Friday, April 5, 2013

News of the Week - April 5

  • James Hansen, a US government climate scientist who has possibly done more to ring climate change alarm bells than anyone, has retired from NASA. His primary reason: "As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government." Hansen has been arrested for civil disobedience in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline and is apparently fed up working within the system. Here is a good take on his transition from scientist to activist.
  • As a newly liberated non-government worker, Hansen wrote an op-ed against the Keystone pipeline in the LA Times. "The science on climate change has been in for a quarter of a century. There are no more mixed messages, just catastrophe after catastrophe. The president stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history. Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what's right by the people, planet and future generations. All of President Obama's achievements will fade if he doesn't act swiftly and decisively on climate change. Rejecting Keystone is the first step."
  • An Exxon pipeline broke in Arkansas, creating some more momentum for the anti-KXL crowd. A video of the oil oozing through a neighborhood:
  • As Grist asks, is the National Review trolling environmentalists? Here is the cover of the most recent issue:
Whatever case you might make for tar sands, I would never, ever call the above picture a wonderland.
  • Something I've been thinking about recently, what should we make of the divisions within the environment movement? "The eco-infighting over natural gas is just one example of internecine strains that appear to be intensifying in the green movement. When it comes to prescribing ways to address the planet’s ecological challenges, environmentalists increasingly find themselves at odds with each other. In a way, greens’ predicament is a measure of their own prescience. For at least 40 years, they have been warning about the consequences of overpopulation, the risks of industrial pollution, and the loss of wilderness and wildlife habitat due to human encroachment. Few heeded the warnings in time to halt the first effects of large-scale global pollution and resource depletion, and now the consequences of ignoring the warnings have come to pass. Many global fisheries are on the brink of collapse; nearly half of the planet’s land is dedicated to feeding a global population that will soon reach nine billion; freshwater scarcities in some regions are becoming acute; and, most frighteningly, we appear intent on wrecking the global atmosphere, the ecosystem on which all other ecosystems depend. Environmentalists have found themselves being taken seriously, and it has proved to be something of a curse. As they are asked to come up with solutions for the cascading eco crises, internal divisions are becoming more obvious."
  • For those following the APP story of possible breaking their no deforestation commitment, it looks like the deforestation was not the responsibility of APP nor any company in its supply chain. Here's the official report on the issue. Good news.
  • Brazil is sending thousands of water trucks to the Northeast to mitigate impact from the worst drought in 50 years. Is this linked to Amazonian deforestation? I haven't seen any evidence to suggest it is, but it's worth looking in to.
  • Lots of news on natural gas, fracking, and methane emissions this week. WRI put out an excellent report on methane emissions from fracking. "While reports vary on the extent of the fugitive methane emission problem, recent studies estimate U.S. leakage rates in the range of 2 – 3 percent of total production, with some published estimates as high as 7 percent. To put that in perspective, at a 2 percent leakage rate, more than 6 million metric tons of methane escape into the atmosphere in one year–an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of roughly 120 million cars. Our research shows that reducing the current methane leakage rate by two-thirds–i.e., down to 1 percent or less of total production–ensures that switching from diesel or coal to natural gas provides a net climate benefit over any time horizon. Furthermore, we find that we can reach the 1 percent target through existing state and federal policies and the widespread use of cost-effective technologies."
  • Of course, Wonkblog does a nice summary of the report. "So how much methane is actually leaking? The authors take a look at all the existing studies on methane leakage. Estimates can vary widely, but 'the weight of evidence suggests that significant leakage occurs during every life cycle state of U.S. natural gas systems.' That includes leaks from drilling, production, processing, and distribution: Notice that there’s no definitive number for how much methane is actually leaking. 'There’s a lot of variability in these studies,' explains James Bradbury, one of the co-authors of the WRI paper, in an interview. 'It can vary from region to region, from basin to basin. It often depends on the operators involved.'"
  • And to round off the week, David Roberts explains a Citigroup report that discusses the symbiotic relationship between natural gas and renewables: "There are two reasons to see renewables and natural gas as mutually reinforcing. The first and most familiar is that renewables — at least wind and solar — are intermittent and require backup plants that can quickly ramp on and off (“peaker” plants - [which are mostly natural gas plants]) to support them. Those peaker plants typically run on natural gas. The second reason is less well understood. Eventually, when renewables grow enough, the amount of power needed from peaker plants will decline, but because renewables remain highly variable, there will still be a need for back-up plants to be ready in case of an unexpected weather event (or, y’know, nighttime). That poses a challenge for utilities. Right now, power plants get paid for power; if they don’t produce power, they don’t get paid. Pushing more renewables onto the grid means that utilities will need to find some way to pay for capacity, not just power. In other words, they need to pay peaker plants to sit there, ready, just in case."

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