29 Jun 2016:
U.S. Solar Energy Market
Experiencing an Unprecedented Boom
Thanks to a renewal of federal tax credits and a continuing steep drop in the price of photovoltaic panels, U.S. solar energy production is surging to record highs.
New market reports show that the U.S. solar industry is expected to install 14.5 gigawatts of solar power in 2016, nearly double the record 7.5 gigawatts installed last year. (Less than 1 gigawatt of solar power was installed in 2010.) Revenues from solar installations increased 21 percent from 2014 to 2015, surpassing $22 billion. In terms of megawatts of electricity produced, new solar installations are expected in 2016 to surpass all other new sources, including natural gas-fired power plants. The extension of a 30-percent federal tax credit and a sharp drop in prices — the wholesale price of solar panels has fallen from $4 per watt in 2008 to $0.65 per watt today — are contributing to the boom. U.S.-based Solar World is building a giant solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York that is expected to employ 3,500 people.
28 Jun 2016:
U.S., Canada, and Mexico to
Set 50 Percent Renewable Power Goal by 2025
The United States, Canada, and Mexico will pledge on Wednesday to generate 50 percent of their electricity
from non-fossil fuel sources by 2025, according to U.S. officials. The three nations are expected to set the ambitious goal at a North American Leaders Summit in Ottawa. The commitment includes not just renewable sources of power such as energy and wind, but also hydropower, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants, and gains in energy efficiency. Under that definition, the three nations now produce 37 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Canada is leading the way in non-fossil fuel power generation, with 59 percent of its electricity coming from hydropower and 16 percent from nuclear plants. Continent-wide cooperation on clean energy issues has improved since the election last year of Justin Trudeau as Canada’s Prime Minister.
27 Jun 2016:
Abandoned Coal Mines Emit
As Much CO2 as a Small Power Plant
Thousands of abandoned coal mines dot the U.S. landscape, vestiges of old fossil fuel boomtowns and industrial hubs.
An abandoned coal mine in Ashland, Penn.
But despite no longer producing coal, these sites are still contributing to climate change by leaking carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a recent study by scientists at West Virginia University
. The total amount of CO2 released annually by 140 abandoned sites in Pennsylvania is equal to that “of a small coal-fired power plant,” says the study, published in Environmental Earth Sciences
. CO2 is created when sulfuric acid generated during the mining process interacts with carbonate rocks. It is then carried to the surface
in runoff water. “Although considerable research has been conducted regarding the environmental legacy of abandoned mine lands, their role in carbon cycling is poorly [understood],” wrote the scientists. The findings “suggest that these waters may be important to carbon cycling on a regional scale.”
24 Jun 2016:
Cities on Six Continents
Join Forces to Combat Climate Change
Mayors from more than 7,100 cities on six continents announced this week
that they are creating a new alliance to fight climate change at the local level.
New York City
The new group — a merger of the European Union-based Covenant of Mayors and the United Nations-backed Compact of Mayors — represents a combined 600 million people in 119 countries. The initiative aims to set city-based CO2 emissions cuts, build sustainable communities, and foster the sharing of resiliency policies and technologies. “Cities are key to solving the climate change challenge,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in The Guardian
. “They account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, and mayors often have control over the largest sources. Cities can also act quickly to confront climate change, without the political and bureaucratic hurdles that often hold back national governments.”
Unable to Endure Rising Seas,
Alaskan Villages Stuck in Limbo
A number of Alaska Native villages have been impacted so severely by sea-level rise and other climate-induced threats, they have decided to relocate.
But there is no U.S. agency designated to help pay for and implement an entire community’s move. Robin Bronen, a senior scientist with The Institute of Arctic Biology
at the University of Alaska, says that’s a huge problem. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she explains that because there is no government process to facilitate such relocations, none of these villages have been able to move, despite their resolve to do so. And in a bureaucratic Catch-22, these communities no longer receive the infrastructure repair funds they were once entitled to. Pointing to future sea level rise along U.S. coasts, Bronen says that “if we don't figure out how to create this relocation institutional framework, we're talking about humanitarian crises for millions of people living in the United States.”
Read the interview.
22 Jun 2016:
New NASA Visualization
Illustrates Severity of Recent Texas Floods
Texas experienced record flooding earlier this month after two weeks of near-constant storms dumped heavy rain on the eastern part of the state.
Rainfall accumulation during recent Texas floods.
As much as 30 inches of rain fell, causing thousands of residents from Dallas to Houston to evacuate, 15 deaths, and billions of dollars in damage. Now, NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio has released a video illustrating rainfall accumulation
in the U.S. from May 27 to June 9, highlighting just how severe and protracted the Texas storms were. Warmer air holds more moisture, so as temperatures have risen in recent decades, Texas has experienced more severe flooding. Houston, for example, has seen a 167 percent increase in the heaviest downpours
since the 1950s. Five major floods have occurred in the Houston area in the past year.
17 Jun 2016:
California’s Roadside Trees
Provide $1 Billion in Municipal Services
The trees that line California’s streets and boulevards are worth an estimated $1 billion a year for the work they do in removing air pollution, storing CO2, cooling homes, and reducing rain runoff, among other municipal services,
Palm trees in Los Angeles, California.
according to a new analysis
by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis. The state’s 9.1 million street trees pull nearly 568,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, equal to taking 120,000 cars off the road, the study, published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening
, found. The scientists say California has room to put another 16 million trees along its roads if it wants. "We've calculated for every $1 spent on planting or maintaining a street tree, that tree returns, on average, $5.82 in benefits," forester and lead author Greg McPherson said in a statement
. "These trees are benefiting their communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
15 Jun 2016:
Clean Energy Could Cost Up To
59 Percent Less by 2025, Report Finds
The cost of solar energy could drop by as much as 59 percent by 2025, from 13 cents to 6 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency
Rooftop solar panels in Hannover, Germany.
Offshore wind could become 35 percent cheaper, and onshore wind 26 percent cheaper, by 2025. The cost of building renewable energy facilities is also likely to fall, by as much as 57 percent by the middle of next decade, the report found. “Historically, cost has been cited as one of the primary barriers to switching from fossil-based energy sources to renewable energy sources, but the narrative has now changed,” Adnan Z. Amin, director-general of IRENA, said in a statement
. “To continue driving the energy transition, we must now shift policy focus to support areas that will result in even greater cost declines and thus maximize the tremendous economic opportunity at hand.”
14 Jun 2016:
CO2 Crosses 400 ppm For Last
Time “Within Our Lifetimes,” Study Warns
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will stay permanently above 400 parts per million (ppm) this year due to El Nino—and will likely not drop below that number again “within our lifetimes,” according to a study published this week in the journal Nature
CO2 measurements from 1958 to today.
The milestone represents a symbolic threshold that scientists and environmentalists had long sought to avoid. Greenhouse gases have jumped 48 percent from the pre-industrial era, and 29 percent in just the past 60 years, from 315 ppm to 407 ppm today. CO2 concentrations tend to ebb and flow with the seasons, dipping as vegetation grows in summer and increasing during winter. But in the study published in Nature
, scientists at the U.K.’s Met Office and University of California, San Diego warned that because of the recent El Nino, CO2 concentrations wouldn’t fall below 400 ppm this year, or any year into the distant future.
10 Jun 2016:
Researchers Find a Way to Turn
CO2 Into Rock at Iceland Power Plant
Scientists have discovered a new way to successfully capture carbon dioxide and transform it into rock deep underground. The experiment, published in this week’s Science
Section of rock made from mixing CO2 and water.
was conducted at the Hellisheidi power plant in Iceland, the world’s largest geothermal facility. When the plant — which helps power Iceland’s capital, Revkjavik — pumps up volcanically heated water to turbines, gases like carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide often come up as well. A team of U.S. and European researchers, led by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, captured the CO2, mixed it with the used volcanic water, and re-injected it into basalt rocks up to a half-mile underground. More than 95 percent of the mixture naturally solidified into carbonate minerals in less than two years. Previous estimates predicted that the process could take hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
08 Jun 2016:
Sea Ice Hits New Spring Low
In the Arctic, Says Federal Agency
Sea ice extent in the Arctic hit a new record spring low last month, measuring 537,000 square miles below average — an area twice the size of Texas, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced this week
Sea ice breaking up in the Beaufort Sea in May.
Last month’s Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest May sea ice measurement since satellite monitoring began 38 years ago and follows a string of record low ice this winter. “We didn’t just break the old May record, we’re way below the previous one,” NSIDC Director Mark Serreze told Climate Central
. The Arctic’s snow cover also hit record lows this year, with April having the lowest snow cover for that month on record and May the fourth lowest. The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world in recent decades, but scientists say that this year’s strong El Niño in the Pacific Ocean could be ramping up temperatures even more. Temperatures at the pole have been 4 to 11 degrees F above average
this winter. “Will we end up with very low sea ice extent this September?” Serreze said. “I think pretty much absolutely.”
03 Jun 2016:
Increasing Hurricane Damage
Could Strain U.S. Emergency Relief Budget
As hurricane season in the U.S. officially got underway this week, federal financial experts warned that damage from tropical storms will “increase significantly in the coming decades” due to human-driven climate change, and that such a trend could threaten the national emergency relief budget.
New Jersey National Guard
“Over time, the costs associated with hurricane damage will increase more rapidly than the economy will grow,” the report from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office states
. Right now, damage from hurricanes amounts to 0.16 percent of the U.S. GDP, or about $28 billion. As sea levels rise, intense storms become more frequent, and coastal development continues, the report estimates this share could reach .25 percent ($45 billion in today’s economy) by 2075. The federal agency suggested that one way to cut costs is “a coordinated effort to significantly reduce global emissions.”
01 Jun 2016:
Climate Change Could Be Making
Food Crops More Toxic, UN Report Says
As extreme weather increases in frequency and intensity, food crops are producing more chemical compounds that can be toxic to humans in large doses, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme
Crops such as wheat, maize, and soybeans generate these compounds as a natural response to environmental stressors, such as drought, floods or heat waves. But when consumed by humans for extended periods of time, they can cause illnesses like neurological diseases or cancer, according to the study. One example, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports
, is nitrate. Drought slows down plants’ conversion of nitrates into amino acids and proteins, leading to a build up of the compound. When consumed in large quantities, nitrates stop red blood cells from transporting oxygen in the human body. "We are just beginning to recognize the magnitude of toxin- related issues confronting farmers in developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics," the UNEP report noted.
26 May 2016:
More Solar Energy Jobs Exist
In U.S. Than in Oil and Gas Sector
Solar energy now supports more jobs in the U.S. than either the oil and gas industry or coal mining, according to a new report
from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Solar jobs grew at a rate 12 times faster than general U.S. job market growth. Worldwide, employment in green energy grew 5 percent in 2015, to 8.1 million jobs, IRENA reported. The 58 percent drop in oil prices since 2014
caused many fossil fuel companies to lay off workers — more than 350,000 people worldwide since the slump began. The IRENA report says clean energy jobs could triple to 24 million by 2030 if nations follow through on the climate pledges they made in Paris last year. “This increase is being driven by declining renewable energy technology costs and enabling policy frameworks,” said Adnan Amin, director-general of IRENA.
25 May 2016:
Could This Straddling Bus Help
Solve China’s Air Pollution Problem?
With an estimated 20 million new drivers on the road each year, China has long struggled to control its CO2 emissions, air pollution, and traffic problems.
But a Beijing-based transit company is planning to test a new straddling bus this summer
that could provide some relief, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua. The bus, which can carry up to 1,400 passengers, hovers above the road, letting smaller vehicles pass underneath. Because it operates on existing roadways, the system is much cheaper to build than underground subways, while carrying the same number of people. The idea of a straddling bus has been around since 1969
, but has remained a far-fetched concept until recent years. A model of the system, designed by Transit Explore Bus, was unveiled at the International High-Tech Expo in Beijing this month. The company plans to build and test an actual straddling bus in Changzhou this summer.
23 May 2016:
World Could Warm 8 Degrees
Celsius If All Fossil Fuel Reserves Burned
As nations meet in Bonn, Germany this week to hash out how to achieve the 2-degree Celsius goal they set in Paris, new research is providing policymakers a glimpse of what would happen if the world does nothing to curb climate change.
What if nations chose instead to burn through all of their remaining fossil fuel reserves, equal to 5 trillion tons of CO2 emissions? According to the new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the world would warm an average 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees F), or up to 17 degrees Celsius (30 degrees F) in the Arctic. The research was conducted by a team of climate scientists at the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who wanted to understand the worst-case scenario. “Such climate changes, if realized, would have extremely profound impacts on ecosystems, human health, agriculture, economies, and other sectors,” the researchers write.
Interview: CO2 'Air Capture' Could
Be Key to Slowing Global Warming
For two decades, Klaus Lackner has pioneered efforts to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Now, after years of watching the global community fail to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control, Lackner — director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University — is delivering a blunt message: The best hope to avoid major disruptions from global warming is to launch a massive program of CO2 "air capture" that will begin to reverse the buildup of billions of tons of carbon in our atmosphere. "We need to have the ability to walk this backwards," says Lackner. "I'm saying this is a war, and we need to use all the weapons at our disposal. You don't want to get into this fight with one hand tied behind your back."
Read the interview.
20 May 2016:
Obama Looking for Kids
As Science Advisors to the White House
White House advisors tend to be experts with decades of experience in specific fields, from foreign policy to education to energy.
Chuck Kennedy/White House
But President Barack Obama announced this week
he’s looking for a much younger batch of consultants to advise the White House on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The Kid Science Advisors outreach program will ask children which issues are most important to them and how to better engage students studying science to help guide White House policy and priorities. "The real reason we do this, as I’ve said before, is to teach our young people that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl or the NCAA tournament that deserves a celebration,” Obama said Thursday
. “We want those who have invented the products and lifesaving medicines and are engineering our future to be celebrated as well."
17 May 2016:
Norwegian Company Building
The World’s Largest Floating Wind Farm
Scotland is about to get the world’s largest floating wind farm, with five 6-megawatt turbines bobbing 15 miles offshore in the North Sea.
The project—which is being developed by Statoil, a Norwegian energy company—marks a shift in offshore wind technology. Most ocean-based turbines to date have been rooted to the sea floor by concrete and steel foundations, similar to oil and gas rigs. But this design limits the projects to shallower waters. Statoil’s floating turbines, known at Hywind, consist of a steel cylinder filled with ballast water and stones, and are tethered to the sea floor by a series of cables. The company, which was granted a lease to build the wind farm this week
, will install the Scotland project in water more than 300 feet deep. The plan is for the wind farm to start generating electricity by the end of 2017.
12 May 2016:
Despite Push for Renewables,
Fossil Fuels Likely to Dominate in 2040
World leaders pledged last year in Paris to cut CO2 emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Despite these promises, U.S. analysts said Wednesday
that fossil fuels
— including coal — will still likely be the world’s primary source of energy in 2040. The findings are part of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual World Energy Outlook report. Electricity from wind, solar, and hydropower will grow 2.9 percent annually, the report concluded, and by 2040, renewables, coal, and natural gas will each generate one-third of the world’s electricity. But diesel and gasoline will still power the majority of vehicles, with electric cars making up only 1 percent of the market, the report said. The report also found that carbon emissions from energy consumption in the developing world could grow 51 percent from 2012 to 2040
as countries like India and China modernize their economies, particularly by using coal.
Bringing Energy Upgrades
To the Nation’s Inner Cities
America’s low-income urban areas are filled with aging buildings that are notoriously energy-inefficient. It’s a problem that Donnel Baird sees as an opportunity. Baird is CEO and cofounder of BlocPower,
a startup that markets and finances energy-upgrade projects in financially underserved areas. Founded in 2013 with venture capital seed money, BlocPower bundles small energy-improvement projects together — from barber shops to churches —and sells them to potential investors. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Baird describes how BlocPower’s projects not only create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, but also raise awareness of global warming in inner-city communities. “It is not possible for the climate change movement to win anything significant without the participation of people of color,” says Baird.
Read the interview.
10 May 2016:
More than 2,000 New
Plant Species Are Found Every Year
There are currently 391,000 plant species known to science—and another 2,000 are being discovered every year, according to a new report from the U.K.’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Last year’s new discoveries included a nearly five-foot tall carnivorous plant first identified on Facebook, a 105-ton tree in West Africa, and 90 new species of Begonia flowers. Brazil, Australia, and China were hotspots for species discovery. The State of the World’s Plants
report did find, however, that one-fifth of the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction from habitat loss, disease, invasive species, and climate change. “Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew, told The Guardian
. “Plants provide us with everything — food, fuel, medicines, timber, and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.”
06 May 2016:
Alberta Wildfire Could Unlock
Vast Reserves of CO2 from Permafrost
A massive wildfire raging in the heart of Canada’s tar sands region has forced 88,000 people from their homes
, scorched more than 1,600 buildings,
and caused several fossil fuel companies to reduce operations and shut down pipelines. The fire — fueled by above-average temperatures
and dry conditions linked to climate change — burned through more than 330 square miles of land in Alberta in just a few days. Now, scientists are warning the fire, and the many others like it that Canada has experienced in recent years, could unlock vast reserves of CO2 stored in the region’s underlying permafrost. Fire destroys the protective layer of vegetation that keeps permafrost frozen, and warm conditions spur microbial activity, generating CO2 and methane emissions. “This is carbon that the ecosystem has not seen for thousands of years and now it’s being released into the atmosphere,” Merritt Turetsky, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, told the New Scientist
05 May 2016:
With Climate Change, It Is
Survival of the Oldest, Not the Fittest
When it comes to climate change, the world’s oldest species are more likely to survive than newly evolved ones, says a new study
published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology
The logic is relatively simple: The reason they’re so old is that they’ve been tested by abrupt environmental shifts before and have come out on top. This group includes species like the cane toad and California sea lion. More specifically, the study found the planet’s oldest animals all share at least one of the following characteristics: They come in various colors, give birth to live young (as opposed to eggs), and live at low latitudes. The research could help “predict which [species] could be better able to deal with current climate change and to better predict the threat status of species on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” said
Sylvain Dubey, an ecologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and co-author of the new study.
04 May 2016:
Extreme Heat Could Make Parts of
Middle East Uninhabitable by Mid-Century
Climate change could make parts of the Middle East and North Africa uninhabitable by mid-century, driving average daytime summer temperatures as high as 114 degrees F, according to new research
published in the journal Climatic Change
(For comparison, that is equal to the average maximum temperature in California’s Death Valley.) Heat waves in the region will occur 10 times more often and last longer, the study found. The number of extremely hot days per year could jump from 16 today, to 80 in 2050, to 118 in 2100, possibly leading to mass emigration from the region, said
Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and lead author of the new study. “In future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy," Lelieveld said.
From Mass Coral Bleaching,
A Scientist Looks for Lessons
Twice a year, Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb travels to Christmas Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to collect samples from coral reefs to better understand past and future climate change.
But when Cobb arrived on the island earlier this month, she was stunned. The corals she had spent the past 18 years studying were largely dead or dying. The scene has become a familiar one across the Pacific and Indian oceans this year as a record-breaking El Niño drove up water temperatures and caused fragile coral reef systems to bleach from stress or die. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Cobb talked about the recent bleaching event, the race to make reefs more resilient, and how coral records could improve short-term climate projections. “What you think reefs might be experiencing in 20 years,” she says, “they're experiencing now.” Read the interview.
26 Apr 2016:
Historical Citizen-Scientists’ Ice
Records Confirm Global Temperature Rise
Centuries-old records from Japanese priests and European shipping merchants are helping scientists confirm that the earth has warmed substantially — and freshwater ice formation significantly decreased — since the Industrial Revolution.
These early record keepers tracked annual freeze dates and the breakup of ice each spring on lakes and rivers for hundreds of years, beginning in the 1440s in Japan and 1690s in Finland. The data represents the oldest known inland ice records. An international team of scientists published a study this week in Nature Scientific Reports
examining how ice behavior changed over the records’ years. They found that from 1443 to 1683, for example, the annual freeze date of Lake Suwa in Japan moved back 0.19 days per decade. From the start of the Industrial Revolution, however, that trend grew 24 times faster, pushing back the date of ice formation on the lake by 4.6 days per decade.
22 Apr 2016:
Brazilian Officials Put a
Hold on Mega-Dam Project in the Amazon
A proposed 8,000-megawatt hydroelectric dam in the Amazon was put on hold this week by Brazil’s environmental agency out of concerns over its impact on a local indigenous tribe.
The São Luiz do Tapajós project — which would be Brazil’s second-largest dam and a cornerstone of government efforts to expand hydroelectric power — would require developers to flood an area the size of New York City and home to thousands of Munduruku people. The environmental agency, Ibama, said they were suspending the project’s licensing because of “the infeasibility of the project from the prospective of indigenous issues.” Brent Millikan, the Amazon program director for International Rivers, told Reuters
, "The areas that would have been flooded include sites of important religious and cultural significance. The local communities have a huge amount of knowledge about the resources where they are — if they were forced off the land and into cities they would become unskilled workers."
20 Apr 2016:
Entries Invited for Third
Annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest
The third annual Yale Environment 360
Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the year's best environmental videos. Submissions must focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and be a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Deadline for entries is June 10, 2016. Read More.
18 Apr 2016:
The Complicated Case of
Global Warming’s Impact on Agriculture
Scientists have long debated whether climate change could help or hurt the world’s agricultural systems. Theoretically, additional CO2 in the atmosphere should help fuel crop growth.
A farmer plows his fields in southern India.
But global warming’s other impacts, such as shifting rain patterns, higher temperatures, and extreme weather, could reduce crop yields. A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change
by researchers in a half-dozen countries finds the answer depends on where you live. The scientists found yields of rain-fed wheat could increase by 10 percent, while irrigated wheat, the bulk of India and China’s production, could decline by 4 percent. Maize will decrease almost everywhere, down 8.5 percent. Rice and soybean could flourish in some areas and falter in others. “Most of the discussion around climate impacts focuses only on changes in temperature and precipitation,” said
Delphine Deryng, an environmental scientist at Columbia University who led the study. “To adapt adequately, we need to understand all the factors involved.”