Saturday, September 29, 2007

Report: Global warming a threat to U.S.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Global climate change presents a serious national security threat to the United States, heightening tensions and instabilities worldwide, lawmakers were told.

The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology heard testimony Thursday from several experts, principally retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the former chief of staff of the U.S. Army and now chairman of a blue-ribbon commission of a dozen retired U.S. admirals and generals.

The commission, set up by the CNA Corp., recently reported on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” over the next 30-40 years -- the timeframe for developing new military capabilities.

The effects of global warming, Sullivan said “include reduced access to fresh water; impaired food production, health catastrophes -- especially from vector- and food-borne diseases; and land loss, flooding and the displacement of major populations.”

These “destabilizing effects” will “increase the potential for failed states and the growth of terrorism; mass migrations will lead to greater regional and global tensions; and conflicts over resources are almost certain to escalate,” he concluded.

Sullivan said he had gone into the project a skeptic about global warming, but “after listening to leaders of the scientific, business, and governmental communities, my colleagues and I came to agree that global climate change is and will be a significant threat to our national security and in a larger sense to life on Earth as we know it to be.”

“The possibility of a world transformed by climate change is not a science fiction image of a post-apocalyptic society," said Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C. “It is not a road-warrior movie, it is happening now.”Aides said the committee would hold further hearings on the subject later in the session.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Storing Solar Power Efficiently

Thermal-power plants could solve some of the problems with solar power by turning sunlight into steam and storing heat for cloudy days.
By Peter Fairley

Solar proponents love to boast that just a few hundred square kilometers' worth of photovoltaic solar panels installed in Southwestern deserts could power the United States. Their schemes come with a caveat, of course: without backup power plants or expensive investments in giant batteries, flywheels, or other energy-storage systems, this solar-power supply would fluctuate wildly with each passing cloud (not to mention with the sun's daily rise and fall and seasonal ebbs and flows). Solar-power startup Ausra, based in Palo Alto, thinks it has the solution: solar-thermal-power plants that turn sunlight into steam and efficiently store heat for cloudy days.

"Fossil-fuel proponents often say that solar can't do the job, that solar can't run at night, solar can't run the economy," says David Mills, Ausra's founder and chairman. "That's true if you don't have storage." He says that solar-thermal plants are the solution because storing heat is much easier than storing electricity. Mills estimates that, thanks to that advantage, solar-thermal plants capable of storing 16 hours' worth of heat could provide more than 90 percent of current U.S. power demand at prices competitive with coal and natural gas. "There's almost no limit to how much you can put into the grid," he says.

Major utilities are buying the idea. In July, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) signed a 25-year deal with Ausra competitor Solel Solar Systems of Beit Shemesh, Israel, to buy power from a 553-megawatt solar-thermal plant that Solel is developing in California's Mojave Desert. The plant will supply 400,000 homes in northern and central California when it is completed in 2011. Florida Power & Light, meanwhile, hired Solel to upgrade the 1980s-era solar-thermal plants it operates in the Mojave.

Ausra, meanwhile, is negotiating with PG&E to supply power from a 175-megawatt plant that it plans to build in California, for which it secured $40 million in venture financing this month.

What distinguishes Ausra's design is its relative simplicity. In conventional solar-thermal plants such as Solel's, a long trough of parabolic mirrors focuses sunlight on a tube filled with a heat-transfer fluid, often some sort of oil or brine. The fluid, in turn, produces steam to drive a turbine and produce electricity. Ausra's solar collectors employ mass-produced and thus cheaper flat mirrors, and they focus light onto tubes filled with water, thus directly producing steam. Ausra's collectors produce less power, but that power costs less to produce.

One megawatt's worth of Ausra's solar collectors has been producing steam in New South Wales, Australia, since 2004; the steam is fed into the turbines of a primarily coal-fired power plant. The final piece of the system--a proprietary heat-energy-storage system--should be ready by 2009.

Mills will not say what material his company's system will heat, although several recent solar-thermal plants by Ausra competitors--including one in Nevada that started up this summer and two under construction in Spain near Granada--plan to use molten-salt storage. Molten salts are inexpensive salt solutions that absorb considerable energy when they melt and give up that energy when they freeze.

What Mills can say for certain is that Ausra's storage system will lower its power-generation costs. That is a surprising statement since energy storage can as much as double the cost of electricity from photovoltaics or wind turbines.

Heat storage is more efficient than electricity storage: just 2 to 7 percent of the energy is lost when heat is banked in a storage system, compared with losses of at least 15 percent when energy is stored in a battery. More important, says Mills, is the fact that storage enables thermal plants to use cheaper turbines.

The bottom line is that Mills vows that adding storage plus savings from economies of scale and lower cost of capital (as banks become familiar with solar-thermal technology) will cut Ausra's current 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour cost of power in half. By 2010, he expects solar thermal to provide California with baseline power cheaper than natural gas, currently set by the state at 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Why has solar-thermal power received little attention from the energy-storage community despite such promise? John Boyes, manager of the Energy Storage & Distributed Energy Resources at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, NM, says that solar thermal is viable but inflexible compared with other means of storing energy, such as, say, coupling wind farms to large batteries, flywheels, and supercapacitors that can be placed almost anywhere on a power grid. "You can store energy anywhere you have electricity and a little bit of floor space," says Boyes.

The footprint of Ausra's planned 175-megawatt plant will be, in contrast, about one square mile.

Whitehouse Response to Energize Now Initiative's Climate Change Policy Concerns

"Thank you for contacting us with your concerns on climate change. Climate change is a global issue that President Bush takes very seriously.

In May, President Bush announced a major new international initiative to develop an energy security and climate change framework. The first meeting, including leaders from thirteen of the world’s major economies, will take place this week in Washington, D.C. Leaders will discuss ways to address energy security and climate change after the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. As part of the ultimate process, the group will seek to develop a long-term global goal to reduce greenhouse gases, set near-term nationally-defined strategies to promote energy security and reduce greenhouse gases, and construct work programs in key sectors, such as advanced coal and transportation. The President’s approach has wide support and was endorsed by the G-8 leaders this summer.

President Bush has committed the United States to continued leadership on the issue, and since 2001 has dedicated $37 billion to advance climate-related science, technology, international assistance, and incentive programs. Since 2002, the Administration has spent more than $9 billion of this amount on climate change research and, under his direction; agencies developed a 10-year strategic research plan for climate science that was endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, under President Bush’s continued leadership in ozone layer protection, the Montreal Protocol Parties recently agreed to the United States’ proposal to accelerate by ten years the remaining phase-out of certain ozone depleting substances. This action will not only speed up recovery of the ozone layer, but also represents one of the most significant new global actions to confront climate change by reducing the greenhouse gas profile of the phased-out substances.

The President is firmly committed to taking sensible action on climate change that fosters economic growth, engages developed and developing nations, and results in emissions reductions through the advancement of new technologies. He also has set bold goals. In 2002, he announced plans to cut our Nation's greenhouse gas intensity -- how much we emit per unit of economic activity -- by 18 percent by 2012. This administration is carrying out dozens of federal programs, including partnerships, consumer information campaigns, incentives, and mandatory regulations. These programs are directed at developing and deploying cleaner, more efficient energy technologies, conservation, biological sequestration, geological sequestration and adaptation. In his 2007 State of the Union address, the President announced his “20 in 10” energy plan, to replace 20% of our gasoline in ten years through increased vehicle fuel efficiency and a 35 billion gallon alternative fuel mandate.

The Administration’s financial commitment and responsible policies are working, and we are on track to meet, if not exceed, the President’s goal. Initial estimates show in 2006, the U.S. reduced greenhouse gas intensity an astounding 4.1%. Even more promising, absolute emissions declined 1.3% while the economy grew 2.9%."

"Thank you again for sharing your views with us."

Office of Strategic Initiatives
The White House

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ex-CIA chief: Renewable Energy is Key for National Security

Riverside, Ia. - Tapping renewable sources of energy to replace oil is in the national security interest of the U.S. government and its people, former CIA director James Woolsey said Friday.

Woolsey, a lawyer specializing in energy for the Booz Allen Hamilton firm in McLean, Va., told the "Renewable on Parade" alternative energy conference that ethanol, biodiesel, wind, sun and other renewable energy sources can help end oil's reign as a strategic commodity in the world.

U.S. dependence on oil creates problems, he said, including making the nation vulnerable to terrorists from politically unstable Middle Eastern countries, creating a huge trade imbalance with large purchases of imported oil, and fueling global warming from carbon emissions caused by burning oil for energy and transportation.

"The first thing we have to do is destroy oil as a strategic commodity," Woolsey said.

The only way to do that, he said, is to have affordable alternatives such as ethanol, biodiesel, biobutanol and other energy sources that can be made from U.S. agricultural products and natural resources like sun and wind.

Both corn ethanol and soy biodiesel should be seen as a beginning in the effort to replace oil, Woolsey said.

Other alternative energy sources also will be needed, he said, including cellulosic ethanol made from plant residues and electricity made from renewable sources like sun and wind.

Hybrid vehicles that can run on electricity and blends of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline can cut the U.S. dependence on foreign oil, he said.

"If we work on it, we have the opportunity to lead the U.S. and the world away from oil and toward renewable fuels," Woolsey said.

Woolsey said an unlikely coalition is rallying around renewable fuels.
Agricultural interests, environmentalists, religious groups and other grass-roots organizations are all banding together to provide political support for renewable fuels, he said.

Either the government must give some incentives to renewable fuels or remove the subsidies that the oil industry has received for 100 years, Woolsey said.

"We need more of a level playing field" between oil and renewable fuels, he said.

James Woolsey discusses renewables - view video

Friday, September 21, 2007

World Scientists' Warning to Humanity

Some 1,700 of the world's leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued this appeal in November 1992.

The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity was written and spearheaded by the late Henry Kendall, former chair of Union of Concerned Scientist's board of directors.


Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.


The environment is suffering critical stress:

The Atmosphere -

Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultraviolet radiation at the earth's surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing widespread injury to humans, forests, and crops.

Water Resources -

Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food production and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world's surface waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40 percent of the world's population. Pollution of rivers, lakes, and ground water further limits the supply.

Oceans -

Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world's food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste -- some of it toxic.

Soil -

Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land abandonment, is a widespread by-product of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11 percent of the earth's vegetated surface has been degraded -- an area larger than India and China combined -- and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.

Forests -

Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years, and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species.

Living Species -

The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world's biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself. Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries, or permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain -- with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe -- but the potential risks are very great.

Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life -- coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change -- could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.

Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threats.


The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth's limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's 5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.


We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.


Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:
  1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on.

  2. We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sources matched to Third World needs -- small-scale and relatively easy to implement.We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.

  3. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.

  4. We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.

  5. We must stabilize population.
This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.

We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.

We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.


The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic, and environmental collapse.

Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war -- amounting to over $1 trillion annually -- will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required -- a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth's limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.

We require the help of the world community of scientists -- natural, social, economic, and political.

We require the help of the world's business and industrial leaders.

We require the help of the world's religious leaders.

We require the help of the world's peoples.

We call on all to join us in this task.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Oil price soars to record high after Fed rate cut

NEW YORK (AFP) — Oil soared to fresh record highs in New York Tuesday as traders viewed the half-point cut in interest rates by the Federal Reserve as an economic boost that would keep energy demand high.

New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in October, climbed 94 cents to a record close at 81.51 dollars a barrel. In after-hours trade, the price hit an all-time high of 82.16 dollars.

In London, the price of Brent North Sea crude for November delivery advanced 61 cents to settle at 77.59 dollars per barrel.

Oil prices, which have streaked to record highs in recent days on concerns about tight supplies and rising demand, bolted again on news that Federal Reserve policymakers had cut the key federal funds rate by a hefty half point to 4.75 percent.

The Federal Open Market Committee, in a unanimous decision after a one-day meeting, also cut its discount rate for direct central bank loans by 50 basis points to 5.25 percent.

"Today's action is intended to help forestall some of the adverse effects on the broader economy that might otherwise arise from the disruptions in financial markets and to promote moderate growth over time," the FOMC said in a statement.

The Fed had been widely expected to cut interest rates to ease a credit crunch related to problems in the risky subprime mortgage sector. But analysts had been divided over whether it would be a quarter-point or half-point reduction.

"The initial response (of the market) was obviously positive" to a rate cut that "was larger than expected," said Eric Wittenauer, an analyst at AG Edwards.

The bold half-point to stimulate the economy could boost demand for oil in the world's biggest energy consumer.

Prices already have found strong support as supplies remain tight and global demand strong as the northern hemisphere heads into winter.

"The bottom line is the market is getting more concerned about the supply outlook for this winter," said Phil Flynn of Alaron Trading.

"Those fears were expressed not only by the markets movement but also by a report from the Centre for Global Energy Studies that warns that OPECs decision to pump more crude oil in November wont bring oil prices down during the Northern Hemispheres winter."

Barclays Capital analyst Kevin Norrish said "the fundamental backdrop is that inventories are falling fast."

"Given the seasonal pick-up in demand plus the lack of very strong supply growth outside of OPEC, it looks like inventories will continue to fall."

Meanwhile, the OPEC oil cartel's announcement last week to pump an extra 500,000 barrels per day from November has failed to stop surging prices, with some analysts predicting prices could keep soaring to 85 dollars and beyond.

Goldman Sachs raised its year-end 2007 price forecast to 85 dollars per barrel, "with a high risk of a spike above 90 dollars per barrel," and said crude could hit 95 dollars by the end of next year.

Last week, New York crude had smashed through 80 dollars per barrel for the first time as prices were also pressured by potential hurricane damage of American energy facilities in the US Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, September 17, 2007

GLOBAL WARMING making profound changes in animals’ habitats, risking extinctions

What has gone missing here in Maryland’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is almost as spectacular as the 8,000 acres of swampy wilderness that remain. And that makes it Chesapeake Bay’s best place to watch climate change in action.

Visitors can see ospreys gliding overhead, egrets wading in the channels and Delmarva fox squirrels making their unhurried commutes between pine trees.

Then the road turns a corner, and Blackwater’s marsh yields to a vast expanse of open water. This is what’s missing: There used to be thousands more acres of wetland here, providing crucial habitat for creatures including blue crabs and blue herons but, thanks in part to rising sea levels, it has drowned and become a large, salty lake. “If people want to see the effects” of Earth’s increasing temperature, said refuge biologist Roger Stone, “it’s happening here first.”

Not just here. Around the world, scientists have found that climate change is altering natural ecosystems, making profound changes in the ways that animals live, migrate, eat and grow. Some species have benefited from the shift. Others have been left disastrously out of sync with their food supply. Two are known to have simply disappeared.

If warming continues as predicted, scientists say, 20 percent or more of the planet’s plant and animal species could be at increased risk of extinction. As the shrinking habitat at Blackwater shows, the bad news isn’t all in the out years: Some changes have already begun. “This is actually something we see from pole to pole, and from sea level to the highest mountains in the world,” said Lara Hansen, chief climate change scientist at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a private research and advocacy group. “It is not something we’re going to see in the future. It’s something we see right now.”

The temperature increase behind these changes sounds slight. The world has been getting warmer by 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit every decade, a United Nations panel found this year, in part because of carbon dioxide and other human-generated gases that trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere.

By nature’s clock, the warming has come in an instant. The mechanisms that helped animals adapt during previous warming spells - evolution or long-range migration - often aren’t able to keep up. Scientists say that effects are beginning to show from the Arctic to the Appalachian Mountains. One study, which examined 1,598 plant and animal species, found that nearly 60 percent appeared to have changed in some way.

“Even when animals don’t go extinct, we’re affecting them. They’re going to be different than they were before,” said David Skelly, a Yale University professor who has tracked frogs’ ability to react to increasing warmth. “The fact that we’re doing a giant evolutionary experiment should not be comforting,” he said.

Some of the best-known changes are happening near the poles, where the air and the water are warming especially quickly. As they do, sea ice is receding. For some animals, this has meant literally the loss of the ground beneath their feet.

Polar bears, for instance, spend much of their life on the Arctic ice and use it as a hunting ground for seals. When ice on Canada’s western Hudson Bay began to break up earlier - three weeks earlier in 2004 than in 1974 - the effect was devastating. The bear population fell by 21 percent in 17 years. Shrinking ice has also been blamed for cannibalism among polar bears in the waters off Alaska, something scientists had not seen before 2004. This month, a U.S. Geological Survey report predicted that two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could die out in 50 years.

Walruses, too, rely on the ice; mothers stash their calves on it, then dive down to feed on the ocean floor. When ice recedes from prime feeding areas, mothers and calves can get separated.

In 2004, University of Tennessee professor Lee W. Cooper was off the north Alaskan coast when he saw about a dozen calves swimming toward his boat. His theory: The calves, alone and desperate without ice nearby, thought the boat might be a large iceberg.

There was nothing the scientists could do to help, said Cooper. “I think they were doomed.”

Other changes have been less deadly, but they show centuries-old patterns shifting. Scientists have noticed changes in the timing of seasonal migrations, presumably caused by the earlier onset of warm weather.

In some cases, migrating animals suddenly find themselves out of rhythm, missing the weather conditions or the food they need. In parts of the Rocky Mountains, American robins arrive two weeks earlier than they used to - and often discover the ground snow-covered and little food to be found.

In other cases, an animal’s entire territory that shifts, as old habitats become too warm. In many cases, this means a move north. In others, it means a move up.

The American pika, a small rodent that lives on the slopes of mountains in the western United States, can overheat when temperatures hit 80 degrees. Over the past century, these creatures have kept climbing, reaching new ranges that can be 1,300 feet up the slope.

In some cases, there is no escape. In Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest, a famous region that is kept damp by fog and mist, climate change has brought more variable weather and less of the clouds that some animals need.

Two amphibian species - the golden toad and the Monteverde harlequin frog - have not been seen since the late 1980s. These may be some of the first extinctions linked to climate change, said cloud forest researcher Alan Pounds. “It’s been an interesting puzzle to work on,” said Pounds. “But, at the same time, very alarming and frightening.”

At the Blackwater refuge, it is rising waters, not rising temperatures, that are eliminating habitat. A quirk of geology means that water rises especially fast here: Paradoxically, the land in this area is sinking as North America slowly unbends from the weight of glaciers during the last ice age.

Add that to the effect of melting polar ice, and scientists expect that most of the marsh will become open water by 2030. When it goes, there could be a shortage of habitat for the Eastern Shore’s marsh animals and migratory birds, said Stone, the refuge biologist.

“Birds will return for spring migration, and they’ll be looking for territory, and there just won’t be enough territory to go around,” he said.

So what happens then?

“They’ll …” he paused, looking for the right word, “… die. They’ll disappear.”

Not all animals, of course, will suffer. There are examples of creatures that are thriving in a warmer world. Fish such as pollock and pink salmon have begun moving into now-warmer Arctic waters. In the northern woods of North America, some tick species are making it through the winter in record numbers.

Livestock herds might increase in a warmer world, an analysis by the Agriculture Department found. That’s because food crops such as corn and rice could become harder to grow if the fields dry out, leaving more land for grazing. Researchers say that, even if all greenhouse-gas emissions were shut off today, the gases already in the atmosphere will cause Earth to warm for years to come but, many say, it’s still imperative to reduce these emissions to head off even more warming.

“Unfortunately, it takes a generation or two to turn this supertanker around,” said Stephen Schneider, a professor at Stanford University,talking about the climate change already in progress. But still, he said, it is important to start trying. “What we’re looking at is a planetary environmental train wreck if we don’t start some compromising here.”

Already, some are trying to make it easier for wild animals to adjust. In Australia, conservationists are trying to set aside a north-south cordon of open land so animals can move if they need to. In the western United States and Canada, environmentalists are trying to create a similar corridor between Yellowstone National Park and the Yukon Territory.

Overall, scientists say, the news of climate change will not be bad for all animals but, they say, that’s cold comfort for the rest - and for humans, as well, if it means that we watch some of the planet’s most beloved species decline or disappear.

“Yeah, the earth will recover,” said Scott Wing, who studies the biology of previous eras at the Smithsonian Institution. But, he said, “would you have wanted to be one of the dinosaurs when the asteroid hit? No.”

Original Source

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bush US Chief Scientist says Warming Man-Made

The US chief scientist has told the BBC that climate change is now a fact.

Professor John Marburger, who advises President Bush, said it was more than 90% certain that greenhouse gas emissions from mankind are to blame.

The Earth may become "unliveable" without cuts in CO2 output, he said, but he labelled targets for curbing temperature rise as "arbitrary".

His comments come shortly before major meetings on climate change at the UN and the Washington White House.

There may still be some members of the White House team who are not completely convinced about climate change - but it is clear that the science advisor to the President and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is not one of them.

In the starkest warning from the White House so far about the dangers ahead, Professor Marburger told the BBC that climate change was unequivocal, with mankind more than 90% likely to blame.

Despite disagreement on the details of climate science, he said: "I think there is widespread agreement on certain basics, and one of the most important is that we are producing far more CO2 from fossil fuels than we ought to be.

"And it's going to lead to trouble unless we can begin to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we are burning and using in our economies."

Trouble ahead

This is an explicit endorsement of the latest major review of climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Professor Marburger said humanity would be in trouble if we did not stop increasing carbon emissions.

"The CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere and there's no end point, it just gets hotter and hotter, and so at some point it becomes unliveable," he said.

Professor Marburger said he wished he could stop US emissions right away, but that was obviously not possible.

US backing for the scientific consensus was confirmed by President Bush's top climate advisor, James Connaughton.

The chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality told BBC News that advancing technology was the best way to curb the warming trend.

"You only have two choices; you either have advanced technologies and get them into the marketplace, or you shut down your economies and put people out of work," he said.

"I don't know of any politician that favours shutting down economies."

Arbitrary' targets

Mr Bush has invited leaders of major developed and developing nations to the White House later this month for discussions on a future global direction on climate change.

It will follow a UN General Assembly session on the same issue.

Last week the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Sydney backed the UN climate convention as the right body for developing future global policy.

The European Union wants such a policy to adopt its own target of stabilising temperature rise at or below 2C.

But Mr Marburger said the state of the science made it difficult to justify any particular target.

"It's not clear that we'll be in a position to predict the future accurately enough to make policy confidently for a long time," he said.

"I think 2C is rather arbitrary, and it's not clear to me that the answer shouldn't be 3C or more or less. It's a hunch, a guess."

The truth, he said, was that we just do not know what the 'safe' limit is.

Source: BBC

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Utilities Companies Downsize Lists of Coal-Fired Plants

Since the beginning of 2006, at least two dozen coal-fired plants have been canceled and another three put on hold.
For the past several years, growing numbers of coal-fired power plants proposed nationwide have been seen as a sign of strengthening demand for coal.

But those numbers are not as high as they seem. In fact, they're dropping.

Misleading Numbers

The number cited by every newspaper from the Wall Street Journal on down comes from an informal database maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

NETL releases its database in occasional reports it calls "Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants."

The May 1, 2007, publication of the database cited 151 coal-fired plants on its up-front summary page.

Following that report, a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote that U.S. power companies had announced intentions to build "as many as 150" new generating plants fueled by coal. That story was picked up by news outlets from New York to Idaho to Louisiana.

In reality, though, the single number published at the front of the NETL report includes not only plants on track to be built but also those that are on hold and those that already are in operation.

"It's everything that's on the database that isn't cancelled," explained Erik Shuster, a NETL contractor and the laboratory's contact for the database, in an interview after the July 2006 report came out.

Two years ago, in the 2005 database, the real number of plants on track to be built, not counting those already in service and on hold, came to 112.

In 2006, it went up significantly to 137.

But with the May 2007 list, it dropped for the first time since the database was created to 132.
At least three more plants have been canceled since that time.

High-Profile Cancellations

Coal-fired power projects have undergone some high-profile cancellations this year, often due to environmental concerns.

In January, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission denied a PacifiCorp request to seek bids for two coal-fired plants totaling 1,100 megawatts. The commission wanted the utility to delay until clean-coal technologies are further developed.

February was especially tough for coal.

In a lawsuit settlement with environmental groups, eight of 11 plants proposed by Texas's TXU Corp. were canceled.

The company's Internet home page now reads, "Increased commitment to exploring renewable energy sources and investing in alternative energy technologies."

And Duke Energy was denied permitting in February for one of two coal-fired units it proposed to build in North Carolina. To build the other, the utility was required by the state commission to shut down four aging units and to commit one percent of electricity revenues to efficiency programs.

Several more plants have been canceled since the NETL report was released in May.

Later in May, the Delaware Public Service Commission ordered Delmarva Electric to pursue a contract for wind generation rather than for a proposed coal-fired power plant.

"With our vote here today, we bring the potential for clean, renewable and carbon-free wind power to Delaware," the commission wrote in its order.

In June, during an outspoken crusade against greenhouse gas emissions conducted by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the state's Public Service Commission rejected a 1,960-MW plant. Developers of another Florida coal-fired plant suspended permitting activities in July.

The Current Tally

Since the beginning of 2006, at least two dozen coal-fired plants have been canceled and another three put on hold.

Of about 200 plants proposed since 2000 and listed in the NETL database, about 50 have been canceled.

Ten are in operation.

The current count of plants on the drawing boards comes to 129, and that total excluded those in service, canceled or on hold, as well as the three cancellations since NETL's report was released in May.

Story by Pam Kasey
The State Journal

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Salt water as fuel - could bring a whole new meaning to fire-water

For obvious reasons, scientists long have thought that salt water couldn't be burned.

So when an Erie man announced he'd ignited salt water with the radio-frequency generator he'd invented, some thought it a was a hoax.

John Kanzius, a Washington County native, tried to desalinate seawater with a generator he developed to treat cancer, and it caused a flash in the test tube.

Within days, he had the salt water in the test tube burning like a candle, as long as it was exposed to radio frequencies.

His discovery has spawned scientific interest in using the world's most abundant substance as clean fuel, among other uses.

Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, held a demonstration last week at the university's Materials Research Laboratory in State College, to confirm what he'd witnessed weeks before in an Erie lab.

"It's true, it works," Dr. Roy said. "Everyone told me, 'Rustum, don't be fooled. He put electrodes in there.' "

But there are no electrodes and no gimmicks, he said.

Dr. Roy said the salt water isn't burning per se, despite appearances. The radio frequency actually weakens bonds holding together the constituents of salt water -- sodium chloride, hydrogen and oxygen -- and releases the hydrogen, which, once ignited, burns continuously when exposed to the RF energy field. Mr. Kanzius said an independent source measured the flame's temperature, which exceeds 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, reflecting an enormous energy output.

As such, Dr. Roy, a founding member of the Materials Research Laboratory and expert in water structure, said Mr. Kanzius' discovery represents "the most remarkable in water science in 100 years."

But researching its potential will take time and money, he said. One immediate question is energy efficiency: The energy the RF generator uses vs. the energy output from burning hydrogen.

Dr. Roy said he's scheduled to meet tomorrow with U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Defense officials in Washington to discuss the discovery and seek research funding.

Mr. Kanzius said he powered a Stirling, or hot air, engine with salt water. But whether the system can power a car or be used as an efficient fuel will depend on research results.

"We will get our ideas together and check this out and see where it leads," Dr. Roy said. "The potential is huge.

"In the life sciences, the role of water is infinite, and this guy is doing something new in using the most important and most abundant material on the face of the earth."

Mr. Kanzius' discovery was an accident.

He developed the RF generator as a novel cancer treatment. His research in targeting cancer cells with metallic nanoparticles then destroying them with radio-frequency is proceeding at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and at the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Manuscripts updating the cancer research are in preparation for publication in coming months, Mr. Kanzius said.

While Mr. Kanzius was demonstrating how his generator heated nanoparticles, someone noted condensation inside the test tube and suggested he try using his equipment to desalinate water.

So, Mr. Kanzius said, he put sea water in a test tube, then trained his machine on it, producing an unexpected spark. In time he and laboratory owners struck a match and ignited the water, which continued burning as long as it remained in the radio-frequency field.

During several trials, heat from burning hydrogen grew hot enough to melt the test tube, he said. Dr. Roy's tests on the machine last week provided further evidence that the process is releasing and burning hydrogen from the water. Tests on different water solutions and concentrations produced various temperatures and flame colors.

"This is the most abundant element in the world. It is everywhere," Dr. Roy said of salt water. "Seeing it burn gives me chills."

By David Templeton

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A NASA Q & A on Global Warming

Responsible NASA official: Dr. Michael D. King

On May 11, 2007, the Earth Observatory published Global Warming, a fact sheet outlining the basic principles behind the science of global warming. This follow-up article of questions and answers is based on questions from readers and other common questions about global warming. Many scientists and writers contributed to this article.

A - NASA employs the world’s largest concentration of climate scientists. NASA's mission to study Earth involves monitoring atmospheric conditions, global temperatures, land cover and vegetation, ice extent, ocean productivity, and a number of other planetary vital signs with a fleet of space-based sensors. This information is critical in understanding how Earth’s climate works and how it is responding to change. In addition to collecting information about the Earth, NASA also builds global and regional climate models to understand the causes and effects of climate change, including global warming. NASA shares its climate data and information with the public and policy leaders freely and in a timely manner. As part of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, NASA works with other agencies—including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and many others—to conduct research and to ensure climate science results are available to all users to address a broad range of societal needs.

A - The main reason that scientists think humans caused warming since 1950 is that none of the natural processes that influence Earth’s climate have changed enough during that time period to explain the warming.

Over the past thousand years, temperatures have been preserved in natural records like tree rings, ice cores, and coral reefs. Many independent estimates of temperatures from these sources show that while global average surface temperatures varied, at no time were they warmer or did they climb more quickly than during the latter half of the 20th century. Three things can alter global temperatures over this short period: changes in the Sun’s activity, volcanic eruptions, and human emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols.

During the twentieth century, the average amount of energy coming from the Sun either remained constant or increased slightly. (See “Has the Sun been more active in recent years?” for more on that topic.) Major volcanic eruptions temporarily cooled temperatures by pumping reflective gases into the atmosphere. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels pushed greenhouse gas levels higher than they have been for at least the past 700,000 years.

Laboratory experiments have shown that carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases absorb and re-radiate infrared energy, or heat, and satellite observations have shown that these gases have the same heat-trapping effect in the atmosphere. The dramatic rate of increase in greenhouse gases during the latter half of the 20th century matches the rate of temperature increase.

Even more telling is the way in which temperatures are rising. If the warming were caused by a more active Sun, then scientists would expect to see warmer temperatures in all layers of the atmosphere. Instead they have observed a warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere and a cooling in the upper atmosphere. Something is trapping heat in the lower atmosphere, and that something is greenhouse gases.

Finally, scientists are almost certain that warming during the last 50 years was caused by human activity because models can’t reproduce the observed temperature trend without including a rise in greenhouse gases.

A - Scientists are still debating whether or not the Sun’s activity increased during the latter half of the 20th century, but even the highest estimates of activity can’t account for the warming observed since about 1950. Studies do show that solar variability has significantly influenced past climate changes. For example, a decrease in solar activity is thought to have triggered the Northern Hemisphere’s Little Ice Age between approximately 1650 and 1850, when temperatures dipped low enough that rivers that don’t freeze in today’s human-warmed climate froze over.

Scientists use substitutes (proxies) like records of sun spots, which have been kept since Galileo’s time, or carbon in tree rings to estimate the amount of energy the Sun has sent to Earth. Though not perfect, these estimates give a rough approximation of how much the Sun’s activity has varied over time. Scientists are still debating over how reliable proxies are in determining the Sun’s past activity, but current estimates indicate that the Sun is probably now as active as or more active than it has ever been during the past 8,000 years.

A shorter, but more detailed record comes from NASA satellites, which have been recording the Sun’s activity from space since 1978. The measurements, however, come from six different satellites, each with its own bias. It is difficult to combine the measurements from these satellites into a single 25-year-plus record to get a trend of solar activity. Different scientific teams have attempted to create a continuous record from the satellite data. Each long-term record shows the rise and fall of two 11-year sunspot cycles, but they differ from one another in the average trend over the full period. When stitched together one way, the satellites seemed to record a slight increase in solar activity, but in other analyses, solar activity remained constant.

Regardless, even when scientists assume that solar activity is increasing based on proxy data and the satellite record, they can’t account for all of the warming observed at the end of the twentieth century. Climate models can only reproduce the warming observed since 1950 when a rise in greenhouse gases is built into the system.

A - No. To monitor atmospheric temperatures, climate scientists rely on measurements taken by a series of satellites dating back to 1979. Because each satellite operated differently, scientists have disagreed about how to correct the data for errors and how to merge all the satellite data into a long-term record.

Different techniques used to merge the data resulted in different long-term temperature trends, not all of which showed the warming that climate models predicted should have occurred. Some early analyses even suggested that parts of the troposphere (lower atmosphere), where warming was expected, had cooled. The lack of an unequivocal warming trend in the troposphere was sometimes used to challenge both the reality of human-induced global warming as well as the reliability of climate models.

To help resolve the discrepancies, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program undertook a comprehensive review of surface and atmospheric temperature observations and trends. The group identified and corrected errors in early versions of satellite and weather-balloon data, and concluded “For recent decades, all current atmospheric data sets now show global average warming that is similar to the surface warming.”

Some uncertainties remain, however, particularly in the tropics. While all the long-term atmospheric data sets now show a warming trend, they do not all show the amplified warming (greater warming of the atmosphere than the surface) that models predict. According to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program report, this remaining uncertainty is most likely due to additional errors in the observational data sets that remain to be corrected and not to model errors.

A - The ozone hole and global warming are not the same thing, and neither one is the main cause of the other. The ozone hole is an area in the stratosphere above Antarctica where chemical reactions initiated by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have destroyed ozone molecules. Global warming is the rise in average global surface temperature caused primarily by the build-up of human-produced greenhouses gases, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

There are some connections between the two phenomena, however. The CFCs that destroy ozone are also strong greenhouse gases. Although they are present in the atmosphere in very small concentrations (several hundred parts per trillion, compared to several hundred parts per million for carbon dioxide), CFCs account for about 13% of the total energy absorbed by human-produced greenhouse gases. The ozone hole itself has a minor cooling effect (about 2 percent of the warming effect of greenhouses gases) because stratospheric ozone absorbs heat radiated to space by gases in the atmospheric layer (the upper troposphere) below it. The loss of ozone means a small amount of additional heat can escape into space.

Global warming is also predicted to have a modest impact on the ozone hole. CFCs only destroy ozone at extremely cold temperatures, below -80 degrees Celsius (-112 degrees Fahrenheit). Greenhouse gases absorb heat at a relatively low altitude, warming the surface but cooling the stratosphere. The cooler the stratosphere, the more rapidly ozone should be destroyed, resulting in a slightly larger ozone hole.

A - Individual weather events, such as Hurricane Katrina or the European heat wave of 2003, are caused by a combination of factors, and teasing out the blame owed to natural variability and human-caused global warming is difficult. Climate does not directly dictate specific weather events. Rather, climate sets up a range of possibilities and a “range of likelihoods” for weather events. As climate warms, heat waves, droughts, and severe storms will probably become more likely. But it is not possible to say that any individual heat wave, drought, or storm occurred solely “because of global warming.”

A good example of the complexity is the European heat wave of 2003, in which an estimated 22,000 to 45,000 heat-related deaths occurred in August. This heat wave resulted in part from a high-pressure system linked to clear skies and dry soils, which allowed more solar energy than normal to warm the land surface. Therefore, natural events beyond human control played a large role in this heat wave. However, a climate model that included human activities, such as land use and emissions, more accurately simulated the evolution of European climate than a climate model that only included natural influences such as volcanic activity and solar output. Therefore, both natural and human factors probably played a role.

A - Yes. Changes in one part of the climate system trigger processes that may either amplify the initial change or counteract it. With a positive climate feedback, warming triggers a process that causes more warming. With a negative climate feedback, warming sets off a process that leads to cooling.

The most fundamental negative (cooling) feedback is that the Earth radiates heat into space based on its temperature. The relationship between temperature and radiated heat is such that an increase in temperature is accompanied by an even bigger increase in radiated heat. The feedback does not prevent temperature from rising, but it allows the Earth to return to an equilibrated (balanced) state.

The other key feedbacks are water vapor, snow and ice, and clouds. Warming temperatures increase the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Because water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas, it amplifies warming. Decreases in snow and ice make the Earth less reflective to incoming sunlight, also amplifying warming. Changes in clouds may either amplify or limit global warming, depending on where (latitude and altitude) and when (time of year) changes occur. Nearly all climate models scientists use today predict that net cloud feedbacks will either be neutral or positive (warming), but such predictions are still uncertain.

Numerous other feedbacks also exist. Warmer temperatures may decrease the rate at which the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide. Global currents that distribute heat among the world’s oceans may change because of temperature and salinity changes. Expansion or contractions of global vegetation can influence the reflection and absorption of incoming sunlight, the flow of energy and moisture between the surface and the air, and the carbon cycle. With the exception of not knowing precisely how much humans will do to control greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades, feedbacks—especially cloud feedbacks—are the biggest source of uncertainty in predictions of future climate.

A - If models are wrong about the severity of global warming, it is because Earth’s climate is either more or less sensitive to change than we think it is. The biggest source of uncertainty in our understanding of climate sensitivity is climate feedbacks. Feedbacks are processes that either limit or amplify climate change once an external factor like a rise in greenhouse gases initiates change. (See “Are there natural processes that will amplify or limit global warming?” for a more complete discussion.)

Some argue that there may be as-yet-unidentified feedbacks in Earth’s climate system that will regulate global warming (negative feedbacks). If this is the case, they contend, then we should not waste money trying to mitigate global warming. However, most scientists believe that if there are hidden feedbacks, they are just as likely to amplify warming (positive feedbacks). In other words, there is just as much chance that the models are underestimating the severity of future warming as they are overestimating warming.

Given the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming, uncertainty is not a good reason to delay action. If we do reduce emissions and climate change turns out to be less serious than predicted, we still benefit from our efforts. By switching to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, we can reduce our dependence on oil (a limited resource) and improve our air quality.

A - The cost and benefits of global warming will vary greatly from area to area. For moderate climate change, the balance can be difficult to assess. But the larger the change in climate, the more negative the consequences will become. Global warming will probably make life harder, not easier, for most people. This is mainly because we have already built enormous infrastructure based on the climate we now have.

People in some temperate zones may benefit from milder winters, more abundant rainfall, and expanding crop production zones. But people in other areas will suffer from increased heat waves, coastal erosion, rising sea level, and droughts. The crops, natural vegetation, and domesticated and wild animals (including seafood) that sustain people in a given area may be unable to adapt to local or regional changes in climate. The ranges of diseases and insect pests that are limited by temperature may expand, if other environmental conditions are also favorable.

The problems seem especially obvious in cases where current societal trends appear to be on a “collision course” with predictions of global warming’s impacts:

At the same time that sea levels are rising, population continues to grow most rapidly in flood-vulnerable, low-lying coastal zones across the globe;

The human population is large and growing, and it is more dependent on stable agricultural production than at any time in its history. Places where famine and food insecurity are greatest in today’s world are not places where milder winters will boost crop or vegetation productivity, but instead, are places where rainfall will probably become less reliable, and crop productivity is expected to fall;

The countries most vulnerable to global warming’s most serious side effects are among the poorest and least able to pay for the medical and social services and technological solutions that will be needed to adapt to climate change.

In its summary report on the impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.”

A - No. Carbon dioxide levels are rising because we currently emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural processes like photosynthesis and absorption into the oceans can remove. Therefore, stabilizing emissions at today’s rates will not stop global warming: our carbon dioxide “deposits” would still exceed natural “withdrawals.” Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would continue to increase, and temperatures would continue to rise. To stop global warming, we will have to significantly reduce not just stabilize, emissions in coming decades.

A - Not right away. The Earth’s surface temperature does not react instantaneously to the energy imbalance created by rising carbon dioxide levels. This delayed reaction occurs because a great deal of the excess energy is stored in the ocean, which has a tremendous heat capacity. Because of this lag (which scientists call “thermal inertia”), even the 0.6–0.9 degrees of global warming we have observed in the past century is not the full amount of warming we can expect from the greenhouse gases we have already emitted. Even if all emissions were to stop today, the Earth’s average surface temperature would climb another 0.6 degrees or so over the next several decades before temperatures stopped rising.

The time lag is one reason why there is a risk in waiting to control greenhouse gas emissions until global warming becomes worse or its effects more serious and obvious. If we wait until we feel the amount or impact of global warming has reached an intolerable level, we will not be able to “hold the line” at that point; some further warming will be unavoidable.

A - It is not NASA’s mission to develop strategies or public policies for controlling global warming, but rather, to provide the scientific information that decision makers need to understand global warming and to assess the impact of strategies to mitigate it. Science tells us that to control global warming, we must reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Controlling emissions is a large, complex, and potentially expensive problem that no single strategy will solve. On the other hand, the costs of uncontrolled global warming will probably also be significant. Putting existing scientific and technological strategies into place and developing new ones can stimulate the economy, and will also generate significant near-term benefits in public health through air pollution reduction.

Among the many scientific and policy organizations who are working on the global warming challenge is the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, a university and industry partnership based at Princeton University. The group has laid out strategies that are based solely on existing technologies. Used in combination over the next 50 years, these strategies would keep the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from more than doubling the pre-industrial level. (Many scientists believe doubled carbon dioxide levels will cause a dangerous interference with the climate.) The strategies fall into four broad categories:

Increase the energy efficiency of our cars, homes, and power plants while lowering our consumption by adjusting our thermostats and driving fewer miles;

Capture the carbon emitted by power plants and store it underground;

Produce more energy from nuclear and renewable fuels—solar, wind, hydroelectric, and bio-fuels;

Halt deforestation and soil degradation worldwide, while reforesting more areas.

Some of those strategies will have to be put into place by governments and industry, but individuals can also do a lot on their own. On average, individual Americans emit 19 tons of carbon dioxide annually while driving our cars and heating our homes—more than people in any other country. If we can reduce our personal emissions by just 5 percent, total U.S. emissions would drop by 300 million tons, the total emissions of any one of a number of entire countries! That reduction could be easily achieved by replacing appliances and light bulbs with more efficient ones, planning our automobile trips more carefully, driving more fuel-efficient cars, and so on. By learning about global warming, by communicating with elected officials about the problem, and by making energy-conscious decisions, individuals will play a meaningful role in what must be a global effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

A - The Earth Observatory features many articles and satellite images and data about climate change:

Thank you to the scientists and writers who contributed to these responses.

Robert Cahalan, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
G. James Collatz, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Anthony Del Genio, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M University
Forrest Hall, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Michael Mann, Pennsylvania State University
Paul Newman, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
William Patzert, NASA
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Gavin Schmidt, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Brian Soden, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Tom Wigley, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Earth Observatory Writers

David Herring
Rebecca Lindsey
Holli Riebeek
Michon Scott
Robert Simmon

What Does 'Energy Security' Really Mean?

by dyergin
At the conclusion of last year's G8 summit in Scotland, Russian President Vladimir Putin said to the other leaders of the G8 industrial nations, "We cannot ignore the question of overcoming poverty and the fight against terrorism." But "the key issue for the next summit" would be energy security. Setting the agenda was certainly his prerogative as the incoming "president" of the G8. Moreover, he did it from a unique perspective. For, he added, "If you put together Russia's energy potential in all areas, oil, gas, and nuclear, our country is unquestionably the world leader."

The turbulence in the year since has earned "energy security" its place as the No. 1 item for this weekend's meeting here. There was the huge shock that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita delivered to the Gulf of Mexico energy complex, the continuing loss of 20% of Nigerian oil output from domestic insurgency, Russia's temporary interruption of natural gas supplies to Ukraine at the beginning of this year, the chronic impairment of Iraqi oil output, Hugo Chavez's warnings about cutting off Venezuelan supplies to the United States, and the recurrent threats by some Iranian leaders to unleash an "oil crisis" (even if other Iranians deny any such intent). Fueling the anxiety, of course, has been the 60% rise in oil prices, to the mid-$70s a barrel, since the beginning of last year.

The world has changed much since the concept of "energy security" emerged in the 1970s. But agreeing on its importance is not the same as agreeing on what it means. Consuming countries declare that they want "security of supply"-that is, reliability and availability of energy at reasonable prices. Exporting countries, whether Russia or in the Middle East, turn it around and talk about "security of demand"- sufficient access to markets and consumers to justify future investment (and protect their national revenues).

Probe further and the differences become even sharper. For Russia, energy security is about the state's retaking control of the "commanding heights" of the energy industry and extending that control downstream, over the critical export pipelines that provide a substantial part of government revenues. For Europe, today's concerns center not on oil, but on natural gas and on the debate about dependence on gas from Russia. For Japan, the question is quite different-how to compensate, in running the world's second largest economy, for the absence of virtually any domestic resources. For China and India, it is assuring that energy does not hold back the economic growth they need for development and to avoid social turbulence.

In the United States energy security has had a double focus. One is offsetting any future Middle East-style disruptions. The other is achieving that oft-cited goal of "energy independence"-first set out by Richard Nixon in 1973-even as the United States in the years since has gone from importing a third of its oil to 60%.

So what, then, are the principles and policies that will underpin "energy security?" Some of them are embedded in the security system that was set up in the 1970s to either avoid or mitigate disruptions such as the 1973 oil embargo. There was a further objective, now generally forgotten: to avoid the kind of bruising political and economic scramble that threatened to fracture the Western alliance. This system included the establishment of the International Energy Agency, the creation of emergency stockpiles such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increased communication and much better information, and the development of procedures for sharing supplies in the event of a disruption (the last of which was activated briefly to offset lost supplies after Katrina and Rita). If there was a single overarching principle, it was the importance of diversification, in terms both of sources of oil and in increased use of other energy supplies. And this principle of diversification remains the essential starting point for any thinking on energy security.

But the system must incorporate new realities. First, energy security needs to be extended to the safety of the whole infrastructure and supply chain-recognizing the vulnerabilities that come from terrorism, war, brigandage, and natural disasters. That is the lesson of Katrina and Rita. It is not just oil and gas coming out of the ground; it is also pipelines, refineries, and, critically, electricity, which is fundamental to everything else. Global supply chains are only going to become more complex in the years ahead. Today, about 40 million barrels a day of oil cross oceans in tankers; within 15 years, that will be 70 million barrels. Over the same period, liquefied natural gas volumes will triple on the high seas. And there are critical chokepoints: 20% of the world's oil supplies flow through the Strait of Hormuz; 80% of Japan's and Korea's oil and half of China's pass through the Strait of Malacca.

Given their importance and scale, the safety of these supply chains requires a "security margin." It also requires increased cooperation among governments, and between companies and governments. This last is no easy thing; nor is it clear who will bear the additional costs.

A second, urgent need is to bring China and India into the energy security system. There is much talk of a clash between the United States and China over oil. But there is nothing inevitable about it. Commercial competition need not turn into national rivalry. A fundamental reason for establishing the International Energy Agency in the 1970s was to modulate that mad scramble to preempt barrels. This contest threatened not only to rip apart the Western alliance, but also sent oil prices - after the Iranian Revolution-to what is still their highest level ever. The innovations of the 1970s transformed the scramble into more durable cooperation. That same kind of approach is needed now with the emergence of these two huge (and anxious) consumers in the world market.

The investment framework itself is part of energy security. Reasonable, stable, and predictable investment regimes are required if funds and technology are going to flow into the development of new resources. Governments that focus on short-term revenue maximization will shortchange themselves, as well as their consumers, over the longer term. That definitely needs to be on the table in St. Petersburg.

Energy security should also include enhanced efficiency in the use of energy. There is much more to accomplish here, and it too ought to be a major topic at the G8 summit. US energy efficiency has doubled since the 1970s. A great contribution will result from greater efficiency in China and Russia (which use far more energy per unit of gross domestic product than does the United States), and in Western Europe and Japan (which can become more efficient).

Diversification can go much farther than development of "non-OPEC" fuels. Today, there is a more robust menu of alternatives, including the making of liquid fuels either out of natural gas or from the application of biology in ways that are still being developed in the laboratory.

There's another principle that is important and perhaps startling: self-restraint. When disruptions occur, tempers flare, suspicions mount, and the specter of manipulation comes quickly to the fore. In such circumstances the temptation becomes very strong for governments to manage markets. But so often the most sensible policy is to resist that temptation. Large, flexible markets are the shock absorbers that promote energy security. Disruptions are disruptions; once they occur, the objective is to rebound as quickly as possible. Markets, with their decentralization and ingenuity, can speed adjustment more quickly and effectively than more interventionist approaches.

Finally, energy security requires a larger perspective. Whatever may be said about energy independence, the truth is that there is only one global oil market, and the United States is part of it. Moreover, energy markets, like the rest of trade and finance, are ever more internationally entwined. Energy security does not reside in a realm of its own, but is part of the larger pattern of relations among nations. How those relations go will do much to determine how secure we are when it comes to energy.

About the Author

Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA, received the Pulitzer Prize for "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power" and the United States Energy Award for lifelong achievements in energy and the promotion of international understanding. Vist CERA.

Article Source: Content for Reprint

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mexican rebel groups takes credit for attacks that cut oil and gas supplies, rattle markets

VERACRUZ, Mexico – A shadowy leftist guerrilla group took credit for a string of explosions that ripped apart at least six Mexican oil and gas pipelines Monday, rattling financial markets and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production.

The six explosions could be seen miles away, and set off fires that sent flames and black smoke shooting high above the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

At least a dozen pipelines, most carrying natural gas, were affected, said Jesus Reyes Heroles, the head of Mexico's oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, without providing specifics.

He said there would be hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production and about nine states and the capital, Mexico City, would be affected.

“It is a big blow,” he said. “You can't store natural gas or transport it by truck.”

The blasts caused brief jitters in international markets, with natural gas futures up as much as 20.2 cents on news of the explosions, although prices dropped in later trading. One oil pipeline was hit in Monday's attack but Pemex said the damage wouldn't affect crude exports.

Some local factories were forced to shut after natural gas supplies were cut. Residential supplies were not expected to be affected.

There were no immediate reports of injuries directly caused by the explosions and fires, although Fernando Leon Yepez, a civil defense official in Omealca, reported that two elderly women died of heart attacks shortly after the explosions.

It was the second time in three months that the so-called People's Revolutionary Army claimed responsibility for a pipeline attack as part of what it has labeled its “prolonged people's war” against “the anti-people government.”

The group, known as the EPR, is a secretive, tiny rebel group that staged several armed attacks on government and police installations in southern Mexico in the 1990s. It was later weakened by internal divisions, leaving it unclear which splinter group may have carried out Monday's attacks.

The EPR claimed responsibility for a July attack on a major gas pipeline from Mexico City to Guadalajara in western Mexico that forced at least a dozen major companies, including Honda Motor Co., Kellogg Co. and The Hershey Co., to suspend or scale back operations.

That attack sent the Mexican government scrambling to increase security at “strategic installations” across Mexico.

It was not clear what security measures were in place at the pipelines that exploded Monday.

The government did not immediately confirm the EPR's claim of responsibility. Interior Secretary Francisco Ramirez said the federal Attorney General's Office was trying to determine who was responsible.

“Pemex's fundamental installations are adequately protected by our armed forces, and we will do our utmost to find those responsible,” Ramirez said.

At least 21,000 people were evacuated as a precaution. Some of them were later allowed to return home.

Flames could be seen up to six miles away, said Pedro Jimenez, a resident who was packing his family into a truck to leave. “You could see the fields of crops lit up.”

At least one undetonated explosive device was later found in a swampy area about 500 yards away from a highway toll booth just north of the port of Veracruz, said a Veracruz state police official who was not authorized to be quoted by name.

The official said the device was accompanied by a note signed by the EPR, but it was impossible to independently confirm.

President Felipe Calderón condemned the attacks in a statement from India, where he was on a state visit.

“I want to say that my government severely condemns this and all other acts of violence and those who promote it in our country and anywhere in the world,” he said. “There is no room for such criminal acts in a democratic Mexico.”

Mexico is a major oil producer and exporter, with oil and related taxes accounting for over a third of the federal government's revenue. The U.S. imported 12.7 million cubic feet of natural gas from Mexico in 2006, only about 0.3 percent of total imports that year.

By Miguel Hernandez