Friday, February 5, 2010

Climate scientists seek to calm storm of doubt

If the scientific evidence for man-made global warming is so compelling, why do so many people still have their doubts?

Why do politicians and the media often discuss global warming with such certainty, ignoring the scientists’ carefully worded caveats? And how much harder will it be to persuade the sceptics after the uproar over whether scientists exaggerated unreliable evidence or colluded to withhold information to strengthen their case?

Those tricky questions were raised at a sometimes fractious news conference in London to discuss the future of climate science.

Three leading British scientists told reporters the science behind anthropogenic global warming was “overwhelming”, but admitted they are struggling to get their message across to a sometimes doubtful public.
“We have a very confused public out there about climate change and science,” said Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Met Office. “We’ve got a real issue about communicating science in a very clear way that different levels of the public can understand. ”

The problem, the panel suggested, lies not in the raw data but in how the information becomes garbled between the researchers and the public.
The executive summaries of lengthy scientific reports that are presented to politicians tend to iron out the experts’ nuances and uncertainties. Media reports can then further simplify and exaggerate the evidence, the panel said.

“Uncertainty tends to get lost in the headline,” said Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director, Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London.

Confusion over the difference between long-term climate patterns and short-term weather has further muddied the waters, they said. If parts of the world had a particularly cold winter or a rainy summer, why should anyone believe the evidence behind manmade global warming, doubters ask.
That sort of confusion can only be addressed by getting basic scientific messages across to the public more clearly, Slingo added.

“(We must) expose the fundamental science behind climate change, which is very robust actually,” she said.
The scientists said they must also regain the public’s trust after damaging headlines about hacked emails from the University of East Anglia’s climate research unit and the reliability of evidence used by the United Nation’s climate change body in its key report on the topic.

Hoskins said the IPCC’s mistaken claim that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 should not be allowed to undermine the  rest of the U.N. panel’s work or the broader evidence for climate change.
“Just because you have a miscarriage of justice, it doesn’t mean you throw away the whole legal system,” Hoskins told the briefing at the Science Media Centre, part of the historic Royal Institution, the world’s oldest independent research body.

The questions grew tougher when none of the panel members agreed to discuss the leaked email row, dubbed “Climategate”. One reporter from a national newspaper said the scientists had failed to explain why internet forums are full of people who just don’t believe the science behind manmade global warming. “Call me na├»ve, but I came here today expecting a confident fightback from climate science and I haven’t heard that,” the reporter said. “You are not addressing head on and robustly the issue of perception in the way you need to do.”

The panellists refused to budge, however. They would not talk about the leaked emails until an inquiry reports its findings.

They also refused to say if the IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri should resign over the glacier claim.
They wanted to stick firmly to the science and said they would always be willing to examine any credible evidence from climate change sceptics.

“I’m sorry if you feel it is not adequate, but it is where the scientific community has to be. We just simply have to do the research and bring the scientific evidence to the table,” said Professor Alan Thorpe, a climate scientist who is also chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council.

Huffington Post

Thursday, February 4, 2010



Saudi Arabia to Replace Oil with Sun Power for Desalination Plants

Up to now, the more than 28 desalination plants scattered around the Kingdom have had to rely of fossil fuel, most notably fuel oil, to provide to power to run the equipment used to extract salt and other minerals from sea water.
Much of this may be changing, however, as Saudi Arabia is now interested in using solar energy to provide the power needed, instead of oil. According to an article on the UAE Top News media site, the Kingdom is now planning to build solar energy based desalination plants in order to save on energy costs, as well as be in tune with new environmental polices. This might be to secure membership in the International Renewable Energy Agency, otherwise known as IRENA.
Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf said "desalination is our strategic choice to supply an adequate supply of drinking water to people across the Kingdom."
He added that by using solar energy instead of oil, it will focus more on using renewable energy and even become an exporter of this clean form of energy as it has been doing with oil. A tremendous amount of oil is currently being used to provide power for the country's desalination plants; around 1.5 million barrels per day. This has caused the price of desalinated water to rise as oil prices have risen.
The use of solar energy to power desalination plants is just one of several projects in the Kingdom that are more environmentally friendly. The Kingdom is also embarking of projects to improve its inland transport systems including building a high speed train network to carry pilgrims to and from the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.
Image shows  new desalination plant at Al Jubail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

House Trio Moves to Block EPA

A bipartisan trio of House members announced yesterday that they are sponsoring a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Missouri Reps. Ike Skelton (D) and Jo Ann Emerson (R) introduced the measure.

Efforts to bar the agency from following through on their determination that planet-warming emissions threaten human health are already underway in the Senate, as we've reported, and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) has also introduced legislation on the subject in the House.

"I have no confidence that the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act without doing serious damage to our economy," Peterson said on Tuesday. "Americans know we’re way too dependent on foreign oil and fossil fuels in this country--and I’ve worked hard to develop practical solutions to that problem--but Congress should be making these types of decisions, not unelected bureaucrats at the EPA."

Now, Peterson, it should be noted, did vote for the House climate and energy bill last year, but only after holding the bill hostage until he could wring as much out of it for Big Ag. And after getting what he wanted, he now says he would vote against the bill if it came back to the House. So his seriousness about imposing greenhouse-gas regulations through Congress is questionable.

Skelton did vote for the House bill, while Emerson did not. But Skelton now seems to be backing off of a cap, telling ClimateWire that Congress should put aside the cap-and-trade measure and move an energy-only bill."Let us set that bill aside and pass this scaled-back energy legislation," he said.

Their bill would not only bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, but it would also restrict the agency from calculating land-use changes in other countries in biofuel policies and broaden the definition of renewable biomass.

Huffington Post

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Climate Change Makes Trees Grow at Faster Rate for 200 Years

Forests in the northern hemisphere could be growing faster now than they were 200 years ago as a result of climate change, according to a study of trees in eastern America.
The trees appear to have accelerated growth rates due to longer growing seasons and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists have documented the changes to the growth of 55 plots of mixed hardwood forest over a period of 22 years, and have concluded that they are probably growing faster now than they have done at any time in the past 225 years – the age of the oldest trees in the study.
Geoffrey Parker, a forest ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre in Edgewater, Maryland, said that the increase in the rate of growth was unexpected and might be matched to the higher temperatures and longer growing seasons documented in the region. The growth may also be influenced by the significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, he said.

Huffington Post

Obama's Push for Green Jobs

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is meeting with governors from coal-producing states, hoping to earn their support for a languishing energy bill and to bolster his image as a leader willing to work with Republicans as well as Democrats.
Obama planned to announce on Wednesday new steps to increase the role of biofuels in powering the nation and to release a report detailing how Washington could increase investments in green technologies, an administration official said. The president was also expected to discuss so-called clean coal technologies, said the official, who spoke ahead of the announcement only on condition of anonymity.
Many pieces of those proposals were likely to win Republican support on Capitol Hill, where GOP allies have been elusive for a Democratic White House looking to pass controversial cap-and-trade legislation that would limit the nation's emissions. Wednesday's plan also was likely to find support from GOP governors in states rich in coal and corn, which can be used to produce ethanol.
Republican Govs. Jim Douglas of Vermont, Bob Riley of Alabama and Mike Rounds of South Dakota were scheduled to meet with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.
Energy has served as a major plank of the president's domestic agenda, finding places on his travel schedule, in his speeches and in his budget proposal released on Monday. In that plan, Obama's team called for tangible accomplishments that Democrats can champion as they head into a 2010 campaign season that has become more perilous since Republican Scott Brown won a special election to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
"Well, you're not going to get any argument from me about the need to create clean energy jobs," Obama said Monday in a YouTube forum. "I think this is going to be the driver of our economy over the long term. And that's why we put in record amounts of money for solar and wind and biodiesel and all the other alternative clean energy sources that are out there."
The president added: "In the meantime, though, unfortunately, no matter how fast we ramp up those energy sources, we're still going to have enormous energy needs that will be unmet by alternative energy. And the question then is, Where will that come from?"
That was a question Obama asked a group – led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson – to explore.
Officials said their recommendations would build on some $786 million allocated for environmental projects ranging from ethanol research to pilot programs at biorefineries. The plans also would mesh with Obama's budget proposal, which called for ending oil and gas subsidies, a move that could save $36.5 billion over a decade.
The Obama budget proposal, meanwhile, would retrofit 1.1 million housing units to improve energy efficiency through next year and increase batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles to 500,000 a year by 2015. Both are examples of a tangible program that could help residents' pocketbooks and Democrats' chances at the ballot box.
Obama's political team is already making that case. He toured a company that produces energy-efficient light bulbs in Nashua, N.H., on Tuesday and late last month visited an Ohio community college that trains students to work on wind turbines. He has also been talking up the energy sector's potential to move out-of-work Americans off unemployment rolls.

Huffington Post

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

China Leading Global Race to Make Clean Energy

TIANJIN, China — China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.
These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.
“Most of the energy equipment will carry a brass plate, ‘Made in China,’ ” said K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a private equity fund in Beijing that focuses on renewable energy.
President Obama, in his State of the Union speech last week, sounded an alarm that the United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy. “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either,” he told Congress.

The United States and other countries are offering incentives to develop their own renewable energy industries, and Mr. Obama called for redoubling American efforts. Yet many Western and Chinese executives expect China to prevail in the energy-technology race.

Multinational corporations are responding to the rapid growth of China’s market by building big, state-of-the-art factories in China. Vestas of Denmark has just erected the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturing complex here in northeastern China, and transferred the technology to build the latest electronic controls and generators. “You have to move fast with the market,” said Jens Tommerup, the president of Vestas China. “Nobody has ever seen such fast development in a wind market.”

Renewable energy industries here are adding jobs rapidly, reaching 1.12 million in 2008 and climbing by 100,000 a year, according to the government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.

Yet renewable energy may be doing more for China’s economy than for the environment. Total power generation in China is on track to pass the United States in 2012 — and most of the added capacity will still be from coal.

China intends for wind, solar and biomass energy to represent 8 percent of its electricity generation capacity by 2020. That compares with less than 4 percent now in China and the United States. Coal will still represent two-thirds of China’s capacity in 2020, and nuclear and hydropower most of the rest.

As China seeks to dominate energy-equipment exports, it has the advantage of being the world’s largest market for power equipment. The government spends heavily to upgrade the electricity grid, committing $45 billion in 2009 alone. State-owned banks provide generous financing.

China’s top leaders are intensely focused on energy policy: on Wednesday, the government announced the creation of a National Energy Commission composed of cabinet ministers as a “superministry” led by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao himself.

Regulators have set mandates for power generation companies to use more renewable energy. Generous subsidies for consumers to install their own solar panels or solar water heaters have produced flurries of activity on rooftops across China.

China’s biggest advantage may be its domestic demand for electricity, rising 15 percent a year. To meet demand in the coming decade, according to statistics from the International Energy Agency, China will need to add nearly nine times as much electricity generation capacity as the United States will.

So while Americans are used to thinking of themselves as having the world’s largest market in many industries, China’s market for power equipment dwarfs that of the United States, even though the American market is more mature. That means Chinese producers enjoy enormous efficiencies from large-scale production.

In the United States, power companies frequently face a choice between buying renewable energy equipment or continuing to operate fossil-fuel-fired power plants that have already been built and paid for. In China, power companies have to buy lots of new equipment anyway, and alternative energy, particularly wind and nuclear, is increasingly priced competitively.

Interest rates as low as 2 percent for bank loans — the result of a savings rate of 40 percent and a government policy of steering loans to renewable energy — have also made a big difference. As in many other industries, China’s low labor costs are an advantage in energy. Although Chinese wages have risen sharply in the last five years, Vestas still pays assembly line workers here only $4,100 a year.

China’s commitment to renewable energy is expensive. Although costs are falling steeply through mass production, wind energy is still 20 to 40 percent more expensive than coal-fired power. Solar power is still at least twice as expensive as coal. The fee revenue goes to companies that operate the electricity grid, to make up the cost difference between renewable energy and coal-fired power.

Renewable energy fees are not yet high enough to affect China’s competitiveness even in energy-intensive industries, said the chairman of a Chinese industrial company, who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of electricity rates in China.

Grid operators are unhappy. They are reimbursed for the extra cost of buying renewable energy instead of coal-fired power, but not for the formidable cost of building power lines to wind turbines and other renewable energy producers, many of them in remote, windswept areas. Transmission losses are high for sending power over long distances to cities, and nearly a third of China’s wind turbines are not yet connected to the national grid.

Most of these turbines were built only in the last year, however, and grid construction has not caught up. Under legislation passed by the Chinese legislature on Dec. 26, a grid operator that does not connect a renewable energy operation to the grid must pay that operation twice the value of the electricity that cannot be distributed.

With prices tumbling, China’s wind and solar industries are increasingly looking to sell equipment abroad — and facing complaints by Western companies that they have unfair advantages. When a Chinese company reached a deal in November to supply turbines for a big wind farm in Texas, there were calls in Congress to halt federal spending on imported equipment.

“Every country, including the United States and in Europe, wants a low cost of renewable energy,” said Ma Lingjuan, deputy managing director of China’s renewable energy association. “Now China has reached that level, but it gets criticized by the rest of the world.”

Huffington Post