For James Hansen, the Science
Demands Activism on Climate
Climate scientist James Hansen has been a prominent figure in the global climate conversation for more than 40 years. His 1988 congressional testimony on climate change helped introduce the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions to the American public,
and he has led study after study examining how our world will change as a result of global warming. Eight years ago, Hansen made the rare decision to begin engaging in climate activism—a move that has earned him both praise and criticism from the media and scientific community. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
last week, Hansen opened up about his unconventional career path and what he believes the world could look like a century from now. “I don't think that I have been alarmist — maybe alarming, but I don't think I'm an alarmist,” he said. “We have a society in which most people have become unable to understand or appreciate science, and partly that's a communication problem, which we need to try to alleviate.”
Read the interview.
06 Apr 2016:
Half of World Heritage Sites Are
Threatened By Industrial Development
Since 1972, the United Nations has worked to protect 229 locations in 96 countries known for their “exceptional natural beauty” and “cultural significance.” These spots, known as World Heritage Sites,
The Great Barrier Reef
range from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, China’s panda sanctuaries, and the Grand Canyon in the United States. A new survey by the World Wildlife Fund, however, has found half of these sites are under threat
from oil and gas development, mining, illegal logging, overfishing, or other industrial activities. Eleven million people live in or near these sites, the report says, and depend on them for their housing, food, water, jobs, or ecosystem services like flood protection and CO2 sequestration. “We are not going to develop a just and prosperous future, nor defeat poverty and improve health, in a weakened or destroyed natural environment,” the authors wrote.
29 Mar 2016:
As U.S. Oil Production Increases,
More Americans At Risk of Man-Made Quakes
As U.S.-based production of oil and gas has boomed over the last decade, millions of gallons of chemical-laden wastewater has been pumped and stored deep underground.
The risk of experiencing an earthquake in 2016.
It turns out, however, that this disposal method—popular for fracking waste—is causing a spike in the number of earthquakes across the country, according to a new set of maps from the U.S. Geological Survey
. Seven million Americans are now at risk from man-made quakes, particularly in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas. "My first thought was actually, ‘Holy crap, Oklahoma is redder than California,’" USGS geologist Susan Hough told The Washington Post
about seeing the maps for the first time. Unlike California, however, most of these states don’t have earthquake-ready structures, experts said, so communities are having to update building codes and purchase new insurance.
18 Mar 2016:
Could Bread Mold Help
Improve Rechargeable Batteries?
A type of bread mold might just be a key to creating better rechargeable batteries, scientists reported in the journal Current Biology
Researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland discovered that the fungus Neurospora crassa
—known commonly as red bread mold—can transform manganese into a mineral composite with “excellent electrochemical properties” ideal for use in supercapacitors or lithium-ion batteries, said
Geoffrey Gadd, a microbiologist and lead author of the study. Those types of batteries are used to power everything from laptops to railways to solar energy systems. Scientists have long studied how to make batteries more powerful and sustainable and in an environmentally safer way, but this is the first time researchers have looked to mold as a possible solution.
Interview: How to Talk About
Young Conservatives for Energy Reform
Clean Energy With Conservatives
promotes a green energy agenda for Republicans. But the phrase “climate change” isn’t one you’ll find on the organization’s website.
Angel Garcia, the group’s national outreach coordinator, admits that pushing renewables in conservative circles is an uphill battle. “We have an ideology that seems like it’s ‘Drill, baby drill,’ with nothing else. So we have to fight against stereotypes that if you’re for clean energy, then you are not really a Republican.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Garcia says the Republican Party has a vested interest in embracing clean energy since the issue resonates with young conservatives. “As demographics shift, this is becoming a more important issue. So it’s better to get in front of the issue now and embrace it.”
Read the interview.
15 Mar 2016:
Obama Administration Pulls
Proposal to Drill in the Atlantic Ocean
The Obama administration withdrew its proposal to open up offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday.
Offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
The decision blocks drilling in the region until 2022 and comes after an outpouring of opposition
to the plan from environmental groups and mid-Atlantic coastal communities and businesses concerned about a possible spill like Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago. “Public pressure forced the administration to reverse course on Atlantic drilling," May Boeve, executive director of the environmental group 350.org, said in a statement. “We will continue to make the case that any new drilling is a stain on the president’s climate legacy and incompatible with the goals he committed to at the climate talks in Paris.”
11 Mar 2016:
Five Years After Nuclear Disaster
Fukushima Remains Highly Contaminated
It has been five years since a powerful earthquake and resulting tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
Regulators visit the Fukushima site in 2014.
While a few towns closed after the disaster have reopened and some locals have returned, groundwater en route to the ocean, as well as nearby soils, remains highly contaminated with radioactive waste. Toxic water and soil that has been removed by the cleanup project’s 8,000 workers sits in a growing number of storage tanks on the property, several of which have leaked. Radiation levels are so high that robots sent to clean up the power plant itself are reportedly malfunctioning
, their circuits fried. "Fukushima Dai-ichi is a complicated cleanup site," said
Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who now consults for the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the plant. "This will be a several-decades process of cleanup.”
08 Mar 2016:
JP Morgan Will No Longer Invest
In New Coal Mines, Citing Climate Change
JP Morgan will no longer finance new coal mines or support new coal-fired power plants in “high income” countries, the banking giant said
in a policy statement on its website.
Coal mine in Jharia, India
Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo have made similar pledges in recent months, all part of a larger divestment movement aimed at transitioning the world’s economies off fossil fuels. The anti-coal campaign has dealt a blow to an already struggling industry. The price of coal has dropped from $140 per ton in 2009 to $42 in 2016 as cheap, abundant natural gas and renewables have flooded the U.S. energy market. At the same time, support for climate action has grown, with the signing of an international climate agreement in Paris last December. “We believe the financial services sector has an important role to play as governments implement policies to combat climate change,” JPMorgan said
in the document.
03 Mar 2016:
Oregon To Eliminate Coal
From Its State Energy Mix by 2030
Oregon has become the first U.S. state to eliminate the use of coal by legislative action. Lawmakers at the statehouse
Oregon's only remaining coal plant, in Boardman
voted Wednesday to eliminate coal from the state’s energy supply by 2030, and to provide half of all customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040. The legislation was hammered out between the state’s two largest utilities and environmental groups. Clean energy groups praised the legislation as one of the strongest pieces of pro-climate legislation in the U.S. in years. “In terms of the coal phase-out, this really is precedent setting,” said Jeff Deyette
, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. There is only one coal plant currency operating in Oregon, and it is the state's largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
29 Feb 2016:
China's CO2 Emissions Fell in 2015 Due to Decline in Coal, Boost in Renewables
China's greenhouse gas emissions fell for the second year in a row in 2015, down 1 to 2 percent, according to a Greenpeace analysis
of new data released by China's National Bureau Statistics.
The Tangshanpeng Wind Farm in northern China.
China reduced its coal consumption 3.7 percent
in 2015, and installed 32.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 18.3 GW of solar power. The country's recent economic slowdown also helped reduce emissions. China is currently the world's largest emitter of CO2, responsible for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. At a UN climate conference in Paris in December, China pledged to peak its emissions by 2030 and boost renewables. "These statistics show that China is on track to far surpass its Paris climate targets," said Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior campaigner on coal for Greenpeace. "However, the trend is not moving as fast as it could."
26 Feb 2016:
California Natural Gas Leak Officially Largest Leak in U.S. History
The four-month natural gas leak that sickened hundreds of Los Angeles residents and forced the evacuations of 1,800 homes this winter has officially been deemed the largest methane leak in U.S. history, according to a study
in the journal Science
A natural gas facility in California's Aliso Canyon.
The California leak spewed a total 97,100 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, up to 60 tons per hour—the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 572,000 cars. Methane is a greenhouse gas dramatically more potent than carbon dioxide over a short time span. The researchers collected the data during 13 different flights through the leaking gas plume. The measurements were so high the scientists said they double-checked their recording devices. "It became obvious that there wasn't anything wrong with the instruments," said
Stephen Conley, an atmospheric scientists at the University of California-Davis who led the study. "This was just a huge event."
19 Feb 2016:
Growing Marijuana Consumes
Huge Amount of Energy, New Report Finds
The booming legal marijuana industry in the U.S. uses enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes with a staggering price tag of $6 billion every year, according to a new report
by the data analysis firm New Frontier.
Cannabis Training University
Growing cannabis requires huge amounts of energy
“Marijuana is the most energy-intensive agricultural commodity that we produce,” said John Kagia
, director of industry analytics for New Frontier, which specializes in cannabis industry research. “That’s largely because of the very high energy costs associated with its cultivation and production indoors.” The report adds to mounting concerns over marijuana’s massive ecological footprint
. Authors of the report said simple steps like switching to outdoor or greenhouse cultivation, installing more efficient lighting and monitoring energy use could significantly reduce the industry’s energy footprint.
10 Feb 2016:
Supreme Court Suspends
Obama's Coal Plant Emissions Cuts
The U.S. Supreme Court voted Tuesday to put on hold new federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from coal-fired
A coal-fired power plant
power plants, until a legal challenge by more than two dozen states and interest groups is complete. It is the first time the Supreme Court has granted a request to halt a regulation before its review by a federal appeals court. The 5-4 vote along ideological lines is a blow to the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, its strategy to combat climate change. Those challenging the regulations claim the new rules, which are to be enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, would have a devastating economic impact. The White House says it expects the regulations to survive legal challenges. The plan, designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is the main tool for the U.S. to meet CO2 reduction targets pledged at the December climate talks in Paris.
08 Feb 2016:
West Virginia Flatter
After Decades of Mountaintop Removal
Decades of mountaintop coal mining have substantially altered the topography of central Appalachia, according to new
esearch by Duke University
Appalachian mountain and valley affected by mining
. Areas affected by mining are as much as 60 percent flatter than they were pre-mining. In mountaintop mining, bedrock is blasted away
to uncover coal seams below the surface. In addition to mountains reduced in height, the valleys are also affected; they can be substantially shallower after mining debris is deposited in them. The fill can be as deep as 200 meters, which can significantly alter water flow and contamination as well. "The depth of these impacts is changing the way the geology, water, and vegetation interact in fundamental ways that are likely to persist far longer than other forms of land use," said Emily Bernhardt, a professor of biology at Duke and co-author on the study.
03 Feb 2016:
China’s Wind Power Sector
Experienced Rapid Growth in 2015
China installed nearly half of all new global wind power generation
last year and added as much new wind energy capacity in one year as the total capacity of the leading U.S. wind-producing states — Texas, Iowa, and California. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that China installed nearly 29 gigawatts of new wind-power capacity last year, surpassing the previous record of 21 gigawatts in 2014. China’s new wind energy capacity dwarfed the next-largest market, the United States, which added 8.6 gigawatts in 2015. Analysts said China’s wind sector grew rapidly because of declining manufacturing and installation costs, generous government feed-in tariffs, improving transmission capacity, and the government’s campaign to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants.
02 Feb 2016:
General Electric Joins
The Move From CFL Bulbs to LEDs
General Electric, a leader in the lighting market, has announced that it will stop manufacturing compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs by the end of the year and
increasingly shift production to LED
(light emitting diode) bulbs, which last longer, produce a better-quality light, and are rapidly declining in price. The move highlights a trend away from CFL bulbs, which several years ago were the go-to choice for energy-saving bulbs to replace energy-intensive incandescent light bulbs. “Now is the right time to transition from CFL to LED,” said GE lighting executive John Strainic. The price of an LED bulb has fallen from $30 to $5 in recent years and continues to decline. Retail giant Ikea abandoned CFL bulbs last year and now sells only LED lights, and other major retailers like Walmart are expected to follow suit — a move welcomed by environmental groups, which laud the large energy savings from LEDs.
27 Jan 2016:
Rush to Electric Vehicles
Is Worsening Air Pollution in China
The push by the Chinese government and the country’s automakers to expand production of electric vehicles is actually worsening air pollution
and carbon emissions because most of China’s electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants, new studies show. Thanks to government incentives, production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is expected to grow six-fold to two million cars and trucks by 2020. But studies by researchers at Tsinghua University show that electric vehicles charged in China with coal-fired power produce two to five times as many particulates and other pollutants as gasoline cars. The Tsinghua studies call into question the government policy of promoting deployment of electric vehicles while the vast majority of the country’s electricity still comes from coal. “International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said one analyst. “Clean up the power plants.”
26 Jan 2016:
Cost of Manufacturing Solar
Panels Is Projected to Continue Falling
The cost of manufacturing solar panels is dropping more quickly than previously predicted, putting solar energy on course to meet
20 percent of global energy demand by 2027, according to Oxford University mathematicians, who developed a new forecasting model
. By contrast, the International Energy Agency’s predictions are far more conservative, stating that by 2050, solar panels will generate just 16 percent of global energy demand. The Oxford researchers' model predicts solar panel costs will continue to decrease 10 percent a year for the foreseeable future. Their model draws on historical data from 53 different technologies. The findings should help refute claims that solar PV cannot be ramped up quickly enough, said Oxford's Doyne Farmer, who co-wrote the paper. “We put ourselves in the past, pretended we didn’t know the future, and used a simple method to forecast the costs of the technologies,” he said.
25 Jan 2016:
Massive Transformation to Clean
Energy in the U.S. is Possible, Study Says
A rapid and affordable transformation to wind and solar energy within 15 years is possible in the U.S., according to a new study by NOAA
Map showing U.S. wind energy potential
and University of Colorado Boulder researchers published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. This energy transformation could slash greenhouse emissions by as much as 78 percent below 1990 levels, the study said. One of the biggest issues with weather-related power generation is its inherent intermittent nature, leading utilities to rely on gas-fired generators and other reserves during cloudy or low-wind periods. The solution to this problem is to scale up renewable energy generation systems to match the scale of weather systems, the scientists said. The model partially depends on significant improvements to the nation’s outdated electrical grid, including the creation of new, high-voltage direct-current transmissions lines.
12 Jan 2016:
US Coal Production Drops to
30-Year Low in 2015, According to EIA
Coal production in the United States has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration
A coal mine in Wyoming
Coal production for 2015 was about 900 million short tons, which is 10 percent lower than the year before, and the lowest since 1986, the EIA reported. Production in the Central Appalachian Basin has fallen the most, largely due to difficult mining geology and high operating costs. Domestically almost all coal is used to generate electricity, and demand has fallen as the market share of natural gas and renewables has increased. Low natural gas prices, a decline in U.S. coal exports, and federal environmental regulations have all contributed to declining coal demand, the EIA said. Coal is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
11 Jan 2016:
Scientists Warn of Biodiversity
Impacts of Major Hydropower Projects
Hydropower is considered by many to be a key ingredient to reducing carbon emissions and meeting global climate goals,
The Belo Monte dam under construction in the Amazon
but it comes at a great cost to biodiversity, particularly in tropical rainforests, according to a new report
published in the journal Science
. “Far too often in developing tropical countries, major hydropower projects have been approved and their construction begun before any serious assessments of environmental and socioeconomic impacts had been conducted,” says the report's lead author Kirk Winemiller, an aquatic ecologist at Texas A&M University. The dam-building rush, with more than 450 dams planned for the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong river basins alone, impedes tropical fish migration and vastly expands deforestation due to road construction, according to the authors. Other concerns include development of previously inaccessible terrain, as well as methane emissions from newly built reservoirs.
07 Jan 2016:
New Device Harvests Energy From
Walking and Exercising, Researchers Say
Researchers at MIT have developed a new method
for harnessing energy
generated by very small bending motions, which could be capable
Schematic of new human energy harvester
of harvesting power from a broader range of natural human activities such as walking and exercising. Based on electrochemical principles — the slight bending of a sandwich of metal and polymer sheets, with materials similar to those in lithium ion batteries — the new technology can more effectively capture energy from human motions than previous devices. Those devices, which were based on frictional technology or the compression of crystalline materials, can capture energy from mechanical vibrations, but they are not as compatible with the pace of human movements, the researchers explain in the journal Nature Communications
. When bent even a very small amount, the new layered composite produces a pressure difference that squeezes lithium ions through a polymer. The process produces alternating electrical current, the researchers say, which can be used directly to power devices such as cell phones and audio players.
06 Jan 2016:
Graphene Membrane Can Clean
Nuclear Wastewater, New Research Shows
Microscopic graphene membranes can effectively filter radioactive particles from nuclear reactor wastewater
Microscopic image of graphene membrane
at room temperature, researchers from the University of Manchester have shown. Writing in the journal Science
, the researchers demonstrated that graphene membranes can act as a sieve, separating different varieties of hydrogen — both radioactive and non-radioactive isotopes — from water. The new technology could also be scaled to produce significant amounts of so-called "heavy water," which is a non-radioactive component that is required in large quantities to produce nuclear energy. The graphene technology is 10 times cheaper and more efficient than current methods of producing heavy water. "This is really the first membrane shown to distinguish between subatomic particles," said University of Manchester researcher Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo.
04 Jan 2016:
More Than Half of Power Plants Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
04 Jan 2016:
More than Half of Power Plants
Could be Hampered by Climate Change
More than 60 percent of the world's power plants could be hampered by changes in climate and water distribution by the middle
Canada's Toba Montrose hydroelectric project
of the century, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants — nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants that convert heat to electricity — rely on freshwater from rivers and streams to produce energy and effectively cool equipment. Together, these types of power plants produce 98 percent of the world's electricity, the researchers note. Changes in climate that lead to water shortages and increased water temperatures will affect electricity generation in some regions more than others — the U.S., southern South America, southern Africa, and parts of Europe are particularly vulnerable, says lead researcher Michelle Van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She notes that adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible — such as switching from freshwater cooling to air or seawater cooling — could mitigate the decline.
23 Dec 2015:
Congressional Tax Credits
Expected to Further Boost U.S. Renewables
The renewable energy sector in the United States is finishing 2015 on a high note as Congress has voted to approve significant extensions for tax credits
for renewable energy, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported a surge in wind power installations.
Ending uncertainty about the fate of tax credits for the wind and solar industries, Congress has voted to extend investment tax credits for solar power and production tax credits for wind energy through 2022 and 2020, respectively. Renewable energy companies and analysts praised the extensions, saying that, coupled with rapidly falling prices for wind and solar energy technologies, the tax credits virtually guarantee a boom in the production of renewables in the U.S. Earlier this week, the AWEA said U.S. wind energy production has reached a milestone, with 50,000 turbines providing a generating capacity of 70 gigawatts — enough to power 19 million homes.
16 Dec 2015:
Five Questions for Bill McKibben
On the Paris Climate Agreement
Activist Bill McKibben was a visible presence during the climate conference in Paris, urging for strong action. Yale Environment 360
caught up with McKibben, the founder of 350.org
, after an agreement was reached and asked him five question about Paris and the road beyond. While the Paris accord “didn’t save the planet,” McKibben says, “it may have saved the chance to save it – that is, it didn’t foreclose the possibility. Actually getting anywhere will now require massive organizing to hold leaders to their promises.”
15 Dec 2015:
China Anti-Pollution Efforts
Lead to Steep Drop in Sulfur Dioxide Levels
Emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that threatens human health and causes acid rain, have dropped sharply in the last decade
China's sulfur pollution has decreased in recent years.
in China, thanks to aggressive air pollution control initiatives by the Chinese government. As these NASA images show, levels of sulfur dioxide in China fell significantly from 2005 to 2014, while emissions of the gas increased in India during the same period. From 2012 to 2014, Chinese SO2 emissions fell especially sharply, by 50 percent. The steady drop in emissions of the noxious gas, released during the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, can be attributed to pollution control measures enacted before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the widespread installation of flue gas desulfurication devices on power plants, the switch to coal with a lower sulfur content, and the closing of coal-fired power plants in favor of less-polluting energy sources such as natural gas, wind, and solar power. India’s sulfur dioxide emissions have risen because of the rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants.
12 Dec 2015:
Landmark Agreement on Climate
Is Reached in Paris to Cap Warming
Climate negotiators meeting in Paris have achieved a deal
that could change the world. The Paris Agreement commits the
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders
international community to capping global warming to "well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C." To achieve that, the agreement requires the world to "reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" and "to undertake rapid reductions thereafter, in accordance with best available science." The intention is to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the second half of this century. "This agreement is a turning point," said Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Center.
10 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: An Unexpected Move
Toward Global Target of 1.5 Degrees
It is the big surprise of the Paris talks: the growing acceptance of a call from small nations most vulnerable to climate change
for the conference to declare warming should be halted at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even a few months ago, this seemed unimaginable. Two degrees was the only target on the table. But here it has gained momentum with more than 100 nations, including the U.S. and the EU, agreeing it should be in the final agreement. With more than a day of talks remaining, inclusion is far from a done deal. But it has strong support. A 1.5-degree target “looks much more scientifically justifiable,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Institute.