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Tall Trees Most Vulnerable to Drought
From: Climate Progress  Posted: May 20th 2015

"The warming climate is creating a threat to global forests unlike any in recorded history." said Nathan McDowell, of the US Los Alamos' Earth and Environmental Sciences Division. He and Craig Allen of the USGS have just published a study in Nature that uses D'Arcy's Law to predict which type of vegetation will suffer most as drought increases with climate change.

D'Arcy's Law describes how moisture passes through a porous medium (e.g. wood). Most at risk they found are tall trees in older forests. That in turn may affect the storage of carbon in global forests, firstly because shorter trees statistically have less leaf area and so CO2 absorption is lower and secondly its storage as carbon compounds is greater. So large trees emit more GHGs if left to rot.

McDowell goes on to say "It’s going to be warmer and drier than those plants have ever experienced. It’s pushing plants into a new world that they’ve never experienced, and they just can't get up and walk." It seems that we not only need to keep a tight grip on deforestation, but also to plant copious quantities of trees that are less affected by low precipitation.


20 Turbine Tidal Power Array
From: Minesto  Posted: May 20th 2015

The Swedish company Minesto has been developing an underwater kite-like device called Deep Green, which generates electricity when it 'swims' in a tidal stream. The prototype has been under test in the narrow entrance to Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, where tides can run up to 7½ knots and there is only a short interval of slack water.

Now an array of larger, 0.5MW Deep Greens has been authorised and will be positioned around 7km west of South Stack Lighthouse on Holy Island, North Wales. 20 turbines will be deployed where the depth is 80-100m and the tide runs at around 3 to 4 knots, though the period of slack water is somewhat longer than at Strangford. Even so, the turbines should be generating electricity for 20 hours per day with very high predictability.

Since the turbines will be tethered to the sea-floor, they can be adjusted to 'fly' well below any marine traffic and out of the reach of rough seas. Nearby Holyhead will benefit from the initial requirement to install the equipment from relatively small vessels, from the work of monitoring and maintaining the turbines and from the electricity generated. If lifetime costs are proven to be competitive then here is a technology that has very little impact on the environment and has possibilities for much wider use.

Arctic Ice Melt Season Begins
From: Neven Acropolis  Posted: May 19th 2015

The Arctic melt season has begun and Neven brings us his usual selection of charts with one or two new ones for this year. His focus is firmly fixed on melt ponds for the moment since their surfaces should reflect less sunlight than white ice and so trap more heat which will melt more ice.

Indeed, there is some evidence that melt ponds are already forming in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. So expectations of considerable, maybe record ice loss are gaining ground. The hope is that record loss is further incontrovertible evidence of climate change and that the remaining denialists will be converted. But if a 97% consensus among climate scientists hasn't been convincing, then disappearing ice won't cut any ice either. (apologies)

The record low of sea-ice extent in 2012 led to speculation that the floating ice would virtually disappear within a few years. The years since then have mollified that view but interest remains high. The Arctic is studied much more closely than Antarctica because of the spectacular and visible loss and because it's more accessible from the northern hemisphere. Still, major ice loss is happening in Antarctica, too.


MIT Study: Solar Best for Reducing GHGs
From: Clean Technica  Posted: May 15th 2015

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the focus of US federal and state policies should be to underpin a massive scale-up of solar power generation. By doing so the US will substantially reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, whilst at the same time build an electricity generation and distribution system that will last well into the future.

The study recommends that the US move towards subsidies for actual electricity generation rather than subsidies for initial installations. The current US system offers 30% tax credits for domestic and commercial installations but will expire in 2016. MIT suggest that the US should then introduce feed-in tariffs (FITs) rather like Germany to encourage uptake.

A more controversial way to achieve growth of renewables in general would be to reduce or eliminate fossil fuel subsidies which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tell us are running at R120million per minute. Economist Lord Stern tells us that when climate change damage is properly evaluated, the IMF figure is a substantial underestimate. The oil and gas industries do not need this grotesque subsidy.


SA's Super Efficient Solar
From: The Guardian  Posted: May 13th 2015

Ripasso, a Swedish start-up company has brought together military and solar technology to produce an outstandingly efficient (34%) method of generating electricity from sunlight. The system needs to be located in areas of high or very high insolation. So, Ripasso have chosen a section of the Kalahari desert in Northern Province to test their technology.

Two prototype 11m diameter mirrors were built locally and are now working well in conjunction with Sterling engines that transform the reflected sunlight into heat, which powers traditional turbines. The company tells us that it is on the verge of producing its first commercial project, but we must wait and see whether they can compete with solar PV and whether storage can be easily incorporated.

Power towers such as Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes produce electricity at around three times the cost of the most competitive solar PV farms, but do have possibilities in terms of heat storage, so that even though high cost, an economic case can be made for them in a hybrid PV and CSP combination. The PV supplies power during daylight hours, whilst the CSP system prioritises supply after dark. If battery storage prices come down in leaps and bounds, as Tesla project, then the CSP element may become unnecessary.

An Encouraging Step Forward
From: MyBroadband  Posted: May 12th 2015

The SA government has announced a 2 year Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) into fracking whose project team will consist of experts from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Council for Geosciences (CGS). The team will be led by Dr. Bob Scholes.

The scope of the project will be to consider both the exploration and production related activities and impacts of shale gas development, including the process of hydraulic fracturing, and will include an assessment of all material social, economic and biophysical risks and the opportunities presented.

Professor Scholes will achieve wide support from the scientific community of SA and organisations such as our own. It is to be hoped that his team's efforts will shed much light on the realities of fracking and why so many countries and companies are shelving the technique for the time being. Government thinking, as it was expressed in the SEA announcement, clearly needs bringing up to date. Production of shale gas carries severe economic and environmental risks. Nor will it provide more employment opportunities than its competitors, but it will require massive investment in infrastructure which could rapidly become stranded assets.

Google Autonomous Vehicles Involved in 11 Accidents
From: Irish Times  Posted: May 12th 2015

Google has 20 autonomous vehicles on the roads of the USA. Together they have clocked more than 2.7million km., but they have been involved in 11 accidents, of which, according to Google, none have been self-caused. Seven of the eleven resulted from rear-end collisions. Perhaps drivers behind were so astonished at seeing a car without a driver, they simply forgot to brake!

Even trucks can be autonomous - they can stand rear-ending better, but for the moment, Daimler's idea of driver co-operation rather than driverless makes a good deal of sense. Deborah Lawrence takes a look at the possibilities of Uber and autonomous taxis, which seems like a much more sensible way for transportation to increase its efficiency. You just call for one and add your destination and a few minutes later it arrives, collects you and delivers you to wherever you wish to go. Then purrs away for the next customer.

Bike use continues to advance and new eBike models are arriving frequently. Ford's version is particularly interesting because it contains devices and software that can warn other road users of a bicycle in their proximity. Cargo bikes make much practical sense, too.

Apple to Bring Sustainability to its China Operations
From: Climate Progress  Posted: May 11th 2015

Apple has announced that a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund in China to manage 400,000 hectares of forestry in a sustainable manner. This follows its commitment of 3 weeks ago to build two 20MW solar farms, that will produce more electricity than its entire Chinese operations use. Currently 87% of Apple's global operations are powered by renewables and the solar farms will help it towards its goal of 100%.

The forestry project will help reduce China's imports of wood pulp, much of which comes from unmanaged deforestation in Indonesia, Vietnam and elsewhere. A reduction in deforestation is most welcome, but there remain questions about how sustainable is ultra-rapid forestry growth or the energy used in wood product processes, such as paper mills.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) tell us that not enough is being achieved globally to contain global warming to 2°C and even that target is likely to be challenged soon by leading climate scientists who believe it to be too high.


Strong El Niño Now Thought Likely
From: Mysinchew  Posted: May 8th 2015

El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO) and 12 months ago forecasters predicted that we would witness that phase. But it did not develop, mainly because the Pacific trade winds failed to weaken or reverse their direction.

So forecasters have been much more reluctant to predict an El Niño event this year. But it now looks likely that it is beginning and the signs are that it could be a strong event similar to the 1997 one that produced record global temperatures the following year.

Traditionally El Niño will produce increased risks of drought in Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. It could also deepen the current droughts in SA and Namibia. But the principal effect will be to increase global temperatures markedly and that will herald increased downsides of climate change like extreme weather events, wildfires and species loss.


What's Happening to our World
From: The Archdruid Report  Posted: May 6th 2015

John Michael Greer's image as a Druid is jovially perplexing, but whether you agree with his arguments or not, his writing is always well ordered and to the point. In this essay he predicts a declining US, at least for the many, and access to necessities we expect to take for granted like water and electricity, will become more restricted.

A short article in the Wall Street Journal predicts that demand for fossil fuels will peak over the next two decades, contrary to the forecasts being made by most conventional pundits. Has the WSJ been reading the Archdruid? Is the staid old publication coming around to the view that global resources are not infinite? Don't hold your breath!

Surprising though the UK election result was, there was another election in Alberta that maybe even surpassed that jaw-dropping outcome. The left-wing New Democratic Party ousted the 40 year incumbent Progressive Conservatives by a landslide. Was it that tackling climate change is an important part of their election manifesto and that Albertans are mindful of the great damage their tar sands are wreaking upon us? As James Hansen told us three years ago, if we exploit the tar-sands then it's game over for the climate. Here may be an opportunity to limit that damage.


Solar Lamps instead of Kerosene
From: The Guardian  Posted: May 5th 2015

Shack fires, usually caused by kerosene spills, are a commonplace in the peri-urban townships of South Africa. The shack owner's family often loses everything, sometimes being badly burned in the accident and the fire can spread to neighbours. Users of kerosene lamps can also suffer eye damage and respiration diseases, whilst the fuel costs a substantial portion of household income.

Use Solar, Save Lives is helping to provide a working solution with a solar lamp made from recycled materials and designed by Evans Wadongo who had personal experience of the problems in Kenya, where there are now 50,000 of the lamps, which cost $25 but which quickly pay for themselves.

Wadongo aims to make that a million lamps in sub-Saharan Africa within 3 years. Globally, kerosene lamps burn as much kerosene as the entire US jet fuel usage and since a litre of kerosene emits 2.6Kg of carbon dioxide when burnt, replacing a million lamps that burn 4 hours a day will save nearly 100,000 tons of CO2 per year.

Decidedly Shaky Economics
From: Deborah Lawrence  Posted: May 5th 2015

A flurry of comment has followed David Einhorn's break with the ranks of hedge fund managers who have been hyping fracking. Mr. Einhorn's presentation to the annual Sohn Investment Conference in New York included the statement "The banks are clearly incentivized to help the frac-addicts." and "We object to oil fracking because the investment can contaminate returns.". Fracking for oil is generally considered very much more profitable than fracking for gas. He referred to one shale company, Pioneer Resources, as the "Motherfrackers".

David Hughes has warned us that the US EIA is wildly optimistic in its forecast for future shale gas production and he takes a close look at what is occurring in the Marcellus. Production per well has remained static since 2011, a backlog of 550 wells remain unfracked and his forecast is that gas production will peak in 3 years time. The Marcellus is the only US shale gas play that is still growing. A significant part of what is happening is that frackers are focused on the few sweet spots first.

That gas fracking is uneconomic becomes clearer to many now. South Africa would have to build massively expensive infrastructure for a few years of supply and, at the same time take unacceptable risks with the environment.

Thin Ice
From: The Guardian  Posted: May 2nd 2015

The ice melting season has begun in the Arctic after a record low maximum earlier than usual at the end of February. Sea ice extent (area of sea-ice containing at least 15% ice) is well below even the record 2012 levels, though the latest PIOMAS data for volume does not show anything startlingly unusual yet.

The Guardian reports the tragedy of two Dutch researchers who have been lost after reporting thin ice to the north of Canada. Sadly their sled dog was found sitting on a flow close by their gear. Scientific American highlights the results of research into large waves breaking up pack ice in 2010 on the Barents Sea. The event was thought to be highly unusual, but as more open ocean is exposed it may be becoming more commonplace and contributing to ice loss.

Anecdotal evidence perhaps, but the effect is to increase interest in what is happening in our polar regions and in particular to the behaviour of Arctic sea-ice as it moves towards its minimum extent in September. Much of the impact of climate change in the northern hemisphere depends upon this ice loss and that of the Greenland ice-sheet.


Tesla's 'Missing Piece'
From: CNBC  Posted: May 1st 2015

Tesla's new product is the Powerwall home electricity storage unit range with so far 7kWh and 10kWh versions.The former retails at $3,000 and the latter $3,500 to installers. So the end-user will be paying a little over $400 per kWh, a little higher than was hoped. Nevertheless, a week after its announcement, the first year's production has been gobbled up by enthusiastic supporters. The product is aimed primarily at the US market which is heavily subsidised and where you can generate solar power during daytime and either use it after the sun has set or sell it to the electricity utility. Australia and Germany will also be likely initial markets.

The price is nevertheless is important because there are several competitors already in the market. Tesla, though, will have the advantage of the scale of its $5 billion 'gigafactory' which is due for completion in 2016. Currently in SA we cannot sell self-generated electricity to Eskom or to our municipalities. Hopefully that will change, since Eskom needs the additional, self-funded resource and locally generated, locally used electricity does not need heavy investment in distribution. Even if the barriers remain, with Eskom's prices set to rise steeply, many will look forward to the time that Tesla's prices drop and the economics of off-grid generation work in their favour.

Until battery storage improves its current life of around 10 years, we will see a restricted market in SA, but as that hurdle is overcome, so we will likely see the floodgates open until 10 years from now every home will be expected to contain this kind of storage.


Pollution Update
From: Climate Progress   Posted: April 30th 2015

A recent University of Maryland study reports that ethane concentrations have increased recently in the Baltimore/Washington area. The most likely source is natural gas production, particularly from fracking. But Maryland does not permit fracking. The trend appears to be linked with the rapidly increasing production in upwind, neighboring states, especially Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which are hundreds of kilometers away. Ethane causes nausea, headaches, and dizziness.

Earlier, a study of the carcinogenic and radioactive gas radon in Pennsylvania linked its increase in the period 2004/2013 to the simultaneous expansion of fracking in the state.

California's children are healthier as a consequence of the state insisting upon cleaner air, so a further study reveals. South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs deserves a major hat-tip for refusing Sasol's entreaties to be allowed to continue to harm our nation's health. Would that it could have the same success with Eskom.


The State of the Climate Debate
From: Ian Perrin  Posted: June 13th 2014

"Kevin Anderson's blog of 5th June examines the US commitment to cut its emissions by 30 percent by 2030 and concludes that: The maths accompanying obligations to avoid 'dangerous climate change' demand fundamental change rather than rousing rhetoric and incremental action."

" View a 7 minute video clip of Michael Mann explaining the IPCC's conservatism and note that even the IPCC tells us that South Africa can expect temperature increases of 3 to 5C, without emissions reduction and that in turn implies consequences for food production."

"Ezra Klein, until recently a highly regarded political commentator with the Washington Post, wrote a piece entitled '7 Reasons America will fail on climate change' and Joe Romm of Climate Progress responded. Here we look at each of his 'Reasons' in turn and Joe Romm's response to each. "


Obama: ‘If Congress Won’t Act Soon To Protect Future Generations, I Will’
From: Joe Romm  Posted: February 13th 2013

"For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense."

"We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late."

"I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."


TEDX study reveals more detail about the dangers of gas drilling
From Ian Perrin  Posted: 14th November 2012

"The study shows that air sampling near natural gas operations reveals numerous chemicals in the air, many associated with natural gas operations. Some of the highest concentrations in the study were from methane, ethane, propane, and other alkanes that occur as a result of natural gas operations"

"Although concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in this study appear low, they may have clinical significance."

We thank them sincerely on behalf of all South Africans for the effort they are making to understand the effects of drilling and fracking for natural gas that will result in better protection for our workers and communities alike. [Ian]

Greenhouse Gas Theory explained
From Ian Perrin  Posted: 24th October 2012

You might have gained the impression climate change caused by rising amounts of CO2 in our atmosphere is a contentious theory added only recently to our scientific understanding.

Not so – we can trace the basis for it all the way back to Isaac Newton's work in the early 1670's and the first, generally accepted theory around 1859, more than 150 years ago."

Here's our plain English version of the history of its development and some detail on the scientists involved.

We Must Heed James Hansen
From: Joe Romm & Michael Mann  Posted: 9th August 2012

"During the hot, dry summer of 1988, Hansen announced that 'it is time to stop waffling…. The evidence is pretty strong that the [human-amplified] greenhouse effect is here.'" Much criticism followed.

"Hansen, it turns out, was right, and the critics were wrong. Rather than being reckless, as some of his critics charged, his announcement to the world proved to be prescient – and his critics were proven overly cautious."

"Given the prescience of Hansen’s science, we would be unwise to ignore his latest, more dire warning."

"The time for debate about the reality of human-caused climate change has now passed. We can have a good faith debate about how to deal with the problem – how to reduce future climate change and adapt to what is already upon us to reduce the risks that climate change poses to society. But we can no longer simply bury our heads in the sand."

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