Monday and Tuesday this week. Violators face a fine of about $165.
The weather has been unusually mild and dry. Many regions have had no rain for more than seven weeks, and none is forecast until early January. As a result, in Rome, “high concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide continue, aggravated by the weather situation of high pressure and absence of wind,” the city government said.
Many cities across Italy faced similar problems. In the northwestern city of Turin, public transportation was free for two days this month to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home.
When levels of dangerous particulate matter in Milan’s air rose above European Union pollution limits in November, the city put limits on diesel cars, which are generally more polluting than gasoline-fueled models.
The city also made bus and tram rides free for families taking their children to school, and began allowing passengers unlimited travel on public transit for about $1.65 a day, which officials said had increased ticket sales by 11 percent.
The mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia, urged mayors of neighboring towns to join in his city’s action because the pollution problem was affecting the whole region.
“For these provisions against air pollution to be more effective, they have to regard a vast area, and not only the individual towns,” Mr. Pisapia said in a statement.
Scientists say that such an extended period of high atmospheric pressure is an unusual phenomenon for the Mediterranean in autumn and winter. But many argue that whatever the weather, Italy needs to get better control over the heavy traffic choking its cities and the emissions from home heating systems that are scarcely monitored by the authorities.
“Blocking traffic for one or two days is merely a palliative; so is stopping cars based on license plate numbers,” said Nicola Pirrone, director of the Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research at Italy’s National Research Council. “Italy needs serious infrastructural investments to enhance greener transportation and greenhouse emissions.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Europe Hottest in Over 2 Millennia

From our front page today.  Clearly, environmental shifts have dominated the news this week.  Again, our hope is to shape the discussion of climate anomalies around our ability to react with the right technology, science, adjustments in energy use, etc, to not only bring ecological balance and relief, but to use it, as the Climate Group reported, as a "7 TRILLION dollar investment opportunity".

New research is finding that temperatures over the past 30 years lie outside the range of natural variations, supports the conclusions reached by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that recent warming is mainly caused by anthropogenic activity.

Most of Europe has experienced strong summer warming over the course of the past several decades, accompanied by severe heat waves in 2003, 2010 and 2015. New research now puts the current warmth in a 2100-year historical context using tree-ring information and historical documentary evidence to derive a new European summer temperature reconstruction.

The work was published today (Friday 29th January) in the journal of Environmental Research Letters by a group of 45 scientists from 13 countries.

Warm summers were experienced during Roman times, up to the 3rd century, followed by generally cooler conditions from the 4th to the 7th centuries. A generally warm medieval period was followed by a mostly cold Little Ice Age from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The pronounced warming early in the 20th century and in recent decades is well captured by the tree-ring data and historical evidence on which the new reconstruction is based.

The evidence suggests that past natural changes in summer temperature are larger than previously thought, suggesting that climate models may underestimate the full range of future extreme events, including heat waves. This past variability has been associated with large volcanic eruptions and changes in the amount of energy received from the sun.

The new research finding that temperatures over the past 30 years lie outside the range of these natural variations supports the conclusions reached by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that recent warming is mainly caused by anthropogenic activity.

"We now have a detailed picture of how summer temperatures have changed over Europe for more than two thousand years and we can use that to test the climate models that are used to predict the impacts of future global warming," says the coordinator of the study, Professor Jürg Luterbacher from the University of Giessen in Germany.

Story provided by Institute of Physics - See more at:

Will Climate Change Make Foods Extinct?

Good follow up to yesterday's update on the plight and survival of bees.  Again, our impact on the climate is clearly endangering traditional food production.  From there what comes next for mankind and our overall global economic system is very ugly--including food shortages and major droughts. 

For some people just the threat to coffee production is enough to get them nervous.

Part of our response is to introduce new technology around water management, restoration of soil and using artificial growing environments--such as remodeled overseas containers--to supplement our food supply and, perhaps, bring it more local.  Perhaps the irony will be that we do, in fact, reduce production on major centralized farms but push our agricultural systems to get smaller, more nimble, innovative and local.

One thing we can not do is force more poverty and hardship on developing nations.  There we need global collaboration to safe guard what natural assets and life-sustaining systems they currently have in place, and expand that core competence from there.

Will Climate Change Make Foods Extinct?

By Rachel Nuwer
Soybean yields will eventually decline in the US, even if farms change location.

In the US – the world’s largest producer of corn and soybeans – farms can move north to some degree, Schlenker says. But eventually, yields will likely suffer because the soil north of Iowa declines in quality – a legacy of glacial expansion. Other studies, including of wheat in India and maize in Africa, also found that there is a threshold above which yields sharply decline: crops can adapt and move, but only to a point. “What’s common to all studies is the finding that extreme heat is detrimental to crop growth, although exact cutoffs vary by crop,” Schlenker says. “If predictions for the end of the century are true, though, I think a lot of agricultural areas in the US will see significant hits.”

80% of coffee-growing zones in Central America and Brazil could become unsuitable by 2050 

Under current conditions, about 4% of the world’s croplands experience drought in any given year, but by the end of the century those conditions are projected to jump to about 18% per year. Some studies indicate that horticulture crops – generally, everything besides staples – may be impacted most severely, largely because they tend to be constrained to a smaller geographic area. Jarvis and his colleagues found that 80% of coffee-growing zones in Central America and Brazil could become unsuitable by 2050, for example, while climate change will likely have “profound impacts” on cocoa production in West Africa. “High quality chocolate will be less available in the future, and if you want it, you’ll have to pay a lot more for it,” Jarvis says.                      

This means that, for those who can afford it, some foods will simply cost them more in the future. But for poorer people, those same price jumps will likely cause certain foods to go extinct from their diets. “The more you reduce, the shorter the supply, and the higher the price will jump,” Schlenker says.

High quality chocolate will be less available in the future, and if you want it, you’ll have to pay a lot more for it.

Another potential climate change-induced hitch is our dependence on commodity crops – wheat, soybeans, maize and rice – which currently provide humanity with 75% of its calories, either directly or indirectly through the animals we raise on those crops. Jarvis and his colleagues also found that, over the past five decades, the world has seen an increasing standardisation of diets; the foods we eat globally today are 36% more similar than they were in 1961. While this can be good news for the world’s poorest people who now consume more calories, protein and fat than in the past, homogeneity and over-dependence on a handful of staples leaves us vulnerable to threats such as drought, disease and pests – all of which are predicted to worsen in many parts of the world as a result of climate change.
About 4% of the world’s croplands experience drought in any given year, but by the end of the century this figure is projected to jump to about 18% per year.

There are ways we could soften the coming blow to the global food supply, however. Like Farrant’s work with resurrection crops (see video at the top of this story), a number of companies, organisations and researchers, including the Gates Foundation and Monsanto, are aiming to create drought- and temperature-resistant crops through genetic engineering and conventional breeding. For now, the jury is still out as to how successful those endeavours will be. “The people at Monsanto who I’ve talked to are much more optimistic that they’ll be able to engineer heat-tolerant crops,” Schlenker says. “On the other hand, scientists at the USDA who I’ve spoken with are much more cautious.”

“Genetic engineering is one solution that we should keep developing, but it’s not necessarily a panacea that will solve everything,” Jarvis adds. “The evidence gathered over the last 10 years is that it hasn’t totally revolutionised agriculture.”  

Until genetic engineering comes to fruition, other strategies might also help in some places, including applying more fertiliser, implementing better irrigation, using machinery that gets crops out of the field faster or installing storage facilities to stave off spoilage. “Many places could benefit a great deal just by using technologies that already exist,” Walsh says. “General agronomic management can go a long way toward mitigating changes.”

Finally, diversifying our diet away from heat-sensitive wheat, corn, rice and other crops could also help. “We’ve seen profound changes in the last decades in what we eat largely as a result of international trade, and I think that trend toward more diversification will continue,” Jarvis says.

“Depending on a greater number of plant species creates a more resilient, less risky food system – and one that provides a broader range of nutritional requirements.”